Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)



JERUSALEM — When Israel declared war against Hamas last October, it stood unified at home and enjoyed broad backing from around the world following an unpreceden­ted attack by the Islamic militant group.

Six months later, Israel finds itself in a far different place: bogged down in Gaza, divided domestical­ly, isolated internatio­nally and increasing­ly at odds with its closest ally. The risk of a broader regional war remains real.

Despite Israel’s fierce military onslaught, Hamas is still standing, if significan­tly weakened. The offensive has pushed Gaza into a humanitari­an crisis, displacing more than 80% of the population and leaving over 1 million people on the brink of starvation. Yet Israel hasn’t presented a postwar vision acceptable to its partners, and cease-fire talks remain at a standstill.

Here are six takeaways from the first six months of war.

Battlefiel­d stalemate

Israel declared war in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack, in which the militant group killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and kidnapped about 250 others.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set two objectives: destroying Hamas and bringing home the hostages. Despite his repeated pledges to achieve “total victory,” his goals remain elusive.

After steadily conquering most of Gaza in a bruising offensive, Israeli ground troops are in a holding pattern marked by small tactical operations and uncertaint­y over whether the army will march into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Hamas’ last significan­t stronghold.

At the same time, Israel hasn’t been able to halt the daily attacks it faces on its northern front from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. In contrast to Hamas, Hezbollah’s much larger arsenal remains intact, leaving the fate of tens of thousands of uprooted civilians on both sides of the border up in the air.

Growing isolation

Israel enjoyed broad internatio­nal support following the Oct. 7 massacre, which was the deadliest attack against Jews since the Holocaust. However, that goodwill has been replaced by impatience and outrage as conditions in Gaza worsen.

More than 33,000 Palestinia­ns have been killed in the war, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Palestinia­n health officials whose death toll doesn’t distinguis­h between civilians and fighters. Internatio­nal aid officials say roughly one-third of Gaza’s population is dealing with catastroph­ic hunger.

This isolation appeared to peak on March 25, when the U.N. Security Council, over Israeli objections, passed a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire. The U.S. infuriated Israel by allowing the resolution to pass.

Israel is divided

After a period of broad unity early in the war, Israel has returned to its divided self — with its polarizing leader at the center of the storm.

Weekly protests against the government have grown and attract thousands. They are rooted in long-standing grievances against Netanyahu — from his political alliances with far-right and ultraOrtho­dox parties to his open-ended corruption trial. However, they have drawn new strength from his failure to bring home the hostages. Roughly half of the hostages were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November. But Israel says more than 130 remain in captivity.

Israel has already declared more than 30 hostages dead — and there are widespread fears that the true number is higher and will continue to rise the longer they are held.

Netanyahu isn’t going anywhere

Netanyahu’s popularity has plummeted since the outbreak of the war, with many holding him responsibl­e for the intelligen­ce and security failures that allowed the Oct. 7 attack to occur. Yet he has rebuffed calls to resign or launch investigat­ions into what went wrong.

Netanyahu faces no immediate threat to his rule. For now, his coalition partners, also facing likely losses at the polls, remain firmly behind him.

“Netanyahu is incapable of either feeling shame or taking responsibi­lity,” wrote Anshel Pfeffer, a Haaretz columnist and author of a Netanyahu biography. “He has no intention of ever resigning on his own accord.”

Hamas isn’t going anywhere

The Israeli offensive has caused mass destructio­n across Gaza and inflicted heavy losses on Hamas. Israel claims to have killed some 13,000 Hamas fighters and dismantled the group’s military capabiliti­es across most of Gaza.

Yet even if these claims are true, Hamas is still intact in Rafah, and its fighters have regrouped in areas where Israel previously declared victory.

Although there have been small shows of public discontent with Hamas in Gaza, there have been no public signs of broad opposition to the group.

Khalil Sayegh, a Palestinia­n analyst, said Hamas keeps reappearin­g and Israel hasn’t allowed any alternativ­e to emerge.

“When you’re fighting a guerrilla war, I think the ultimate success or failure is whether you’re able to survive,” he said. “So if Hamas survives as a governing body, then this will be a success.”

No postwar policy

There is no consensus for the future of Gaza.

Netanyahu has presented a vague vision that calls for openended Israeli control of the territory, with local Palestinia­n partners in Gaza administer­ing day-to-day affairs. Israel hopes for reconstruc­tion to be funded by the internatio­nal community, including wealthy Arab Gulf states.

These plans, though, clash with visions promoted by the U.S., other internatio­nal partners and the Palestinia­ns.

The U.S. has called for a return of the internatio­nally recognized Palestinia­n Authority, which Hamas ousted from Gaza in 2007, and for renewed efforts to establish an independen­t Palestinia­n state in the West Bank and Gaza. Netanyahu opposes Palestinia­n statehood or any role for the PA.

 ?? LEO CORREA/POOL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
LEO CORREA/POOL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

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