Since October 7, Israel has invaded northern Gaza with some 40,000 combat troops and pummeled the small area with one of the most intense bombing campaigns in history. Nearly two million people have fled their homes as a result. More than 15,000 civilians (including some 6,000 children and 5,000 women) have been killed in the attacks, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Ministry of Health, and the U.S. State Department has suggested that the true toll may be even higher. Israel has bombed hospitals and ambulances and wrecked about half of northern Gaza’s buildings. It has cut off virtually all water, food deliveries, and electricity generation for Gaza’s 2.2 million inhabitants. By any definition, this campaign counts as a massive act of collective punishment against civilians.
Even now, as Israeli forces push deeper into southern Gaza, the exact purpose of Israel’s approach is far from clear. Although Israeli leaders claim to be targeting Hamas alone, the evident lack of discrimination raises real questions about what the government is actually up to. Is Israel’s eagerness to shatter Gaza a product of the same incompetence that led to the massive failure of the Israeli military to counter Hamas’s attack on October 7, the plans for which ended up in the hands of Israeli military and intelligence officials more than a year earlier? Is wrecking northern Gaza and now southern Gaza a prelude to sending the territory’s entire population to Egypt, as proposed in a “concept paper” produced by the Israeli Intelligence Ministry?
Whatever the ultimate goal, Israel’s collective devastation of Gaza raises deep moral problems. But even judged purely in strategic terms, Israel’s approach is doomed to failure—and indeed, it is already failing. Mass civilian punishment has not convinced Gaza’s residents to stop supporting Hamas. To the contrary, it has only heightened resentment among Palestinians. Nor has the campaign succeeded in dismantling the group ostensibly being targeted. Fifty-plus days of war show that while Israel can demolish Gaza, it cannot destroy Hamas. In fact, the group may be stronger now than it was before.
Israel is hardly the first country to err by placing excessive faith in the coercive magic of airpower. History shows that the large-scale bombing of civilian areas almost never achieves its objectives. [Continue reading…]