The Israel-Gaza War is destined to end in failure for both sides. Hamas will not destroy Israel. Regardless of its course and eventual duration, the conflict will bring Palestinians no closer to their goal of establishing an independent sovereign state. Nor will it add a single hectare to the territory presently under Palestinian control. If anything, the war will add further impetus to ongoing Israeli efforts to expand Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Immediate prospects of implementing the so-called “two-state solution,” already threadbare, will vanish.
For its part, while Israel is undoubtedly inflicting massive damage on Hamas, the likelihood of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) destroying the terrorist organization outright is negligible. Resistance to “Zionist occupation” will persist and probably intensify. So, too, will support for Palestinian liberation as a global cause. If anything, the unspeakable suffering sustained by innocent Gazans will strengthen that cause. So even if the IDF momentarily succeeds in “restoring Israeli deterrence,” further episodes of violence targeting Israel will undoubtedly occur.
Where does this leave the United States? President Biden has offered Israel virtually unlimited U.S. moral, material, and diplomatic support. Yet that support has not translated into leverage. Happy to pocket American assistance, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has shown little inclination to follow U.S. advice, particularly if doing so implies curbing the IDF’s relentless pummeling of Gaza from the air and on the ground. Not for the first time in military history, the tail is wagging the dog.
And while Biden cites the crisis as affirming Washington’s status as indispensable global leader, the facts say otherwise. The Israel-Gaza War occurs at a moment when many observers were already sensing that the United States is in decline. Events across the Middle East (not to mention our nation’s internal disarray) are reinforcing such perceptions. During a recent swing through the region, Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that “sometimes the absence of something bad happening may not be the most obvious evidence of progress, but it is.” Such a watery conception of progress does not inspire confidence.
Apart from producing suffering on a vast scale, what does this horrendous display of bloodletting signify? Above all, this: the vicious assault of October 7 has permanently shattered the status quo ante bellum. Prior to this latest round of violence, Israeli officials assumed that “mowing the lawn”—subjecting Hamas to periodic punitive action—would suffice to contain any threat coming out of Gaza.
The United States did not disagree. Preoccupied with other matters, senior U.S. officials tacitly consigned Hamas to the status of afterthought. This assessment has turned out to be radically mistaken. The horrific consequences that ensued from classifying Hamas as a mere annoyance while neglecting the plight of the Palestinian people are now readily apparent.
In a broader sense, the war in Gaza demonstrates definitively that there is no plausible military solution to the conundrum stemming from the creation of the Jewish State in 1948. While the fury that Israel is directing at Hamas is understandable, vengeance makes a poor substitute for strategy. At the end of the day, mutual coexistence remains the only road to peace. Traumatized by their equivalent to 9/11, Israeli Jews are unlikely to accept that judgment. They will instead double down, entrusting their fate to the IDF.