Israel-Hamas War’s Massive Destruction

The 21st century's most brutal conflict and the laws of war.

WaPo (“Israel has waged one of this century’s most destructive wars in Gaza“):

The Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip has been unlike any other in the 21st century.

In response to the unprecedented assault by Hamas on Oct. 7, Israeli airstrikes and a ground invasion that began 20 days later have destroyed large swaths of the besieged territory, killed at least 20,057 people and displaced a vast majority of the population.

As with most media reports, this article relies on figures provided by Hamas, of which I’m skeptical. Still, the UN and various rights organizations seem to trust them.

The most ferocious attacks have come from the air, flattening entire city blocks and cratering the landscape.

The Washington Post analyzed satellite imagery, airstrike data and U.N. damage assessments, and interviewed more than 20 aid workers, health-care providers, and experts in munitions and aerial warfare. The evidence shows that Israel has carried out its war in Gaza at a pace and level of devastation that likely exceeds any recent conflict, destroying more buildings, in far less time, than were destroyed during the Syrian regime’s battle for Aleppo from 2013 to 2016 and the U.S.-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, in 2017.

While comparison of US and Israeli destructiveness is potentially useful as a baseline test of intentionality, it’s not obvious to me that Gaza, Aleppo, Mosul, and Raqqa are comparable environments. A quick search for population density figures led me to an article by Dr. Michael Knights, the Jill and Jay Bernstein Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, written near the outset of this campaign, titled “Gaza’s Urban Warfare Challenge: Lessons from Mosul and Raqqa.” He explains,

Every urban battle is unique and shaped by the cityscape, human terrain, and forces, so comparing Gaza and its relevant forces with other urban battlefields and combatants is a useful first step. Although the Gaza Strip comprises 140 square miles overall, its numerous semi-urban and lower-density areas mean that the urban battlefield can more accurately be thought of as a network of four to six smaller zones, the largest being Gaza City, which covers about 20 square miles, plus a number of 5 square mile zones (e.g., Khan Yunis, Rafah). This makes it somewhat smaller than the past Iraqi urban battlefields of East Mosul and West Mosul (about 30 square miles each) and nearly the same surface area as Raqqa, Syria, the former “capital” of the Islamic State (IS). Yet Gaza’s population of approximately two million people is on par with all of Mosul’s circa 2014, when the city fell to IS. In other words, Gaza City is far more densely populated than other recent urban battle environments—though how much of the population will remain there following Israel’s evacuation order and the beginning of the battle itself is unclear.

Gaza is also an unusually complex urban battlefield, including in the third dimension. Gaza City has around sixty buildings that are six floors or taller, compared to almost none in the 2016-17 Battle of Mosul and 2017 Battle of Raqqa. Hamas has also invested huge effort in developing military tunnels under the Strip, expanding the potential battlespace to an unknown extent. Taken together, seizing all of Gaza’s conurbations would entail an operation equivalent to one West Mosul-size fight plus one or two Raqqa-size fights (whether these battles unfold sequentially or in parallel is uncertain).

Moreover, Hamas differs from the opponents in Mosul, Raqqa, and other smaller urban battles such as Kobane, Manbij, Ramadi, and Fallujah. It is certainly on par with IS in its ability to conduct suicide bombings, and probably superior in anti-armor warfare, drone operations, and air defense. And while IS had around two years to prepare Mosul and Raqqa’s defense, Hamas has had fifteen years to prepare a dense “defense in depth” that integrates subterranean, ground-level, and aboveground fortifications, communication tunnels, emplacements, and fighting positions, as well as potential minefields, improvised explosive devices, explosively formed penetrator anti-armor mines, and buildings rigged as explosive booby traps.

So, we would certainly expect considerably more destructiveness simply based on the battlefield itself. Factor in that Gaza neighbors Israel, is run by the very folks who directed the attack on Israel, and is seen as an existential threat in a way that neither the Iraqi insurgency nor ISIS was to the United States, and one might expect different rules of engagement.

The Post also found that the Israeli military has conducted repeated and widespread airstrikes in proximity to hospitals, which are supposed to receive special protection under the laws of war. Satellite imagery reviewed by Post reporters revealed dozens of apparentcraters near 17 of the 28 hospitals in northern Gaza, where the bombing and fighting were most intense during the first two months of war, including 10craters that suggested the use of bombs weighing 2,000 pounds, the largest in regular use.

