An Extended Ceasefire Would Help Hamas but Hurt Israelis and Gazans Alike

Pressure for an extended ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is building in the United States. Congresswoman Becca Balint (D-Vt.) has expressed in a newspaper op-ed the same idea which polls show growing in support — that both Israelis and Gazans have suffered enough and what is needed is “an immediate break in violence to allow for a true negotiated ceasefire.”

A ceasefire, except for a brief one that returns hostages, implicitly condemns Israel for defending itself. This is as strategically foolish as it is morally vacuous. A ceasefire opens the door to Hamas’s recovery and more of its savagery.

The stated objective of stalling ongoing operations is to allow for time to convince Hamas to release its more than 200 hostages and to deliver emergency resources to Gazan civilians. The implication is that these objectives are worth prolonging the conflict and allowing Hamas to regroup, which in reality will only increase both Israeli and Gazan casualties.

Whether these objectives are worth the implied costs is immaterial: The objectives themselves are chimerical. At best, Hamas will release only a portion of its hostages, its best source of leverage, perhaps by offering up a few dual-citizens or a small group — as it did when Washington was delaying the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF’s) initial ground response.

There is no reason to believe that what proved impossible in peace can now be done in war — a guarantee that emergency aid reaches Gazan civilians. That Hamas sits on a massive store of resources stolen from the billions of dollars of international aid seems to be of little consequence, as does the fact that prolonging the conflict only increases the suffering inflicted on Gaza’s population and delays reconstruction of local society and infrastructure. And the more pressure placed on Israel to end the war, the more likely the IDF will reconsider the deliberate approach it is taking in combat to limit casualties.

Beyond its detrimental impact on Gazans, a prolongation would increase the already considerable burden on Israel to support its mobilization and defend against rocket strikes from Hamas and skirmishes with Hezbollah. More important, it also increases the likelihood of a wider war.

Hezbollah, Iran’s most valuable proxy, has restrained its attacks to lightly held military posts and civilian spaces that it knows have already been evacuated, while its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, offered a weak speech on Nov. 3 pinning responsibility solely on Hamas for the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Iran knows it must make a show of support for ideological consistency, yet it has no intent to lose Hezbollah.

Since Iran is not constrained about mass slaughter—no matter the victims’ ethnicity, nationality, or sect—the only possible conclusion is that Iran views a wider war as directly against its strategic interests. Tehran undoubtedly hopes that the Biden administration will do as it has always done and restrain its allies out of fear of a larger conflict. But the longer the war in Gaza continues, the more likely that war will spread due to miscalculations and the increased pressure on Iran and its proxies to back up their ideological commitments with violent force.

The only group that benefits from a pause is Hamas.

The Biden administration, which in both personnel and Middle Eastern strategy is  a sequel to the Obama White House, understands this:  it never instituted humanitarian pauses in its defeats of ISIS during the assaults that captured, and mostly destroyed, Mosul and Raqqa.

If it is not being done for its spoken objectives, there remain two possible motivations. The more optimistic option is that it is being done to make certain that plans for post-war Gaza are in place. America’s experience in Iraq demonstrated how vital the first days after the presiding government’s fall are. Civil services must be restored as quickly as possible to Gaza after the war is ended, and there must be a plan in place for the transfer of authority.

The other, more likely explanation is that it is directed at influential domestic blocs and organizations who are increasingly militating against support for Israel. Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Chris Murphy, who has labelled Qatar as America’s “best partner in the region,” joined the euphemistic game by calling for a “short cessation of hostilities” after releasing a confused statement that asserted the necessity to destroy Hamas while also demanding that Israel “shift to a more deliberate and proportional counterterrorism campaign.”

While it is tempting to blame an ignorance of the realities of urban combat or a susceptibility to the kind of anti-Israel messaging illustrated by the al-Ahli hospital case, the true cause is likely the increasing protest from influential voting blocs and organizations. Not only have there been open letters from staff at places like the USAID and the State Department, but a recent poll indicates Democratic voters are significantly opposed to Israel’s response to Hamas, with only a slim—and likely shrinking—majority supporting continued military aid.

Biden has, so far, admirably resisted pressure for a ceasefire from the type of vocal fringe groups that have so influenced Democratic and Republican policy in recent years. He has done so by resisting an alteration in policy while offering rhetorical olive branches and, as in its recent abstention for a UN Security Council resolution calling for extended humanitarian pauses, symbolic gestures. The publicization of Netanyahu’s refusal of Biden’s request for a three-day pause must be seen within the framework of this approach.

As harmful to all as a pause would be, excepting Hamas, the greater danger is that pressure from voters and the DC commentariat pushes the Biden White House into a repetition of Obama’s prestidigitation for the Iran Nuclear Deal in the face of what it knew would be popular and congressional disapproval. In other words, they may believe they can manipulate the information sphere well enough that they may rhetorically condemn a ceasefire while effectively demanding it by utilizing a different term or declaring mission accomplished prematurely. For those who might see this as setting a new nadir for integrity or contempt for the intelligence of voters, it needs to be remembered that this is the same president who delivered a string of easily disprovable lies right after  delivering Afghans back to the tyranny of the Taliban.

This development would lead to the most harmful outcome: a ceasefire without the removal of Hamas.

For the purposes of security, the two most important outcomes of the current war are that Israel’s deterrence is secured, and the US displays that it has the interest and will to oppose the expansionary Islamic Republic. Both objectives are necessary to slow—though not halt—Iranian aggression, ensure continued Israeli-Arab normalization, and reaffirm the signal that Biden’s continued support for Ukraine has delivered to Europe and Asia: Washington’s decade-long strategic experiment in sacrificing our allies’ interests for the sake of our rivals’ is over.

That the demands for a ceasefire are fueled by sentimentality and animus against Israel is best illustrated by the ceasefire camp’s refusal to offer any substantive vision for political stability and security following a cessation of hostilities, while the frequent failure to even mention the hostages shows that they are content in withholding moral agency from Hamas and the people of Gaza. This implicit dehumanization is an attempt at moral rationalization: if Israel is the only moral agent in the conflict, it becomes reasonable to demand that the defending force cease its counter-attack rather than the aggressor release its hostages, cease to kill its own civilians, and share its stolen resources.

The dangerous undercurrent to the growing demands for a ceasefire is their fatalism. They operate on the same inertial logic that has led Israel, the US, and the Arab World since the Second Intifada: nothing we do can make a difference. It is a logic that must be discarded if anything positive is to come from this conflict.

This, in turn, will largely be decided by how quickly Washington’s eyes shift from October 7th 2023 to November 5th 2024.

This article originally appeared in The Messenger.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.

Austen Maggin is the COO of Yorktown Institute.

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