Israel clearly has little interest in recovering the hostages taken on October 7. The real objectives: protecting West Bank settlements, further eroding the judiciary, rehabilitating the military’s image, and simple revenge.

Israeli tanks move near the Gaza border on October 12, 2023. (Mostafa Alkharouf / Anadolu via Getty Images)

If we judge the military operation in the Gaza Strip by the measure of the objectives that the government presented to the Israeli public, it is clearly an absolute failure.

After six months of combat, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have not accomplished their primary mission: eliminating Hamas rule in Gaza. The IDF has put out of action an estimated one-third of Hamas’s fighting force and has detonated approximately 20 percent of its tunnels. That is a hard blow but not a fatal one. Hamas is not just still functioning but managing to take over new swaths of territory upon the IDF’s departure, using them to launch rockets into Israel.

Moreover, the additional objective set for the operation, returning the hostages, has not been accomplished. The vast majority of hostages were released thanks to a deal that exchanged them for Palestinian prisoners. Only three of the hostages were freed as a result of the military operation.

What’s worse, three of the hostages were shot to death by IDF forces, and a still-unknown number of hostages have been killed as a result of indiscriminate bombing by the IDF (based on statements that Hamas ordered the hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin to recite in a recently released video, it appears that Hamas estimates the number of hostages killed in such a manner at seventy).

The cabinet that made the decision to go to war included two retired IDF chiefs, a former general, and a prime minister who has approved and conducted multiple military operations. In addition, the chief of the IDF pushed and pressured the cabinet to approve the ground maneuver in the Gaza Strip. These people knew full well what the operation they were about to approve could and could not achieve, yet pushed ahead with it anyway.

Evidence of that effect can be found in the interview that Gadi Eisenkot, a minister in the current government, gave for Ilana Dayan. The battle-tested general cogently explained to the veteran journalist why the operation had no chance of freeing the hostages: the hostages are not being held on the surface in an isolated target such as a plane or a bus, Eisenkot said; they are being hidden in tunnels that the IDF would struggle to get at. If that is indeed the case, one can conclude that the objectives of the operation as they were presented to the public aimed to garner support and were not the real objectives that the government sought to achieve.

If so, what were the real objectives of the operation?

West Bank Settlements

The first is to protect settlements in the West Bank.

The Israeli settlers’ leadership enjoys representation in key ministries of the current government: finance, defense, and internal security. The judicial coup that the coalition put forward sought to bring about a unilateral annexation of the West Bank without bestowing the rights of citizenship on the Palestinians living there. In that way, the state could guarantee the property rights of settlers to the houses they built there.

In the decade and a half preceding the Hamas attack, Netanyahu articulated a security doctrine that guided his actions and rhetoric as prime minister. One of the principles of the “Netanyahu Doctrine,” which he reiterated as often as he could, was that the occupation carried no price. Israel, Netanyahu told the electorate, could become a technological powerhouse and forge ties with countries throughout the Arab world despite the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

The key, explained the prime minister, was to preserve the division between the West Bank and Gaza that resulted from each of these territories being ruled by antagonistic and competing Palestinian organizations. Apparently, Netanyahu thought that funding by the petro-emirate of Qatar to Hamas made it in the latter’s interest to play ball with Jewish colonialism in the West Bank. The Hamas attack on October 7 upended all the presuppositions of the Netanyahu Doctrine.

Hamas used Qatar’s money to build a sophisticated war machine and turned Netanyahu into a laughingstock, both in Israel and abroad. Had Israel restrained itself to a limited reaction against the attack and focused instead on upgrading the security fence as well as reaching a hostage deal, then the public would have had time to discuss the collapse of the Netanyahu Doctrine and demand the fall of the government. With the decision to start a military operation, the government bought itself precious time and postponed public debate on the price of settlement in the West Bank.

The prolongation of the war and the government’s de facto refusal to bring it to a close continue to serve this purpose. By rejecting yet another hostage deal, the government takes off the agenda any debate concerning “the day after” — i.e. the political settlement required to ensure quiet along Israel’s borders, a solution that the government fears will necessitate the evacuation of some of the settlements.

The government is not only acting to protect existing settlements but also striving to broaden the settlement project through actions intended to destabilize the West Bank. That is why, for example, the government is refusing to allow laborers from the West Bank to return to work in Israel and withholding funds that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is entitled to according to the Paris Accords. Thus the West Bank has been put in an economic chokehold, and the PA’s ability to pay its police officers has been compromised. Settler militias seek to damage the property of Palestinians, whose expulsion has continued even after October 7.

A Judicial Coup

As combat wears on, the government is acting to advance its second real goal: the judicial coup.