“There’s no safe space. Period,” said Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who visited Gaza on Dec. 4. “I haven’t passed one street where I didn’t see destruction of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.”

This certainly raises a big red flag. Then again, as the linked International Humanitarian Law Databases makes clear, literally in the first sentence, “

Medical units exclusively assigned to medical purposes must be respected and protected in all circumstances. They lose their protection if they are being used, outside their humanitarian function, to commit acts harmful to the enemy.” The degree to which Hamas is doing that matters.

The war has wounded more than 53,320 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. More than 7,700 Palestinian children have been killed, and women and children make up around 70 percent of the dead, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which also says that 1.9 million people have been displaced, equivalent to 85 percent of the population. The vast majority of Gazan civilians fleeing the invasion are not allowed by Israel and Egypt to leave.

“The scale of Palestinian civilian deaths in such a short period of time appears to be the highest such civilian casualty rate in the 21st century,” said Michael Lynk, who served as the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories from 2016 to 2022.

Even if we assume these figures are inflated for propaganda purposes, there’s simply no denying that a humanitarian tragedy is occurring on an epic scale. Whether it’s justified under the laws of armed conflict is really hard to assess from this vantage point. It’s quite possible that this level of destructiveness is necessary to achieve Israel’s military objectives. My lingering question, though, is whether the military objective of destroying Hamas is achievable and, more importantly, whether achieving that military objective yields the strategic/political objective of lasting safety for Israelis from Palestinian terrorism.

In a reply to questions from The Post, the Israel Defense Forces sent a statement saying: “In response to Hamas’ barbaric attacks, the IDF is operating to dismantle Hamas military and administrative capabilities. In stark contrast to Hamas’ intentional attacks on Israeli men, women and children, the IDF follows international law and takes feasible precautions to mitigate civilian harm.”

It’s unassailable that the IDF takes greater care to prevent civilian harm than Hamas, which intentionally targets civilians to achieve terror. “Better than Hamas,” alas, is not the standard to which we hold civilized governments.

Soon after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, Israeli military leaders signaled their intent to retaliate with widespread devastation.

On Oct. 10, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops he had “released all the restraints” and that “Gaza will never return to what it was.” The same day, IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said that “while balancing accuracy with the scope of damage, right now we’re focused on what causes maximum damage.”

While I’ve mostly defended Israeli actions since the war started, I criticized them for that early messaging. It was reckless and signaled a total indifference to the laws of war. They have since redeemed themselves by taking some rather extraordinary measures to warn civilians—and thus, also, their enemy—ahead of strikes.

The problem, of course, is that there is no safe place for the civilians to go. Partly, that’s a function of Hamas using them as human shields, thus committing perfidy, arguably the worse of war crimes. Mostly, though, it’s a function of the geography of the battlefield.

In a little over two months, Israeli air forces fired more than 29,000 air-to-ground munitions, 40 to 45 percent of which were unguided, according to a recent assessment from the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The bombing rate has been about two and a half times as high as the peak of the U.S.-led coalition’s effort to defeat the Islamic State, which at its height fired 5,075 air-to-ground munitions across both Iraq and Syria in one month, according to data from the research and advocacy group Airwars.

One hallmark of the 21st century’s most indiscriminate air campaigns, as in Syria and Ukraine, has been the bombing of hospitals, which cannot be attacked under the laws of war unless they are actively being used to “commit acts harmful to the enemy.”

The Israeli military made no secret of its view that Gaza’s hospitals were military targets.

“Hamas systematically exploits hospitals as a key part of its war machine,” Hagari, the military spokesman, said on Nov. 5. “We will not accept Hamas’s cynical use of hospitals to hide their terror infrastructure.”

By Dec. 14, Israeli bombardment and fighting had forced the closure of more than two thirds of the 28 hospitals identified by The Post in northern Gaza.

As Israel’s military campaign went on, satellite imagery reviewed by The Post showed how heavy strikes around Gaza’s hospitals destroyed entire neighborhoods, wrecked infrastructure and displaced civilians, often making it impossible for hospitals to function.

To assess destruction around hospitals, The Post analyzed U.N. Satellite Center data in areas within 180 meters — the distance at which the smallest commonly used bombs, weighing 250 pounds, can cause enough damage to make a building uninhabitable, and the largest, weighing 2,000 pounds, can damage a structure beyond repair, according to a report by Armament Research Services commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The data showed that Israel’s bombardment and other fighting had damaged structures within 180 meters of all of northern Gaza’s 28 hospitals.

