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Trying to Make Sense of the Carnage

Trying to Make Sense of the Carnage

AP’s Suzi Garment on Israel, Hamas, and where we go from here.

Suzanne Garment

Regarding the latest war in the Middle East, there is no appropriate reaction except a scream. Even by the awful standards of other modern wars in the region, the underlying intelligence and operational failures are worse, the casualties are worse, the atrocities are worse. It is wholly ghastly.

As a matter of analysis, no one who has watched the behavior of the most recent Netanyahu government can do better than to recall the rabbis’ judgment that the First Temple was lost because of internal hatreds among the Jews. The details will come later, but we already know about the fatal distractions provided by Israeli domestic politics. 

On October 7, Hamas resistance fighters—or militants, or terrorists—broke through the fences separating Israel from the Gaza Strip. They massacred—there seems to be no debate about this characterization—some 1,400 Israelis, some with shocking brutality. The attackers also took some 200—here we are in more slippery territory—hostages. 

By now, we are in the middle of the war. As of this writing, some 300,000 Israel Defense Forces are massed outside Gaza in preparation for a retaliatory assault. Apart from that fact, all is disputed. Israel has urged Palestinians to flee northern Gaza to avoid the consequences of the attack; the United Nations calls such a flight a recipe for a humanitarian disaster. The Rafah crossing to Egypt at the southern border of Gaza was said to be the place where Americans could exit Gaza and humanitarian aid to the territory could be shipped in; why the mutual transit has not materialized is still unclear. A Gazan hospital has been bombed; and while evidence seems to indicate that Israel was not responsible, it has derailed humanitarian discussions.

Here is the more general fact: After the Hamas assault, Israel received approximately a week’s worth of international sympathy. The week is over. More or less on schedule, the sympathy has moved on. The timing has paralleled the broader trajectory of Israel’s international experience.

America is lucky: Its options are limited. President Joe Biden has expressed his full-throated support for Israel, which seems to have bought him room to counsel restraint in Israel’s reaction. The United States has sent two carrier strike force groups to the eastern Mediterranean, which are a hell of a deterrent—unless, like Iran, one sees them as a provocation.

No detailed strategic plan can provide this country with a reliable way through the crisis. There is nothing for it but to try to adhere to first principles—to stay true to an ally, try to minimize civilian casualties, and not shy away from the fact that atrocities like those occurring on October 7 cannot be without consequence.

Suzanne Garment is a senior editor of American Purpose.

Image: A damaged house in Netivot following a direct hit by a rocket fired from Gaza, 2012. (Flickr: Israel Defense Forces)

Middle EastU.S. Foreign Policy