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Lining up the dead in Gaza. Alamy Stock Photo

Tom Clonan Gaza has become hell on earth, while the world just watches

The security analyst says with both sides clearly in breach of the Geneva Convention, now is the time for moral leadership.

LAST UPDATE | 12 Dec 2023

THE ISRAELI DEFENCE Forces (IDF) have been engaged in ground operations within the Gaza Strip for 46 days now – since they commenced their invasion on 27 October. In that time, the Palestinian health authorities state that over 18,000 men, women and children have been killed with over 50,000 civilians seriously injured.

Among the dead are over 300 doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical personnel. Almost 70 journalists and media workers have been killed. Of Gaza’s 2.2 million inhabitants, over 1.9 million – 85% of the population – have been internally displaced. In this situation, contrary to the Geneva Conventions and the laws of armed conflict, the IDF has not provided a safe evacuation corridor or a ‘Safe Zone’ for Palestinian civilians.

palestinians-mourn-their-relatives-killed-in-the-israeli-bombardment-of-the-gaza-strip-at-the-hospital-rafah-gaza-tuesday-dec-12-2023-ap-photofatima-shbair Lining up the dead in Gaza. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

As a consequence, over two million innocent Palestinians are kettled, or concentrated in a ‘free fire’ or what the IDF refer to as a ‘Fire Belt’ inside the Gaza Strip. This makes the current conflict one of the most deadly – for civilians – in recent history.

A new, dark warfare

The military casualties are – relatively speaking – minor. After six weeks of intensive combat, the IDF claims to have killed 5,000 Hamas terrorists. This is out of a total of 30,000 Hamas fighters spread across the territory. Tactically, the IDF claims it has ‘broken’ Hamas in the north and in Gaza City.

Strategically, the IDF is now targeting the southern cities of Khan Younis and Rafah.

IDF troops have reached the centre of Khan Younis where Israeli tanks and armour are attacking public buildings and residential areas in force. Rafah is the subject of air strikes and shell and missile bombardment from Israeli Air Force F-35 multi-role combat aircraft and 155 mm artillery batteries respectively. In the last 24 hours, 22 people, including seven children, have been killed in these attacks – in an area into which the IDF previously directed Palestinian civilians, declaring it a place of safety.

The IDF has reported that during these operations they have lost 105 troops killed in action – 20% of whom were killed in ‘friendly fire’ incidents. A further 582 are reported wounded. The principal victims in this war however have been innocent Palestinian civilians – including over 10,000 children.

rafah-gaza-12th-dec-2023-a-smoke-plume-erupts-during-israeli-bombardment-on-al-shaboura-refugee-camp-in-rafah-in-the-southern-gaza-strip-on-tuesday-december-12-2023-at-least-22-people-have-been At least 22 people reportedly killed, including seven children, in the bombing by Israel in Rafah on Tuesday. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant has estimated that it will take another two months – possibly longer – to conclude its operations in Gaza with the stated aim of ‘completely destroying’ Hamas. Based on the attrition rate so far, this means that at least another 20,000 Palestinian civilians – including 150 children per day – will be brutally slaughtered in the coming weeks.

No end in sight

Politically, this will not signal the end of the conflict. Israel’s National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi has warned that another war will likely begin against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Having avoided a war on two fronts thus far, Hanegbi has hinted that once Hamas has been ‘neutralised’ in the western Negev and approaches to Gaza, Israel will turn its attention to Galilee in the north.

Israel will be keen to avoid a situation where Hezbollah troops could pour across the border from Lebanon into northern Israel to carry out genocidal attacks on Israeli civilians – similar to the genocidal attacks by Hamas on 7 October.

rafah-gaza-11th-dec-2023-people-search-house-rubble-for-items-to-salvage-following-an-early-morning-israeli-strike-in-rafah-in-the-southern-gaza-strip-on-tuesday-december-12-2023-at-least-22-p Rafah, Gaza. 11th Dec, 2023. People search house rubble for items to salvage following an early morning Israeli strike in Rafah. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Israel has been increasingly vocal in the last number of days about Hezbollah’s breach of the UN Security Council Resolution – UNSC 1701 of 2006 – which prohibits the concentration of Hezbollah forces south of the Litani River. Hanegbi has alleged the presence of Hezbollah Radwan commando forces along the border with Israel. The Israeli military has begun making very vocal calls for ‘security assurances’ from Hezbollah’s leadership in this regard. This is a tense stand-off and an intensely busy period for Irish peacekeeping troops based in south Lebanon – deployed with UNIFIL at the heart of this potential second front.

