ANALYSIS: Hamas cannot defeat Israel. Israel cannot lose to Hamas. So why all the blood?

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ANALYSIS: Hamas cannot defeat Israel. Israel cannot lose to Hamas. So why all the blood?

'This is conflict for our century. – live and in real time,' writes war correspondent David Patrikarakos

Hamas. Pic: Harif
Hamas. Pic: Harif

The atrocities Hamas committed over the past week have already entered history – and the collective Israeli psyche. Nothing, or more pertinently, nobody is beyond its savagery. Men, women, children, even babies – shot, stabbed, burned, maimed and murdered. We heard it; we saw it – and we were able to not because we discovered or unearthed it, but because the people who did it filmed it. 

In my last book War in 140 Characters: How Social Media is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century, I look at the last all out Israel-Hamas war, 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, which began following the Hamas kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.

The war lasted over a month and a half – the longest in Israel’s history, though I believe it may well be surpassed by what is about to come. Jerusalem has mobilised around 350,000 men, more than Russia has when it first launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine in February of last year.

What struck me then and it does now is that Israel-Hamas confrontations are wars in which the military outcome on the battlefield is predetermined. Hamas cannot defeat Israel; Israel cannot lose to Hamas. So why all the blood?

The answer is that victory here resides in different arenas. The traditional paradigm is clear. Hamas cannot out kill Israel, but what it can do is provoke Israel to kill so many Palestinians that the world damns it. Hide your terrorists in schools and apartments and then brandish their corpses to the world when the inevitable Israeli response comes. Hope that political pressure bears down on your enemy. Hope that the arms flows dry up; hope that sanctions come. It’s imperfect but the best weapon Hamas realistically has.


This is the central paradox here: the more “successful” Israel is the more it loses. The more the people of Gaza suffer, the more Hamas wins. What can Israel do? Certainly not allow more of its own people to be killed in order to compete. It is caught between bad choices – tragedy in the classic sense. For the Gazans, too, of course.

This time, though, Hamas scored such a resounding success on the ground, that we can say it has already won. Israel will go in and destroy much of Gaza – though we must hope it does so with the minimal civilian loss of life that is humanly and humanly possible. But the damage is done. Any actions now, bar something utterly unprecedented, will be largely punitive, which is warranted but ultimately inadequate. You’d rather have the dead children back.

It’s not just that so many civilians were killed but that the world saw it. We saw the crying women ripped from loved ones; the children hysterical with terror. It made us recoil with disgust, but it also punched a hole through Israel’s reputation for almost preternatural competence. Then there are the hostages, who will most likely have to paid for, most likely through the mass release of Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails.

And of course, as the pendulum swings the Gazan casualties will rise; the condemnation will come down across large parts of the world. Hamas will once more get its day in the global spotlight.

People will not soon forget the images of terror. The death toll numbers higher than in any attack on Jews since the Shoah. And we saw it. We saw it. This is conflict for our century. – live and in real time.

  • David Patrikarakos is a British author, journalist and war correspondent, best known as the author of War in 140 Characters


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