The seven-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas abruptly ended on Thursday, shattering what little hope many Western countries had for a prolonged period of calm that would allow further negotiations to take place. Even the United States is beginning to pressure Israel to curb its military campaign. As history has shown, however, and as Hamas demonstrated once again over the past week, these so-called ceasefires are a strategic blunder that can hinder the long-term security interests of Israel—and potentially of the United States, too.
The obvious allure of the ceasefire lies in its immediate cessation of hostilities. But this is merely a facade of progress, a superficial calm that does not address the core of the conflict: Hamas’s genocidal intentions for Israel, which it has repeatedly stated in its founding charter and public statements, and which it acted upon in grisly fashion on October 7, on a scale never before achieved.
Indeed, as Israel has painfully learned time and again, ceasefires do more than just allow problems to continue to fester: they provide Hamas with invaluable opportunities to regroup, rearm, and strengthen its military capabilities. Even the term “ceasefire” is a misnomer, as Hamas has consistently violated such pauses to keep up its campaign of terror over the years. On November 30, for example, Hamas gunmen opened fire at a bus stop in Jerusalem, murdering three innocent people in the process. Later that evening, Hamas resumed launching indiscriminate rockets at Israel’s cities, forcing the Israeli military to respond. As the adage goes, “We cease. They fire.”
Moreover, throughout the ceasefire, the terror group has engaged in a sinister form of psychological warfare against Israeli civilians by repeatedly changing its statements regarding the status of certain hostages and releasing harrowing videos showing hostages in tears over the loss of their loved ones. Such cruel tactics cannot be tolerated by the Israeli government.
A particularly complex aspect of the current ceasefire is the incorporation of hostage releases into the agreement. Hamas initially took more than 240 hostages when it unprovokedly attacked Israel on October 7 and murdered 1,200 people. The seven-day ceasefire saw Hamas return 105 hostages as of November 30, in exchange for Israel releasing 150 imprisoned Palestinian terrorists and allowing for additional fuel and humanitarian aid to enter Gaza.
One can only speculate as to what will become of these newly released Palestinian terrorists, but if history is any guide, they could spell dire trouble for Israel in the years to come. Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip and one of the masterminds behind the October 7 massacre, was one of 1,027 terrorists released by Israel in exchange for a captive Israeli soldier in 2011.
The hostages-for-terrorists framework brings with it immense cognitive dissonance. While it yields obvious and immediate benefits for Israel, it also establishes a dangerous precedent, as it gives Hamas an incentive to take new people hostage when hostilities resume. And now that Israel has established the pattern in which it will agree to ceasefires in exchange for hostages, Hamas will doubtless see how far it can stretch the line. Thus, Israel will likely see diminishing returns to this approach—fewer hostages returned in exchange for longer ceasefires and larger quantities of fuel entering Gaza.
On a broader military level, agreeing to the type of long-term ceasefire that some in the West envision and failing to vanquish Hamas would pose an existential danger to Israel, as it will embolden Iran and its other proxies like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad to heed Hamas’s example and launch deadly attacks against Israel. Additionally, it would cement Qatar as an indispensable player in any enduring solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and amplify the monarchy’s already outsize influence in international matters, despite its being largely responsible for financing and legitimizing Hamas in the West.
Given these considerations, it’s disturbing that the Biden administration would tacitly hint at reduced American support unless Israel achieves the nearly impossible goal of swiftly eliminating Hamas with minimal civilian casualties. A diplomatic shift like this would also galvanize Iranian proxies across the Middle East to intensify their attacks on American troops, including in Syria and the Gulf.
Beyond national security interests, many compelling ethical reasons justify rejecting future ceasefires. Yes, Israel has a moral duty to bring its people home, but this goal should not come at the cost of allowing a genocidal terrorist group to live on its doorstep. A state that cannot safeguard the lives of its people is a failed one that does not deserve their trust and loyalty. Inevitably, such a state will die.
A long-term ceasefire, and even additional short-term ones, are strategic pitfalls. They foster a false sense of security, set dangerous precedents, and fail to address the conflict’s causes. The path to restoring calm to Gaza is undoubtedly complex, but it cannot succeed through demonstrably ineffective measures that fail to meet what must be the ultimate objective: vanquishing Hamas.
Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images