The last phase of the Israel-Hamas war is starting. Why don’t we feel relieved?
This is a segment from The “South Africa v. Israel” Edition.
Now it’s time for our first discussion.
So, Allison, a new phase in what feels like a war that we’ve already been fighting forever?
The army has officially entered it.
It’s phase three of the war in Gaza.
That was the announcement this week.
In phase one, as you may remember, a blockade was put in place preventing transfer of food, water, and fuel to Gaza, and Israeli planes and artillery bombed, especially in the north of the Strip.
Civilians in the north were advised to travel through safe corridors to the south.
This phase ran from October 7th until October 27th.
During phase one of the fighting, about 10,000 Palestinian civilians were killed, although a precise number is not known.
Phase two saw a massive ground invasion, first in the north, attacking and conquering Gaza City, the biggest city in Gaza, and eventually moving further south.
Phase two was interrupted by a seven-day truce from November 24th to December 1st, during which time all fighting was halted and Hamas released 110 people kidnapped on October 7th in exchange for 300 or so Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
After that, fighting resumed, with much of it focused around Khan Younis, the second biggest city in Gaza.
During phase two, about 550 Israeli soldiers were killed and about 10,000 more Palestinians, although again, the precise number is not known.
For phase three of the war, the IDF plans to demobilize, for a time anyway, most of the 360,000 reservists who were called up during phase one, many of whom have served without a break for more than three months.
This demobilization has already begun, although soldiers being sent home are advised to expect to be called back again for service over the next months.
The IDF plans to adopt what its leaders call a less intensive approach to fighting Hamas, which seems mostly to mean less labor-intensive, less shock and awe-ish than phase two, based more on surgical interventions highly dependent on advanced intelligence, which has improved over the three months of the war, as Israel has captured documents and Hamas fighters, who are both sources of valuable information for continuing the war.
In phase three, the role of the reserves will be somewhat diminished, with most of the operations undertaken by the conscripted standing army.
There is hope that “less intensive fighting will produce fewer Israeli and Palestinian civilian casualties.
” It is expected that this third phase of fighting could last for months or even a year or two.
As IDF spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said, “The objectives of the war require prolonged fighting and we are preparing accordingly.
” The three phases of the war were planned out back in October, and from the beginning, Minister of Defense Yoav Galant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzia Levy said that phase three would begin with the start of the new calendar year.
In that sense, the phase switch is a rare example of a government schedule being met.
Still, maybe because this new phase promises to last for so long, and maybe also because Prime Minister Netanyahu has insistently refused to set out what he hopes to put in place in Gaza at the end of the fighting and what his exit strategy is, it’s still hard to feel that the end of phase two and the start of phase three marks any real progress toward a time when the morning news around the world does not lead with death counts, both Palestinian and Israeli.
Still, the end of the middle phase of the war and the start of the final phase is maybe a good time for reflection.
So, Miriam, what do you think of what we’ve done in phases one and two of the war, and what should we think about where we stand as we start phase three?
Well, just to kind of put a sort of thumb on where we are at on the emotional level, and these neat models of phases are not as precise, obviously, as one might want them to be.
So, my sister-in-law, we have this group, family WhatsApp groups shared a meme that translates to four lines.
“Yes, he’s still in the reserves.
No, I don’t know when he’s getting released.
Yes, I know lots of them are being released now.
No, he doesn’t know when he’s getting out either,” which is the conversation she’s having over and over again, still having it.
It’s shown on a t-shirt in the meme she shared.
I suggest it be put on a shot glass.
And so, we remain a couple of soldiers that are on my list of people to worry about, have been released, a couple surprisingly were sent home for only a couple of days and told to report back.
One who I think about all the time is slated to come out in a couple of weeks.
So, it’s still that fuzzy area.
But I think we need to think about, first of all, where we are, where our brains are.
And the reptilian brain response that we were caught up into from the beginning is something that I think we are emerging out of and needing very, very much to use our frontal cortex, your neocortex faculties to understand things coldly and to look deeply at the impact on Gazans and the death toll in Gaza, which I think Israelis were reluctant to do, given how strongly they felt about how just this war is and how necessary.
So, I think what this is doing for us, this bit of a reduction in the Israeli military footprint inside Gaza.
The other thing is, let’s assess where we’re at.
We have not gotten the hostages back.
