Six months into Israel’s horrific attack on Gaza, more than 30,000 people are dead while Hamas is still active

Following the killing of seven foreign aid workers in Gaza, Joe Biden has called for an immediate ceasefire and better access to aid for Palestinians as their starvation and suffering intensify. Even now, though, the US president refuses to pull the plug on the Israeli war effort, despite being in the unique position of having the power to do so.

Biden's reluctance to meaningfully act is in part due to his decades-long commitment to Israel, which first showed itself when he was a young senator back in 1973. But it is also a tactical move. With an election looming, he is trying to play to two different audiences at the same time: Democrats increasingly angry at Binyamin Netanyahu's behaviour, and Republicans, especially Christian Zionists, steadfast in their support for Israel.

Trying to appease both camps has created an extraordinary situation in which the Pentagon has committed to building a port for relief supplies for Palestinians in Gaza while also providing the Israeli Defense Forces with the weapons to kill those same people.

For Netanyahu, the original three-phase plan for Gaza, as stated by defence minister Yoav Gallant at the start of the war, still stands. This means first destroying most of Hamas in an intense air and ground war, before finishing off any "pockets of resistance", and pushing Gaza's 2.3 million people into an area even smaller than the already densely populated tiny enclave.

Among his supporters are the ultra-Zionist and religious fundamentalist parties, many of whom want Gaza cleared of Palestinians, and see the appalling 7 October attacks by Hamas as a rare opportunity to further their vision.

Netanyahu may be deeply unpopular among many Israeli Jews but support for the war remains strong after the group trauma of 7 October, and his dependence on the minority parties means that pursuit of those war aims remains intact.

The problem is that almost from the start, the war has not gone according to plan, with Hamas turning out to be much more resilient than anticipated. A direct consequence has been the IDF's increasing reliance on the Dahiya Doctrine of collective punishment - rooted in undermining insurgents by attacking their civilian base. Applied to Hamas, this means maintaining the siege and continuing the bombing.

That bombing of Gaza is now on a par with the destruction of Hamburg and Dresden by US and British air forces in the Second World War. But when the Israeli government states that the IDF always avoids civilian casualties - a claim that is provably untrue - and follows the laws of war, it tends not to mention that it has redefined those laws since the 1940s. As French journalist Sylvain Cypel said to The Progressive magazine recently: "The only way for a state to prevail is to destroy the terrorist enemy's base, i.e. the society devoted to it."

Yet problems for the IDF operation continue. Even back in December, the conflict was starting to stagnate, albeit with intense bombing and thousands of Palestinians being killed every week. Months later, Hamas is still active.

Three weeks ago, the IDF returned to northern Gaza in force with a raid on Al-Shifa hospital. When it finally left a few days ago the hospital was wrecked. Al-Shifa had been the focus of major IDF operations back in November, when Israel repeatedly claimed that it was sited over a large underground Hamas command centre. That centre was never found, the IDF declared that Hamas had been defeated in northern Gaza and the war moved on to the centre and south, with the north supposedly secure.

Now the IDF has redeployed units back to the north of Gaza, just when it needs to return reservists to their peacetime jobs - while also needing to maintain three army divisions on the Lebanese border and deploy more troops in the occupied West Bank.

All this might be manageable if a key part of the Dahiya Doctrine can be maintained: the harsh treatment of the civilian population of Gaza.

Some two million people are being kept in near-famine conditions despite persistent UN reports of the gross suffering involved. Whatever the original rhetoric when the war started, it might not be possible to destroy Hamas, but implementing Dahiya might hugely limit its potential.

The Netanyahu government and the Israeli Defense Forces do not want the siege to be broken by a ceasefire accompanied by full-scale flows of aid into Gaza. This will mean that Hamas will have survived and the condition of the Palestinian population will slowly improve.

Gazans are desperate for the war to end, but that does not translate into hatred of Hamas. It is Israel doing the killing. A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found a small uptick in support for the group among Gazans in the first three months of Israel's assault, though the pollster's director said most Palestinians still do not back the group.

The Israeli government has persistently stated that it is determined to destroy Hamas, even if that means destroying much of Gaza. Now, with tens of thousands of Palestinians killed and Hamas still active, Israel is already a pariah across much of the world and risks ending up as a rogue state. Its past response to threats has been ever greater use of force. If it sticks to that tradition, every effort will be made to delay aid into Gaza and avoid a long ceasefire.

There will also be much stronger action against Hezbollah, both in southern Lebanon and Beirut and also against Iranian targets in Syria and elsewhere. There could even be an attack on Iran's nuclear weapons programme.

All that could be avoided if Biden calls a halt. If he does - and only he can do so - there is a small chance of winding down the war and diminishing the carnage and suffering. If not, there is a substantial risk the war could widen.

From openDemocracy

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