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Benjamin Netanyahu, long war, Gaza
Israel has had fewer civilian casualties since the first day of the war. Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.

Just as there were no winners in Iraq and Afghanistan, the current conflict in the Middle East will only produce losers… in Israel, the Gaza Strip, and beyond.

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As civilian casualties mount in the Gaza Strip and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing his country for a “long and difficult” war, it is worth looking at the recent examples of US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to see what lies in store, not only for the Palestinians but also for the invading/occupying force.

The answer is, nothing good for anybody involved. 

While there are plenty of similarities between these situations, there are also key differences. Let’s look at some of both. 

In each case, you have a massively armed nation that, triggered by a devastating attack, unleashes its military might on a country/territory with few defenses other than an organized insurgency and a large supply of people willing to strap on a bomb and blow themselves up if that means taking down a bunch of invaders. 

Fortunately for the US, Afghanistan and Iraq were far away. Things would have been vastly different over the past 20 years if the US and these nations had shared borders and if the people who were willing to martyr themselves in Baghdad and Kabul could have easily made it to Washington, New York, or any other large city in the US.

In Israel, things are obviously different. It is surrounded by people who want to see it wiped off the map and a number of armed countries that have tried to do so. 

Therefore, it seems as though it will only be a question of time until an insurgency arises that will not be limited to attacking Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, but will also target civilians in Israel itself, on a scale never seen before.

The bombing and subsequent full-scale occupation of Gaza will eventually create new legions of young people willing to take up arms against Israel.

In addition, there is a much greater chance that the current conflict will turn into something far larger than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Obviously, any overt hostility from Iran would pour gasoline on the fire, and Israel has so many enemies on its borders that a regional war could soon be ignited.

That is especially true if Israel is perceived to be mercilessly cruel in its treatment of the Palestinians, which is how it seems to be playing out so far. In other words, there is the potential for a massive escalation that was absent when the US occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Oh, and because the Palestinians enjoy sympathies in Western countries that Iraqis and Afghans did not, there is a good chance that this conflict will spill over elsewhere.

And let’s not forget that the conflict is already leading to an increase in antisemitism around the globe, with an attendant rise in terrorist attacks.

In other words, everybody loses. 

And that is putting it mildly. 

Take the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of two decades of fighting in the region, the US had lost more than twice as many people as died on 9/11, the horrific event that triggered the wars. 

In addition, tens of thousands of Americans suffered injuries, and untold numbers of them came home with debilitating mental disorders. 

Ultimately, the US spent trillions of dollars for the privilege of blowing two countries to smithereens without accomplishing much of anything — other than the death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, who had long since been superseded by other insurgency leaders.

And that’s what being on the “winning” side looked like.

Things were much worse for Iraqis and Afghans. 

It is impossible to say how many of them perished during the US-led attacks, but even the most conservative figures are staggering. 

In Afghanistan, more than 200,000 people died, 70,000 of them civilians. And that is very likely a gross underestimation. 

Obviously, not all of them were killed by coalition forces, but, ultimately, that hardly seems to matter. 

And even those numbers pale in comparison to what happened in Iraq. 

There, experts estimate, at the very least some 300,000 civilians died from the conflict itself.  And that number doesn’t take into account deaths that resulted from the country’s destroyed infrastructure.

Simply because Israel and the Gaza Strip are so much smaller and less populated, one can only hope that the casualties there won’t soar to these heights. But it can also not be ruled out. 

While the casualty information provided by Hamas’s Ministry of Health must be taken with a grain of salt, it is easy to see how Israel’s offensive could kill tens of thousands of civilians. 

Now you might say: What was Israel supposed to do after hundreds of its citizens, mostly civilians, had been brutally slaughtered? There is no good answer to that question. 

What it should not do, however, is keep killing countless Palestinian civilians. That is never going to be the solution, and it’s only going to make things worse.

A small silver lining, if you even want to call it that, is that the current conflict won’t take 20 years… because both Israel and the Gaza Strip will run out of people long before then.


The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Benjamin Netanyahu caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0 DEED), Gaza (Wafa / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED), ground (Israel Defense Forces / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED), troops (Israel Defense Forces / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED), tanks (Israel Defense Forces / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED), tanks (Israel Defense Forces / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED), body (Number 10 / Wikimedia – CC BY 2.0 DEED), and artillery (IDF / CENTCOM).

Authors

  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

  • DonkeyHotey

    DonkeyHotey creates art to illustrate news articles and opinion pieces. His current work is a combination of caricature, photo collage, and photo manipulation.

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