We had that burst of releases.
We cannot call this on a military level a victory by far.
There is no promise, no matter how long we’re in this, and we’re now talking about a year, that we’re going to whatever winning is.
I mean, let’s say winning includes killing Yehi Yassinwar.
He’s still there, probably surrounded by Israeli hostages.
And I think it’s conceivable that Hamas will emerge waving a victory flag from this.
And I think we need to consider that.
We need to start thinking about the impact of time on this, meaning after three months with a million displaced Palestinians, in addition to the incredible suffering and loss of homes and possessions and life, obviously, we’re talking about long-term illnesses on our border that are going to take, or already, I’m sure, claiming lives.
So the question needs for us to be, how much longer do we really think we’re going to allow this kind of scenario to go on, believing that this is the only way to do things, and knowing that actually the meter is running on our support from the U.S.?
So I think this is a moment where we need to start thinking a little more, a lot more coldly, and without the great impact of trauma and fear, trying to put that aside and get more logical.
I don’t know exactly who the “we” is.
I don’t know how.
I feel like there’s a big disconnect between me and the people who are making all the decisions about this war.
So I’ll just talk about myself.
I find this moving on to the next stage, which I expected, because we did have this schedule in hand from the very beginning.
So I’ve been looking forward to this, and I expected it to be this moment of incredible relief and joy, in part because it seems like a harbinger of my own boy getting out, which he hasn’t yet and probably won’t for weeks, but sometime soon he probably will, after 90-odd days, going on 100 days.
And it does not feel like a relief, and it does not feel joyful.
And all this talk about another year or another two years, it’s so depressing.
And in line with what you said, Miriam, I didn’t realize the degree to which it—like, I was sort of following a schedule, but listening to you, I realized that I am.
It’s like, I feel like I can no longer—there are things that I see that I just can no longer stand, like the fact that all of those homes are destroyed and all of those people are dead.
I’m talking about Palestinian homes and Palestinian people mostly, too.
I sort of feel like the talk of October—the connection between the talk of October 7th, which is still incessant, and there are all these stories, and they’re so heartbreaking, and I’m really, really involved in them, has become very distant or attenuated from these other things that we’re seeing that are going on now and the prospect of this war grinding on for another year with the people unable to return to their homes.
But even if they were able to return to their homes, for most of them, there’s no homes to return to.
And it’s just so overwhelming, the thought that we’re entering this new phase that is a long phase, and this horror is going to not be fixed, even if it the speed at which things get worse, even if the speed at which people die, Israeli soldiers die, and Palestinian civilians die, and the speed at which new homes are destroyed, it’s not—even if all those rates go down, and thank God for that, no one’s rebuilding those homes.
And the fact that there’s still not food in Gaza, I don’t understand it, and the idea that this is part of what maybe is going to continue for the next months or year or maybe two years, I can’t go on.
Well, you know, the government set up a certain set of expectations when the war started.
They said, you know, these are the goals of the war, that we’re going to destroy Hamas infrastructure and/or get rid of Hamas entirely in the strip.
We’re going to get the hostages released.
And the goals are still very, very, very far from being achieved.
And when you raise expectations by announcing goals like that, oh, and also, you know, making the Gaza envelope area safe for people to return to their homes.
So the goals of the war were very clearly announced.
The expectations were set up.
And there is now no way to declare victory or have a victory picture without achieving the goals of the war.
So therefore, we’re in a bind.
It can’t end.
Now, on the other hand, you know, I’m very cynical about Netanyahu and his putting his own fate in front of the national interest.
And he has said, and members of his government are saying, and everyone, there can’t be a reckoning as to who was responsible for the failure that led to this war until the war is over.
So is the war continuing because the war needs to continue and there’s no other alternative?
Or is the war continuing in order to help save Netanyahu, to help this government continue and be put in place?
And, you know, I feel horrible even, you know, raising that last cynical possibility because I don’t have a child’s life on the line in that.
But I think that’s also something that needs to be considered.
So I rely a lot on the analysis of Amos Harrell in Haaretz.
And he basically sees it that way, that, you know, these are the goals that we set up for ourselves.
We unrealistically sort of broadcast that they can be achieved by this, like, shock and awe, quick, you know, weeks, months operation.
They obviously can’t.
This tunnel infrastructure that we let be built for decades and decades is still there.
