Two months in, we can see the losers and winners in Israel’s Gaza war

The longer the conflict continues, the more fortunes change

Israel’s strong support within the international community after Hamas’s attack on October 7 has waned quickly. Getty
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The catastrophic war in Gaza is entering its third month with no sign of abating any time soon. Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 was shocking, daring and certainly horrifying. In six hours, as many as 840 Israeli civilians, 350 soldiers and security personnel were killed, and around 240 people kidnapped to Gaza.

Israel swiftly unleashed an apocalyptic war on Gaza that has killed over sixteen thousand Palestinians – two thirds of them women and children. According to investigative reporting done by +972 magazine, permissive airstrikes on non-military targets and the use of an artificial intelligence system have enabled the Israeli army to carry out its deadliest war in Gaza yet. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffith says he has “never seen anything like it”, describing the situation as “complete and utter carnage”.

While the war is still raging, however, it is time to take preliminary stock of possible winners and losers. Needless to say, the biggest loser so far is Gaza, with its 2.3 million people’s lives turned into unimaginable suffering. Palestinian call it the second Nakba, with 1.5 million people displaced, probably indefinitely.

Hamas is the second-biggest loser thus far. Israeli strikes have killed between 1,000 and 3,000 armed Hamas militants and wiped out many of the group’s arsenals and underground tunnels. Hamas has not been totally defeated yet but it has already lost control of most of Gaza, which could be under Israeli occupation for years to come.

2.3 million people’s lives have turned into unimaginable suffering

The third net loser is undoubtedly Israel, which remains traumatised and divided with no clear end-game. A country thought to be militarily invincible turned out not to be so after all. Even with massive American help, Israel is unable to cut off the head of Hamas, free its captive soldiers or come up with tangible success to show for itself.

Israel has also lost the moral high ground by very likely committing crimes against humanity. It has certainly lost the battle for world public opinion, having suffered huge reputational damage possibly beyond repair. Anti-Israel protests are at a high throughout the world. Millions have accused an army that frequently preaches its morality of acting most immorally. Its war on Gaza is universally recognised as both disproportionate and pointedly unjust. The spokesman for Unicef, James Elder, described Israel’s war as “a war on children”. It is hard to reconcile that with the country’s self-image of liberal democracy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also among the top losers. His days in office are apparently numbered. Surveys show 80 per cent of Israelis call for his immediate resignation and squarely blame him for the October 7 fiasco.

And the fifth loser is the regional momentum for de-escalation. Regional co-operation between Israel and Arab states is on hold for the time being. The potential impact on the stability of moderate states in the region should not be underestimated if civilian casualties’ cross tolerance line. They are already under huge stress. Iran and its proxies are taking advantages of the carnage in Gaza to advance their regional agenda. The Middle East is once again a hot zone.

Yet, not all is lost in the Gaza war. There are a few possible winners. Firstly, amid the rubble, the Palestinian cause is taking a central stage, the two-state solution is making comeback and there is just a glimpse of the two sides negotiating again.

The second winner of the Gaza war is, of course, Qatar, which consolidated its position as a trusted and capable negotiator between Israel and Hamas. It successfully arranged for a desperately-needed seven-day humanitarian pause. It helped set free hundreds of Palestinians and Israeli hostages and prisoners. This is no mean accomplishment for Qatar which is now globally recognised as a mediator par excellence.

The US is the third winner. It is back in Middle East affairs in a big way. Surely, anti-Americanism is at an all-time high throughout the region, but it is now widely acknowledged that nothing can be done without the US. America still holds the majority of the regional cards. Considering the war in Gaza, the new conventional wisdom is that America is back – not that America is in retreat.

After levelling northern Gaza to ground, the Israeli bombardment of South Gaza has just started. Hence the list of winners and losers can easily change depending how the war progresses. By the time this all ends, those supposed winners might be net losers and losers could finally end up as big winners. Historically, the definitive rule of thumb for wars has been to expect the unexpected. The tragic Gaza war is no different.

Published: December 08, 2023, 6:45 AM