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Six months on, what’s next in Israel’s war on Gaza?

The Israeli PM wants the war to last as long as possible to save his political skin because once the war stops, the move to remove him from office will pick up momentum

Six months on, what’s next in Israel’s war on Gaza?
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

On 7 October 2023, militants belonging to Hamas and other outfits raided Israel, leading to the killings of about 1,200 people. Immediate response by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) that included deployment of Apache helicopters killed roughly the same number of militants, and some Israelis, too. 

Two days later, the IDF began retaliatory operations in Gaza which have now escalated to the level of a genocide. The grim toll, as announced by Gaza’s ministry of health, is 33,000. With hundreds still under the rubble, the actual toll will be much higher.

Sunday, 7 April, that marked the beginning of the seventh month of Hamas’s attack that set off the Israeli bombing in Gaza, is also the 20th anniversary of the infamous 1994 Rwanda Genocide that lasted for 100 days and left over 800,000 dead as the international community looked on. 

The ICJ Ruling 

South Africa’s case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in January spurred hope of a global effort to stop the massacre of the Palestinians. However, the ICJ resorted to convoluted language by adding the adjective “plausible” in answering the question of whether Israel has committed genocide. 

The reason for using such a convolution is simple. 

If ICJ had called a spade a spade, it follows that the US and Germany, who together  supply 99% of IDF’s weapons, would have had to stop arming Israel.  

The 1948 Convention for Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide obligates the signatories to punish the individuals or entities carrying out a genocide. We may assume that if the court had definitively determined that genocide was taking place, the US, as a signatory to the Convention, would have been obligated to stop sending weapons to Israel.

The Responsibility of President Biden

It is a self-evident principle in ethics that if ‘A’ is about to commit an offense or has started to commit it and if ‘B’ has the capability to prevent ‘A’ from committing the offense or to stop ‘A’ from continuing with the offense, then both ‘A’ and ‘B’ are morally responsible. 

US President Joe Biden could have prevented the genocidal war. The Pentagon supplies 69% of Israel’s arms, with Germany accounting for another 30%. Until recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignored Biden’s pleas to reduce civilian casualties and to allow more humanitarian aid to Gaza.

On the night of 1st April, seven good and courageous people providing food to the famished Gazans were killed by the IDF. They were in three vehicles, having just distributed food in North Gaza, on a route fully monitored by the IDF. The Israeli authorities had received detailed information about their journey by aid organization—US-based World Central Kitchen (WCK).  

Biden promptly announced his “outrage” at this killing. 

But by then, about 30,000 Gazans had been killed, and apart from continually pleading with Netanyahu to reduce civilian casualties, Biden had shown no outrage for the loss of Palestinian lives. 

While one of the dead volunteers is an American, that is not the only reason for Biden’s outrage. Polls indicate that his repeated ‘unwavering support’ for Israel has imperiled his re-election in November.

After waiting for four days, Biden finally spoke to Netanyahu on 5 April, demanding—the change of tone was evident—that Netanyahu should take heed of Biden’s red lines: reduce civilian killings; do not start the ground operation in Rafah without ensuring the safety of the over 1 million civilians there; and permit more humanitarian aid into Gaza. 

Within hours of the call, Israel announced that it was opening a new crossing point in the north of Gaza and permitting more trucks through Rafah. About 220 trucks entered on 7 April as against 500 daily aid trucks prior to 7 October. 

In this context, it is pertinent to recall that when the IDF was bombing Beirut in 1982, the then US president Ronald Reagan phoned the then Israeli PM Menachem Begin on 12 August 1982 and within minutes the bombing stopped. 

Obviously, Biden lacks the presidential authority that Reagan knew how to exercise.

India’s Silence 

Among the seven killed was Laizawmi Zomi Frankcom, an Australian citizen of Indian origin from Mizoram. We have yet to see a reaction from New Delhi expressing outrage, and the Indian media have hardly told us anything about Zomi.

No questions about her were raised to the ministry of external affairs spokesperson during regular briefings.

The Cairo Talks

The US, Egypt, and Qatar had worked hard for a ceasefire during the holy month of Ramadan. However, Netanyahu’s obduracy stood in the way. 

At present, the talks are reaching an inflection point. 

Mossad chief David Barnea, CIA director William J Burns, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, and senior leaders of Hamas are in Cairo for another round of talks. 

The Hamas delegation sits in a separate room as the Egyptians and Qatari delegations visit them from time to time to discuss the issues. 

It is unlikely that the Cairo talks would produce a permanent ceasefire or even a reasonably long one. It might result in a limited ceasefire with a limited exchange of hostages with prisoners.

Netanyahu’s Predicament 

In Israel’s war on Gaza, Netanyahu is the most crucial actor, closely followed by Biden.

Netanyahu wants to get all the hostages freed against a limited ceasefire. His long-term goal seems to be to annex Gaza, de facto, not necessarily de jure, and to get rid of the Gazans by means fair or foul: the fouler the better. If they cannot be expelled, they can continue living there in a confined area under a harsh apartheid Israeli regime.

Netanyahu has publicly declared that he wants to ‘eliminate’ Hamas. He is smart enough to know that Hamas is not just a band of fighters but an ideology. You can kill the fighters, but an ideology cannot be ‘eliminated’.

He must also be aware that the support for Hamas is soaring in the West Bank. 

Another goal Netanyahu is pursuing is to provoke Iran into attacking Israel or US’s military assets in the region. 

Netanyahu wants the war to last as long as possible to save his political skin. Once the war stops, the move to remove him from office will pick up momentum.

Support for Israel Plummets

Spain and Ireland have called on the European Union (EU) to recognize the State of Palestine. Of course, the EU is unlikely to go ahead as Germany will oppose it tooth and nail.  

In the UK, meanwhile, there is growing demand for stopping arms exports to Israel. The UK is not exporting much, but the political implications of London taking such a decision are serious.

Nicaragua has asked the ICJ to order Germany to stop arming Israel. Germany is defending its position in court and has rejected the request. A group of about 600 German civil servants  has demanded that Germany halt arms shipments to Israel over human rights concerns. The court’s decision may be delayed, and Germany would struggle to defy such an order, but an eventual stoppage of arms deliveries will increase the pressure on Biden.

 An Ideal Way Forward 

Let Washington recognize the State of Palestine, recognized by India and 139 others, which is a non-member observer  in the UN.

The latest is that Palestine’s application to the Security Council was considered in a closed meeting and the 15-member committee is to study it and report back. It is important to note that the US did not veto it. 

The procedure is that the Security Council must recommend the application for the General Assembly to decide. 

What about the Israeli settlers in the West Bank? The short answer is that they are welcome to stay there if they get a proper resident visa from the state of Palestine and comply with the laws of that  state. 

What Next?

Biden might be compelled to link arms supply to Netanyahu’s not crossing the ‘red lines’.  Thirty-six Democratic senators have written to Biden to agree to such a linkage. The establishment of such a linkage can cause Netanyahu’s exit from office, and even politics. 

The latest is that Israel has mostly withdrawn from Khan Younis. We do not know why, though Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant said his troops were being ‘redeployed’ in preparation for new operations, including in Rafah. 

Obviously, the IDF cannot go on carpet bombing the area  unless its troops are withdrawn. 

It is likely that Israel might order the 1.4 million civilians in Rafah to move north with a deadline and start bombing the south with 2,000-pound bombs supplied by America unless Biden prevents it. 


KP Fabian is a diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune. More

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