Opinion| Gains and losses in the Gaza war(1)

Hatem Sadek
7 Min Read

The events of October 7, 2023, signified a pivotal shift in the power dynamics between Hamas and Israel, highlighting the stark contrast between proactive measures and reactive responses. On this date, Hamas initiated an offensive against Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, taking over 200 prisoners and annihilating a significant number of tanks and armored vehicles. Additionally, they penetrated the separation barrier, which had been fortified with state-of-the-art security technologies.

The aftermath of the assault left Israel reeling from a devastating setback, unparalleled since its inception in 1947. Footage of the offensive, captured by Hamas and disseminated across social platforms, painted a picture of Hamas’s overwhelming triumph over the region’s most formidable military force. However, these recordings had unforeseen repercussions, as they garnered Israel an extraordinary wave of regional and international empathy and backing. The global community reached a consensus, deeming Hamas’s actions as quintessential acts of terrorism, prompting the world’s most dominant naval forces from nations like America, France, and Britain to converge on Israel’s coastlines, extending support to counter the Hamas offensive.

Hamas’s perspective on the conflict was fundamentally flawed in two respects. Initially, it conflated historical and current events, speculating that if the Gilad Shalit exchange—which secured the release of over 1,000 Palestinian detainees for a single Israeli captive—was possible, what could be achieved with more than 200 hostages? Hamas harbored aspirations of negotiating the liberation of its 7,000 detainees from Israeli detention.

Furthermore, Hamas overlooked the Hannibal Directive, a military doctrine employed by the Israeli army to thwart the abduction of its personnel. This directive mandates the prevention of abductions at any cost, even if it entails collateral damage to Israeli forces. Consequently, Israel would not shy away from deploying military might to rescue its captured soldiers, thereby limiting Hamas’s leverage in negotiation.

The catastrophe unfolded as Israel’s counteraction in Gaza surpassed Hamas’s wildest predictions. With the international community’s endorsement, Israel launched a campaign against over two million encircled, defenseless civilians in a manner unprecedented in global history. Throughout this conflict, Israel utilized an extensive arsenal, comprising both sanctioned and proscribed munitions. The war evolved from a humanitarian crisis to a calamity, and ultimately, the calamity morphed into a spectacle, with the grim statistics bearing witness.

Post-conflict data reveals that Israel detained upwards of 10,000 Palestinians in the West Bank alone, surpassing the figures Hamas hoped to secure from Israeli prisons. The civilian death toll in Gaza approached 30,000, with over 130,000 wounded and countless others unaccounted for.

This accounted for nearly 20% of the Strip’s populace. Regarding the scale of devastation, reports and satellite data analyses suggest that between 144,000 and 175,000 structures in the Gaza Strip suffered damage or destruction, equating to 50 to 61% of the region’s infrastructure.

Experts estimate that around 45,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Gaza in just 60 days, which is roughly equivalent to the power of three nuclear bombs like those used on Hiroshima during World War II. According to the United Nations, about 2 million people have been displaced—over 80 percent of Gaza’s population—with nearly half of them congregating in the far south of the Strip. This starkly contrasts the actions taken by Hamas and the subsequent reaction from India.

Hamas, a nation that has often been utilized for others, was originally established to confront Israel. However, it has not achieved this goal. Instead, it has engaged in provoking the Israeli military, seeking to draw attention and allies. The attack on October 7 was designed to incite Israel and stimulate an uprising in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Contrary to its intentions, the plan backfired on Hamas. The anticipated collapse in Gaza could signify the end of Sunni political Islam as a phenomenon, the failure of the political Islam experiment, and the removal of the Palestinian card from Iran’s hand, thereby diminishing its geopolitical and propaganda influence in the region. The ultimate fate of Hamas’s military might hinge on the status of its last Israeli prisoner.

Similarly, the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah faces a crisis. It lacks fresh ideas, a vision for the future, and the necessary tools to assert its presence. It must adopt a more realistic approach to upcoming developments, including discarding outdated and ineffective slogans such as the return of refugees and other religious rhetoric that detracts from the Palestinian cause. Instead, it should engage with the realities of power dynamics rather than illusions of strength.

The October 7th attack precipitated an existential crisis for Israel, which lacked strategic geographical depth. This crisis may prompt Israel to consider the peace option more carefully in the future, adopting a broader perspective and reconciling its past contradictions with the Arab world. This could potentially lead to the formation of a single “Israeli-Palestinian” state, as once suggested by Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.

From the outset, the conflict was a zero-sum game for Israel—everything or nothing—and it was Hamas that compelled Tel Aviv to resort to force. This confrontation has led Israel to an identity crisis and challenged the core of its military doctrine, leaving it with no alternative but to apply what is perceived as “excessive force.” Consequently, for Israel, the continued existence of Hamas represents a tangible loss. The profound defeat that has shaken the confidence of its citizens in their state’s power makes any political settlement, as previously seen in Israel’s engagements with Hamas, seem implausible. Thus, the perpetuation of the movement’s former military status is now relegated to history.

Dr. Hatem Sadek – Professor at Helwan University

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