Israelis show an ambivalence between wanting to achieve victory over Hamas and a reluctance to pay the cost of this victory, a survey of Israeli opinion shows. This points to the intellectual and political leadership needed to educate the public about this complex issue.
(Midgam Research & Consulting conducted the survey for the Middle East Forum following the recent conflict with Hamas. It asked 22 questions in Hebrew or Russian on May 27-31 of 503 Jewish Israeli respondents. The poll has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.)
Looking back on the eleven days of fighting in May 2021, Jewish Israelis feel frustrated. Despite persistent claims of success by the Israel Defense Forces, only one-third believe that their side won the fighting and only a quarter expect that the IDF broke Hamas' will to continue fighting. The great majority, in other words, expect further rounds of unprovoked attacks by Hamas on the country's civilian population.
Looking to the future, 82 percent agree that "There can be no appeasing Hamas; only by defeating it unequivocally can we bring this conflict to an end"; and the same percentage concurs more generally on the importance "for Israel to defeat its enemies," not just Palestinians. Likewise, 70 percent agree that "There can be no deals with terrorist organizations, only defeat. Israel must use all its military, diplomatic and economic means to crush Hamas' will to continue fighting."
Sentiment for this view is also growing, as shown by the fact that only 54 percent of respondents agreed with this statement in January 2020; a 16 percent increase in 16 months is noteworthy. In keeping with this attitude, an extraordinary 90 percent of Jewish Israelis support the tactic of at-will assassinations of Hamas leaders both in Gaza and in other locations around the world.
Together, these answers emphatically point to the very strong support in the abstract for an Israel Victory and a Palestinian defeat. They confirm that the Israel Victory Project has great potential to convince Israelis and their leaders that wars end when one side gives up, that victory is the necessary precursor to peace, and that the Palestinians will only tend to their own gardens, leaving Israel's alone, when they have permanently accepted the Jewish state. Anything short of these steps will not endure.
But then comes the kicker: those lofty numbers of 82 and 70 percent drop to 48 percent when respondents are reminded that crushing Hamas will lead to "a raised intensity of attacks on the home front and a possible significant loss of Israeli lives." They further descend to 37 percent when asked about Israel taking over the Gaza Strip "to root out Hamas once and for all." When asked about the main goal of a future round of fighting with Hamas, only 21 percent seek to break Hamas' will to continue to fight, with other respondents focused on lesser goals such as the return of captives or disarming or deterring Hamas.
A similar reluctance applies to the fighting in May. Yes, two-thirds of the sample believe the operation should have continued longer, "until Hamas' ability and will to attack Israel was destroyed and the hostages and bodies in Gaza were returned." But a larger majority of three-quarters rejects the government authorizing "a ground operation into the Gaza Strip."
This apparent contradiction implies that while roughly 80 percent of Jewish Israelis seek to defeat Hamas and other enemies, only about half that number are willing to pay the concomitant price in terms of rockets, ground troop casualties, international censure, and other problems.
80% of Jewish Israelis seek victory. Half that number are willing to pay the price for it.
More specifically, one-fifth of Jewish Israelis reject the idea of victory; two-fifths want it but are unwilling to pay the price for it; one-fifth want it, are willing to pay for it, but do not fully understand what it means; and just one-fifth want it, are willing to pay for it, and grasp the goal of breaking the enemy's will.
From the Israel Victory point of view, this points to a receptive audience that requires much education about the nature of warfare and what ends conflicts. The middle three-fifths is the key target audience whose opinion can potentially be changed by explaining that, for all the pain involved in decisively defeating the Palestinians, this will ultimately prove a lesser price than unending conflict. Intellectuals and politicians have their work cut out.
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.