In the immediate short term, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is set to deteriorate dramatically. The internally displaced population is now showing signs of hunger and the medical signs of thirst among children and babies. The UN and a raft of international aid agencies and NGOs – from UNWRA to Médecins Sans Frontières and Amnesty International, are warning of an ‘apocalyptic’ loss of life in Gaza through continued heavy fighting, starvation and disease.

Throughout this, Hamas continues to operate and fight – daily firing missiles indiscriminately at civilian targets in Israel. Hamas is in clear and continuous breach of the Geneva Conventions and is committing grievous war crimes daily. They are threatening to murder the remaining 137 hostages they have taken, stating ‘The enemy and its leadership cannot take prisoners alive without an exchange’.

The latest Israeli victim, 25-year-old hostage Sahar Baruch, was reported killed in an attempt to rescue him by IDF soldiers.

There is a pressing need for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. An attempt by the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to this effect – UNSC 377A – was defeated when the United States vetoed it and the UK abstained. Resolution UNGA 377A (V) has been invoked in the hope that the majority of the UN General Assembly might vote for an immediate ceasefire.

Horrors of war

In the meantime, the Palestinian population in Gaza faces violence on an almost unimaginable scale. Persistent shelling from IDF 155mm artillery systems. Each 155mm shell contains a core of 10kg of high explosives surrounded by over 40kg of lethal metal shrapnel – with fuses designed to detonate on impact on civilian houses and public buildings.

Proximity fuses and delayed fuses allow for airbursts in densely crowded urban streets or for artillery shells to penetrate deep into cellars, basements and whatever cover the civilian population might seek out. In short, there is no cover or protection from IDF fire.

Every day, thousands of such shells rain down on the Palestinian people. The blast and shrapnel effects of such munitions inflict catastrophic soft tissue injuries on any men, women or children within range – inflicting burns, limb separation, decapitation and injuries almost impossible to describe.

rafah-gaza-28th-oct-2023-palestinian-rescue-men-remove-the-body-of-a-child-in-the-aftermath-of-israeli-bombing-on-al-mgary-family-houes-in-rafah-in-the-southern-gaza-strip-on-sunday-october-29-2 Rafah, Gaza. Palestinian rescue men remove the body of a child in the aftermath of Israeli bombing. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In addition to these artillery strikes, there are constant rolling air strikes – with massive 1000kg bombs – capable of destroying entire apartment blocks – burying dead and alive alike. Accompanying this is the renewed IDF ground assault. Massive Merkava main battle tanks firing 120mm cannons point blank into buildings – escorted by D-9 military bulldozers, crushing buildings and people alike as Israeli infantry dismount from Namer armoured personnel carriers and fight house to house, basement to basement and down into the tunnel network beneath.

Gaza is – as some commentators have begun to describe it – hell on earth. With both sides in breach of the Geneva Conventions and with the imminent risk of a regional – and global – escalation of this conflict, now is the time for moral leadership.

Ireland’s Taoiseach and Tánaiste have given that leadership in their repeated calls for a ceasefire and adherence to the international laws of armed conflict.

This conflict fundamentally challenges the rules-based world order that we in the West, the EU and our neighbours in the UK and US purport to support. The manner in which this conflict is being waged – by both sides – is an affront to our shared values. If it is not stopped, it is a harbinger of greater violence to come – and not just in the Middle East.

The principal beneficiaries of this conflict are Netanyahu’s far-right government. It also benefits Vladimir Putin and his principal ally in the war on Ukraine, Iran. As the West depletes its strategic stockpile of weapons in support of this offensive – it will ultimately dilute its support of Ukraine and the territorial integrity of the EU. As the West depletes its moral authority in this way, it will also dilute its resolve and capacity to defend itself and the values that we purport to hold. What is happening in Gaza is nothing short of genocide and every right-thinking human being should call for an immediate ceasefire.

Dr Tom Clonan is a retired Army Officer and former Lecturer at TU Dublin. He is currently an Independent Senator on the Trinity College Dublin Panel, Seanad Éireann.

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