'Destruction of Hamas'

Esteemed columnist tackles the big issues

"All of these efforts at a ceasefire are not only misguided, but they simply create the conditions in which there will be future October 7s," says Bret Stephens.

Bret Stephens speaks in Sydney. 
Photo: Gareth Narunsky
Bret Stephens speaks in Sydney. Photo: Gareth Narunsky

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens had harsh words for Australia’s government when asked on Monday night about its mixed messaging on the Israel-Hamas war.

“As an American, we are aware of when Australia is meaningfully contributing to serious solutions to great international problems,” he said at an Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council event at Sydney’s Central Synagogue.

“We’re also aware of when it’s idiotic posturing … and I would just say to this government that they are underlining, at least on this issue, their own irrelevance with this kind of gesture politics that they’re engaging in.”

The former Wall Street Journal columnist and Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief was equally scathing of calls for a ceasefire in the war.

“The only way in which this war should end is with the complete destruction of Hamas as a capable military or viable political force,” he said. “You can defeat or not defeat the ideology – what you have to defeat is the idea among Palestinians that launching another October 7, or pursuing the strategy of Hamas, is a viable strategy for them and only unequivocal military defeat is going to achieve that.

“All of these efforts at a ceasefire are not only misguided, but they simply create the conditions in which there will be future October 7s.”

He said ceasefire talk also undermines the future of the Abraham Accords. “Among the many reasons Israel has to defeat Hamas is to demonstrate to moderate Arab states that Israel is someone they want in their corner,” he said.

Stephens acknowledged the “heartbreaking” reality that continuing the war “puts the lives of the hostages at even greater risk”.

“But Israel has to rethink the proposition that the redemption of hostages is always the first and foremost consideration,” he said.

“Because it was the redemption of one hostage, Gilad Shalit, which led to the release of [Hamas leader] Yahya Sinwar and then the murder, kidnapping, rapes and destruction that he orchestrated on October 7.”

Even if Israel succeeds in destroying Hamas in Gaza, it would be “the end of the beginning” he said, as there is still Hezbollah in Lebanon to deal with.

Asked about Iran’s role as a terror puppet master, he said the Islamic Republic was both “even more dangerous than we think” as it races towards nuclear weapons capability, and also “a much weaker regime” that might be “at the point of fracturing”.

Citing a succession crisis following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, who was widely tipped to take over as Supreme Leader from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, along with the 2022 protests over the death in custody of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, Stephens declared, “Those are the conditions in which revolutions take place.

“All of the ingredients for the overthrow of the regime are present,” he said, saying it was up to the West to encourage “the forces of discontent and division to break the back of the regime”.

Addressing global antisemitism after October 7, he said many Jews “had lost their instinct for danger, coming of age in liberal, tolerant, civilised societies where we thought we had found acceptance and our place”.

“And the lesson of October 7 is that that’s in fact, an illusion,” he said. “We are back in Jewish history as we’ve known it, for so many generations.”

He said Jewish communities need to adapt and reinvent themselves in this new reality.

“When the cool kids no longer want you at their table in high school, the Jews have had a talent historically for going and starting their own table, until that became the cool kids’ table,” he said.

“Because ultimately, the correct response to antisemitism isn’t interfaith efforts or more visits to Yad Vashem, the correct response is Jewish pride.”

Stephens was scheduled to speak in Melbourne on Wednesday.

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