Since January 2023, Netanyahu’s coalition attempted to ram through a set of laws that would annul the courts’ independence. Among other things, the government sought to have the power to appoint judges, restrict judges’ ability to pass a verdict, and give Parliament the authority to cancel verdicts. Had these laws passed, the coalition would have gained the freedom to legislate without any judicial oversight.

The judicial coup aims not only to restrict the space for democracy but also the wholesale privatization of all government services. The government is acting to subject these services to market forces while paying off sectors of the population. These are complementary processes: restricting the freedom of expression and the right to protest are ways to suffocate protests against the collapse of the welfare state. Those most striving to this end are the ministers from the Religious Zionist Party.

Thus, for example, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister of national security, can go on making appointments to the upper echelons of the police and turning it into a partisan militia. Increasingly, the police shed the semblance of impartiality. Frequently, police officers have made arbitrary arrests of protesters and their leaders, shoved opposition members of parliament who participated in the demonstrations, turned a blind eye to violence inflicted on the protesters by pro-government thugs, and ignored settlers’ activity to block humanitarian aid from entering Gaza.

At the same time, Ben-Gvir is privatizing national security by granting tens of thousands of gun permits to civilians. In this way, the police lose to local militias their position as guarantor of law and order. Providing personal safety becomes a task for the individual rather than the state.

Meanwhile, the minister of finance, Bezalel Smotrich, hands out funds to sectors of the population allied with the government such as the settlers and the strictly orthodox Haredim. Each day newspaper readers learn about a new motion just approved by the government to pass hundreds of millions of shekels to the orthodox education system, municipal authorities of West Bank settlements, rabbinical services, and religious associations that perform charity work. All of this is happening at the same time that health, education, and transport services are facing budgetary strangulation. Becoming a settler or a Haredi is turning into the only option for those hoping to receive education and health services in the wake of the collapse of the education and health systems serving the general public.

Rehabilitating the IDF’s Image

The third real objective of the operation is to rehabilitate the IDF’s image and experiment with land warfare technology in which the army heavily invested during the last decade.

No organization so thoroughly internalized the Netanyahu Doctrine as much as the army. Its main task in the last decade was to maintain the occupation of the West Bank at the lowest cost possible by harnessing the latest military technology. The army’s devotion to this mission explains in part its dismal performance on October 7.

The IDF identified the educated bourgeoisie’s discomfort with the mission of policing the West Bank and thus handed this mission to low-income sectors of the population who served in units like Kfir and Netzah Yehuda. These battalions performed the humdrum tasks of the occupation such as securing the settlements’ perimeter, patrolling Palestinian towns, confronting Palestinian protests, and making arrests. The children of the educated bourgeoisie were enlisted into high-tech units aimed at making possible the management of the conflict with a relatively small amount of manpower.

As a result, the IDF was able to transfer the bulk of its ground forces to security detail in the West Bank, leaving a far smaller number of troops along the northern and southern borders. The army convinced itself that its intelligence capabilities and the robotic technology deployed along the southern border would ensure that it would never be taken by surprise. Were that ever to happen, the army supposedly would be able to respond right away.

The army so bought into the Netanyahu Doctrine that senior officers in the intelligence services refused to believe the obvious signals that a surprise attack was in the offing. Even when on-the-ground soldiers brought convincing evidence of an impending Hamas attack, the colonels sitting in the halls of the intelligence branch plugged their ears. The surprise attack by Hamas on October 7 uncovered the army leadership’s incompetence.

To contend with the shock and fear among the Israeli public, the army latched on to an armed offensive in Gaza as a quick fix to the reputational damage it suffered on October 7. Since 2006, the Israeli General Staff, led by officers drawn from the ground forces, invested in the technological capabilities that would allow the ground forces to improve over their pathetic performance during the Second Lebanon War. The land operation in Gaza, ominously codenamed “Swords of Iron,” has handed generals the opportunity to check if this investment has borne fruit, putting the troops and the technology to the ultimate test on the battlefield.


Once those same generals realized that the ground operation would not bring about the defeat of Hamas, a fourth real objective for the operation was born: the mission of revenge.

Despite knowing that such images would create serious problems for Israel with the international court system, the General Staff and officers on the ground allowed soldiers to upload videos and pictures that could sate the public’s desire for revenge and help them to forget that that operation was bound to fail at bringing down Hamas.

Thus the ground operation in Gaza became a military failure and a political success. Under its cover, the army and the coalition are winning back their status among the public and advancing their interests. Their political egotism expresses itself through their willingness to ignore Israel’s difficult problems: the country’s transformation into a pariah state, the never-ending conflict in the Gaza Strip, economic hardships, and intensifying internal division.

The ministers and the general are heading toward a forever war. After them, the deluge.


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