Unknowable Consequences

Should markets care about the Gaza Strip?

I don’t know. Should anybody? The answer to that latter question appears to be “no” outside the Muslim world.

Images, video and graphic accounts of the October 7 massacre in Israel have understandably galvanized public opinion. Most Westerners (I dare say the vast majority of Americans) know very little about the Israel–Palestine conflict if they know anything at all. But even those who do understand it in broad strokes are driven by the barbarism on display during last weekend’s attacks to reduce the situation to a simple narrative: Civilized people were murdered by bloodthirsty savages.

Apparently, everybody in Gaza is guilty by association. Not explicitly (although almost explicitly, depending on the narrator) but certainly implicitly. Israel has made it very clear: There are no limitations when it comes to the IDF’s military response to the attacks. That, in turn, suggests civilians won’t be spared. Indeed, civilians haven’t been spared in five days of heavy airstrikes.

“Too bad, so sad,” would be the response from many. “Why should Israel observe any rules of engagement? Look at these dead babies!” One simple rejoinder says if dead babies are bad, then more dead babies are by definition worse, and there are babies dying in Gaza every day. A baby for a baby leaves everybody blind. But let’s set that aside for now.

Gaza is without power, and hospitals there are expected to lose power within days or maybe even hours. When the generators stop working, everyone at those facilities who depends on electricity will die. People on ventilators, kidney dialysis and, yes, babies in incubators. As Fabrizio Carboni, the regional director for the International Committee of the Red Cross, put it, “Without electricity, hospitals risk turning into morgues.”

Israel Katz, Israel’s Energy Minister, said it’s up to Hamas. “Not a single electricity switch will be flipped on, not a single faucet will be turned on and not a single fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages are returned home,” Katz said.

I’m sure this has occurred to Katz, but Hamas may be willing to sacrifice a “few” people on ventilators and dialysis if it means hanging onto hostages who can be used as leverage during any coming Israeli ground operation. Those hostages are supposed to be insurance against airstrikes targeting civilian neighborhoods, and that ostensibly means Hamas might be willing to trade them for a little electricity, but something tells me that’s not how it’s likely to go down.

Gazans have tried to stockpile food and water, but that’s going to run out eventually too. The assumption seems to be that i) negotiations will eventually allow for limited evacuations to Egypt for civilians, ii) some arrangement will be made for the provision of limited electricity and humanitarian aid and/or iii) the war will be over before Gaza turns into a wasteland roamed by the emaciated walking dead.

But Israel is apparently bombing areas near Egypt’s Rafah crossing and Israeli officials have cautioned that the IDF could strike convoys attempting to deliver supplies to Gaza. Egypt is keen to facilitate humanitarian aid, but wants no part of a mass migration, particularly not at a time when the country is grappling with a domestic economic crisis.

Something has to give, and in a hurry. This situation will become mostly untenable within a week and entirely so within a month. There was always something cruelly ridiculous about suggesting the beleaguered citizens of Syria could “just leave” during the nation’s horrific, decade-long civil war, but at least fleeing was possible in theory. And many did indeed flee.

As it stands in Gaza, more than two million people are trapped (literally) in a war zone where a modern military is conducting airstrikes that don’t look materially different from carpet bombing. Richard Hecht, the IDF spokesman the world hears from on a daily basis, said Israel “isn’t doing carpet bombing, though some people would like to see that.” There again, bloodlust begets bloodlust.

This should go without saying but right now nobody is allowed to say it: You can’t trap two million people on a 25-mile-long strip of land, close the only exit route, cut off food, water and electricity, then conduct what might as well be an indiscriminate bombing campaign.

Israel says it’s notifying Gazans of its intentions to strike, but as the AP wrote, the IDF is “employing a new tactic of leveling whole neighborhoods, rather than just individual buildings and Israeli military briefings have emphasized the destruction wrought.”

Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that “Every Hamas member is a dead man.” That’s a promise he simply can’t keep. Unless, of course, Israel intends to kill everybody in Gaza.

I’m not sure what the “correct” way to go about exacting vengeance for these attacks is, but I do worry about the prospect that, say, 120,000 people, nearly all of them civilians, might be killed by a state actor in retaliation for the massacre of 1,200 people by extremists.

The consequences of bringing death on that scale to a specific ethnic group over a very compressed time frame by way of trapping them, starving them and bombing them are completely unknowable, particularly when you’re surrounded by hostiles and the entire conflagration is, at its core, a religious dispute.


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8 thoughts on “Unknowable Consequences

  1. I initially thought the instant headlines of the Hamas attack representing Israel’s 9/11 was just clickbait-ish hyperbole or hysteria. But the more I read, the more the parallels are striking, and not in the sense that an upstanding Western-leaning nation was viciously attacked without legitimate reason or provocation, or that said nation bore no responsibility for its being attacked or its failure to stop or limit said attack. But the consequent bloodlust and facile conflation of civiilans and terrorists are certainly similar at the very least.

  2. As I look back on history it is very hard to find a significant siege that has failed — maybe Malta. If the IDF wants to shoot all the fish in the barrel my guess is they will. This will be an Old Testament battle as long as the bullets hold out. If nothing else, Israel is just pissed and embarrassed at having been surprised.

  3. The US occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are a poor model for the world, and hundreds of thousands of civilians died. I wish we could all do better.

  4. Hamas is not just a terrorist group operating in Gaza, it is the government of Gaza. Its operations, fighters, weapons are deeply embedded throughout Gaza and it controls money and supplies that reach Gaza.

    A war between Israel and Hamas is effectively a war between Israel and Gaza, and heavy casualties and destruction in Gaza is inevitable, even if every Israeli strike hits only Hamas targets.

    The markets will care if a broader war erupts and/or energy supplies are affected.

    Similar to Russia/Ukraine war – immense destruction and casualties have not impeded markets, only broader economic effects have mattered (save for specific industries like defense).

  5. Gazans will sit and get bombed to death rather than give up their few remaining land rights to Israel. The place looks like Dresden now already. Middle Easterners have frequently chosen martyr as a career path during the past few hundreds of years. Good chance the IDF will get their asses handed to them in urban fighting like they got them kicked in Lebanon in 2006. IDF’s new generation isn’t the same as 73. Israel has bad demographics, 20 % arab. Too many torah reading non-draftees willing to send seculars out to fight. As we’ve seen, AI intel pretty bad too. Lots more blood ahead, now and for decades ahead unless we get to two states….(that’s a maybe).

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