It’s hard for the Israelis to understand, but other than the United States, they have no real allies and defenders in their war against Hamas. Now the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has played a 40-minute video to foreign journalists, recorded from cell phones and surveillance cameras, showing the actual course of the horrific Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7th.

The wanton killing, the dialogue – not acted but spoken in real time, without interruptions by correspondents, without comments from experts – convey the horror of the victims and the joy of the terrorists as they slaughtered more than 1,400 Jews and kidnapped 240 more people.

Israel is spreading the harrowing story of that terrible day as an antidote to the overwhelmingly negative publicity Israel is receiving for its campaign to destroy Hamas from its hideouts in Gaza. An Israeli diplomat said that recounting the exact events could convince some of those protesting the bombings of the need to drive Hamas out of existence.

For Israelis, the reaction even from countries with which Israel is on friendly terms is more than frustrating. It’s incomprehensible. Israel’s friends may condemn Hamas for opening the war, but NATO countries are still not coming to Israel’s defense. Unlike the Ukrainians who fought the Russians, the IDF has not received ammunition and equipment from NATO members other than the United States.

Anti-Israel sentiment is strong in European cities. Apparently, NATO leaders prefer to wait out the war, hoping it doesn’t spread, while praying for the bloodshed to stop.

For the Israelis, fighting with American money and weapons, the campaign to root out Hamas’s hideouts and tunnels will not be easy. Israel estimates that Hamas includes at least 40,000 armed fighters for whom terrorism is a prerequisite for waging war. At the high end, Hamas could have up to 100,000 weapons. The numbers are not certain, an Israeli diplomat told me.

What is certain is that it will be extremely difficult to expel the terrorists from a network of tunnels that snake hundreds of kilometers beneath the city’s streets. Above ground, Hamas operates in and around hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, knowing that the IDF would hesitate to attack them for fear of killing civilians, including women and children.

A woman lights a candle placed on a sign with an Israeli flag and at a vigil for the hostages taken by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack at Dizengoff Square in central Tel Aviv, Nov. 7, 2023 handwritten notes.JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

The Israelis say they are following the rules of war. Their targets are the headquarters, the battlefields, the fortifications, the headquarters of Hamas. They do not intentionally mow down civilians, although the death of non-combatants is inevitable in any war.

NATO’s hesitation to side with Israel, even when it comes to offering moral support, raises the question of what to expect if war were to break out in Asia if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un decides it is now time to attack the country Americans, Japanese or South Korea. Or what if Chinese President Xi Jinping orders the takeover of Taiwan, the independent island province that China claims as its own?

The commitment of the United States, Japan and South Korea to jointly combat threats from China and North Korea provides a level of security that Israel cannot enjoy. Aside from a joint statement by the leaders of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy shortly after the Hamas attack: who but the United States is rushing to Israel’s defense?

However, beyond its dependence on the US, Israel has some cards in its hand. The Islamic Republic of Iran may be arming both Hamas and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, but does anyone think Iran will go to war for its proxies? It is obviously far better for Iran to watch these militant groups fight.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, none of the Arab countries want to risk lives and money for the 2.3 million Palestinians trapped in a slum devastated by bombings. The Palestinians themselves seem to be divided: the people of Gaza cannot expect the Palestinians in the West Bank to go to war for them.

Israel can also be sure that major countries that may sympathize with Hamas and the Palestinians will not do much for them. While China appears to be on Hamas’s side, it does too much business with Israel to jeopardize the connection. It is one thing to be friendly to Iran and Arab nations for the sake of investment and trade, including oil imports, but quite another to go beyond words.

For Israel, however, it is a battle that no one wins. In this war, no side, no individual will be able to declare absolute victory. There are many nagging questions. No one can answer who will rule Gaza if Israel eliminates Hamas. And where and how will the masses of Gazans survive and thrive?

For Hamas, the ideal solution would be an immediate ceasefire, as advocated by several nations and groups, including some that are at least superficially friendly to Israel. This is a complete false start for Israel. At the very least, Hamas would have to release the hostages as a condition of the “humanitarian pause” advocated by President Biden.

Freed from fear of Israeli attack and protected from reprisals, Hamas would lick its wounds while Iran picked up more weapons. But the images of Hamas’ barbarism captured on video on the first day of the war should convince ceasefire advocates of the danger of letting Hamas rule in Gaza while it prepares for the next surprise strike against Israel.

Donald Kirk has been a journalist for more than 60 years, covering conflicts in Asia and the Middle East. Today he is a freelance correspondent for North and South Korea and the author of several books on Asian affairs.

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