The world is experiencing the ripple effects of the Hamas terror attacks on Israel on October 7- the day that changed the security landscape in Israel. The Hamas multi-pronged attacks on Israel soil, yet again proved that terror groups would act on their own time and space to outsmart sophisticated adversaries, capable of changing the political landscape to ensure its existence and desire to achieve its political and military goals with no sympathy towards innocent people.
Against this backdrop, Israel’s war against Hamas commenced to eliminate Hamas, an organization that has been entrenched in Gaza since 2006. There is no question about Israel’s intent to eliminate terrorism, as it is a legitimate aspiration of a sovereign nation to safeguard its citizens from future attacks. Many powerful nations in the West not only expressed their sympathies to Israel but also vouched for unconditional support to fight against Hamas- a designated terrorist organization. United States President Joe Biden visited Israel on the very next day of the attacks with a clear message: “You are not alone” and “As long as the United States stands- and we will stand forever- we will not let you ever be alone.” President Biden intended to extend solidarity in Israel’s efforts to stabilize and enhance the security posture and prevent the expansion of war beyond the Gaza Strip. President Biden emphasized that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that Israel has all the right to respond to these vicious attacks. Meanwhile, he also cautioned Israel not to make the same mistakes committed by the United States after the September 11th terrorist attacks. After that, many other leaders of the West followed in the United States footsteps and visited Israel, showing solidarity during the hour of need.
On the other hand, the Arab world was busy addressing catastrophic events that unfolded upon Palestinian people living in Gaza as a result of events related to the Hamas attacks on Israel. The most notable change in the political arena was that Saudi Arabia established direct contacts with Iran while putting the Saudi-Israel normalization plan backed by the United States on the back burner. The subsequent events related to Israel’s military actions, mounting innocent civilian deaths and destruction in Gaza, led the Arab countries to form a powerful coalition. The Arab leaders convened in Riyadh with an extraordinary Joint Arab Islamic Summit to discuss unfolding events in Gaza to find a meaningful action plan to prevent further deaths, human suffering, and destruction.
This extraordinary Joint Arab Islamic Summit concluded on November 11 by issuing a joint statement condemning Israel’s aggression against the Gaza Strip, the war crimes allegations, and the massacres committed by the colonial occupation government against the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They demanded an immediate stop to Israel’s aggression and the Security Council of the United Nations to take an immediate decision by condemning Israel’s forces’ destruction of hospitals in the Gaza Strip, prevention of the delivery of medicine, food, and fuel, and cutting off electricity, water, and essential services, including communication and internet services.
It is important to note how the Arab nations as a league view this unfolding human catastrophe in the Gaza Strip. The Arab Islamic countries view that as a collective punishment for Palestinians amounting to a war crime and denounce the double standards in the application of international law. Further, they warned that the inactions of the states that protect Israel from international law seriously undermine the credibility of those states while exposing double standards, leading to a rift between civilizations and cultures, amongst other matters.
Towards the end of the Arab Islamic summit, the civilian death toll in Gaza reached over 11000, with massive destruction in the Gaza Strip never seen before. International humanitarian agencies reported that over 1.5 million people were displaced and categorized them as forced internal displacement due to Israeli military activities. Despite international diplomatic pressure, Israel continues its military actions in Gaza with no end in sight.
Against this backdrop, European countries, including the United States, were compelled to speak out against this unfolding human catastrophe in Gaza. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, urged Israel to stop bombing, saying self-protection is no reason to kill civilians and there is no legitimacy in doing so. Meanwhile, the United States Secretary General delivered his most direct criticism of Israel’s military campaign against Hamas, saying more needs to be done to protect civilians, and denounced the soaring number of Palestinians killed.
Like in any other war situation, there are protests around the world against the war in Gaza that not only drew the attention of the general public but also compelled the political leadership of states to speak out against this atrocity. In a very subtle way, mainstream media had to change the narrative and speak for the people of Palestine and their sufferings.
