A futile and endless war

“They began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over,” as Lewis Carrol put it in Alice in Wonderland. He was describing the Caucus Race, but it sounds quite a lot like the Gaza War, doesn’t it?

“They began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over,” as Lewis Carrol put it in Alice in Wonderland. He was describing the Caucus Race, but it sounds quite a lot like the Gaza War, doesn’t it?

What’s different is that at the end of the Caucus Race, the Dodo Bird declared: “Everybody has won, so all must have prizes.”

After nine days of more-or-less cease-fire, they’re at it again. In the first 24 hours, 60 Palestinian rockets had been launched at Israel (no casualties), and 60 Israeli air strikes had hit Gaza (11 dead). That’s pretty small beer in a war that has already killed more than 2,000 people, but they literally don’t know how to stop, and the Dodo Bird is no help at all. The fact is that nobody has won, so nobody can have prizes.

That’s what the negotiations in Cairo were actually about: prizes. Hamas’s leaders in Gaza were demanding an end to the Israeli blockade of the territory and the opening of air and sea ports in the Gaza Strip. They also wanted over 200 Hamas members in the West Bank who had been arrested just before the start of this war to be released. They might as well have asked for the moon.

Hamas has fired almost 6,000 of its homemade rockets at Israel since the start of the war, but it has killed only two Israeli civilians (plus one Thai guest-worker). It doesn’t represent even a serious danger to Israel, let alone an existential threat. So why would any sane Palestinian negotiator think that Israel would feel compelled to make major concessions to Hamas in order to make the pain stop?

The Israeli negotiators were equally deluded. They understandably dismissed all of Hamas’s demands, but then they made equally ludicrous demands of their own. They wanted Hamas and all other militant Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip to be completely disarmed. That would not only end any possibility that the Palestinians could exert military pressure on Israel; it would also quite soon end Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip.

Why would Hamas agree with that? Over 2,000 people have been killed and more than 8,000 injured by Israel’s strikes on the Gaza Strip, but that’s less than one per cent of the population. Moreover, when the Israeli army actually invaded Gaza on the ground (to destroy the famous “terror tunnels”), Hamas fighters managed to kill 64 Israeli soldiers.

That was a particularly futile waste of Israeli lives, since it is hard to believe that 64 of Israel’s troops would ever have been killed by random Hamas fighters coming out of undiscovered tunnels from time to time. Ordinary Israelis, with nightmare visions of terrorists popping up in their gardens, have bought the official line that the sacrifice was worthwhile, but none of the tunnels actually extended more than a couple of kilometres beyond Gaza’s border.

The Palestinians doubtless think that killing more Israeli soldiers than in the previous two wars combined was some sort of success, even if they lost many more fighters themselves, but in the real world it does not give them any military advantage. So no concessions from either side of any kind.

This was quite foreseeable from the first day of the war, because that’s the way the last two wars ended too. They have all been fought mainly to serve the domestic political interests of the two governments, rather than to force real concessions out of the other.

Hamas’s strategic situation is peculiar: it is very weak and cannot hurt Israel, but it is virtually indestructible. Israel can hammer the population of the Gaza Strip as much as it likes, but that will only strengthen their support for Hamas.

Whereas Israel is enormously powerful, but cannot defeat Hamas unless it is willing to re-occupy the Gaza Strip — which would lead to a steady and ultimately intolerable drain of casualties among the occupying Israeli troops.

The moves in this relationship are as stately and predictable as a minuet. When Hamas is under political pressure at home and needs a distraction, it launches a few rockets at Israel or provides some other provocation that the Israeli government cannot ignore.

Then the Israeli government, under irresistible domestic pressure to “do something,” launches some air-strikes, and the dance of death recommences.

Stopping is more difficult, because there’s no music to give you the signal by coming to an end.

In terms of domestic politics, both sides have already accomplished what they came for — but since neither can acknowledge publicly that that’s all the war was really about, they end up raising wholly unrealistic demands at the cease-fire talks. That’s why the negotiations in Cairo ended in failure: nobody has won, so nobody can have prizes.

Now that the shooting has started up again, there may be a few more hundred deaths — but probably not another thousand, because the fighting really is going to end soon. It just won’t end with a political deal, and perhaps not even with a formal ceasefire. More likely it will just sort of peter out, like these things sometimes do. Until next time.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles on world affairs are published in 45 countries.

Just Posted

The Sylvan Lake Gulls celebrate a sixth inning home run from Nolan Weger on Sunday during a game against the Edmonton Prospects. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Historic opening weekend for Sylvan Lake Gulls

It wasn’t perfect, but perhaps that was the beauty of it. Fans… Continue reading

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

Three Hills RCMP recovered stolen copper wire during recent investigation near Kneehill. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Fatal ATV rollover near Innisfail Saturday

A 77-year-old man from Red Deer County died Saturday after an ATV… Continue reading

Firefighters and emergency services workers helped celebrate Barry Young’s 85th birthday at Timberstone Mews on May 29. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters in central Alberta make birthdays special

A fire truck arriving outside your house is not normally good news.… Continue reading

A view of Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park is shown in this undated handout photo. More Canadians are expected to leave their passports at home this summer and hit the road in Canada as the weak loonie and low gas prices prompt a deeper exploration of their own country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Travel Alberta *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Report: Alberta losing residents to other parts of Canada

As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly winds down in Alberta, residents are continuing… Continue reading

A large number of supporters were out Saturday at a rally intended to bring awareness about including Hinduism in the grade 2 portion of the K-6 draft curriculum. As it stands now, Hinduism won’t be taught until grade 6 in the proposed draft curriculum. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Video: Rally to support adding Hinduism to draft curriculum draws crowd in Red Deer

The Hindu community in Red Deer came out in droves on Saturday… Continue reading

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Germany's Robin Gosens, left, celebrates Germany's Mats Hummels after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group F match between Portugal and Germany at the football arena stadium in Munich, Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Matthias Hangst/Pool Photo via AP)
Germany clicks at Euro 2020 with 4-2 win over Portugal

MUNICH (AP) — Germany finally clicked into gear at the European Championship,… Continue reading

Fans cheer on their team during the pre-game warmup of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal with the Montreal Canadiens facing the Vegas Golden Knights, in Montreal, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
COVID-19 concerns give way to Habs Fever in Quebec as Montreal continues playoff run

MONTREAL — The sun hadn’t yet risen in Montreal on Friday morning… Continue reading

Coronavirus cases are on the rise from India to South Africa and Mexico, in a May 19, 2020 story. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Anti-government protesters took to the streets in… Continue reading

A black bear cub forages for food along a salmon stream below a bear viewing spot for tourists in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area in Juneau, Alaska.  (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Bandit responsible for vehicle break-ins is a black bear

THORNTON, N.H. (AP) — Surveillance video helped police get to the bottom… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 25, 2019 file photo, Editor Rick Hutzell, center, gives a speech to his staff including Chase Cook, Nicki Catterlin, Rachael Pacella, Selene San Felice and Danielle Ohl at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its newsroom, is leaving the Maryland newspaper. Hutzell, who worked at the Annapolis paper for more than three decades, authored a farewell column that was published on the paper's website Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Ulysses Muoz/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Editor of paper that endured newsroom shooting says goodbye

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won… Continue reading

Most Read