There’s no significant big forces left in Gaza, but there’s like a million, it sounds like, like little cells that are, you know, huddled inside different tunnels that is going to take a really long time to root out in these, you know, more directed, more surgical operations.
And we can’t declare it over when we’re not even close to declaring what we said were our goals in Gaza.
See, I don’t see things quite that way.
I remember myself, but also us talking on this podcast and everyone saying at the time, no one, no one, no one really ever thought that all the hostages were going to necessarily come home.
These were the, these were kind of the, the, the goals that people set.
No one, no one thought that Hamas, at least what people from the beginning said, the idea of Hamas was really going to be, was really going to be rooted out.
I don’t think those were the official goals, but I don’t think that, so, and so then what we’re.
No, I don’t think the goal was ever stated that the idea of Hamas would be rooted out.
That’s what I’m saying.
That no one, no one ever expected the idea of Hamas to be rooted out.
And, and I, and I don’t think that anyone ever thought that all 30,000 Hamas fighters would be, would be killed.
What they, what, what people expected was that Hamas’s infrastructure would be destroyed.
And I, I, what I’m reading is that that goal actually is probably pretty much, you know, on the way to being accomplished.
Not every, not every tunnel is destroyed, but the amount of the, the amount of Hamas infrastructure that’s being destroyed is the one, is the one big success of this war.
The hostages, you know, half of them are back and nobody knows, nobody knows what is going to be with, with the others.
So it’s not, I don’t feel, I don’t feel as though we’re only now seeing that, that those, those goals were never going to be fully achieved.
I don’t think there was a day when anyone, and certainly not in this room, thought that they were going to be fully achieved.
So for me, the, for me, the depressing thing is, and oh, look, the, you know, the IDF didn’t manage to do what I expected.
The depressing thing is finally coming to see that, that there’s no end to this thing.
That, that what phase three is, is phase three is just the bottomless pit.
Phase three is just the thing that goes on as far as I can tell forever.
And I’m waiting for someone to say, no, here’s how phase three ends.
And I haven’t, I haven’t seen that at all.
Or here’s when phase three ends.
And I haven’t heard that at all.
Well, I mean, I, I don’t think the, an end is on the table from, from the other side yet, although there’s some talk of proposals in which there would be a full release of all the hostages in return for a complete ceasefire.
I think the fact that Israel discovered, Israeli soldiers discovered a factory for making cruise missiles in Gaza gives us pause about just how far we’ve come.
I think that was somewhat unexpected, the degree to which they had ramped up.
I mean, we, we knew obviously we’re, we’ve been under rocket barrages but you know, precision cruise missiles like the kind that the Houthis have been shooting, firing at a lot found in Gaza, like the kind that Hezbollah has on the northern border.
That, that I think shows us that we, we don’t entirely know what, what’s going on there.
Also differ on the idea that we haven’t made a dent.
I mean, obviously we have, it’s, it’s tremendous the amount we, all of those guys that died in that truck were blowing up an important part of the tunnel and a lot of the tunnels have been blown up.
So the disabling has happened.
So it’s all like a question of, of, of the, of just how far, of how far you go.
And then, and then that becomes like a political, you know, what we’re missing is a diplomatic vision, a strategic vision that really brings us out, not through a military solution, but through some kind of a vision that, that we can sink our teeth into that isn’t speaking in these terms of, you know, destroy, kill them all.
We, we, we have to know that, that, that ultimately is, is not going to be, there’s not even gonna be a way to measure that.
So, and because in fact, we aren’t advocating and don’t want genocide.
So, so that’s what I think was missing and necessary now.
And continuing the military conflict is a way to, you know, not have to put off those, those hard day after, you know, year after questions that are the source of our big conflict with most of the countries of the world.
I, I, you and I just disagree about that.
I don’t think that, I don’t think that Netanyahu or anyone is, is putting on the line, you know, hundreds of Israeli lives in order to prolong their political career.
But, but a lot of people do, I reckon.
That was what I was saying right now.
Right now I was saying in order to postpone having to confront the world with what is the long-term vision for, for Gaza.
I wasn’t saying it was to save us politically, but it was continuing the war is also a way of, of, of, of kicking the can down the road in terms of this is how we see Gaza long-term, you know, our vision versus the vision of the United States and the rest of the world.