On October 7, 2023, the Islamic Resistance Movement of Palestine, commonly known as HAMAS, launched a surprise attack on the Palestinian territories occupied by Israeli troops and settlers. In novel military tactics, Hamas recaptured many occupied areas of Israeli military posts, killed 1200 Israeli soldiers/settlers, and took many as captives. It was reminiscent of the Egyptian crossing of the Bar Lev Line in the Sinai desert during the October War of 1973, which jeopardized the very existence of Israel.
The Hamas attacks took the IDF and Mossad by surprise and called into question their invincibility and reputation. The Wall Street Journal (Nov 7, 2023) stated that “The Israeli illusion of security through dominance is forever gone, Israelis will never feel safe again. Israel will never have a sense of ‘normal’ again.”
In retaliation, Israel launched massive airstrikes and eventually launched an ‘Operation Iron Swords’ ground attack inside Gaza on October 23 to wipe out Hamas. The Foreign Affairs (Dec 6, 2023) reported that “Israel has invaded northern Gaza with some 40,000 combat troops and pummeled the small area with one of the most intense bombing campaigns in history.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retorted “We fight wherever we must: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the Red Sea… all Hamas operatives must die, and we are going to continue full force.” According to Foreign Affairs (Dec 14, 2023) “Since October 7, the latest war between Hamas and Israel has claimed the lives of more than 15,000 Palestinians and over 1,200 Israelis. Scores more have been injured.
The war has displaced more than 1.8 million Palestinians and left the fates of many of Israel’s people unknown; over 100 of those abducted in Israel remain hostages. Fighting has resulted in damage to 15 percent of the buildings in Gaza, including over 100 cultural landmarks and more than 45 percent of all housing units.” However, Hamas is still intact with the full support of 2.3 million people, who have preferred to die and be killed instead of fleeing to neighboring Arab states.
Israel employed disproportionate use of force in the longest-ever war; it has so far killed over 20,000 civilians in Gaza, including over 8,000 children and 6200 women;
22 ⇒ Hospitals destroyed
102 ⇒ Ambulances destroyed
300 ⇒ Medical staff killed
80 ⇒ Journalists killed
50,100 ⇒ wounded
196 ⇒ Mosques partially damaged
52,00 ⇒ Homes completely destroyed
254,000 ⇒ Homes partially damaged
According to the World Food Program (Dec 21, 2023), half of the Gaza population is starving, and Human Rights Watch (Dec 19, 203) denounced Israel for denying Gaza access to food as starvation is being used as a weapon of war. It warned that if adequate food supplies are not provided, there is a strong danger of feminine.
There is a global outcry; the streets of Europe, the Americas, and Asia are resonating with the voices of unarmed and innocent people of Gaza. There was a brief truce to trade the hostages for a few days (Nov 23-27), and limited access to humanitarian aid was allowed from the Rafah crossing. Both sides released more than 400 captives in exchange for prisoners/captives. However, the United Nations Security Council could not agree to a ceasefire due to the US veto twice. An urgent call to stop Israeli bombardments is gaining momentum, but Israeli leaders with US backing are denying any pause in the war, which would cause more destruction and mayhem.
Gaza is a strip of 365 square kilometers of landmass with 2.3 million inhabitants; it is one of the world’s most densely/poorly populated areas, with Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea surrounding it. This land remained under Israeli occupation till 2005; Hamas won the majority of the seats during the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006; however, its government could not last for more than 18 months, but the area remained under its control.
It is believed that Hamas’s elevation from a charity organization to a rival Palestinian group was facilitated by Israel in 1987. Subsequently, Hamas became a credible threat to Israeli security, which led to four Israeli military assaults on Gaza: 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2021. Under the Zionist ‘Law of the Return,’ there are about 300 Israeli settlements with a population of 700,000 along the Gaza Strip in the Palestinian-occupied territories. There have been daily attacks by the Israeli security forces and settlers in Gaza and West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has failed to protect the Palestinians from these attacks.
The PA has become irrelevant because it collaborated with Israel and the diplomatic failure of the international community, along with seven decades of broken promises. Since the world was no longer interested in the resolution of this perennial issue, the Israeli plan was a systematic wipe-out of Palestinians from Gaza.
There is another connotation to the ongoing genocide in Gaza; ‘the curse of the 8th decade and end of Israel’, which many Israelis, including Ehud Barak, Naftali Bennett, and Benjamin Netanyahu, believe strongly. Historically, the Jewish State has not lasted beyond the 8th decade of its establishment. Therefore, they have waged a religious war on Gaza, and Benjamin Netanyahu used religious connotation by saying, ‘You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our holy bible.’
Samuel 15:3 states that “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and women, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, while visiting Israel on October 12, 2023, said that “he comes before you not only as US Secretary of State, but also as a Jew. My grandfather fled Russia; my step-father survived the concentration camp.” Therefore, they want to invoke religious sentiments to harness the support for a brutal and devastating war against the unarmed civilian population of Gaza. And Netanyahu is using war for his political survival, using religion and exploiting the fears of Israelis.