Again, this is horrific. Whether it’s a war crime depends on Hamas’ use of the hospitals. If they’re simply hiding there to avoid Israeli attack, it’s perfidy but still not a legitimate military target. If they’re basing operations that kill Israelis out of the hospitals, they lose their protected status.

Unless that question is addressed, this is all theatrics:

Across northern Gaza, visual evidence and other accounts showed how Israeli forces shot at, bombed, besieged and raided hospitals.

Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital, Gaza’s only cancer treatment center, shut down on Nov. 1 after nearby airstrikes. At least four cancer patients died afterward, according to the health ministry. Al-Rantisi Hospital, the only hospital with a pediatric cancer ward, evacuated on Nov. 10 along with three nearby hospitals after being struck on Nov. 5 and surrounded by Israeli troops days later. Four premature babies left behind on breathing machines at one of the hospitals would later be found dead.

Video shot by a journalist in the parking lot of al-Awda Hospital showed nearby strikes filling the air with dust and smoke and raining debris down on ambulances.

This is as close as the report comes to that:

The IDF has published videos and images that show weapons and othermilitary items, which it said were found in multiple hospitals. Underneath al-Shifa Hospital, Israeli troops excavated a tunnel with multiple empty rooms, alleging that they had been used by Hamas. The military said Hamas fighters there and elsewhere had fled before Israeli troops arrived and taken materiel with them. None of the evidence was possible to verify independently, because Israel does not allow journalists to enter Gaza except on strictly guided tours.

“Only the current misuse of the hospital deprives it of its protection, but if that misuse ends, that protection is restored,” said Adil Haque, an international law expert and Rutgers University professor. If there were a tunnel or underground structure beneath the hospital, and troops weren’t sure what was inside them, any doubts should “caution in favor of restraint,” he added.

Here, “if that misuse ends” is doing a lot of work. If Hamas was using a hospital as a base in November but subsequently abandoned it, IHL clearly prevents Israel from targeting it in December. If Hamas fired rockets on Israeli targets at 0915 on December 23, the fact that no intervening rockets were fired does not mean bombing it at 1130 is prohibited.

Legalities and the realities of war don’t, of course, negate the humanitarian nightmare:

Officials at humanitarian and health-care organizations with lengthy experience in major conflict zones said Israel’s war in Gaza was the most devastating they had seen.

Tom Potokar, a chief surgeon with the International Committee of the Red Cross working in Gaza for the 14th time, said explosive injuries were responsible for all the wounds he and his colleagues at European Hospital in southern Gazahad been treating. Many patients had necrotic wounds requiring amputation due to the lack of supplies and equipment at battered and besieged hospitals in the north.

“For me, personally, this is without a doubt the worst I’ve seen,” said Potokar, who has worked during conflicts in South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Ukraine.

Zaher Sahloul, the president of MedGlobal and a doctor who worked in Aleppo during the battle for the city, said he believed that “what’s happening right now in Gaza is beyond any disaster that I’ve witnessed at least in the last 15 years or so.”

But all of that must be weighed against the threat to Israeli civilians by the terrorist government of Gaza.

Pnina Sharvit Baruch, a former high-ranking military lawyer who was responsible for advising Israeli commanders, said that Israel is currently facing “the biggest threat to its existence” from enemies determined to destroy it. Hamas made Gaza a “fortified military area” and operates from within civilian structures, she said, adding that “Hamas’s strategy of using civilians as shields means that attacking its military capabilities leads to unfortunate yet inevitable civilian casualties.” When Israeli commanders weigh civilian harm against military advantage when deciding whether to strike, she said, the “level of threat posed by Hamas [to Israel] is a legitimate component of evaluating the military advantage.”

