Will they win?
If the question is whether Israel will be able to defeat Hamas, the answer is almost certainly yes: Israeli military planners have been war-gaming an invasion of Gaza for decades and, despite the intelligence blunders of Oct. 7, have tools and tactics that can flush Hamas’s fighters out of their maze of tunnels. Nor is the Israeli public likely to be swayed by civilian casualties into supporting any kind of cease-fire in the military campaign until Hamas is defeated and the hostages are returned. Israelis spent 18 years watching Hamas turn to its military advantage every Israeli concession — including free electricity, cash transfers of Qatari funds, work permits for Gazans, thousands of truckloads of humanitarian goods. Israelis won’t get fooled again.
But while Israelis are still processing the horror from the south, the threat of war looms on every side. Around the world, too many people are showing their true colors when it comes to their feelings about Jews, and darkness in the West has made it feel colder in Israel.
A few days after my visit to Camp Iftach, I drove north to Metula, a picturesque Israeli village on a finger of land surrounded on three sides by Lebanon. Other than a handful of soldiers, it was mostly deserted; it would almost surely be captured by Hezbollah in the early hours of a full-scale conflict, which would make the Gaza front look like child’s play.
In the West Bank, nightly Israeli security raids against Hamas and allied terror cells in cities like Jenin and Nablus are largely what stand in the way between the unpopular and corrupt Palestinian Authority and a Hamas coup. Compounding the tension is a sharp uptick in settler violence, with some seeing the crisis as an “opportunity to vent their spleen with M-16s,” as an Israeli reporter put it to me. Bezalel Smotrich, the far-right finance minister, has even suggested effectively banning the Palestinian olive harvest, ostensibly for security reasons. “That would be like banning the Super Bowl,” the reporter observed. It would guarantee an explosion.
And then there’s the wider world. Vladimir Putin, whom Netanyahu did so much to court over more than a decade, has all but openly thrown his support behind Hamas, in part because of Russia’s deepening alliance with Hamas’s patrons in Iran. In China, state-run and social media have veered sharply into open antisemitism. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with whom Israel had been engaged in a careful rapprochement, has reverted to Islamist form. “Hamas is not a terrorist organization,” he told members of his parliamentary group late last month, but a “mujahedeen liberation group struggling to protect its people and lands.”
Just as frightening to many Israelis I spoke with was the turn against Israel in the West, a turn that, increasingly, is nakedly pro-Hamas and antisemitic. It’s visible in more than just the attempted firebombing of a synagogue in Berlin or the chants of “gas the Jews” in Sydney, Australia. It’s also in the sheer indifference among educated elites to Israeli suffering — typified by college-age students tearing down campus posters of kidnapped Israeli civilians.
“The effort on campuses and progressive circles to equate Zionism with all that is evil prepared the ground for the hardening belief that ‘the Jews had it coming,’” Einat Wilf, a Harvard graduate and former member of the Knesset for the Labor Party, told me. To many Israelis, there’s a distinct echo of what happened at German universities beginning about a century ago.
It may be that what started near Gaza will end there, too. But there’s a growing sense among Israelis, as well as many Jews in the diaspora, that what happened on Oct. 7 may be the opening act of something much larger and worse: another worldwide war against the Jews.