Israeli Operations in Gaza: A Historical Perspective on Trajectory and Dimensions

Hamas launched the October 7 attacks to disrupt the Oslo Agreement between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993 and the efforts to normalize diplomatic relations between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Baharain under the Abraham Accords. Hamas launched multiple air strikes on the Israeli mainland, but faced retaliation from Israel. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was established to govern Gaza and West Bank, aiming to implement the Oslo Agreement. However, Hamas’ rise in Gaza and 2006 lone elections squeezed the PA out of the strip and retained authority in the West Bank.

The attacks disrupted the coexistence between the two countries, compelling Israel to undertake massive military operations that could spark a regional or global war. Some scholars have compared the attacks to 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda on American twin towers. Hamas, which does not recognize Israel as a state, sought to mobilize other Islamic countries to help it occupy its claimed Islamic holy places now part of Israeli territory. However, Hamas has failed to gain support from its proxy partner Hezbollah and Iran and Aran countries.

The militant group Hamas is gaining support from Israel’s military actions, including airstrikes targeting Hamas and Hezbollah hideouts in the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria. The surge in civilian deaths, projected to be over 7,000, is undermining the Israeli right to wage a war for self-defense. Some scholars argue that the right to self-defense includes protecting nationals from both immediate and future threats. Hamas’ unprecedented attacks on October 7 have confirmed that without decimating Hamas’ military and governance capabilities in Gaza, Israel could not secure its people in the long-term.

Israel is committed to maintaining principles of distinction and proportionality in its war conduct, such as providing humanitarian treatment to war detainees and early warning signals for civilian evacuation. However, the Israeli claim of early warnings to evacuate Gazans lacks substance and lacks a humanitarian corridor with the assistance and monitoring of the United Nations.

Hamas has been labeled a terrorist organization by most Western countries for its violent methods in defiance of international humanitarian laws. Experts argue that to defeat the militant group on ground, collateral damage possibilities cannot be ruled out. Israel must be more careful and catious in streamlining operations to minimize collateral damage as much as possible, despite the difficulties in carrying out operations with precision and violations of international humanitarian laws by Hamas.

The Israeli war cabinet has ordered the IDF to destroy Hamas’ military and governing capabilities in Gaza, as the infrastructure used for governance might have been used for military operations. However, the Israeli determination to decimate Hamas’ political structure and military capabilities is becoming too expensive in terms of humanitarian costs. Israel has started ground operations with 3,50,000 reservists, indicating readiness for a prolonged operation. Hamas has the leeway to make operations difficult due to the difficult urban terrains and tunnels that would facilitate guerrilla warfare tactics.

The Palestinian Authority, undergoing a legitimacy crisis due to alleged collusion with Israel and lack of young leadership, is seeking support from the common people. Israel denies the basic right to life to Palestinians by launching airstrikes and denying them urgent humanitarian assistance. The stranded Gazans cannot receive necessary aid, and their deep connections with the Islamic brotherhood may hinder Egypt from expediting aid. The UN General Assembly has called for a humanitarian truce, primarily with the initiative from Arab countries, which is likely to be ignored by Israel.

Major powers, including the US, have advised Israel to follow international laws of war and humanitarian laws. President Joe Biden suggested Israel take cue from the failures of overstreched post-9/11 American military operations. However, the US has not set a red line for Israel and has stepped up its military support, complicating the situation on the ground. The ambiguous US role may be driven by two objectives: enhancing its power position in the Middle East during a crisis and fulfilling the US’s unfulfilled desires to destroy international terrorism.

Israeli settlers in the West Bank are using violence against Palestinians, further complicating the situation for Israel. Instead of consulting the Palestinian Authority, Israel is taking unilateral military actions. The Palestinian Authority has indicated a move away from bilateral water, energy, and security agreements with Israel. Diplomatic breakthroughs between the US and Iran on the Prisoners Exchange Agreement and between Israel and Arab countries on the Palestinian issue are likely to fall apart and reverse.

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