Again, the legality of this is likely impossible to assess while the war is ongoing. And world opinion is likely going to be against Israel here regardless of such niceties as “military necessity” simply because of the sheer scale of the destruction and killing here.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    While Israel maybe operating within the rules of law, that is not earning their actions any understanding in the view of world opinion. The world has determined that Israel’s actions isn’t justice, but revenge.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    The justification of the relentless bombing of Al Shifa was based on Israeli’s intelligence (shown to their US counterparts) that there was a vast network of tunnels underneath, connecting five buildings which they termed command centers. They showed American intelligence officers an animated recreation of the extensive activity, personnel and arms stored there. The US defended the bombing as necessary based on this intelligence. In the event, there were a few small tunnels, empty, and unconnected to the five “command centers”. After bombing 17 other hospitals the Israelis still have not found their smoking gun. It seems to me to stretch credulity beyond reason to continue to say, “well, we have to give Israel the benefit of the doubt, because Hamas might have been using these hospitals as bases but pulled out and evacuated all the arms, computers, and equipment just before the bombing started. In all 18 cases.”

    A couple of days ago the Israelis took “ extraordinary measures to warn civilians”, telling thousands to leave where they were and proceed to a safe area. They then bombed the safe area.

    It is now nearly 3 months since the war started and Israel has yet to commit significant ground troops. Instead they continue mass bombing of civilian targets. It seems to me that the Israeli bombing and starvation campaign is logical only as a campaign of terrorism against the Gaza populace. And it is worth noting that this aim has been voiced by numerous Israeli leaders, including government officials up to the cabinet level.

    For decades now, we have been playing pretend, fooling ourselves with the idea that there are still two sides in contention for control of Israeli policy, when in reality that hasn’t been true since the settlers and religious fanatics successfully staged a takeover by assassinating Rabin.

  3. Kevin says:

    As far as I can tell, what’s happening in Gaza is pure rage/revenge/shame. Israel’s right-wing is absolutely complicit in what happened on 10/7, but is unwilling to admit that, and instead is destroying things that they can, without facing much of a threat in return. They’ve yet to produce any explanation for how this will make anything better, or how the future will be any different.

  4. Barry says:

    James: “The 21st century’s most brutal conflict and the laws of war.”

    Ukraine says ‘hi’.

  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    One thing to note is that current IDF asymmetric warfare doctrine is to deliberately destroy civilian infrastructure as a way of creating pressure on militant groups:

    Dahiya doctrine

    The core problem here is that Israel holds Palestinian civilians collectively responsible for Hamas

  6. Kevin says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The other core problem is that, as some people keep reminding everyone, Hamas explicitly doesn’t feel responsible for the civilian population. And even if they did, I can’t think of a single instance of a modern western army making a population so miserable that they turned on the militants among them.

    And it also has to be added that, as far as anyone knows, Hamas leadership isn’t in Gaza. It’s even possible that the bulk of their soldiers aren’t in Gaza. Given that, what’s the point of flattening Gaza? There seems to be this desire to turn the people of Gaza into refugees, so they’re no longer a problem for Israel, but there’s nowhere for them to go. So we’re back where we’ve been for years, which is Israel has to work to solve the problem themselves, unless they’re willing to commit genocide.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    As @Kevin: says, it is revenge and rage and shame. The trifecta. And no, Israel doesn’t have a plan for ‘after.’ As I’ve been harping on since Day One of this fight, there is no decent solution. The Arab states don’t want to step up, the PA is corrupt, despised and useless (another trifecta), which leaves what? Who? Will Jordan – the existing Palestinian State – offer them sanctuary? The last time Jordan opened its doors to militant Palestinians it led to the civil war called Black September. The Jordanians held the record for most Palestinians killed until now.

    The only solutions are ethnic cleansing and/or genocide. There are Israelis in government ready for this, to their shame. Obviously the US cannot allow this.

    The Palestinians have made too many bad decisions for too long. They’ve rejected every offer of a two-state solution while sanctimoniously calling for a two state solution which they will never approve. Cannot approve. Israel has long since given up on Palestinians, and in a twist, so have Arab governments. Even the ‘Arab street’ seems oddly quiet. Only the Iranian catspaws the Houthis are doing anything much.

    Biden’s timing feels right for some push-back on Israel. The rage/revenge/shame spiral is I suspect, cooling. More Israelis will have been sated. Humanitarianism will re-assert itself. One of the many problems is that Israel is led by a man very much like Trump in that his central concern is staying out of prison. If the shooting stops, the political accounting will begin and that may go badly for Bibi.

    But an end to bombing doesn’t solve anything. Gaza is rubble, thousands are dead, the only leaders likely to emerge in Gaza are the same monsters who started this war.

