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A disaster on every level

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BILATERAL MEETING WITH THE PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL..Photo credit: Matty STERN/U.S. Embassy Jerusalem

The obvious disproportionality of Israel’s war on Gaza is not something that should be “left aside” — it’s a sufficient argument to end the war now. But as Robert Pape explains, it’s also worth pointing out that the war is also a failure on any terms other than “brutality for its own sake.” Hamas is if anything more entrenched in power than it was on October 8, and Israel’s diplomatic situation is getting worse by the day:

One months of Israeli air and ground combat operations in Gaza have not defeated Hamas, nor is Israel close to vanquishing the terrorist group. To the contrary, according to the measures that matter, Hamas is stronger today than it was on October 7.

Since Hamas’s horrific attack last October, Israel has invaded northern and southern Gaza with approximately 40,000 combat troops, forcibly displaced 80 percent of the population, killed over 37,000 people, dropped at least 70,000 tons of bombs on the territory (surpassing the combined weight of bombs dropped on London, Dresden, and Hamburg in all of World War II), destroyed or damaged over half of all buildings in Gaza, and limited the territory’s access to water, food, and electricity, leaving the entire population on the brink of famine.

Although many observers have highlighted the immorality of Israel’s conduct, Israeli leaders have consistently claimed that the goal of defeating Hamas and weakening its ability to launch new attacks against Israeli civilians must take precedence over any concerns about Palestinian lives. The punishment of the population of Gaza must be accepted as necessary to destroy the power of Hamas.

But thanks to Israel’s assault, Hamas’s power is actually growing. Just as the Viet Cong grew stronger during the massive “search and destroy” operations that ravaged much of South Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 when the United States poured troops into the country in an ultimately futile bid to turn the war in its favor, Hamas remains intractable and has evolved into a tenacious and deadly guerrilla force in Gaza—with lethal operations restarting in the northern regions that were supposedly cleared by Israel only a few months ago.

The central flaw in Israel’s strategy is not a failure of tactics or the imposition of constraints on military force—just as the failure of the United States’ military strategy in Vietnam had little to do with the technical proficiency of its troops or political and moral limits on the uses of military power. Rather, the overarching failure has been a gross misunderstanding of the sources of Hamas’s power. To its great detriment, Israel has failed to realize that the carnage and devastation it has unleashed in Gaza has only made its enemy stronger.

Since Netanyahu is reacting in exactly the way everyone could have expected, somebody has to be wrong about whether the reaction is helping or diminishing Hamas’s authority. I think it’s pretty obvious who is, in part because the “brutality for its own sake” part seems the primary goal for much of Israel’s governing coalition.

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