In this context, exploring likely flashpoints that created this mayhem in the Gaza Strip after October 7 is pertinent. It is not a surprise that war involves death and destruction, especially when fighting in one of the most densely populated areas like the Gaza Strip, where a conventional army engages with terrorists or non-state actors like Hamas. Topography with population centers in this area makes it hard for a conventional army to maneuver to conduct military operations against highly agile militant groups like Hamas. On the other hand, when enemies hide behind civilians, it poses a complex challenge for military forces adhering to the rules of engagement. In this case, Hamas has the advantage of being able to merge with the population and, in some cases, to use civilians as a shield to protect themselves. As a legitimate military power, Israel bears the burden of adhering to International Humanitarian Law. The distinction, proportionality, and necessity principles still apply, emphasizing the need to differentiate between combatants and civilians. The reasons behind the resentment towards Israeli’s military offensive are:
Forceful Displacement: According to the World Health Organization’s Director General, over 1.5 million people have been displaced and looking for shelter anywhere they can. The Palestinian displacement is one of the fastest displacements in the recent history. The international community expressed deep concern about hasty actions and announcements by Israel resulting in the displacement of Palestinians. The Israeli decision raised the legitimacy of such action to further military objectives. Many countries denounced this action and considered it an invasion.
Mounting Civilians Death: According to the Secretary General of the United Nations, more than 10,000 people, including thousands of children, have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory operation. Moreover, he went on to say that the death toll in Gaza amid “Israel’s war with Hamas demonstrates something is wrong with Israel’s military operations.” He described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as “catastrophic.” The Secretary General’s powerful message to the international community highlighted the need for immediate actions to prevent further deaths and human suffering at the hands of the Israeli military.
It is clear now that Israel’s military conduct has raised the eyebrows of many international organizations and countries alike, making it difficult to justify Israel’s position in conducting this war. In this context, Israel has the burden of showing evidence of the intelligence narrative that led to the selection of targets in the Gaza Strip. Despite international pressure, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administration has not shown any corrective actions in targeting selection and decisions that distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives, attempt to reduce civilian casualties and provide humanitarian assistance to a satisfactory level to stabilize the deteriorating situation in Gaza.
On the other hand, there are many unanswered questions regarding the military conduct in the Gaza Strip, specifically in terms of necessity and proportionality and international response in dealing with such issues. Can this be the standard of future warfighting in populace centers? Will other state actors use this as an example to wage wars against non-state actors? Will other states use Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “ill-fated strategy” as an example in the future to evade war crimes allegations?
Regardless of previous circumstances and future actions, Israel faces unprecedented pressure from the rest of the world. There could be a dent in the relationship with the United States due to the ill-fated strategy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his willingness to continue the war, disregarding American advice. It is notable how Prime Minister Netanyahu moves the goalposts from time to time in terms of end state despite international pressure with no clear strategy to end.
Terror groups backed by Iran are putting pressure on American forces in the region through rocket attacks, resulting in increased security risk and vulnerability in the Middle- East. There is a possibility that this conflict may take the rest of the world towards a dangerous situation with the conflict expansion beyond the Gaza Strip.
Suppose history provides any guidance in this context; in that case, the international community needs to step up to fulfill its responsibility through diplomacy and to ensure Israel adheres to the fundamentals of the rule of law. At least, power hubs like the United States and France may have to make hard decisions to restrain Israel’s military conduct through diplomacy to stabilize the situation and prevent further deterioration of relationships. Such actions will prevent a regional war, mainly with other non-state actors that Iran and like-minded states are ambitiously waiting for an opportunity.
On the contrary, this is yet another missed opportunity for Israel to garner international support for its war. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ill-fated strategy with the intolerable killing of civilians in the Gaza Strip forced Western nations to denounce Israel’s acts and demand an immediate ceasefire. It seems that no country is willing to accept the blame for not standing for the justice of Palestinian people regardless of affiliation with Israel.
When the world is at a crossroads with dangerous moves towards increased violence with terror attacks in the region, states need a strategy to eliminate terrorism and to win hearts and minds. However, in the absence of winning the hearts and minds, Israel’s military actions with disproportionate targeting and destruction are likely to produce more hatred feelings and increased terrorism in the region. Elimination of terrorism is not a sprint but rather a marathon. As this conflict unfolds in the Gaza Strip, it is unlikely to achieve one of the critical goals that Israel spelled out: the elimination of Hamas entirely with mounting international pressure for a ceasefire due to increasing civilian casualties and destructions. Likewise, one could think that Israel may win the battle, but winning the war would be a question in the absence of international support.
Lastly, Prime Minister Netanyahu now has a greater responsibility to garner international support for his country through diplomacy and to prove the intelligence narrative portrayed by him is correct while disproving President Biden’s premise- “not to make the same mistakes committed by the United States after September 11th terrorists’ attacks. Nevertheless, Israel and Palestine must prevail. Israel and Palestine deserve the best in every aspect, as both nations have suffered immensely due to political inactions in various stages of civilization.