    This is Shakespearean tragedy. There were no happy endings to Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet. Nothing solved or made better. Gaza is fucked, well and truly fucked, and the most that all the King’s Horses and all the King’s Men can do is try to stop it getting even more fucked.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: Oddly, despite the Russo-Ukraine war having gone on much longer and with both sides using advanced weaponry, as been less destructive, at least in terms of civilian casualties. As of 21 November (the most recent reliable figures I can find), “At least 10,000 civilians, including more than 560 children, have been killed and over 18,500 have been injured since Russia launched its a full-scale armed attack against Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) said today.”

  9. Andy says:

    There are some other factors and things to add to your post.

    A big one is the time element and the unique nature of the external pressure on Israel. Once the first Israeli bomb drops, the calls start for a one-sided ceasefire, and a political timer starts. Unlike pretty much any other country Israeli military operations always come with a shorter time limit thanks to this unique external pressure that flows from the very significant anti-Israeli elements worldwide, especially in Western countries.

    This tends to make Israeli military campaigns more compressed. Israel knows it’s on a timer and acts accordingly.

    By contrast, the US and coalition forces could take 9 months – not including the preparatory phases – for the battle of Mosul against an enemy less well dug in and with about half the number of fighters as Hamas. One major reason that the coalition attacking IS in Mosul could conduct slower-paced, deliberate, sequenced operations is because there wasn’t that political pressure because the pro-Palestinian/Hamas anti-Israeli dynamic doesn’t really exist in other conflicts. (See, for example, the current conflict in Sudan)

    So the irony is that the anti-Israeli elements in the West, which always put pressure on governments and institutions to oppose pretty much any military action by Israel, incentivize Israel to try to achieve its objectives faster. This inevitably means more mistakes and compounds other factors that almost certainly result in more civilian deaths.

    This isn’t helped by the asymmetry already discussed, where Israel is held to impossible standards for warfighting, and Hamas is held to no standards at all, despite violating the black letter of just about every provision of IHL and the laws of war.

    There are also contradictory demands by Israel’s opponents. One is the demand for immaculate retaliation while ignoring or excusing Hamas’ tactics that are specifically designed and intended to generate martyrs.

    And one thing that does the most to reduce civilian casualties in urban warfare is allowing the civilian population to flee the battlespace. And there is the fact that, unlike every other modern urban conflict, civilians can’t flee Gaza because Egypt won’t open the border. And the irony is that those who claim to be on the pro-Palestinian side don’t want the border opened, don’t criticize Egypt, and don’t want civilians to leave Gaza.

    By contrast, every other modern urban conflict has resulted in civilians being able to flee the battlespace to a greater or lesser degree. In Falluja and Bakhmut, there were almost no civilians left, and so very few died. In Mosul, IS forced civilians to stay and used them as human shields, and thousands died. Same with Raqqa.

    In Gaza, we have Hamas which is doing what IS did in Mosul in terms of human shields, but you also have Hamas and the pro-Palestinian international community not allowing anyone to flee Gaza and not wanting to allow anyone to flee Gaza. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t demand immaculate retaliation while refusing to let civilians flee and staying silent about enemy tactics that are designed to create martyrs. The only logic where that makes any sense is if one wants Hamas to have immunity to do whatever it wants, which seems to be what the “river to the sea” and “open air prison” crowd actually root for.


    The justification of the relentless bombing of Al Shifa was based on Israeli’s intelligence (shown to their US counterparts) that there was a vast network of tunnels underneath, connecting five buildings which they termed command centers.

    Except Al Shifa was never bombed, much less relentlessly. AFAIK, no hospital has been bombed, much less relentlessly. Israel went into the hospitals, including Al Shifa, on the ground, and Hamas was definitely occupying Al Shifa hospital at that time. The evidence that Hamas has used hospitals is overwhelming, including as prisons for hostages. And this shouldn’t be surprising considering Hamas’ known and well-documented tactics and doctrine, but also the fact that they are the de facto governing authority of Gaza – they are not merely a terrorist organization.

    Israel’s right-wing is absolutely complicit in what happened on 10/7, but is unwilling to admit that, and instead is destroying things that they can, without facing much of a threat in return. They’ve yet to produce any explanation for how this will make anything better, or how the future will be any different.

    Is Hamas complicit in 10/7? Do you expect Hamas to produce an explanation for how its attack on 10/7 will make anything better, or how the future will be any different?

