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The Gaza War: Familiar Lessons, unfamiliar trajectory

Updated: Apr 8

Courtesy Google Maps

Aims, end state, surprise, disregard for human rights by States with civilians seen as legitimate targets, proxies,  limitation of a strategy of destruction, toothless international organisations and visceral hatred has dictated the war in Gaza so far.

The War in Gaza has been ongoing for six months now with no end state in sight. While the immediate trigger for the war waged between Israel and Hamas was the multi-pronged terrorist attack by the non-state actor Hamas on October the 7th with venal tactics, the fighting has gone much beyond the unconventional as well as the conventional scale of wars in the 21st century.

While this Century has seen unremitting warfare and in unlikely war zones the Israel Hamas war in Gaza has added a new dimension in terms of inhuman conduct completely disregarding universal principles of human rights and commitment to the principles of the United Nations, to which Israel is at least formally committed.

Be it the terrorist operation by the Hamas or the follow up operation by Israel civilians are now seen as legitimate targets for violent attacks by both sides.

This is not surprising given that in the past and ongoing wars of this century be it in Afghanistan, Syria or Ukraine war civilians have suffered the most in terms of deaths and injuries alike.

Extremely disproportionate force is another norm that has been violated by Israel as is evident as more than 30,000 fatalities have been recorded in the operations so far with hundreds including children suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

While the causes of the war need to be deeply studied the underlying pathological hate between Israel and the Hamas implied that no remorse was shown by either side in use of violence.

A general geopolitical ferment ensured that the UN Security Council could not pass a resolution bringing a check on the relentless violence by Israel with a veto by the United States except for one where it abstained.

The open defiance by Israel of norms of war and calls by global and regional bodies, nations and leadership including its counselor the United States indicates a new level of insolence practiced by a state with consequences for the future.

Many states having the capacity to wage a war with the level of violence as Israel would see this as a precedent.

Iran’s so called, “axis of resistance,” implied that the operations were unlikely to be restricted to the Gaza front. Daily exchange of air, artillery and rocket strikes between the Israel Defence Forces and the Hezbollah is the norm on the Blue Line, the Northern border of Israel with Lebanon which has a UN peacekeeping mission in place.

Emboldened by the flattening of parts of Gaza, Israel could attempt a similar campaign in against the Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon with dire consequences for the failing state in Beirut and its hapless people caught in the vortex of regional and geopolitical vicissitudes.

An unexpected operation by the Ansarullah or the Houthi has led to disruption of global merchant shipping through the Red Sea, a consequence that had not been envisaged adding another layer to Iran’s battles with Israel and the United States.

In this scenario, Israel, and Iran both emerge as pariah states, none could openly call them out as such given the degeneration of the moral authority of international institutions and pursuit of exclusive national interests.

On the fighting front, surprise continued to remain a dominant factor. The surprise of the terror attack by Hamas denoted that even a state as Israel which has invested so heavily in intelligence and security over the years can be deceived both in terms of intent and capability.

Israel’s response may also have come for a surprise for the Hamas which anticipated that Tel Aviv may cow down to the pressures of release of hostages. The limitations of destruction as the primary operational tactic were also evident as six months later pockets of Hamas resistance continue to exist in Gaza.

This leads to the basic question of the aim of the war and end state.

What was the aim of the terrorist operation by the Hamas and what was the end state envisaged?

Did it seek its own annihilation as an organization and an armed alternative to the Palestine question and overestimated the bargaining potential of the hostages?

While Hamas did succeed in rallying international public opinion for the Palestinian cause per se, but Israel’s response and obduracy meant that the possible end state it envisaged was never achievable.

What about Israel the aim professed to be the decimation of the Hamas. What is the end state envisaged and beyond.

The Palestine question will continue to rankle Israel as there is a firm resolve now for a two-state solution, exactly the opposite that Tel Aviv had envisaged at the start of the operation.

Suffice to say while the emotional response by Israel leadership to the October 7 terrorists’ attacks is understandable, rationality cannot be thrown to the wind and much deliberation is essential in use of force for resolution of vexatious issues as Palestine with multiple complex layers.

Domestic public opinion no doubt has a strong impact on decisions which was evident both in Israel as well as in the United States, but no efforts to shape the same once the emotional outburst had subsided were made thus resulting in the leadership being held captive to their visceral hatred for the other side.

In a presidential year, Biden administration in the United States was similarly hamstrung despite multiple indications that it wanted the conflict to be contained this was not strongly conveyed to Israel at the very outset and it took six months for President Joe Biden to tell the Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu to stop or else …

This time lag has led to unimaginable loss of civilians caught in the conflict in Gaza.

Indeed, the War in Gaza will be studied by historians over the years, some preliminary derivatives not conclusions or lessons are outlined herein.


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