As the Gaza War extends beyond 100 days with no end in sight, a potential months-long respite from fighting comes into focus. The ceasefire will allow the release of another set of Israeli hostages and another set of Palestinian prisoners. Beyond this ongoing series of exchanges, however, there appears no end to the war: The bombing, the raids, and the exchanges will go on for months and months. This perpetual state of conflict is exactly what the two men leading both sides seek.
On one side, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin remains steadfast in emphasizing an unachievable strategic objective for the war: the total eradication of Hamas in Gaza as the war’s strategic objective. The governing body of Gaza since 2007, Hamas has its vile arms in all aspects of Gazan governance and society. Hamas is not only the enclave’s military force, but also the school system, the trash collection, and the police. The group blends so deeply into Gazan society that the complete elimination of Hamas – Netanyahu’s consistently stated goal – would likely require killing virtually every adult male. Further, beyond smashing Gaza to bits, Israel has no transition plan. Netanyahu refuses to turn Gaza over to a reformed Palestinian Authority. He’s ruled out the White House’s proposal for a post-war Palestinian State. Bibi’s left no viable remaining option — even a security handover to Sunni Arab militaries is unpalatable in those countries without a Palestinian State.
On the other side of this gruesome conflict, Yayhya Sinwar, Hamas’ leader, remains elusive, likely underground and mixed with Israeli hostages. Like his counterpart, Sinwar wants the war to continue in perpetuity. Hamas’s goal in such a savage attack on Israel on October 7th was to force an Israeli overreach. The terror group wanted images of a dystopian hellscape, destroyed hospitals, dead children, and wailing babies – precisely what the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are inflicting on Gazans. Hamas, widely unpopular in Gaza before the war, sees its stature, prestige, and acclaim grow dramatically as the fighting continues. Palestinians – and many Muslims in the Middle East – view Hamas’s war as a legitimate form of defiance against Israeli oppression. This is the war Sinwar always wanted – a war of resistance embraced by the Mulsim world. Sinwar now hopes to bleed Israel dry, to keep the IDF tied down in Gaza, and to employ Hamas’s well-honed information operations program to turn the world against Israel.
Sinwar’s strategic approach pivots on the more than 100 hostages remaining in Hamas control. Subway must ensure his forces keep them alive. He will use them as leverage in a series of staggered pauses during which Hamas’s forces consolidate ammunition, repair defensive positions, and replace troops on the front lines. Keeping such a large group of hostages alive in combat in a devastated landscape is a colossal task of planning and resourcing, but it is vital to preserving conflict.
The return of Palestinian prisoners from Israel at a rate of two to one in exchange for Israeli hostages makes Sinwar a hero in the Muslim world. His stature will continue to grow with each exchange. Sinwar knows his popularity – and the acclaim of his organization – will continue to rise in the months to come.
The Israeli Prime Minister, on the other hand, was a largely reviled figure before the war and grew more despised as the battle continued. Netanyahu’s image was always that of the man who would keep Israelis safe from the rest of the world. In secretly propping up Hamas for almost a decade while pushing settlements into the West Bank, he’s only done the opposite. The war is his mechanism to remain in power; once the fighting stops, Israelis will call for an election and overwhelmingly vote him out.
Once out of office, the 73-year-old Netanyahu will suffer a worse fate than political failure. Bibi is charged with fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes in three separate scandals. The longer he remains in power, the longer he can delay facing the consequences of these charges. The trials, repeatedly delayed, have recently resumed but are expected to drag on slowly while he adjudicates the war. Should the war end, however, Bibi will surely face justice.
So, with no viable off-ramp and two leaders keen to keep the blood flowing, the war will persist. The awful suffering it brings will continue- for months and months, through 2024 into 2025. Pursuing peace and resolution takes a backseat to Sinwar’s political agenda and Netanyahu’s self-preservation.
Joe Buccino is a retired U.S. Army colonel with five combat tours in the Middle East. He served as U.S. Central Command communications director from 2021 until September 2023. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense or any other organization.