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Nearly 6 months after Hamas attacked Israel, has Israel accomplished its goals?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel's defense minister is in Washington today. Yoav Gallant is meeting U.S. officials who are showing less and less patience with Israel's approach to the war in Gaza. They've been warning that the suffering of so many Palestinians is undermining support for Israel. Israelis have stated a goal - freeing hostages and destroying Hamas after the October 7 attack on Israel. So, how close are Israelis to that goal? Let's discuss that with Raphael Cohen, who is a senior political scientist at RAND, a think tank that often advises the U.S. Department of Defense. Mr. Cohen, welcome to the program. Good morning.

RAPHAEL COHEN: Good morning. Thanks so much for having me on, Steve.

INSKEEP: Bottom line question first - is Israel, by its own definition, winning the war against Hamas?

COHEN: So unfortunately, there's not a simple answer to that question. I think operationally they are. If you look politically and strategically, they are not. And let me sort of unpack what I mean by that.

INSKEEP: Sure.

COHEN: So Hamas goes into this war with 24-odd battalions. Israel claims to have destroyed 18 of them. They've claimed to kill about 14,000 of these 40,000 Hamas foot soldiers, and particularly that operational level leadership in the organization. And all of those are significant achievements, not least of which is if you look at, say, a rocket fire into Israel from Gaza, that's gone down dramatically. Israelis are slowly getting to return to their homes inside the settlements near Gaza. And if you look forward, Hamas would be, from a military perspective, hard-pressed to do another October 7, at least in the near term.

INSKEEP: OK.

COHEN: Now, if you move away from those sort of immediate objectives and look at the political and strategic level, then the picture becomes a whole lot less favorable to Israel.

INSKEEP: I want to talk about that because I'm thinking of an analogy which you will say is correct or not, with the U.S. war in Iraq, where the U.S. deployed enormous firepower, the U.S. could go where it wanted to go in Iraq, there were early apparent victories in Iraq. But on a strategic level, the United States suffered enormous losses to its prestige and ended up engaged in a war that took years and years, rather than the weeks or months they were hoping for.

COHEN: Yeah, so there are clear analogies here. If you look at, say, polling of the Palestinian population, support for Hamas today is roughly where it was prior to the conflict. You still have 7 out of 10 Palestinians saying that they support October 7. So clearly Israel's not winning hearts and minds any better than we did in Iraq, and perhaps arguably more so. And moreover, you can already see some of the international backlash from this, particularly for Israel among key Arab allies like the Jordanians or the Egyptians, but also from key allies in the West, most notably from the United States and particularly the left of the American political spectrum.

INSKEEP: Has Israel come any closer to staking out an end game that would be acceptable to the Israeli public, that would be acceptable to Palestinians, acceptable to the United States and other nations?

COHEN: So at least they're beginning to talk about an end game. They haven't really settled on one. Prime Minister Netanyahu keeps on saying that he wants something that's not the Palestinian Authority and not Hamas to govern Gaza.

INSKEEP: Right.

COHEN: Who exactly those all is sort of unclear. There's been some reporting that they're thinking about, turning this over to the local clans inside Gaza, some that they would begin leasing former Palestinian Authority members to help govern Gaza. None of this has sort of come together as a coherent plan just yet.

INSKEEP: Raphael Cohen of RAND offering one view of the conflict. Thanks so much.

COHEN: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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