Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip light a menorah for the third night of Chanukah, Dec. 9, 2023. Credit: IDF.

By Hagay Ringel

In the immediate aftermath of the war in Gaza, the IDF’s priority will be to rebuild trust among Israeli citizens, with a particular focus on the communities in the south. The return of all southern residents to their towns and villages situated along the Gaza border remains uncertain. Some northern residents may opt to not raise their children in an environment where their safety is contingent on Nasrallah’s decisions.

The massacre of October 7 resulted in horrific acts, including murder, rape, beheadings, and torture against Israelis. During the initial hours of this brutal attack, the IDF was minimally engaged, leaving the bulk of the defense to a few military units and armed civilians. Imagine the helplessness of a mother in a shelter, defending her children while awaiting rescue by soldiers who never arrive. The outcome of this war emphasizes the pressing need for reestablishing trust in the IDF as the safeguard for Israeli citizens.

To grasp this decline in trust, we must revisit the period preceding the attack, when the IDF consistently ranked as the most trusted institution in Israel, surpassing the government, police, and Supreme Court. In an October 2022 survey among diverse Israeli citizens, over 85% expressed trust in the IDF, while only 66% trusted the president, 59% trusted the Supreme Court, and 48% trusted the police. This underscores the widespread confidence in the IDF among the population. However, after October 7, this confidence plummeted significantly. Moreover, the temporary conquest of IDF military bases along the border with Gaza by Hamas terrorists contributed to this loss of trust among soldiers of the IDF themselves. The reliance on the Air Force, with many southern citizens expecting timely air support, added to the chaos and despair. Unfortunately, except for a few aircraft, the skies remained clear, and when air support finally arrived, it was deemed too late and insufficient.

In the north, where residents find themselves in a situation similar to that of the south, the challenge is similar. Possessing an understanding of the potential consequences should the threat encroach on their backyard, these individuals are conscious of the risks of living in such close proximity to the border of Lebanon, where Hezbollah holds de facto control. Observing the terrible events that occurred in the south has heightened their awareness, and they acknowledge the possibility of encountering a similar horrible fate. I have doubts about their reliance on the IDF for protection if the current situation remains unchanged.

Israel must prioritize the security of towns along its borders as a matter of national interest. This goal can only be achieved by ensuring their safety. Failure to do so could result in this region becoming a sort of no man’s land, an uninhabited war zone. This poses a strategic risk of creating a dangerous precedent, undermining the longstanding Israeli ethos that the plow lines define the boundary, replacing it with the range of rocket fire from Hamas and Hezbollah.

What should Israel do? First, it’s crucial that Israelis change their mindset from one that tolerates living in close proximity to danger to one that demands the total and complete elimination of any enemy threats along the border. The former mindset that relied on false premises about the enemy being deterred should no longer be tolerated in the leaders of the government and the IDF. The IDF should continue with their campaign to eliminate Hamas and any other terrorist entity that operates in Gaza, ensuring they do not resurface anywhere else. Furthermore, there should be a secure zone between Israeli villages in the south and the border of Gaza. This zone should be at least a mile wide from inside the border of Gaza, designated as a no-man’s land, and any terrorist entering this zone should be shot. In the past, this area was known as the “Parameter,” but in recent years, the policy has slackened, allowing protests and activities to occur in the area that contributed to the terrorists organizing the attack of October 7. This shift was a significant mistake.

Regarding the north, a similar policy is required. Many northern citizens who relocated to central Israel will not return home until they are assured that Hezbollah has been eliminated from the border and they are safe and secure. While some advocate for a diplomatic solution, I am skeptical that this is feasible since diplomacy has never worked against Hezbollah in the past and can be interpreted as a sign of weakness. To compel Hezbollah to retreat northward to the Litani River (referred to as “Line 1701,” after the UN’s decision to station UN forces in southern Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah), Israel has no choice but to utilize force. Only then, with the elimination of this threat, can the northern residents return safely to their homes.

Regaining the trust of the Israeli people is a significant challenge for the IDF, and it should be a key objective in the ongoing war in Gaza. This trust can only be restored when the entire population, especially those in the south, are convinced the threat has been eliminated. If Hamas or other terrorist organizations survive this war, regardless of government agreements or excuses, trust will never be fully restored. The elimination of Hamas must be conclusive and unequivocal for trust to be restored. And this war in Gaza, hopefully, should be the last one.

 

Hagay Ringel, an IDF veteran and Middle East Analyst, is a data analyst. He holds master’s degrees in Data Analytics and Trade Policy and Global Economics Governance.

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