Facing this predicament, the Israeli Red Team would suggest a radical alternative: Israel should call for a permanent cease-fire that would be followed by an immediate Israeli withdrawal of all military forces in Gaza on the condition that Hamas return all the hostages it has left, civilians and military, and any dead. But Hamas would get no Palestinian prisoners in return. Just a clean deal — Israeli withdrawal and a permanent cease-fire in return for the 130-plus Israeli hostages.
There would be an Israeli asterisk, though, which wouldn’t be written in, but everyone would understand it is there: Israel reserves the right in the future to bring to justice the top Hamas leaders who planned this massacre. As it did after the Munich massacre, though, Israel will do that with a scalpel, not a hammer.
What might be the advantages of such a strategy for Israel? The Red Team would cite five.
First, it would argue, all the pressure for a cease-fire to spare Gazan civilians more death and destruction would fall on Hamas, not on Israel. Let Hamas tell its people living out in the cold and rain — and the world — that it will not agree to a cease-fire for the mere humanitarian price of returning all the Israeli hostages.
Moreover, Israel will have ensured that Hamas gets no big political victory out of this war like forcing Israel to free all the more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in its jails in return for the hostages Hamas is holding. No, no — it would just be a clean deal: permanent cease-fire for Israeli hostages, period. The world can understand that. Let’s see Hamas reject it and declare that it wants more war.
Second, some, maybe many, in Israel will complain that the military did not achieve its stated objective of eliminating Hamas, therefore it is a Hamas victory. The Red Team would respond that, for starters, the objective was unrealistic, especially with a right-wing Israeli government unwilling to work with the more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to build an alternative to Hamas to run Gaza.