Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987

Gaza War: It isn’t Over Until it is Over

As the war in Gaza enters its third month the short-attention span syndrome that characterizes our age swings in full gear to reduce it to a version of background noise. You might have noticed that the war is bowing out of front pages and dropped down several slots in TV news bulletins.

Even more interestingly we are beginning to hear growing chatter about the day-after of this tragic conflict, with the assumption that the actual fighting is heading for a close as the subtext.

The usual suspects in the Middle East peacemaking industry are already beginning to recycle their old and discredited ideas. President Joe Biden, sounding like a dummy for the ventriloquist Barack Obama, is talking of “a two-state solution: one for the Israelis and one for the Palestinians.”

The Islamic Cooperation Conference is forming a multinational committee to work out a “peace formula” acceptable to both sides, not being clear about who the two sides might be.

The question isn’t academic. In some wars those who brought the fighting to an end with a peace deal were not those who started the conflict and initially led the fighting.

Henry Kissinger’s old snake-oil diplomacy is also back in think-tanks with talk of “step-by-step” measures aimed at “confidence building” between Netanyahu and whoever masterminded Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.

The United Nations, now a sorry shadow of itself under a Secretary General who seems to have lost his compass is mumbling about appointing a special emissary; perhaps Tony Blair as suggested by some old-timers.

There is also talk, especially in Israel, of what to do with Gaza after it has been “cleansed of Hamas”. Some talk of recolonization, that is to say reviving the Israeli settlements that were brutally dismantled by the Israeli government in 2006. Those engaged in such talk do not say where to find people keen on becoming settlers in the rubbish-heap that Gaza has become. And if such hot-spirited volunteers were found, would they not be concerned about facing the same fate that Ariel Sharon decreed for Israeli settlers in Gaza?

Yet another idea is to hand what is left of Gaza, when and if the war ends, to the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas. That might give the PA the power to liberate the 1,000 or so Fatah cadres and sympathizers that Hamas had put in prison in Gaza. But, could the PA offer provide ruined Gaza with good governance when it has failed to do anything resembling that in the largely peaceful West Bank for more than a quarter of century?

We are also hearing talk of returning Gaza to Egyptian control, a dumb idea by any standards.

There are also ultra-optimists who are already talking of rebuilding Gaza, something which could cost more than a penny or two. The optimists forget that what turned Gaza into the hell-hole it has become wasn’t economic hardship. Before October 7 Gaza had a lower unemployment rate than the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt. In the first two quarters of 2023, the Gaza economy grew by four percent while that of the West Bank remained almost static.

Thanks to generous donations by UNWRA, the European Union, Qatar, the Palestinian Authority, repatriated income by some 100,000 Gazans working abroad, including 25,000 working in Israel and custom revenue from Israeli governments, Gaza’s income per capita figure was higher than average for all members of the Arab League. Gaza had 36 hospitals and 1657 hospital beds, figures that are per capita higher than those of Egypt and Jordan.

Thanks to international aid and donations by wealthy Palestinians in Europe and the Americas, Gaza ranked ahead of the Islamic Republic in Iran as percentage of GDP allocated to health and education.

At the same time Hamas did not need to fund its military, and the tunnels it dug, through taxation as Tehran covered much of the cost.

The classical causes of war over land, access to natural resources including water and/or markets do not apply to Gaza. In normal wars, if one is allowed to speak of such an obnoxious concept, the belligerents want something tangible that either side could accept when the cost-benefit calculation turns in favor of peace.

But the war in Gaza isn’t a normal one. Hamas wants something that Israel cannot deliver, i.e. total destruction of Israel “between the river and the sea.”

Israel, too, wants something that Hamas cannot accept: ideological suicide by accepting to lord it over in Gaza in relative comfort by forgetting about the “cause” which is wiping Israel off the map. If Hamas were to accept such a deal it would end up as a perhaps more colorful, version of Fatah. Thus trying to remove those imaginary causes is at best an exercise in futility.

All those considerations, however, could be left aside so that we could focus on shortening the current killing spree. The Islamic Republic in Tehran clearly wants the killing spree to continue, albeit in the form of what Revolutionary Guard analysts now describe as “low intensity war.”

One IRGC analyst, writing in the force’s new site FARSNEWS last week indicates that Tehran does not expect a Hamas victory but wants it to “continue fighting as long as possible” so that more and more Israelis see that the best option is to leave.”

Tehran also promises to throw more of its regional assets, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Yemeni Houthis and various outfits in Iraq and Syria into the foray, albeit in small dosage so as not be dragged into the war itself.

The idea is that the longer the fighting lasts the bigger the damage done to Israel’s image both at home and in the world at large. In other words: if you can’t win on the battlefield, try to win the propaganda war.

The message coming from Hamas is that at least part of its leadership is prepared to stay in this deadly game until the last Tehran-supplied rockets and missile are fired.

Will Israel too, try to adjust its strategy for a long low intensity war as a sequel to the classical “big hammer” one that may have already achieved its initial aims?