Israel’s defence officials have warned that a new war on Gaza could cause the Strip’s healthcare system to collapse completely, inviting unwanted international intervention.
In an assessment presented to the Israeli security cabinet, the officials warned that any civilians wounded in a war on Gaza would not be able to receive immediate medical care. Given that civilians “would presumably comprise most of the casualties” in a war of this kind, the officials told Haaretz that “it would be difficult to wage war and receive international support for the operation”.
The Israeli daily explains that “during the 2014 Gaza war, the Gaza health system was in difficult straits, but it was in better shape than it is now”. Since then the state of Gaza’s health system has deteriorated significantly due to US funding cuts to UNRWA and USAID, the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s policy of withholding funds from the Strip as part of its ongoing feud with Hamas, and the impact of the Great March of Return on hospitals.
These events have added to the woes of a system already crippled by Israel’s siege on the Gaza Strip, which has been ongoing since Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections and began to govern the coastal enclave. Israel has prevented medics, medical supplies and fuel from reaching Gaza’s hospitals, as well as denied permits for patients to leave the Strip to receive medical attention elsewhere.
Though warnings that Gaza’s health system is in danger of imminent collapse are not new, that the Israeli defence establishment have cited this as a reason to avoid launching a new war is worthy of note. As Israel heads towards a general election on 9 April, politicians have used the threat of war on Gaza to further their electoral campaigns and boast of their security credentials.
Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that the general election would not stop his government from bombing the Gaza Strip or Iran. Addressing a weekly meeting of the Israeli cabinet, Netanyahu said that “if calm is not maintained in Gaza, Israel will not hesitate to move against it, even during the election period”.
Netanyahu’s main electoral challenger, leader of the Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) party Benny Gantz, has likewise sought to use the prospect of war on Gaza to his electoral advantage. In his maiden speech last week, Gantz said that while he would “allow any humanitarian assistance to the residents of Gaza […] The heads of the terrorist organisations need to know that Ahmed Jabari [a Hamas member who was killed in a targeted assassination during the 2012 Gaza War] was not the first, nor may he be the last.” Gantz has also come under fire for his campaign videos, in which he boasted of having bombed Gaza “back to the stone age” during the 2014 war.