The deadline imposed by the Netanyahu government for some 1.2 million Gazans to flee south has passed. Will Israel go through with its directive of a ground assault in all seriousness, despite knowing full well the catastrophic humanitarian effects? The world is apprehensive. There is no doubt that the events of October 7 are of Hamas’ making. The ruthless response that followed are as a direct consequence of the scale of brutality that was originally unleashed on the Jewish state.

It is academically fine to talk about international law and proportional response, and that too while talking about a nation that seems determined to “finish off” the Hamas by way of retribution for the loss of 1,300-odd Israelis who perished in the initial attack. But the question that Prime Minister Netanyahu must ask is whether an appropriate response can be assessed by way of such gory numbers alone.

Abysmal conditions

As it is Gaza is seen as an “open air prison”; so would it be better if it were turned into an “open air morgue”? That is what would happen if the ground invasion were to be carried out through on a sliver of land that is already choking for lack of food, water, electricity and fuel.

Domestically, Netanyahu has managed to cobble up a unity government in the face of the Hamas terror attack as critics will continue to pose the question whether the fracturing of the system of the last several months impacted Mossad, known as the best intelligence agency in the world. Netanyahu also stands to squander away the fund of sympathy that his country has got from even unexpected quarters in the Middle East and beyond.

Risk of heavy casualties

Hamas cannot be naïve enough to take on the Israeli forces in the open. It is an open secret that terrorists use innocent civilians as human shields.

Further Tel Aviv will have to factor in the friends of Hamas in the Hezbollah to lend a helping hand. Widening the conflict to Lebanon would be even more gut wrenching for the region and beyond. And taking on the Hezbollah will invariably attract the attention of its major benefactor, Iran.

Hamas caught the ruling elites in Tel Aviv unawares at a time when they were busy quibbling over the role of judiciary. More important, October 7 and its aftermath has successfully jolted the normalisation process between Israel and Saudi Arabia, at least temporarily.

Flattening Gaza may be music to the ears of the right wing hawks, but runs the risk of falling again into the trap of the Hamas. After levelling Gaza what would have Israel achieved? Perhaps taking out a few hundred Hamas terrorists, but what about the thousands of innocent Palestinians who are likely to die in the land, air and sea offensives?

Avenging October 7 in the name of crimes perpetrated by Hamas cannot lead to another set of crimes which many in the international community are already talking about in the context of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Israel would have to consider whether wiping out the Hamas in a ground offensive (if indeed that were to happen) would free the Jewish State from the threats of terrorism from the outside.

The Hamas may be humbled but what of the future of a people who seem to be left with few options other than hang on to such outfits much against their wishes, with nations in the West and in the region paying no more than lip service to the “cause” of the Palestinians?

The writer is a senior journalist who has reported from Washington DC on North America and United Nations.