The grinding costs of war are taking a toll on both sides of the Gaza conflict.
There are oddly conflicting messages coming out of Israel about the status of its war in Gaza. On the one hand, Bibi Netanyahu repeatedly claims the war cannot end till Hamas is ‘eliminated.” The US essentially supports the never-ending war scenario. Permitting Israel to fight as long as it wants, accompanied by imploring for a kinder gentler war that kills hundreds instead of thousands.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) December 22, 2023
On the other hand Kan, Israel’s state media, reports that the war is in its “third phase”: in which intensive ground operations will wind down, reserve units will be released from duty, and the intensity of fighting will decrease.
This could be Israel’s way of conceding a ceasefire without saying it. But whatever it is, it contradicts both Biden and Netanyahu claims the war will last until there is no longer any Hamas presence in Gaza.
My guess is that there is a split developing between the IDF and Netanyahu. Though the source for the Kan story isn’t known definitively, the reporter is a military correspondent. Thus his story almost surely comes from the army or defense ministry. Yoav Gallant is defense minister and Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi is chief of staff. One of them leaked the story. Indicating the army wants nothing to do with Netanyahu’s boasting of knocking off Hamas. And it believes there is little more to be gained from further slaughter.
The army sees the mounting losses: 153 dead, nearly 7,000 injured, nearly half seriously. 14 soldiers died in the last 48 hours, the worst death toll of the entire war. Meanwhile, the army has killed less than 25% of all Hamas fighters after 10 weeks of intense house-to-house combat.
After the most intensive bombing campaign since Hiroshima, and ground operations with a force of 360,000, the potential targets of value have been drastically reduced. Also, the intensity of combat required to eliminate the remaining 22,000 Hamas’ fighters would be ferocious, with perhaps hundreds more IDF dead.
If Israel does wind down or stop the war, it will be a tacit admission that all the righteous indignation, cries for revenge, and assurances Hamas will be destroyed, have been in vain.
Meanwhile, yesterday 68 Palestinians were murdered in central Gaza. An Israeli security source says the Turkmani family and several others were targeted because a member of each fought in the 10/7 attack on Israel. A day earlier 70 members of the al-Mughrabi family were similarly murdered.
Issam al-Mughrabi worked for 30 years on behalf of the UN Development Programme, in its Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (UNDP statement). which makes Gaza more sustainable by providing infrastructure such as clean water and waste treatment plants. In addition to his murder, Israel has killed 130 other UN workers. Secretary General Guterres excoriated Israel, saying it was by far the highest such death toll in any previous conflict involving the UN.
An Israeli security source told me that the war cabinet’s Amalek Directive approved the murder of families of Hamas leaders, journalists, and Hamas fighters who participated in the 10/7 attack. Thus far, a number of such attacks exterminated entire families. The source claims that a member of each of the families mentioned above did so. That sealed their fate. It doesn’t need mentioning (but I will anyway) that this violates the Geneva Convention and constitutes genocide.
Israel’s deliberate targeting of hospitals, churches, mosques, schools, medical personnel and UN personnel bodes ill for future global conflicts. Combatants will use the Israeli “model” and engage in the same genocide and war crimes against previously sacrosanct targets. Israel has made the world a more dangerous, more deadly place. Wars will kill more. They will ethnically cleanse more. The damage to societies will be more savage. Recovery will be longer and more difficult.
As I, and scores of other analysts and experts have warned: Hamas cannot be eliminated. It remains the primary political and military actor in Gaza. Any plans for the day after which ignore it, are doomed. This may mean that Gaza will not be rebuilt. Infrastructure will remain in ruins. And the world may soon forget Gaza and leave it to its misery. One hopes this is not the case. But I don’t see the US, Saudis, etc willing to help if Hamas remains in control. Nor is there a chance in hell that the Palestinian Authority will take control as a purported US-Arab plan for the day-after entails.
There is one faint glimmer of hope if interested parties are open to an alternative. Menachem Klein writes that in 2021, Hamas and the PLO agreed to a formula for a unity government:
In… 2021, Fatah and Hamas…reached an agreement to hold elections for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, its Legislative Council, and Hamas’ entry into the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The elections were planned to take place in accordance with the Oslo Accords, after which negotiations would continue with Israel toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The agreement included a commitment to uphold international law, establish a state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, recognize the PLO as the legitimate and exclusive umbrella framework, conduct a peaceful popular struggle, and transfer the separate government in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.
The only condition was that Palestinians living in Jerusalem must be allowed to vote. Abbas sought the approval of key parties needed to pressure Israel into agreeing to this concession. Israel refused. Despite this, Hamas offered to participate. So much for the world’s designation of the Islamic group as a “terror organization.”
After Israel mounted fierce opposition, the Biden administration caved and the plan was shelved. Yet another Israeli opportunity to miss an opportunity. Abbas could have held elections anyway, but he knew he would lose. So he dropped the idea.
What follows explains the tragedy of the past two years and the 10/7 attack:
Abbas capitulated under severe pressure. The “Unity Intifada” began a few days later, and with it, Hamas’ Operation “Sword of Jerusalem” and Israel’s “Operation Guardian of the Walls.” According to reports in the New York Times and Washington Post, it was around that same time that Al-Aqsa Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, began conceiving and planning what would become “Al-Aqsa Flood” — the murderous assault of October 7.
It was the foreclosure of a political solution that forced Hamas to turn to the battlefield. If Biden and the Europeans would have united to force this unity plan through there would have been no 10/7 and the Middle East would be a safer place for Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Yet it suits Israel to continue war unabated, in Gaza and elsewhere. War enables leaders to divert attention from their failures. It unites the people to fight an external enemy instead of their domestic opponents.
The 2021 plan is the only one remotely possible to win acceptance among Palestinians. It is doubtful Biden has the spine to reopen it and follow through. But hope never dies.