Bombing and starving Gaza can’t reverse Israel’s strategic failure

Paletinians mourn the loss of a loved one in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, on 25 June after an Israeli attack on Maghazi refugee camp.

Omar Ashtawy APA images

There is no respite for Palestinians enduring eight months of unrelenting trauma, uncertainty and terror in Gaza, deprived of the basic needs of survival such as food, water and shelter.

The last few days in Gaza have seen one Israeli war crime after another, in what has become a horrific new norm as Israel, with the support of Washington, destroys international law along with Palestinian bodies, homes and dreams.

But such destruction does not translate into strategic victory. As the smoke lifts from a ruined Gaza, it is increasingly clear that Israel’s eliminationist campaign will end in failure.

On Sunday, an Israeli airstrike killed at least eight people at a training center used as an aid distribution point by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.

Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for the agency, said that 190 UNRWA facilities have been hit since early October, the “vast majority of our buildings in Gaza.” Nearly 200 of the agency’s employees have been killed during that same period.

On Saturday, an Israeli attack reportedly targeting a senior Hamas commander killed 24 Palestinians, days after the Israeli military’s chief spokesperson acknowledged that it is impossible “to make Hamas vanish.”

Another 18 people were reported killed in a strike on houses in Gaza City’s Tuffah neighborhood on Saturday.

The deadly attacks followed an artillery strike on al-Mawasi, which was declared a “humanitarian zone” by Israel. That attack killed at least 25 people on Friday. The International Committee of the Red Cross said that its office and residences were damaged by the shelling.

By Sunday, Israeli tanks had advanced to the margins of the camp for displaced people in al-Mawasi.

The Reuters news agency described it as “part of a push into western and northern Rafah in which they had blown up dozens of houses in recent days.”


Palestinians in Gaza, under total siege since October and their food production capacity largely destroyed, have had little relief from months of hunger.

Two babies reportedly died of malnutrition in recent days, according to health officials at Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza. At least 31 children in Gaza have died from malnutrition or dehydration since October, though officials say that the actual number is likely higher.

The US-based charity Save the Children said on Monday that up to 21,000 boys and girls “are estimated to be missing in the chaos of the war in Gaza, many trapped beneath rubble, detained, buried in unmarked graves, or lost from their families.”

The recent mass displacement caused by Israel’s offensive in Rafah has “separated more children and further increased the strain on families and communities caring for them,” the charity added.

At least 37,600 people have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to authorities in the territory, though the actual number is likely much higher with thousands of people missing under the rubble or whose bodies have otherwise not been recovered are not included in the known toll.

Gaza’s hospitals have been systematically destroyed; hundreds of doctors, nurses and medical experts have been killed and detained; water and sanitation infrastructure has been razed and those tasked with repairing it killed – such as the strike on municipal workers that left six people dead on Friday.

More than 10,000 people in Gaza need to be evacuated for treatment for trauma injuries, as well as cancer, heart and mental health conditions, according to the head of the World Health Organization.

Chris Sidoti, one of the human rights experts tapped by the UN Human Rights Council to examine Israel’s system of oppression as a whole, said last week that he doesn’t have “the authority to make assessments of morality.”

But he declared that based on his mandate to “make assessments of criminal conduct … the only conclusion you can draw is that the Israeli army is one of the most criminal armies in the world.”

Israel’s appalling actions in Gaza have shredded the basic principles of the laws of war, as the UN human rights office lays out in a recent report examining the use of “explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas.”

Flagrant violations of international law, such as attacks on an UN-flagged aid distribution point and the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, have become so frequent as to be normalized.

Strategic failure

Morality and legality aside, Israel’s conduct in Gaza is a resounding strategic failure.

Israel has found itself in a morass in Gaza. Its military has freed only seven of the more than 200 captives held by Hamas and other armed groups in the territory since 7 October.

Around half were released as part of an exchange deal negotiated with Hamas in November. A growing number – far greater than those freed by the military – have died in captivity.

Some of Israel’s military brass are trying to extricate the army from a war of attrition in which the parents of hundreds of soldiers say their children are dying for no clear purpose.

Daniel Hagari, the military spokesperson, said that “the idea that it is possible to destroy Hamas … is throwing sand in the eyes of the public” during a recent interview with Israel’s Channel 13.

The Israeli military attempted to spin Hagari’s remarks by saying that he was referring to Hamas “as an ideology and as an idea.”

The spokesperson’s comments may have been aimed at bracing the Israeli public for a future in which Hamas remains in charge in Gaza.