    I’ll also point out again the example of the Japanese attack on the US in 1941. About two months after that, FDR said the goal for the conflict was the “unconditional surrender” of Japan. The problem was that no one knew how to accomplish that. Japan had never surrendered to any foreign power before. And, as the war raged on, we found out that Japanese units never surrendered. There was a debate between the Army and Navy over the course of the war about how to do that seemingly impossible task, with the Navy favoring a strategy of blocade and strangulation and starvation, and the Army favoring a direct invasion. Given the the perceived difficulty of attempting to achieve the “unconditional surrender” war aim, military planners threw everything against the wall, including the potential use of chemical weapons against troop concentrations (a formal request was made that was denied by Truman) and starving the population via destroying the rice crop with herbicides. It was in that context that the decision to use atomic bombs was made.

    But the point of this comparison (and many others one could make) is that it’s not rare to have war goals that might not be obviously achievable or goals that you don’t know exactly how to achieve early in the conflict, especially when you are the party responding to an attack. And it’s just a fact that war is inherently uncertain – those who start wars typically find that things don’t turn out the way they initially planned. Israel didn’t start this war, and Hamas is probably finding out that the conflict is not going the way Hamas envisioned it. That Isreal, like the US in the early stages of WW2, is focused on destroying Hamas capabilities is not surprising. Anyone would be doing the same. Additionally, when it comes to a post-conflict Gaza, Israel isn’t the sole player here, so the demand that Israel – and Israel alone – needs to have some kind of clear and objectively better end game is neither possible nor reasonable.

  10. Andy says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s not odd because these are two conventional, uniformed forces fighting a conventional war along established frontlines. Each side has an incentive to remove its civilians from the zones of combat, and there are places for those civilians to go. Even with the relatively indiscriminate nature of Russian combat operations (much more indiscriminate and much less caring of civilian casualties by far than Israel), the number of civilian deaths is relatively low.

    Gaza is different primarily because one of the combatants – Hamas – wants to generate civilian deaths, and uses tactics that ensure what constitutes a front line includes civilians. And, as previously noted, unlike the conflict in Ukraine, there is no place for civilians to go due to the small geography and the willingness of various parties to close borders to prevent external displacement. By contrast, there are an estimated 6.2 million Ukrainians who have fled Ukraine.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: Good points, all.

  12. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: I’m not sure why you are saying that the Israelis did not bomb (shell?) the hospital. For example, take a look at this Guardian article. They have bombed/shelled a number of hospitals, unless you believe Hamas did it themselves to make the Israelis look bad, as some on the Israeli side have claimed?

  13. Gustopher says:

    From WaPo:

    In response to the unprecedented assault by Hamas on Oct. 7,

    “Unprecedented” seems like a stretch, when such an attack was also inevitable, and it differed from others only in scale and even that was more a result of “unprecedented” intelligence and security failures by the IDF. Or we could look broader and see 9/11 as a clear precedent.

    There’s long been a problem in our media of “history begins at the big event”, and this is very evident in the reporting of Israel-Palestine. The only time this type of reporting actually makes sense is when mentioning the Big Bang.

    From Dr. Joyner:

    As with most media reports, this article relies on figures provided by Hamas, of which I’m skeptical. Still, the UN and various rights organizations seem to trust them.

    The numbers have been stable at 20,000 for a while. A lot longer than seems plausible at first glance. Either Hamas propagandists are falling down on the job, or Israel is suddenly not hitting anyone, or gathering and reporting information is breaking down. The latter seems like the most likely case, and would suggest some credibility to previous numbers — there is some process at work here.

    Skepticism makes sense, since Hamas has reason to lie, but the numbers seem to be derived from something real. Probably why organizations like the U.N. give them some credence.

    You should apply the same skepticism to Israeli claims when they show empty rooms below a hospital that were built decades ago by Israel itself — they need to show something more than the existence of these rooms to justify their actions.

    And I think that something should be more than a small number of guns. We could invade a quarter of the homes in America and find enough guns to constitute a “cache”.

    It’s quite possible that this level of destructiveness is necessary to achieve Israel’s military objectives. My lingering question, though, is whether the military objective of destroying Hamas is achievable and, more importantly, whether achieving that military objective yields the strategic/political objective of lasting safety for Israelis from Palestinian terrorism.