International support for Israel is waning, and Palestine has become internationalized after remaining in cold storage for many decades. The UN Secretary-General invoked Article 99 on Gaza in a rare/powerful move asking the UNSC to act as ‘the situation may aggravate existing threats to the maintenance of international peace and security.’ The UNSC could not discharge its primary responsibility to maintain global peace, and Article 377A was invoked to take the case to the UN General Assembly. On Dec 12, 2023, the UNGA overwhelmingly supported the humanitarian ceasefire as 153 members voted in favor, 10 against, and 23 abstained.
Many Arab states, Jordan, Bahrain, and Turkey, under intense domestic public opinion, recalled their ambassadors from Israel. Bolivia, Chile, and Colombia recalled their ambassadors, and Bolivia and South Africa have cut diplomatic ties with Israel. Malaysia has banned all ships en route to Israel from docking at Malaysian ports. Malaysian PM said that “the restrictions are a response to Israel’s actions that ignore basic humanitarian principles and violate international law through the ongoing massacre and brutality against Palestinians.” (Aljazeera, Dec 20, 2023).
Israel is losing the European streets, as former Israeli prime minister Ehud Bark said, “Rooting out Hamas will take a year, but already in a few weeks, support for Israel in the USA and Europe will crumble. Listen to the public tone; it is slightly more explicit behind doors. We are losing public opinion in Europe, and in a week or two, we’ll start losing governments. And after another week, the friction with the Americans will surface.” (politico.eu, Nov 7, 2023)
Yemen has started targeting ships passing through the Red Sea. After the threat from Houthis, more than 100 ‘container ships’ declaring European ports as destinations have diverted from the Red Sea and taken longer African routes. Besides the danger of disruption, it has increased the freight charges manifold (CNBC, Dec 23, 2023). This threat has resulted in forming a US-led coalition of 10 states to launch ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ that would expand the war into the entire region. (Aljazeera, Dec 19, 2023). Hezbollah has increased its military attacks against Israel; one military official said that ‘Israel is one deadly Hezbollah strike away from a new war in Lebanon.’
Domestically, Benjamin Netanyahu is losing political support due to corruption charges and controversial laws to control the Supreme Court. Despite the war on Gaza, the corruption trial of Netanyahu has begun after two months, which speaks to growing concerns about his political loss. Al-Monitor (Dec 19, 2023) reports that 70% of Israelis think that Netanyahu should resign over his failure to prevent the worst-ever attack in Israel’s history. According to the Central Bank of Israel, the war in Gaza is to cost about $52 billion, 10% of the GDP of Israel ($520b). CBI had $200 billion in reserves, but it had to sell $30 billion (15% of its reserves) to stabilize the Shekel (Israeli currency).
Half a million Israeli settlers (dual nationals) have fled the occupied Palestinian territories; 80,000 people have been evacuated from Lebanon as a result of Hezbollah attacks, and over 200,000 Israelis have been displaced due to attacks by Hamas on Settlements. According to Jerusalem Post (Nov 24, 2023) 75,200 people were working in the agriculture sector; 49 percent of them Israeli, 32% foreign, mostly Thai, and 19% Palestinian. After the war with Hamas, Israel is losing foreign workers, and presently, there is a shortage of 40,000 workers in the agriculture sector. This situation may further aggravate a severe food shortage if war continues.
Ari Shavit, a leading Israeli journalist, and Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Bet, warned that the government’s war and territorial expansion will lead to ‘the end of Israel.’ Raz Segal, an Israeli Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton University believes that ‘Gaza is a textbook genocide’ depicted through the statements of Israeli leaders, members of parliament, military commanders, and journalists, who have stated and shown their intent to flatten Gaza. The Washington Post (Dec 5, 2023) states that Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, yet the group is still intact. Israel’s failed bombing campaign in Gaza and collective punishment would not defeat Hamas.
Several Arab states, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Lebanon, were destroyed. Several others, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, UAE, and Morocco, were made to have peace deals just to provide security to Israel but could not approve Iran, Türkiye, Yemen, and non-state actors such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The Abraham Accords seem dead, as Saudi Arabia is reluctant to go ahead with the normalization of relations with Israel. According to The New York Times (Dec 22, 2023), 96% of Saudis believe that all Arab countries should cut all ties with Israel to protest the war in Gaza.
Israel has used massive airpower bombardment with the most lethal weapons, including the most destructive bombs (The New York Times, Dec 21, 2023), annihilating an entire Palestinian generation. Still, it is stuck up in the pitched battle with Hamas in their stronghold areas. The Palestine issue has become internationalized, and the call for the ‘two-state solution’ is gaining momentum; a lasting and sustainable peace is only possible by giving Palestinians the right to live and implement all UN resolutions. The alternate is a nightmare of continued violence and destruction at the cost of innocent deaths.
The Author is a Professor of International Relations and presently working as a Member Board of Directors, at the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) Colombo-Sri Lanka. He has served as Dean Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Wah, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, and Director of School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University. He has over 30 years of teaching, research, and administrative experience.