GAZA WARIsrael/Gaza: Retrospect and Prospect

By Lawrence Freedman

Published 11 January 2024

Planning for the ‘Day After’: After three months of this war Israel has weakened Hamas but not eliminated it, and cannot promise that elimination can be achieved quickly, if at all. The Israeli government is close to breaking point and perhaps only if it breaks will there be an opportunity for a serious consideration of options for addressing the Palestinian issue. There are, however, reasons why this issue has proved to be intractable in the past.

In a previous post I looked back on my assessments of the Russo-Ukraine war. This piece addresses the Israel- Hamas War. I have not written as much on the substack on this topic, although I have contributed a few pieces elsewhere. From the start it was clear that the stakes were high and that there was no obvious route to victory for either side.

Hamas gave no impression of having thought through the implications of the vicious attacks on 7 October, other than to force the plight of the Palestinians back on to the international agenda, and perhaps using hostages to extract Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Israel rushed into a strategy with objectives that were going to be difficult to obtain, though the effort to do so would have dire consequences for the Gazan population. The only outcome I could imagine that might resolve the conflict, at least in the short-term, would be one that took the future of Gaza out of the hands of both Israel and Hamas. That remains my view (and that of many others), although in this post I will explore why it is hard to identify the mechanisms that could allow it to happen.

I had been sceptical for many years of Israeli claims that they had the Palestinian issue under control, but with no evidence to the contrary. As Arab states were sorting out their relations with Israel while leaving the Palestinians behind I was beginning to wonder if the widespread Israeli assumption that they could keep the Palestinians boxed in was correct. The piece I was planning to write on Israel was going to be on the deep divisions that had opened up in the state as a result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s self-serving judicial reforms. In this I would have noted the determination of those regularly demonstrating against the government’s proposals not to get sidetracked by the Palestinian issue, even though the extremists brought into the coalition to give Netanyahu his slight majority in the Knesset were deliberately stirring things up in the West Bank and Jerusalem.