Israel’s War Campaign: Systematic Devastation, Assassination and Stalemate

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

After six months of war in Gaza, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says it has brought only “relentless death and destruction” to Palestinians.  Since Hamas’s deadly attack on October 7, 2023, more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed, thousands have been injured, hundreds of thousands have been displaced and many are daily dying of starvation.

On October 9th, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lamented, “This war was imposed upon us by a despicable enemy — by savages who celebrate the murder of women, children, and the elderly.”  On October 16th he declared: “This is a moment of genuine struggle against those who have risen up against us to destroy us. Our goal is victory – a crushing victory over Hamas, toppling its regime and removing its threat to the State of Israel once and for all.”

Netanyahu identified the two principal goals of Israel’s military strategy as: (i) to destroy Hamas’s ability to govern and launch attacks from Gaza and (ii) to return the hostages held by Hamas and other armed groups.

A few days after the October 7th attack, this strategy was clarified by Israel’s defense minister Yoav Gallant who ordered the “complete siege” of Gaza, and said he would halt the supply of electricity, food, water and fuel to the Palestinian enclave. “I have given an order – Gaza will be under complete siege,” the minister said. “We are fighting barbarians and will respond accordingly.”

“The sense of personal failure and, indeed, shame—that the IDF broke its fundamental contract with the Israeli public—weighs on the minds of Israeli officers today,” reported Raphael S. Cohen of the Rand Corp.  Looking deeper, Cohen reflected:

“The Oct. 7 terrorist attack shook Israelis’ relationship with the IDF to its very foundations. That morning, the IDF failed not only to protect the Israeli public in one of the largest losses of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust, but it failed to even protect its own: At least 274 Israeli soldiers, plus dozens of local security officials, were killed on one of the bloodiest days in Israeli military history. Some of these soldiers—like the ill-fated female soldiers tasked with watching the Gaza border—were unarmed when they were slaughtered by Hamas attackers.”

He then adds, “Over the course of a single morning, Hamas shattered Israelis’ sense of security, alongside their confidence in the omnipotence of the IDF.

In response, the Israeli government quickly mobilized for war.  It called-up 360,000 reservists, tripling its military force. Sadly, many of the quickly mobilized reservists were not militarily prepared for the war that awaited them.  According to Cohen, “Israeli Institute of National Security Studies found that only six percent who had finished their mandatory service met the reserve requirement of serving at least 20 days over a three-year period.”

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Israel spent $23.4 billion on its military in 2022; approximately $3.3 billion a year is provided by the U.S. under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. The Biden administration is pressing Congress to approve a plan to sell 50 F-15 fighter jets valued at $18 billion to Israel. Prior to October 7th, it had 169,500 active military personnel in the army, navy and paramilitary; in addition, it had reserves totaling 465,000 – of which 360,000 were called up.

Israel’s military equipment is impressive.  According to one study, it consists of the following:

Land forces:


+ 2,200+ tanks

+ 530 artilleries (Self Propelled, Towed, Multiple Rocket Launch, Mortar)

Air forces:


+ 339 combat capable aircraft including 309 fighter ground attack jets

+ 196 F-16 jets

+ 83 F-15 jets

+ 30 F-35 jets

+ 142 helicopters

+ 43 Apache attack helicopters

Naval forces:


+ 5 submarines

+ 49 patrol and coastal combatants

Iron Dome system: a mobile air defense system designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets using radar technology.

Drones: “The Israeli army began using drones in the early 1980s in Lebanon before they were called ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ (UAVs),” +972 magazine reports.

Equipment: Israel produces a wide range of its military equipment for domestic use and foreign sales.

Israel’s war campaign involves the use of military personnel and equipment to impose authority over the Palestinian people.  The campaign is based on five key features – occupation, ethnic cleansing, physical destruction, targeted assassinations and starvation.  Brief considerations of each follow.

Occupation: the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” (OPT) was established in the wake of the Arab-Israel war of June 1967.  Israel seized the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, refusing to adhere to Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 that called for withdrawal from the occupied territories.

In 1993, the Israeli military withdrew from some parts of the OPT and installed the Palestinian National Authority (PLO) to run the government in these areas. In 2005, Israel evacuated from the Gaza Strip, dismantling 21 settlements and removing settlers.  In 2006, Hamas      (Arabic acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”) was a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that defeated its rival political party, Fatah (aka the Palestinian National Liberation Movement), a faction of the PLO, and was elected to run Gaza.

In the wake of Hamas’s victory, Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza in June 2007, reversing the economic gains within the OPT since 1993.  The situation was made worse with the expansion of the Israeli settlements in the OPT; the UN Security Council declared them a “flagrant violation of international law.”  Between 1967 and May 1979, Israel established 133 settlements in the OPT, consisting of 79 in the West Bank, 29 in the Golan Heights, 7 in the Gaza Strip and 18 in the Sinai.   By 1977, West Bank settlers increased from 3,200 to 17,400; by 1982, settlers in East Jerusalem and the Jerusalem area were estimated at “approximately 80,000.”

In December 2021, Israel completely encircled Gaza with a 20-foot-high wall that spans 40 miles. In addition, occupation became containment within the OPT when Israel imposed restrictions of movement in/out of the Gaza and the West Bank; restricted access to areas within 300 meters of the Gaza side of the perimeter fence; restrict access off the Gaza coast (e.g., fishermen have access to only 50 percent of the waters allocated under the Oslo Accords); periodically blockades of crossings into Gaza, preventing the flow of people (including medical cases) and essential commodities (including food).

