Those urging Israel to invade Gaza with maximalist goals are pushing their ally into a strategic and political catastrophe. The potential costs are extraordinarily high, whether counted in Israeli and Palestinian deaths, the likelihood of a protracted quagmire, or mass displacement of Palestinians. The risk of the conflict spreading is also alarmingly large, particularly in the West Bank and Lebanon but potentially far wider. And the potential gains—beyond satisfying demands for revenge—are remarkably low. Not since the American invasion of Iraq has there been such clarity in advance about the fiasco to come.
Nor have the moral issues been so clear. There is no question that Hamas committed grave war crimes in its brutal attacks on Israeli citizens, and it should be held accountable. But there is also no question that the collective punishment of Gaza, through blockades and bombing and the forced displacement of its population, represents grave war crimes. Here, too, there should be accountability—or, better yet, respect for international law.
Although these rules may not trouble Israeli leaders, they pose a significant strategic challenge to the United States in terms of its other highest priorities. It is difficult to reconcile the United States’ promotion of international norms and the laws of war in defense of Ukraine from Russia’s brutal invasion with its cavalier disregard for the same norms in Gaza. The states and peoples of the global South far beyond the Middle East will notice. [Continue reading…]