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Many commentators on the war in Gaza have described, often with some dismay, of the unanimity of the Israeli public behind pursuing the conflict vigorously, along with the openly expressed belief that Palestinians are subhman and deserving of brutality and death. And if anything, opinion is becoming more hard line. The right wing just did well in local elections. I am also told that an MIT researcher developing ideas for how to resolve the conflict has found the the young in Israel are more conservative than older cohorts.

This lack of concern about treating life with respect by a nominally civilized people is disturbing, given that in many advanced countries, laws against animal abuse would protect Palestinians better than Muslim states and the UN have.

But despite the apparent consensus on Palestine extermination, there are also growing stresses, particularly economic. Israel is a small open economy, with trade accounting for nearly 32% of GDP. Some sectors are vulnerable to the effects of war. For instance, tourism, using broader measures, contributes 5% to 6% of GDP.

There are signs that Israel is taking more damage below the water line than you can infer from Anglosphere media reports. The 20% rate of decline for fourth quarter GDP was a shock. And there is not likely to be a big bounceback. Even if the conflict were to end soon, Israel will be faced by hostile and far more economically and militarily powerful neighbors.

Forgive me for being overly reliant on former British diplomat Alastair Crooke for key points of our analysis, but he brings up critical issues that I have not seen stated in other Anglosphere reports.

Crooke, who follows the Hebrew press, has repeatedly pointed out that October 7 shattered the sense of security in Israel and that that is fundamentally important. He contends that the premise that Jews would be free from danger anywhere in Israel is deeply internalized. I recall after 9/11 (recall that I was in New York City) that how unhinged individuals were depended on how much “towers falling down” porn they watched and/or whether they had believed the world was safe.

Crooke has also argued that the sense of violation is so severe that the public needs Israel to restore the perception that it has a potent, formidable military by achieving a visible victory. That has not happened in Gaza. Israelis know that the war is not going all that well in Gaza. Crooke says Israelis believe the military death count is much higher than the IDF reports, particularly since news stories along those lines are quickly yanked by the censors. Hence (as we’ll discuss more below) the pressure to take on Lebanon.

A final observation by Crooke: Iran, Hezbollah, and other members of the Resistance have studied how the US and Israel wage war and planned in light of that. Both countries rely on airpower-dominated, intended to be overwhelming campaigns. Their Middle Eastern opponents have also observed that neither country has planned to sustain a long war. That is confirmed by Mark Sleboda, who in a recent show on Syriana Analysis with Andrei Martyanov, who said Western military academies do not even study wars of attrition (at 13:50). They consider them to be too primitive.1

Unfortunately, in the same way that the reports on the Israeli economy didn’t give much hint of the magnitude of the damage shown in the final quarter GDP decline, so to continuing signs of economic and social pressures are likely to be underplayed or simply not covered by the media. So please pipe up with further sightings and anecdata in comments.

The media has covered the weak public support for Netanyahu, the protests over the failure to secure a hostage release, and the spectacle of the US openly meddling in Israeli politics by trying to play kingmaker via inviting a mere minister, Benny Gantz to Washington.2 So we will skip over the backdrop of the top level jousting in Israel intensifying. Pundits generally express the view that whether and when Netanyahu goes is not going to make a difference in policy; if anything, his successors are very likely to be more right wing, which also means more bloody-minded.

One festering issue is the status of the settlers displaced from the Lebanon border. Wikipedia estimates the total at 96,000. To give a sense of the significance, that level, a bit over 1%, scaled up to the US population, would be over 3.5 million. The Israeli government is providing housing for them (not clear if for all or only those directed to evacuate).

Aside from the cost of this social support (which some contend is not sustainable long-term), there is also the loss of income and jobs from businesses operating in those border towns. If they continued to be depopulated for too long, it will be impossible to revive them. Customer and employees will have moved on.

The border town residents have been agitating to return to their homes, and have demanded that Israel push “Hezbollah” back to the Litani River in Lebanon so as to provide them with a buffer zone. This demand is tantamount to implementing a de-militarized zone in Lebanon at the expense of very long-standing Lebanese residents there. or alternatively, Israeli occupation. The government has promised to these settlers that it will clear the threat at the border. Yet many military experts (Scott Ritter, who has a great deal of personal experience with the IDF, had been the most vocal and detailed, but others come to the same conclusion) say if Israel were to attempt to invade Lebanon, the likely result would not be just a defeat but also Hezbollah occupying Israel up to Galilee.

