On enemy ground

Nighttime bombing of the Gaza Strip / Reproduction Telegram
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By SALEM NASSER*

What we read, see and hear in the news coverage about the war against the Palestinian people could be classified as fiction, without much effort.

Facts and fiction

I can't say that I follow the main Western or Brazilian media outlets with much discipline. Therefore, what I will say next does not result from any comprehensive mapping of journalistic coverage among us.

However, I am convinced that what we read, see and hear could be classified as fiction without much effort. If we pay attention, the limits within which the narrative must be contained become clear: the story began on October 7th; nothing bad was happening before, especially with the Palestinians; Hamas is a terrorist group that, without provocation, has attacked civilians; everything Israel is doing is just a response and an effort to eliminate terrorists and evil – of course you will find slight variations, but the idea is the same.

I am also convinced that we in the West are less fortunate, when it comes to accessing more diverse narratives, than Israelis and all those who can follow the Israeli media. I have no doubt that there it is easier to criticize Israel and to evaluate more critically the situation that arose after October 7th.

Let us try, then, to look at things differently, to find new perspectives from which to perceive things.

What happened on the 7th?

Everyone agrees that the Hamas attack on October 7th was an event of unprecedented magnitude and will have serious consequences. But the deal ends here.

On the one hand, in the West, the magnitude of the event was read as localized to yet another traumatic terrorist attack by Islamic terrorists against the civilized and peaceful Western world. See, for example, the numerous references to the 11/XNUMX attacks and the comparisons between Hamas and ISIS…

Also, in the West, the global representation of the attacks presented civilian casualties and, to some extent, ignored the fact that most of the targets were military installations.

This representation is combined with the corollary that Israel is somehow authorized to react with extreme violence and to respond by collectively punishing Palestinian civilians, as if it had no other choice.

Different representations of events can be conceived, however, and they are out there, even if they are less accessible to us. In part, at least, these representations arise from what we can know about the facts themselves.

What do I mean by facts that would need to be properly established? I can only provide one illustration, albeit a very decisive one.

What we know about the victims of the first day's Hamas attacks is this: official Israeli sources gave us an overall figure of 1,5 or 1,6 thousand dead; they appointed a certain number of them (about 500 when I last looked), of which almost 300 were military, about 100 among security and intelligence agents and about 100 civilians. There is, therefore, a very significant number of deaths of whom we do not know whether they were military or civilian or not.

Regarding the cause of death of civilians, we have almost no reliable information. I have seen references, made by Scott Ritter, to eyewitnesses to the fact that many were victims of fire from the Israeli forces themselves. All of this still needs to be verified. I do not deny the existence of non-combatant victims and I have no way of assigning blame for these casualties.

On the other hand, there is a different representation of events, in which I see more merits, which focuses on the strategic implications of the 7 October attacks.

According to one report, which I cannot confirm in detail, Hamas attacked, with a number of between 1.100 and 1.500 fighters, a total of 25 military installations where 15.000 Israeli soldiers were stationed. In this scenario, even if it is only partially true, the only possible conclusion is that Hamas achieved enormous military success and revealed an unexpected level of Israel's fragility.

Here is the true source of the shock that hit Israel and all its allies. It is this shock and the realization of this fragility that explains the hesitation that marks the Israeli response – the continuous postponement of a ground operation and the insistence on air strikes – and the direct participation of the US in the operations and decision-making processes.

Israel, and with it the US, feel the need to rebuild military confidence and deterrence capabilities, but cannot seem to find an efficient way to do so. Continued punishment of Gaza's civilian population is not enough and at some point it will backfire in terms of international public opinion. A ground operation ending in decisive victory is necessary, but such a victory seems impossible and the operation is deeply feared.

Hamas and the other Palestinian military groups are challenging Israel's mythical power and inviting a “man-to-man” confrontation, so to speak. The fear, on the Israeli side, arises from the real possibility that its defeat will deepen even further. The failure to achieve a significant advance in the Gaza Strip will consolidate the impression that Israel is no longer capable of conquering territory and taking the war to the enemy's territory.

Everyone in the Middle East, friend or foe of Israel and the United States, understood the long-term implications of this defeat, and everyone understood that the defeat was accomplished on the 7th itself, regardless of what came next, regardless of what is yet to come.

* Salem Nasser is a professor at the Faculty of Law of FGV-SP. Author of, among other books, Global law: norms and their relationships (Alamedina). [https://amzn.to/3s3s64E]


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