    I question whether “destroying Hamas” is actually the Israeli objective.

    Does cutting food and water help that objective? Does expelling vetted Palestinian workers from Israel into a war zone help that objective? Does shooting people in only underwear waving a white flag and shouting “don’t shoot” in Hebrew help that objective?

    To me it looks more like indiscriminate violence intended to push Gaza’s civilians against the Egyptian border in hopes that they find their way across.

    And when you couple the actions with the “poor messaging” you reference early in the war (and there has been far worse than what you quote, referring to Palestinians as subhuman, denying the status of civilians at all, referencing biblical purges, etc.) — the actions seem more in line with that poor messaging than what they are saying about destroying Hamas.

  14. MarkedMan says:


    Gaza is different primarily because one of the combatants – Hamas – wants to generate civilian deaths

    Russia most certainly wants to generate civilian deaths and has been tragically successful in that aim.

  15. Gustopher says:


    Hamas’ tactics that are specifically designed and intended to generate martyrs.

    Hamas tactics that are specifically designed and intended to goad Israel into creating martyrs.

    You have a lot of good points, but let’s not assume Israel doesn’t have a choice in how it responds.

    How can Israel achieve its goals without instead achieving Hamas’s goals is left as an exercise for the reader. A very hard exercise. An exercise that I think the IDF is failing.

  16. Gustopher says:


    Do you expect Hamas to produce an explanation for how its attack on 10/7 will make anything better, or how the future will be any different?

    I thought it was really obvious. Status quo is unacceptable, so provoke an Israeli response that is so vile that Israel loses a lot of support from countries backing it, and then put pressure on Israel to settle into a different status quo.

    And it seems to be working. Unless kids today change their views over the next 20 years, Israel is going to have a much harder time getting the US to back continued oppression of the occupied territories when Millennials and Gen Z have the reigns of power.

  17. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    As I’ve been harping on since Day One of this fight, there is no decent solution.

    That’s when I usually opt for a nonoptimal solution that doesn’t kill tens of thousands of people and displace millions, but that’s just me.

    But an end to bombing doesn’t solve anything. Gaza is rubble, thousands are dead, the only leaders likely to emerge in Gaza are the same monsters who started this war.

    Does continued bombing solve anything?

  18. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: I didn’t know that.

  19. Michael Reynolds says:


    Does continued bombing solve anything?

    You’re not seeing the picture. If Israel pauses and a ceasefire is declared, what happens when Hamas inevitably fires more missiles into Israel? Do you suggest Israel allow itself to be attacked without response? Assuming you grant that Israel would have a right to defend itself, and retaliate, how do you see the scenario playing out?

    One of the problems I’ve had with a number of people here is that imagination is absent. No one walks the narrative beyond, ‘ceasefire.’ Do you think Hamas will keep to a ceasefire? If yes, you’re trippin’. If no, and you grant Israel has a right to self-defense, we come quickly to the point, which is that there is no fucking solution.

    Wars end when one side is no longer able or willing to continue the fight. Hamas, utterly indifferent to the human cost, will have to prove its continued relevance, which means they will continue to attack, and Israel will continue to respond. The war will go on for as long as Hamas want it to go on. They can end it today: surrender and disarm. They won’t, so the war will go on, albeit waxing and waning until it eventually sputters out, to be resumed at a later time. Can’t just reprogram the computers to win this one, Captain Kirk.

    This whole issue has taught me something: people don’t know how to cope with a problem that has no solution. All our skills are aimed at solving problems. It’s like faster than light travel, we just refuse to accept limits. (Fascinating in the one species that knows death is inevitable.) Which is generally a good human characteristic, but other times results in Hitler in his bunker moving imaginary armies around a dead city.

  20. Kevin says:


    Is Hamas complicit in 10/7? Do you expect Hamas to produce an explanation for how its attack on 10/7 will make anything better, or how the future will be any different?

    Yes, Hamas is ultimately responsible for 10/7, but it was also a completely foreseeable event, and could have been a much less horrible event had the IDF been on duty where they should have been, or if someone had paid attention to the intelligence that was available.

    I condemn Hamas’ attack, but they’re explicitly a death cult, so I don’t really expect them to listen. They’re also not a US ally, and I don’t want them to to continue existing, so I’m not going to criticize them in the hopes that they be better, and not repeat mistakes we made.