A morale-sapper is that it is hard to hide that the Gaza campaign has not resulted in a win, which also does not bode well for taking action against the much more powerful Hezbollah. From Middle East Monitor on March 6:

The continuation of the Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip deepens Tel Aviv’s losses at the political and military levels, Israeli newspaper, Maariv, said in a report on Tuesday…

The paper said the Israeli army drags its feet in slow motion along the Gaza Strip and rarely launches new operations, except when it tries to comb some of the small areas it left behind…adding that the political leadership is also dragging its feet, waiting for external intervention and trying to reach a prisoner exchange agreement.

According to the paper, that is why the political leadership does not issue many statements, does not order the army to occupy the camps in central Gaza or the rural areas surrounding Rafah and does not attempt to evacuate the refugees in Rafah.

It claimed that taking such steps would put pressure on Hamas and improve the terms of the exchange agreement, while preparing the ground for occupying Rafah.

However, according to the report, Hamas’s chief in Gaza, Sinwar, has succeeded in besieging Israel within the place he wanted it, that is, under international pressure due to the refugee issue and the shortage of food and water in the Gaza Strip, which has made it reluctant to reach an agreement….

“It is clear that the military wing of Hamas does not want to conclude an agreement, in the first place, which means the refugees will not return, the army will not withdraw from the cities and the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to be reconstructed,” it said.

This delay allows Hamas to drag Israel out until after the month of Ramadan, which will extend the war for at least two additional months, while the Israeli army could have ended its military operation and occupied central Gaza and the Rafah camps a month ago, if the political leadership allowed it, the paper added in its report.

Notice the implicit impatience to end the war. It is not clear if this is the result of financial costs and possible further military losses, or political stresses due to continuing uncertainty.

The protracted war is producing manpower stains. From the Cradle on March 4, Israel’s manpower crisis worsens as wave of resignations hits army:

The Israeli Army Spokesperson’s Unit, led by Lt Col Daniel Hagari, has witnessed a large wave of resignations.

Among those who resigned are Hagari’s second in command, Colonel Butbol, as well Colonel Moran Katz and the army’s International Spokesman Lieutenant Richard Hecht.

“A large number of officers recently announced their retirement from the unit responsible for the military’s information system,” Hebrew news outlet Channel 14 reported on 3 March.

This does not seem all that significant in and of itself, but the piece later focuses on an issue we’ve mentioned in Links, that Israel is moving to recruit Haredim, the ultra-devout who have been exempted from military service:

The resignations come as significant tension has overtaken Israel’s military establishment.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has been calling for an end to draft exemptions for Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, citing a severe manpower crisis in the army…

“The army is in need of manpower now. It’s not a matter of politics, it’s a matter of mathematics,” the defense minister said on Sunday….

Israel is taking severe losses from its genocidal war in Gaza and its attempt to eradicate the Palestinian resistance.

We’ve pointed to the fact that the draft legislation to draft the Haredim, who are normally exempt from military service,3 has generated protests, including blocking a major road for eight hours. Even the New York Times has seen fit to recognize the schism. From an article early this week:

Unlike most Israelis, for whom military service is mandatory, Haredim are exempt from conscription to focus on religious study. They also receive substantial state subsidies to maintain an independent education system that eschews math and science for the study of Scripture.

As the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews has exploded — to more than one million people today, roughly 13 percent of Israel’s population, from about 40,000 in 1948 — those privileges and exemptions have led to resentment from secular Israelis. Many Israelis feel that their own military service and taxes provide both physical protection and financial reward to an underemployed community that gives little in return. Secular efforts to draw the ultra-Orthodox into the army and the work force have angered many Haredim, who see army service as a threat to their lives of religious devotion….

Polling shows that the Israeli mainstream is keener than ever to force Haredim to enlist, particularly with a growing number of soldiers returning from battle in Gaza and questioning the absence of ultra-Orthodox on the front lines.

The article tries to put a positive spin saying that now nearly 30% of Haredi poll as saying they are on board with conscription. That’s still a minority. What happens when drafted Haredi refuse orders and are put in military jails? I can see this being a pretty common outcome.

