How long will Israel's war on Gaza last?

Israeli tank Gaza war
7 min read
05 June, 2024

Less than a week ago, US President Joe Biden delivered a speech about Israel’s war on Gaza. He asserted that Israel’s military had sufficiently degraded Hamas to a point whereby a repeat of 7 October would no longer be possible.

“Indefinite war in pursuit of an unidentified notion of ‘total victory’ will…only bog down Israel in Gaza, draining the economic, military…and human resources, and furthering Israel’s isolation in the world,” declared Biden.

In his speech, the American president recognised the “heartbreaking pain” of Israelis who lost loved ones to the “ruthless brutality” of Hamas on 7 October while also noting that the Palestinians in Gaza have “endured sheer hell in this war” with “too many innocent” Palestinian people, including thousands of children, losing their lives.

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Probably at no point since the Gaza war erupted last year has Biden made such a bold pronouncement about the need to end the war and bring home the hostages. The US president also laid out a three-phase proposal.

The first phase, as the US president explained, would last for six weeks and entail the “withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza” and the “release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, the wounded in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners”.

The second would permit the “exchange for the release of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers”. Then, in the third phase, a “major reconstruction plan for Gaza would commence and any final remains of hostages who’ve been killed will be returned to their families”.

"It is difficult to predict exactly how long Israel's war on Gaza will last. But it is obvious that the Israeli government will try to prolong it as long as possible"

Israeli-Saudi normalisation

It would be naïve to suggest that the Biden administration, which has armed Israel to the teeth throughout this war, wants to see the fighting end for reasons related to any respect for Palestinian lives or basic morality. Other perceived US interests explain the motivations behind Biden’s speech.

One important factor concerns Israel’s international image. The Biden administration wants the conflict over in large part because it is “consuming and isolating Israel,” said Marco Carnelos, the former Italian ambassador to Iraq, in an interview with The New Arab.

Another issue is that as long as this war is ongoing, there is essentially no possibility of Washington successfully expanding the scope of the Abraham Accords, which the Biden administration would like to do before the US presidential election in five months.

Israel's war has killed over 36,000 Palestinians, including more than 14,000 children, and left most of the territory uninhabitable. [Getty]

Dr Nader Hashemi, director of Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, suspects that Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken continue to “entertain these fantasies about expanding the Abraham Accords" and Israel and Saudi Arabia normalising relations.

Yet, as he told TNA, this will be “virtually impossible” with Israel conducting its war against Gaza.

“I suspect part of the motivation here in imposing a conclusion to this war is also connected to the Abraham Accords and normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” explained Dr Hashemi.

“The hope is that if this war ends and there could be some change in conditions, then Saudi Arabia would be able to sign on to this plan. I still think it’s a complete fantasy that this normalisation agreement will move forward…and bring peace and stability to the region … [Biden and Blinken] want a foreign policy victory and they know that they can’t move that plan forward unless the war in Gaza comes to an end,” he added.

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Israel prolongs the Gaza war

Biden attempted to present this plan to end the Gaza war as an Israeli proposal. Nonetheless, it was basically the same offer put forward by Hamas and rejected by Israel a few weeks earlier.

Under this proposal, Israel would end its current war on Gaza without having achieved an all-out military victory over Hamas that destroys the group. Therefore, it was no surprise that soon after Biden’s speech Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a statement insisting that Israel would not conclude the war until achieving the “elimination of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities”.

This means that Israel’s war on Gaza could easily carry on past this year. In fact, on 29 May, Netanyahu’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said that this military campaign is expected to last another seven months, extending it into early 2025.

Mindful of the fact that Israel’s ruling coalition would collapse if Netanyahu agreed to Biden’s proposal (or any proposal allowing Hamas to remain in power in Gaza), the Israeli prime minister has much incentive to continue waging this war. This is especially so given that the Biden administration has made clear that Israel’s government will face no consequences for thumbing its nose at the White House.

"Israel is trying to engage in maximum destruction to establish what's called deterrence capacity against its enemies. I think the other political endgame is to make the Gaza Strip unliveable, hoping to force the Palestinians living there to leave"

“Clearly, the Netanyahu administration is reluctant to end the war anytime soon as it would mean a definite end to the prime minister’s long political career. This is despite pressure from parts of the international community and what have by now become widespread accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing,” Dr Mehran Kamrava, Professor of Government at Georgetown University in Qatar, said in an interview with TNA

“It is difficult to predict exactly how long Israel’s war on Gaza will last. But it is obvious that the Israeli government will try to prolong it as long as possible,” he added.

Carnelos told TNA, “My feeling is that Netanyahu has a vested interest in prolonging the conflict until the US presidential elections hoping that Trump might win them; in such case, he might hope to get a green light to solve the Palestinian question once and for all, both in Gaza and the West Bank”.

Israel has lacked a political endgame since the beginning of the war on Gaza. [Getty]

The Israeli game plan for Gaza

Roughly eight months into Israel’s war on Gaza, Hamas not only still exists in the besieged enclave, but the group’s military wing continues its armed resistance. On 26 May, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades managed to fire a barrage of rockets at Israel from Gaza, resulting in air raid sirens being set off in Tel Aviv.

That Hamas can target Israel in this manner eight months into Israel’s annihilatory campaign against Gaza underscores Israel’s failure to return the hostages taken on 7 October and defeat Hamas militarily.

Therefore, it is worth asking: what is Israel’s realistic endgame in Gaza?

It seems that it is to damage Gaza’s remaining infrastructure as much as possible and make the enclave so uninhabitable that Palestinians in the territory either flee or remain there with no will to fight.

"Netanyahu has a vested interest in prolonging the conflict until the US presidential elections hoping that Trump might win them"

“Israel is trying to engage in maximum destruction to establish what’s called deterrence capacity against its enemies. I think the other political endgame is to make the Gaza Strip unliveable, hoping to force the Palestinians living there to leave - either to Egypt or there will be some global effort to move the Palestinians out of the Gaza Strip,” Dr Hashemi told TNA.

“I think part of the endgame is also just revenge,” he added.

Revenge, however, is not a sound strategy. What is clear is that giving every human being in Gaza nothing to live for will only breed more militancy and radicalism from a younger generation of Palestinians who are experiencing childhood and the early stages of adulthood in this horrific war.

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In other words, just as Gaza was, in the words of Patrick Seale, a “bomb waiting to explode” before 7 October, it will remain so as long as these conditions exist.

Unfortunately, Israel’s leadership lacks the wisdom and strategic foresight to realise that their country will always face grave security threats throughout the foreseeable future due to its own extreme brutality and reckless policies toward the indigenous people of the land it occupies.

Giorgio Cafiero is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics.

Follow him on Twitter: @GiorgioCafiero