Reports in both Israeli and international media suggest that the military is keen to transition away from high-intensity warfare in Gaza. There is growing public disagreement between the military and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hardline allies, who want to keep the war raging in Gaza seemingly indefinitely for their own purposes.

Hagari claimed in recent days that the Israeli military “is very close to dismantling Hamas’ Rafah battalions,” indicating a tapering off of intense fighting in Gaza’s most southern area along the border with Egypt, where the army has sustained heavy losses.

Yossi Kuperwasser, a retired general and former head of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, was quoted by The Washington Post saying that the military is “finished in Rafah now for all practical purposes and they can start discussing what it means for a hostage deal.”

While ruling out any agreement that allows Hamas to hold onto power in Gaza, Netanyahu conceded in an interview with Israel’s Channel 14 on Sunday that “the intense phase of fighting Hamas is nearly over.”

Hamas’ position is that there will be no exchange of captives without a deal that ends the war, which Netanyahu flatly rejects. But an end to the war in Gaza will be necessary to deescalate the medium-intensity fighting between Israel and Hizballah in Lebanon that has been the focus of diplomatic efforts aiming at avoiding a full confrontation.


The months of fighting between Israel and Hizballah threatens to escalate into a full-scale confrontation even more catastrophic than what has been wrought in Gaza.

In a speech last week, following reports that the Israeli military approved plans for an offensive in Lebanon, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that no place in Israel would be safe in an all-out attack on Lebanon.

Nasrallah also threatened nearby Cyprus, a European Union member state, if it lets Israel use its military installations to attack Lebanon.

Hizballah meanwhile released montages of drone footage and satellite imagery, seemingly recorded without detection, documenting highly sensitive Israeli military, power plants and oil extraction sites – potential targets in a full military confrontation.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, warned that “the people of the region and the people of the world cannot afford Lebanon to become another Gaza.”

Guterres added that “one rash move – one miscalculation – could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border, and frankly, beyond imagination.”

The US says it doesn’t want to see such an escalation but hasn’t acted decisively to prevent it.

Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, recently acknowledged that a ceasefire in Gaza would yield “calm in Lebanon.”

And yet Washington keeps on helping Israel prolong the war in Gaza, at the expense of Palestinian and Lebanese lives.

But the Biden administration’s rudderless diplomacy won’t end well for its genocidal ally. Washington’s “no daylight,” unconditional support for Tel Aviv is encouraging Israel to embark down a path of self-destruction.

No shortage of ink is being spilled in Israel regarding the impending internal breakdown, as the writer Helena Cobban observes.

The Biden administration has reportedly provided assurances that it would fully back its ally in a war with Hizballah though it wouldn’t deploy American troops.

Such a war would result in Israelis spending a year in bomb shelters, according to military analyst Elijah Magnier:

Shaul Goldstein, the head of the company responsible for planning Israel’s electrical infrastructure, put it plainly: “we are not prepared for a real war.”


Israel’s stalemate with Hamas’ Qassam Brigades in Gaza should provide further caution against a confrontation with a much more formidable foe in Lebanon.

Instead of breaking the people’s support for armed resistance, Hamas is growing in strength, in no small part because of the brutality and the scale of the destruction wrought on Palestinians in Gaza.

Robert Pape, a political scientist with little sympathy for Hamas, examines “why Israel’s failing strategy makes its enemy stronger” in a recent analysis for Foreign Affairs.

Pape explains that for groups like Hamas, the ability to recruit fighters willing to die for the cause is a key source of its power. And the ability to recruit is rooted in “the scale and intensity of support a group derives from its community.”

Opinion polls show widespread support among Palestinians for Hamas, far beyond that enjoyed by its main rival, the Fatah faction. Instead of beating Palestinians into submission, Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has seen a corresponding rise in support among Palestinians for armed resistance against Israel.

Pape also attributes Hamas’ surging popularity to what he calls its “sophisticated propaganda,” including videos of its forces striking blows against Israeli troops in Gaza.

And while those videos may indeed be compelling, the popularity and legitimacy of groups like Hamas in the communities from which they spring are better understood in the framework of indigenous resistance against a foreign oppressor.

Hamas in Gaza, Hizballah in Lebanon and other regional actors such as Ansarullah in Yemen are borne of foreign occupation and the denial of self-determination.

There will be no peace until the context giving rise to armed resistance fundamentally changes, and there will be no fundamental change without armed resistance.

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.