Another source of stress is ongoing economic damage is emigration in the wake of October 7. Many English language outlets in Muslim world, such as Anadolu Agency and Middle East Monitor, reported that
Israel’s Zman magazine had stated, based on an analysis of official data, that about 470,000 Israelis had emigrated, and that immigration had fallen by 70% in November. Naked Capitalism reader were unable to confirm the information; perhaps it was scrubbed by official censors? A couple of days after that flurry of stories, Jordan News put the total at 370,000 through the end of November, but argued it could be higher:

Since October 7, data from the Population and Immigration Authority reveals that Israelis that approximately 370,000 Israelis have left the country with the latest update spanning to the end of November. According to the statistics, Israelis are increasingly seeking refuge abroad, particularly in Europe, with a growing interest in purchasing real estate across several European countries.

Israeli economic newspaper, “The Marker” highlighted that Isreali families have been showing keen interest in buying real estate and homes abroad since October 7. By the end of October, about 230,309 Israelis immigrated, while an additional 139,839 left during November, according to the data and in tandem with Israel’s Ministry of Interior, Jo24 reported.

Meanwhile, estimates from the website “Zaman Yisrael” suggest that this number could be higher, with reports indicating that over 500,000 Israelis have left the country, surpassing the number of returnees and new immigrants. The website anticipates a potential increase in departures, particularly among Israelis who were already residing abroad or traveling during the Jewish holidays in September.

The economic impact of these departures is likely to be disproportionate to their numbers. People who can relocate on short notice, which means having or being able to rent housing abroad, are likely to be on average affluent. You can impose on relatives and friends only for so long.

On March 6, Middle East Monitor provided an update on economic damage. I am not clear on the nature of these compensation claims, since it is inconceivable that 700,000 soldiers were killed or injured. Readers?

From the text of the story:

The Israeli damages recorded during the war on the besieged Gaza Strip is six times greater than the damages recorded during the 2006 Lebanon War, the Director of the Israeli Tax Authority, Shai Aharonovitz, revealed on Tuesday, local media reported.

The Israeli Walla website said Aharonovitz has revealed disturbing data regarding the extent of the Israeli damages due to the Gaza war and the recorded compensation claims.

Speaking at an event, he said, “The war has posed a very complex challenge to dealing with direct damages, which we have never seen before.”

“The damage is now six times greater than the Second Lebanon War (2006), and about half a million [compensation] claims have been filed, so far.”

The Israeli official estimated that requests for compensation for indirect damages would exceed 700,000, and urged army recruits to file them, adding: “We have never been in a situation like this before.”

For his part, Ilan Pelto, CEO of the Federation of Public Enterprises, has criticised expanding the military budget during war time, saying, “If we get into a state of hysteria and give in to pressure from the army and the budgetary framework is breached beyond what is needed once, it will have serious consequences, both in taxation and in the field of welfare.”

None of these trajectories are good, nor do they look likely to reverse any time soon. And critically, Israel has never been tested like this. Unlike Russia, it does not have a history of extreme suffering and sacrifice in war, and myth-making around the severity of the pain and the eventual victory. Are too many Israelis unwilling to give what it takes for their nation?

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.1 That fits tidily with the official position that Russians are cavemen with nukes. But I am reminded of the great Muhammed Ali-George Forman fight. If you watched the documentary, When We Were Kings, Ali’s team was despondent right before Ali went into the ring. They were worried that the younger and extremely powerful Forman would not just beat Ali, but land such a hard punch that it would kill him.

Ali started by using a risky, amateur punch, the right-hand lead. But even with Foreman seeming not having trained for it and initially taking some blows, he started responding successfully. Ali then employed his famed and novel rope-a-dope, tiring Foreman out so much that Ali finished him off in the 8th round.

2 The media in Israel widely depicted the White House as having invited Gantz (see here and here). It is hard to think Gantz would be cheeky enough to seek unsolicited high level meetings. Spokescritter John Kirby nevertheless depicted Gantz as having solicited the meetings.

3 Oddly this is via legislation, and the last bill exempting Haredim expired at the end of June 2023. The Israel government has repeatedly made excuses to the High Court about not drafting Haredim and tried prettying that up via temporary regulations. It has conceded that if a military draft bill is not passed by April 1, the government will have to conscript yeshiva students.

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