    This whole “Do you condemn Hamas” bullshit has to stop. It’s like saying I’m in favor of Russia because I want Ukraine to continue existing as an ally, and not do something that will make them international pariahs.

  21. DK says:


    They’re also not a US ally, and I don’t want them to to continue existing, so I’m not going to criticize them in the hopes that they be better, and not repeat mistakes we made.

    Yeah, I don’t need an explanation from Hamas. Hamas is clear about who and what they are, and so are we.

    It’s Israel and its apologists that are demamding unquestioning US support for killing tens of thousands Palestinian children — including billions in US dollars — under the leadership of scumbags like of convicted terrorist Itamar Ben-Gvir and Putin-wannabe thug Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Netanyahu has repeatedly defied US policy and explicitly called for funding and boosting Hamas. So it’s Israel that needs to explain why its incompetent, anti-democratic, thuggish government deserves unequivocal US/Western support. We already don’t support Hamas’s murderous terrorism, so there’s nothing to explain.

    Israel needs to explain why the people of the United States should risk our credibility backing the violent extremists Israelis keep picking to lead.

    Does Netanyahu condemn Hamas? Does Netanyahu condemn settler terrorism in the West Bank? Does Netanyahu intend to keep ignoring US advice? Those are the salient questions.

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DK: I think you’re being unfair to Netanyahu. He’s willing to condemn whatever will curry the favor of whatever audience he happens to be talking to at the moment–Hamas, West Bank settlers, West Bank Palestinians, doesn’t matter. Only the audience does.

  23. DK says:


    Or we could look broader and see 9/11 as a clear precedent.

    Obvious precedent, right down to the international and domestic opposition.

    Global protests against the Afghan and Iraq Wars began before use of force was even authorized. I participated in them.

    Ditto calls for Russia to not attack Kyiv. They began inside and outside of Russia before the invasion and have never stopped.

    Inside Israel, opponents of the Gaza campaign have been vocally antiwar from early October. For this, they have faced vituperative attack — both physically (being spat on, being run into hiding for mild pro-Palestinian expression) and from the Israeli government, which has curtailed civil liberties and suppressed free speech to frighten and muzzle antiwar Israelis.

    The existence of antiwar Jews inside and outside of Israel — including the kibbutzim survivors and hostage families calling for a ceasefire — is often erased. Because they don’t fit the narrative whereby failure to cheer bombs, death, and destruction is anti-Israeli or antisemitic.

    In all these examples, the quick and outsized opposition was not just due to anti-American, anti-Russian, or anti-Israeli sentiment, but because lots and lots of people do not believe indiscriminate, unfocused revenge killing would or will fix the underlying problems. Israel is not the first country to face loud domestic and international criticism for a military misadventure, and is not some super special unique victim in that regard.

  24. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: There are solutions, they just aren’t easy and quick solutions.

    Weather the attack, strike at known positions, go after the Hamas leadership, return to the shitty status quo as quickly as possible. And then start doing what they should have been doing all along. You can’t turn the clock back, but you can start doing the things you should have earlier and try to fix things.

    Israel strengthened Hamas to weaken the Palestinian Authority. Let’s start with “don’t do that…”

    Gaza had a 50-60% unemployment rate. (More than double the US in the Great Depression). It needs investment, industry and a WPA program to give people something to want to hang onto. Luckily, there are lots of opportunities to build new buildings now!

    Look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and just start at the bottom, because food, shelter, and work have been sorely lacking.

    Lighten the blockade and sanctions. I’d just get rid of them, as they aren’t effective at stopping weapons from getting in, but at least make it faster and easier to get goods in — quicker inspections, fewer restrictions.

    Fix the Settler problem on the West Bank. Forcibly move Jewish settlers if need be. Because that’s another “unprecedented” problem inevitably looming.

    Overall, the occupied territories need the equivalent of a Marshall Plan. And Isreal either needs to plan on One State and Equality (destroying Israel as a Jewish state), Two States, or Separate But Equal with a whole lot of emphasis on that Equal part. The road to the second option goes through the third, and it’s less worse than the current status quo, and can build a situation where you can move forward.

    No easy, overnight solution, just incrementally less worse and being resilient when the inevitable setbacks happen.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: There don’t appear to be any that any of the stakeholders are interested in embracing, and that’s a problem. Still it’s a long walk from there to “what was Israel supposed to do, anyway?”