On 7 October, Israeli security officials were already questioning how long they would be allowed to fight in Gaza. As the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) hurriedly mobilised more than 300,000 reservists, one official told me that ‘destroying Hamas depends on the length of our window of legitimacy’.
Last week, I was on an embed with an IDF unit in Gaza City. As the sun set over the Mediterranean, I checked the date on my watch and realised the 18th day of the ground campaign had just ended. During the 2009 and 2014 Gaza ground offensives, the IDF was forced to stop fighting by the 18th day and accept a ceasefire (brokered both times by the Egyptians and forced on it by the US). Throughout Israel’s 75-year existence this has been a pattern for virtually every war: a ceasefire has been imposed when Israel holds a military advantage.
The latest war has lasted seven weeks. The IDF has operated on the ground for the past four. And for now, the window of legitimacy remains open: Joe Biden is not yet pressuring Israel for a ceasefire and the support of America’s main allies, Britain and Germany, remains resolute. There was a recent wobble when the French President Emmanuel Macron (who else?) called for a ceasefire in an interview with the BBC (where else?). But he seemed to row back on his comments afterwards and has since largely remained silent.
The Arab League has called for a ceasefire, along with much talk of ‘Israeli aggression’. But when it comes to real diplomacy, little has been done to try to achieve one. With the exception of Iran’s protectorate, Syria, and Hamas’s patron Qatar, nearly every Arab regime wants to see Hamas destroyed. They just can’t say it openly. Meanwhile, an Arab delegation is in Beijing to gain support for a ceasefire.