Ethnic Cleansing: this has involved a two-fold, complementary strategy of (i) reducing the Palestinian population through a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” and (ii) shrinking the territory into an ever-smaller land mass.  This two-phased strategy seems the unstated goal of the current Israel war effort – and what “victory” really means.  

In 1895, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, assertedWe shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country … expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”

In the wake of the establishment of the state of Israel, the UN identifies the first phase of the formal “expropriation and the removal” as the Nakba which “means ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, [and] refers to the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.”

Al Jazeera reports, “Between 1947 and 1949, at least 750,000 Palestinians from a 1.9 million population were made refugees beyond the borders of the state,” It adds, “Zionist forces had taken more than 78 percent of historic Palestine, ethnically cleansed and destroyed about 530 villages and cities, and killed about 15,000 Palestinians in a series of mass atrocities, including more than 70 massacres.”

Two decades later, the Nakba was followed by the Naksa or “setback” that further shrunk the OPT’s population.  It was a result of the Six-Day War that pitted Israel against Egypt, Jordan and Syria.  Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and 300,000 more Palestinians fled, mostly into Jordan;

In 2018, the Norwegian Rufugee Council (NRC) found Gaza to be “one of the world’s most densely populated areas, with more than 5,000 inhabitants per square kilometre. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the city of Oslo but is home to three times as many people.”  It notes, “Today many refer to the Gaza Strip as the world’s largest open-air prison, where the prison guard is Israel.”

Destruction: Israel’s war campaign is documented in the systematic bombings that have devastated much of Gaza.  The Israel Defense Force (IDF) appears to have two “enemies” or targets – (i) “identified” targets and (ii) “general” targets.  Identified targets include alleged sites of Hamas leader and other nebulous critical “military” locations; general targets include the vast number of non-military homes, hospitals, schools, religious centers, farms and highways as well as ordinary street life.  Every Palestinian is an IDF enemy.

As vividly displayed in satellite imagery analyzed by Jamon Van Den Hoek (Oregon State University) and Corey Scher (CUNY Graduate Center) of the Decentralized Damage Monitoring Group (DDMG), report that 160,700 buildings that have been destroyed as of March 21, 2024.

The destroyed building are identified as: in North Gaza at 32,000 building (69.9 percent); in Gaza at 45,800 buildings (74 percent); in Deir El-Balah at 23,200 buildings (46.7 percent); in Khan Younis at 44,400 (54.4 percent); and in Rafah at 15,3000 buildings (31.5 percent).  In all likelihood, a goodly proportion of these building are no longer habitable.

Targeted Assassinations:  The Israeli military has used Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs to targetidentified “enemies” and to destroy their housing. The Israel journals, +972 Magazine and Local Call, have identified three AI programs being employed in the current war effort – “The Gospel,”“Lavender” and “Where’s Daddy?”

As +972 reported, The Gospel can “generate” targets almost automatically at a rate that far exceeds what was previously possible.

The Lavender system is designed to mark all suspected operatives in the military wings of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), including low-ranking ones, as potential bombing targets. It “clocked as many as 37,000 Palestinians as suspected militants — and their homes — for possible air strikes.”  Going further, it stated: “the Israeli army systematically attacked the targeted individuals while they were in their homes — usually at night while their whole families were present — rather than during the course of military activity.”  It also reported that Israeli “army gave sweeping approval for officers to adopt Lavender’s kill lists, with no requirement to thoroughly check why the machine made those choices or to examine the raw intelligence data on which they were based.”  It also noted that “errors” were in approximately 10 percent of cases.

The Where’s Daddy? program was used specifically to track the targeted individuals and carry out bombings when they had entered their family’s residences.

StarvationAl Jazerra reports that as of March 27th, “27 people – 23 of them children – have starved to death as a result of what international bodies say is Israel’s use of hunger as a weapon of war.”

Israel’s starvation campaign began on October 9, 2023, when Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced, “We are fighting human animals.” He added, “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.” Energy Minister Israel Katz issued an order “to immediately cut the water supply to Gaza.”

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) reports that between 24 November 24th and December 7, 2023, over 90 percent of the population in the Gaza Strip was estimated to face high levels of acute food insecurity, classified in IPC Phase 3 or above (Crisis or worse). Going further, it notes that over 40 percent of the population (939,000 people) were in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and over 15 percent (378,000 people) were in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5).

It projected that between December 8, 2023, and February 7, 2024, “the entire population in the Gaza Strip (about 2.2 million people) is classified in IPC Phase 3 or above (Crisis or worse). This is the highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity that the IPC initiative has ever classified for any given area or country.”

In December 2023, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that “the Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the occupied Gaza Strip, which is a war crime.”  It added, “Israeli forces are deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food, and fuel, while willfully impeding humanitarian assistance, apparently razing agricultural areas, and depriving the civilian population of objects indispensable to their survival.”

In the wake of Hamas’s vicious attack of October 7, 2023, Israel’s political leadership called for all-out war.  The national security chief, Tzachi Hanegbi, said that Israel could no longer accept Hamas as a “sovereign entity in the Gaza Strip.” Going further he added, “Complete victory will be the only possible outcome of this battle. … We will not only collapse Hamas military and governmental capabilities, but ensure that they will not be able to revive themselves afterward.” Prime Minster Netanyahu also insisted, “Destroying Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, and bringing the captives back home.”

After six months of battle, employing the full force of territorial occupation, ethnic cleansing, systematic destruction, targeted assassinations and even starvation, the Israeli military and government has failed to secure “victory” or bring the hostages home.  One can only how long Israel’s failed effort will continue.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at; check out