Geopolitics of the Israel – Gaza War – Entering the Second Month

This article is a month two sequel to my previous Times of Israel Op-Ed written about the geopolitics of the Israel – Gaza War.

A month into the war and there are reports of IDF soldiers in the heart of Gaza City. As of the time of writing, several main hospitals, including Shifa, have been surrounded. Rockets continue but not at the same pace as during the first weeks of the war. The Palestinian death toll, which doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, stands at over 10,000. Many of those civilians are killed as a human shield strategy with Hamas either operating from or forcing them to stay in war areas. In the meantime, 37 Israeli soldiers have been killed. Yemen’s Houthis have launched a token amount of drones, and a few rockets have been launched from Syria, but nevertheless the situation has yet to explode.

Here are a few items to add to discussion:

  1. Hamas is not a super state.

It appears as of time of writing that the War in Gaza is progressing better than expected. However, despite 15 years of preparation time and active Iranian help, it seems that the Israeli defense and intelligence community has given Hamas more credit than it deserves. The massacre of October 07 happened due to a surprise attack and lack of initial Israeli preparedness and could be akin to an ISIS invasion of a part of Israel. Hamas is and never was a hi-tech army. Besides countless kilometers of tunnels, its capabilities are no more than a large version of enemies Israel experiences in Jenin and other areas. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called Gaza the most fortified terror base the world has ever seen. However, reality is proving differently. The war will be long, mostly to avoid IDF combat deaths, but the myth of Hamas as a super state has been crushed, as of time of writing.

2. Hezbollah did not actively join the hostilities

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah finally broke his silence last Friday. However, it appeared more like a long Turkish soap opera than a declaration of war. The speech was full of mockery both of Israel and the United States, however as the old proverb says “actions speak louder than words”. There was no Declaration of War. More so, Nasrallah went out of his way to not only distance Hezbollah from the events of October 07 but Iran as well. “Iran only supports us, but every single group is responsible for its own actions”, he said on live TV. Hezbollah did not know anything of the attack nor did it help plan it, he declared. Since, there have been daily clashes and rockets hitting the North. Nasrallah mocked Israel saying 150 000 Israelis were evacuated and only he will decide when they will return. Nevertheless, the pace of hostilities is low. Nasrallah appeared more as cheerleader than active partner of Hamas. The major offensive of Hezbollah did not materialize. Even if Nasrallah were to change his mind, his window of opportunity to wage an effective campaign is increasingly limited.

In its stead, other pro Iranian militia including the Houthis of Yemen, pro Iranian militia in Syria, and Hamas cells in Lebanon have been taking credit for rockets. However, considering Israel’s rocket defense capabilities, hardly a blow large enough to divert Israel from Gaza.

3. “State of Palestine” and International Law

The war is an ideal opportunity to reflect on developments in the Palestinian’s international clout and standing. While not a state, they have been treated as such by many bodies of the United Nations and also at the International Criminal Court. The Palestinians joined various treaties, including two that Israel never joined: The First Protocol of the Geneva Conventions, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Gaza, as it falls under areas that are recognized as “State of Palestine”, therefore is obligated to follow these treaty requirements. Note this does not mean the ICC will not attempt to persecute Israelis for war crimes. However, with a functioning national High Court, and also not being a signatory, the case to persecute Israelis will be a gray area. Persecuting Palestinians will be a far more straightforward case. As such, this can mean Palestinians could find themselves persecuted at the ICC.

As such, Hamas’s deliberate targeting of civilians on October 07 makes it directly vulnerable to war crimes under Geneva Conventions Protocol 1. This is the case not only for the Israeli citizens they massacred but for causing needless harm to Gazan civilians as the war progressed. The same can be said to the launching the rockets to Israeli cities, not to military targets, aiming indiscriminately to harm civilians. Additionally, using human shields and fighting from civilian areas are banned by Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions. Every day that passes more documentary evidence is found proving Hamas’s deliberate disregard for the safekeeping of citizens. This makes them directly liable to ICC persecution.

The taking of hostages is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions. This is referring to civilians. As the laws of war are violated, Israel is obligated to resort to means in securing their return.

