Debunking Hamas’s Casualty Statistics

With every update on the Israel-Hamas war, Western news outlets cite unverified figures about Palestinian casualties, although they have at least begun to caveat that these statistics are produced by the terrorist group’s own health ministry. These numbers remain the main source for the claims (which the numbers alone would not substantiate even if they were accurate) that the IDF needs to exercise more restraint, or that it is committing “war crimes” and “atrocities.” Lenny Ben-David carefully exposes the holes in the data presented by Hamas:

Hamas claimed in 2023, as of [November 30], that 15,000 Gazans were killed: 6,150 (41 percent) were children, and 4,000 were women (26 percent). The press, editorial writers, and government officials worldwide have reported and repeated these figures as gospel. Hamas claimed that the remaining 5,000 (33 percent) dead were men—both combatants and civilians.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that 4,000 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters died in the fighting as of November 16. That number shakes the Hamas ministry’s current statistics to the core. Israel repeatedly warned Gazan residents of north Gaza to evacuate their homes. Leaflets were dropped in their neighborhoods, and even private phone calls were made by IDF Arabic-speaking soldiers. An estimated one million Gazans took the warnings seriously and avoided Hamas attempts to keep them in the north as human shields. Lower casualty rates of women and children should have reflected their leaving the north.

That the figures show combatant casualties to be a small minority of the total dead, rather than the majority, makes them very difficult to believe. Ben-David presents other evidence, as does Salo Aizenberg in this even more detailed breakdown, where he shows that the statistics literally fail to add up.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security