A wounded Palestinian sits on debris at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid Israel's ongoing war in Gaza Image Credit: Reuters

On December 1, a mere seven weeks after Israel launched its war on Gaza, French President Emanuel Macron told reporters at a press conference on the sidelines of the UN’s COP28 climate talks in Dubai that if Israel sought the “total destruction” of Hamas, then that “war will last ten years.”

“What is the destruction of Hamas?” he asked rhetorically. “And does anyone really think it’s at all possible?”

His observations were shown to have been prescient this past weekend as fierce fighting broke out in close-quarters combat between Israeli troops and Hamas in several locations in northern Gaza, locations that Israel had confidently declared as having been fully “pacified” — pacified after they had been pummeled, depopulated, and reduced to a wasteland.

Well, Gee, the “last stronghold in Rafah” is not, after all, last stronghold. What do you know!

Truth to be told, this has become a familiar scenario in Gaza over the course of the last seven months of war: After pitched battles, Israel declares an area “clear of terrorists” only to return there to conduct more pitched battles after Hamas appeared to have reconstituted their forces.

Read more by Fawaz Turki

Israel’s military forces, reputed to be, thanks to their deadly weapons, technology, and intelligence, the most powerful in the world on this side of NATO, now appear to control the 141 square miles that make up the entirety of Gaza’s territory — above ground.

Resistance in Gaza appears undaunted — controlling the same territory — underground, in tunnels that reportedly stretch, in every direction imaginable, 350 miles, many reinforced in concrete and iron, rendering them subterranean fortresses.

It will prove as difficult (over the next “ten years”) for Israel to eliminate Gaza tunnels as it was for US forces to eliminate Viet Cong guerrillas hunkered in their fabled Cu Chi tunnels in South Vietnam.(Vietnamese guerrilla forces began digging their network of tunnels in the 1940s, during their war of independence from French colonial rule.)

A foregone conclusion?

People know that Palestinians cannot militarily defeat Israel on the battlefield. Many think -- and it is a foregone conclusion -- that this could turn into a fight of political war of attrition and that that does not need a military victory to win it.

It took Henry Kissinger, in his writings on the Vietnam war, to explain this paradox. “We fought a military war while our opponents fought a political one,” he stated. “We sought physical attrition while our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process, we lost sight of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla warfare: The guerrilla wins if he does not lose while the conventional army loses if it does not win.”

Guerrilla warfare has been artfully described as the weapon of the weak, a form of struggle by which the militarily weak side assumes the tactical offensive, taking the advantage at a time and place of its own choosing — in Mao Tse-Tung’s words, “you retreat when the enemy advances and advance when he retreats.”

In the most blunt articulation yet from a Biden administration official, Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told a gathering of the NATO Youth Summit in Miami on Sunday, as he addressed the improbability of the “full victory” that Israel has promised to achieve in Gaza, “Sometimes when we listen clearly to Israeli leaders, they talk about mostly the idea of a sweeping victory on the battlefield, total victory, [but] we don’t believe that is likely or probable.”

A philosophy of defiance

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said at a press conference on Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv: “I will not agree to the establishment of a military government in Gaza.” According to him, a new “regime in Gaza will become the main effort in there and come at the expense of other arenas. We will pay for it in blood and victims – and it will come at a heavy economic cost.”

Gallant has since been criticised by other members of the Netanyahu cabinet with Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi calling for him to be fired from his position.

Gaza, a little strip of land placed under occupation for 57 years and under a crippling blockade for seventeen — a blockade that had universally earned it the moniker “the largest open-air prison in the world” — has now morphed into a theatre on whose stage resistance has become a philosophy of defiance and a place where doom is accepted, almost acquiesced in as the price tag that needs to be paid to gain freedom, a time when this hundred-year-plus struggle will end on a note of grace.

Meanwhile, you must have noticed, Israel is waging a war of annihilation in Gaza, a war whose excesses have reached the pit of the inhuman — for, put more Biblically, “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein.”

— Fawaz Turki is a noted academic, journalist and author based in Washington DC. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile