ISRAEL/HAMAS WAR -There is a complex historical background to the current Hamas-Israel conflict, including well documented war crimes and Israel’s 16-year-old siege on the Gaza Strip. The Hamas breakout from Gaza -- the world’s largest open-air prison/ghetto – killed 1300 Israeli soldier and civilians. In Gaza, over a week of continuous Israeli bombing and shell has – as of October 17 -- killed over 2,778 people, wounded 9,700, with 1,200 still missing. Israel has also blockaded all food, fuel, water, and electricity entering Gaza. In combination, these actions have created an enormous humanitarian crisis.
If the history of the Gaza Strip is not carefully studied, Hamas’ recent attacks on Israel and Israel’s devastating response will lead to a downward spiral of much worse destruction.
Blowback: A logical place to begin is the work of the late UC political scientist, Chalmers Johnson. He wrote a trilogy of books on the unintended consequences of US foreign policy, including his masterful, Blowback (2001). Prof. Johnson died in 2010, but if he were still alive, he would conclude that the Israeli government is desperately trying to overcome the blowback from its previous Hamas policies.
Hamas began as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a religious group that the US government supported in the 1950’s and 1960’s to counter charismatic Egyptian leader Nasser’s anti-colonial Arab nationalism.
Hamas soon garnered support from the Israeli and US governments because of its religious-based opposition to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization. Furthermore, the PLO had formally agreed to a political compromise, a two-state solution, that would eventually create a Palestinian state. Since a series of Israeli governments opposed this political settlement, they supported the anti-PLO Hamas in Gaza. It was the perfect enemy, at least until October 2023, when the military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, organized a surprise attack on Israeli military bases, towns, and kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip. This is a perfect example of blowback.
Another critical part of this history is the initiatives of the George W. Bush administration. In 2006 President Bush supported Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Because of the PLO’s corruption and Hamas’s large network of schools and clinics, Hamas was the winner. Since the Bush administration did not get the election results it wanted, it supported a PLO coup in Gaza. But the election victor, Hamas, defeated the coup and stayed in power.
In the West Bank Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the Hamas government that emerged from its election victory. Since 2007 Abbas has ruled the West Bank by decree. In the subsequent 17 years, there have been no elections in Gaza or the West Bank, a joint decision by the United States, Israel, PLO, and Hamas.
Support from Israel and the United States: In January 2006 Hamas offered Israel a 10 year truce. Then in August 2006 Hamas’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush stating that the group would accept a two-state solution based on Israel’s 1967 borders. The Bush administration, however, never answered the letter. This is a likely reason why Hamas, in a mirror image of the Israeli governments led by Bibi Netanyahu, has rejected a political settlement. As a result, Gaza has been subject to 17 Israeli “mowing the grass” military actions since 2004. In those attacks, Israel’s goal was to weaken Hamas, not topple it from power because they were the perfect enemy. They were militant and until October 2023, militarily weak. Most importantly, they provided a rationale for the Israeli and US government to avoid direct negotiations with Palestinians who supported a two-state solution, per the 1993 Oslo accords.
Liquidate the Ghetto: Even though this history is fully available, the mainstream media avoids it. Nevertheless, this history is essential to understand the enormous blowback Israel experienced from its previous decision to support Hamas. It also explains the blowback to come as Israel turns 1,000,000 Gazan Palestinians into homeless refugees. Even if the Israeli military allows those it forced from northern to southern Gaza to return to their destroyed neighborhoods, their homes will no longer exist. This is why some analysts write that another Nakbah (mass expulsion) has begun.
What forms will the blowback from the current Israeli attacks on Gaza take? The New York Times foreign policy columnist, Tom Friedman, offered this guess:
“If Israel goes into Gaza now, it will blow up the Abraham Accords, further destabilize two of America’s most important allies (Egypt and Jordan) and make normalization with Saudi Arabia impossible — huge strategic setbacks. It will also enable Hamas to really fire up the West Bank and get a shepherd’s war going there between Jewish settlers and Palestinians.”
Other blowback scenarios are easy to imagine, and I present a few guesses below. We only know, however, that there is no military solution to this conflict, even if Israel kills tens of thousands of Palestinians and levels large Gaza neighborhoods in the next several weeks.
Possible blowback scenarios:
The current Netanyahu government could collapse once the Israeli public realizes it has not rescued the estimated 150 Israeli prisoners in Gaza.
Israel’s invasion to totally destroy Hamas, not just weaken it, will falter. In several years a more militarily competent Hamas will re-emerge, or a new Palestinian group, such as ISIS, will replace Hamas.
Important Jewish diaspora communities, like the United States, will be so repulsed by Israel’s brutal ethnic cleansing of Gaza, that US governmental support for Israel will atrophy.
As predicted by Prof. Chalmers Johnson, U.S. imperial overreach, such as the Biden administration’s full military support of Israel, will cause the United States to eventually implode.
What we do know is blowback from earlier Israeli government support of Hamas has already appeared. On October 6, Hamas fighters took Israel by total surprise and overwhelmed its military. This led to the Israeli government’s decision to hunt down Hamas leaders and fighters, while simultaneously turning the surviving Palestinian residents of Gaza into refugees. While Israel could win this immediate battle with Hamas, it will not be able to permanently defeat the Palestinians through future military actions that kill thousands of Gazans and destroy their homes and public buildings.
(Victor Rothman is a California based policy analyst.)