Additionally, Hamas violated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Its actions on October 07, and in response to statements from its officials (Hamas official Ghazi Hamad went on air proclaiming this) it will repeat the massacres until Israel is destroyed and create a perpetual state of war. These make it liable for attempted genocide. State parties, including Israel, and in fact the world community are obligated to act to punish Hamas. As such, one can argue that a perpetual war must exist until Hamas, the threat, is eliminated.

The Gaza War will open new avenues of the application of international law, with Hamas being directly liable for crimes it has committed.

4. Iran vs Sunni Middle East and a new geopolitical hard game

Despite harsh condemnations, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) maintained its embassy in Israel throughout the war, and the Saudis continue to show a willingness for an eventual peace treaty with Israel. This shows that the conflict is increasingly not an Arab-Israeli War but one led by global powers (China, Russia, Iran, maybe Turkey) against a pro Western Sunni Arab block including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Jordan. It is important to see here the actions of the surrounding states and not simply the rhetoric. Despite protests on the street, state actions against Israel have been largely muted, with Jordan and Bahrain pulling ambassadors and mainly diplomatic condemnations.

In contrast, Israel has never seen such unity among Western leaders. Conversing in Tokyo on the crisis, all the G7 group of countries united behind support for Israel’s right to defend itself. More significantly, none demanded a ceasefire, rather sufficing with “humanitarian” pauses. While there was lip service to a future Palestinian state, the actions amounted to a diplomatic cover and a message against the ultimate backers of Hamas in Gaza: Russia and Iran. Diplomatically, Israel found itself in the same zero sum camp as Ukraine and despite strong civil society pressure, the leadership has maintained its unity. This is unlikely to slow anytime soon and can explain the conflict’s containment.

For Iran, its president is on air demanding a ceasefire. It is afraid to lose Gaza as a proxy and every day Israel fights on its proxy slips further and further away. It is also likely a reason why Hezbollah has largely contained itself. A full war would remove from Iran’s orbit two of its most useful proxies. With both removed it becomes more exposed. As such, it is useful to demand a ceasefire.

5. Rise of Global antisemitism and conversely, Pro Israel sentiment

While not new, antisemitism has reached high levels globally, especially in Western countries supporting Israel. However, many have also rallied to Israel’s side. Despite the antisemitism however, hard power, rather than the soft power of mass rallies and social media seem to dominate the events. Additionally, as seen in Nasrallah’s speech, he was dismayed at the support Israel receives around the world. Indeed, Israel, while lacking in its own Hasbara (public relations in Hebrew), has found allies in many quarters, including European nationalists, Evangelicals in America and also Hindu nationalists in India. Unlike previous conflicts, there is much push back, and a polarizing atmosphere creates a frightening environment of polarization.

The conflict, conversely, also increasingly ties global Jewry to the fate of Israel. While there have been marked divisions between Diaspora Jewry and Israeli Jewry in the last decade, many attacks globally have targeted Diaspora Jewish targets (as happened on October 07, Hamas did not ask what type of Jew the murdered were). Examples include a mob that ransacked a Russian airport searching for Jews and Israelis, and shooting at Jewish schools in Montreal, Canada, among others. Jews abroad have increasingly found themselves in a state of siege. This is despite a vocal minority of Diaspora Jews that support pro-Hamas rhetoric for a cease fire.

One possible outcome of the war, like its unifying factor among Israelis, could be a new page in Israeli/Diaspora Jewish relations.

Nevertheless, the war continues. One factor is certain, the world of October 06, 2023 is no more.

About the Author
Born in Israel but raised in Canada, Gil Lewinsky worked as a journalist in Jewish newspapers including the Jerusalem Post after completing a Masters degree at the Munk School of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto. He also has a LLM in International Law from Lancaster University in the UK. His past topics include a book written about the Status of Gaza under International Law soon after its conquest by Hamas in 2007. He is perhaps best known as one of two people that brought a flock of Jacob Sheep from Canada to Israel in 2016, making history. He currently works as a teacher and English public relations professional in Israel.
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