Israel’s war in Gaza, six months in

Six months in.

In an aerial view, a man is a small figure pushing a bicycle along a dirt road. On either side of the road, piles of rubble were once buildings.

A man pushes a bicycle along as he walks amid building rubble in the devastated area around Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital on April 3, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas militant group. AFP via Getty Images Joshua Keating is a senior correspondent at Vox covering foreign policy and world news with a focus on the future of international conflict. He is the author of the 2018 book, Invisible Countries: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood, an exploration of border conflicts, unrecognized countries, and changes to the world map.

Just a few days after the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, which killed more than 1,200 Israelis and took place six months ago this week, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Israeli troops, “What was in Gaza, will be no more.”

On that pledge at least, Israel has followed through — and then some. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 31,000 people have been killed in the territory, around 1.4 percent of the population. Gaza is facing a crisis level of hunger, a situation that will worsen after several aid organizations have scaled back their activities following an Israeli airstrike that killed seven aid workers this week. The Gaza Strip has been pulverized, with about 35 percent of its buildings destroyed, according to the United Nations. And around 85 percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced.

In many respects, however, the war has confounded expectations. In the early days following the Hamas attacks, Israel called up some 360,000 reservists, the largest military mobilization in the country’s history. While the actual numbers deployed into Gaza have not been revealed, estimates put the number at just about 30,000 troops as of the end of last year, and many of those have now been withdrawn.

When Israel launched its ground operations in late October, Israeli commanders predicted it would take around three months, before transitioning to a new phase involving stamping out last pockets of resistance and setting up a new governance structure for Gaza.

Today, that timeline looks extremely optimistic at best.

In late January, US intelligence agencies estimated that only about 20 to 30 percent of Hamas’s fighters had been killed and that the group still had enough munitions for months worth of strikes. Six months in, there’s still no end in sight, and the Israeli government’s post-war plans still look exceedingly vague.

A mixed regional picture

Beyond Gaza itself, there were widely held concerns in the days following October 7 that the conflict would spill over into a regional war. Preventing this from happening was one of the primary — if not the primary — US goals in the early days of the conflict. It’s why the Pentagon deployed assets including aircraft carrier groups to the region and issued warnings to Iran and its proxy groups not to join the conflict.

Six months later, the regional picture is mixed. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah continues to exchange fire with the Israeli military over the border between the two countries. But despite some periodic threats, neither side appears interested in escalating the conflict to an all-out war.

In the weeks following the start of the conflict, Iran-backed militant groups launched more than 170 attacks on US troops in the Middle East, culminating in a strike that killed three US troops in Jordan on January 28. But since the aggressive American response to that strike, these attacks have virtually stopped. It remains to be seen, however, whether this “pause” could end following a surprise Israeli strike that killed a senior Iranian military commander in Damascus, Syria, earlier this week.


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Apart from some isolated attacks — and despite Hamas’s hopes — there have been few signs of a wider uprising among Palestinians in the West Bank, or inter-communal tensions within Israel itself. The biggest threat to political stability in Israel today comes not from the West Bank but from protests by Israelis against Netanyahu’s rule and an ongoing political controversy involving the role of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the country’s military.

The biggest surprise, regionally, has been Yemen’s Houthis, who put themselves on the map with an ongoing campaign to disrupt global shipping through the Red Sea, despite the best efforts of the US military and its allies.

Beyond the Middle East, the world’s patience with Israel is running out. Global sympathy for Israel was hardly universal in the days following the Hamas attacks, but today feels a long way from those moments when the Brandenburg Gate, 10 Downing Street, and the Sydney Opera House were all lit up in the colors of the Israeli flag.

As for Israel’s most important global ally, things are also shifting — but more slowly.

A relationship nearing the breaking point

In the early days of the conflict, President Joe Biden made a remarkable wartime visit to Israel, while part of the administration pursued what was called a “bear hug” strategy — publicly expressing solidarity while privately shaping Israel’s response.

These days, the hug is looking a lot less friendly. Officials including the president himself have expressed frustration with the high toll of civilian casualties from Israel’s airstrikes and the disruptions to aid efforts in Gaza. The administration has taken a number of steps that would have been very unlikely in the early days of the war, including slapping sanctions on some Israeli settlers and allowing a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire to pass, after vetoing several previous motions.

Nonetheless, despite all the internal anger and expressions of frustration, the Biden administration has resisted calls to take more dramatic steps to distance itself from the Israeli war effort, such as conditioning military aid on Israel complying with more stringent targeting standards.

But that could be changing. On Thursday, White House spokesperson John Kirby said there would be changes to the US policy on Gaza if it did not see concrete steps from Israel to protect civilians and aid workers and allow in more aid in the coming “hours and days.” What steps by Israel would satisfy that demand and what changes the US might consider if they do not are still not clear.

And bigger shifts are taking place elsewhere in the US. A majority of Americans now oppose Israel’s military actions, with support dropping from 50 percent to 36 percent between November and March.

The drop is most pronounced among Democrats, but even Donald Trump, who rarely missed an opportunity to tout his pro-Israel bona fides and back Netanyahu while he was president, now says it’s time for the war to end.

Whatever the next six months bring, there has likely been a permanent and long-lasting shift in the US-Israel relationship.

This story appeared originally in Today, Explained, Vox’s flagship daily newsletter. Sign up here for future editions.


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