By Allison Kaplan Sommer/Haaretz
Tel Aviv, November 2: The war in Gaza will be no sprint to a clear-cut victory line, but a long muddle of a marathon. The Israeli public hopes that the runner’s feet won’t sink into intractable mud as it has in the not-too-distant past
The somber news of the past 24 hours, that 15 Israeli soldiers were killed in the initial ground operation in the northern Gaza Strip, has tangibly shifted the national mood.
Israel was far from cheery before the news hit. It is still reeling from the devastation of October 7 and stuck in an endless swirl of crises: deaths confirmed, hostages identified, rockets falling on apartment buildings, whole communities newly displaced – and the massive destruction and loss of life in Gaza itself, which Israelis are starting to grapple with.
But now it has begun to truly sink in that the war officially named Swords of Iron (a name no one in Israel actually uses) is no Six-Day War, or even a six-week matter.
The public is adapting to the grim reality that this will be no sprint to a clear-cut victory line, but a long muddle of a marathon, with hopes that the runner’s feet won’t sink into intractable mud as it has in the not-too-distant past.
Military Intelligence Director Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva declared in a ceremony for graduating cadets on Wednesday: “This is a war that we have no choice but to wage. It may not be an existential war – the existence of the State of Israel is not at stake. But this is a war about our existence, about our lives here. A war for our streets and our fields, for our daily routines, for the kindergartens and the schools, and the ability of our children and our grandchildren to live in this country with security, peace and freedom for generations to come.”
But no grand declarations could mitigate the pain triggered by the news of soldiers killed in the first stages of the Gaza ground operation that dripped out in stages. On Tuesday night came word of the death of two soldiers. Then, throughout the day on Wednesday, the number of fatalities grew slowly and steadily – from nine to 11 to 15. (Another soldier was killed Wednesday by mortar fire near the Gaza border.)
As Haaretz commentator Amos Harel points out, it is no secret that this gut-punch is only the start of what will be long months of continuous and dangerous operations within the Strip. The drama of airstrikes may be abating, but now comes the time for the grinding stage of sweeping urban areas for armed militants and munitions (and, optimistically, hostages as well). The more Israel tightens the noose, Harel warns, the more it faces the risk that its forces will be static enough to be exposed to increased harm – as well as mounting international pressure with the death toll among Palestinian civilians growing ever higher.
This week drove home the reality of a long-term war. The shock of October 7 was also a shot of adrenaline at first. Israelis dropped their day-to-day activities, devoting themselves full-time to volunteer support for soldiers and victims of the Hamas attack, donating money, meals and supplies, offering shelter to displaced residents of border communities, temporarily filling the void that has been left with ineffectual and frustrating government bureaucracy.
At some point, even the most well-meaning citizens need to refocus on their own lives and the government will be forced to step up. Housing tens of thousands of internally displaced refugees from southern and northern border communities in hotels for a few weeks is one thing. Resettling them somewhere where they can create a semblance of normal life as the war drags on and their towns remain too dangerous to return to is a much bigger challenge.
The three weeks since Hamas’ gruesome attack have shown that Israelis can pull together in a crisis. But whether they – and their leaders – have the patience and fortitude to forge ahead as the weeks turn into months, and the list grows of the lost young soldiers, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, remains to be seen.
Knowing that all these lives are in the hands of the same leaders whose failures led to the disaster of October 7 only makes the challenge bigger.