11 Days in May

REVIEW: 'Gaza Conflict 2021' by Jonathan Schanzer

December 5, 2021

Social media, global communications, 24-hour news channels, and diminishing attention spans have changed the way all breaking news events are consumed—including war. They are intensely watched, immediately picked apart, and quickly forgotten.

Fortunately, books still provide a proper medium for important events to get analyzed and reported on. And, even more fortunately, Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has made quick work to produce his latest book, Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel and Eleven Days of War, an in-depth exploration of the most recent battle that took place earlier this year.

Schanzer, a decades-long student of Israel and Hamas, explains the lesser-known aspects: how the battle started (mainly because Palestinians canceled elections), how it was fought (rockets from Hamas, retaliatory precision strikes from the Israelis), and how it ended (Egyptian-brokered peace). Schanzer also provides a detailed history of the conflict that puts the latest fighting into perspective.

Hamas, which came about from the First Intifada in 1987-1988, is growing in power. Its rockets are better than ever—more accurate, with heavier payloads and ever-increasing range. Its unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) frequently penetrate Israel's skies, its underwater drones pose growing dangers to the Jewish state's sea assets in the Mediterranean, and its vast network of tunnels has likewise become even more advanced.

That's just its military and strategic advances. Politically, Hamas is becoming more entrenched among Palestinians. The terror group has since its founding used violence and brute force to grow. But since 2006, when it won the election in Gaza, Hamas has also been reliant on the West's democracy agenda to co-opt elections for its own promotion.

Earlier this year, the Palestinian Authority planned to hold elections—until it became clear that Hamas would win those, too. "The terrorist group was set to win a considerable number of seats in the Palestinian legislature," Schanzer explains. "Hamas' leadership was seething and sought to reassert itself among the Palestinian population."

There were other factors, too.  Western media focused on the Sheikh Jarrah legal battle—a 40-year fight to determine whether Jewish families who purchased homes in 1875 still owned them. There were also Israeli security barriers erected near the Damascus Gate, "drama" over the May 10 Jerusalem Day celebrations, the minimization of the Palestinian cause as a result of the Abraham Accords, Iran's itching for a fight, and Hamas's firing of rockets toward civilian populations.

"There is rarely one single spark that ignites a conflict," Schanzer explains. "The flame is always burning, susceptible to anything combustible."

For 11 days, beginning May 10, "Hamas fired nearly 400 projectiles a day" for a total of "approximately 4,350" (680 of those rockets landed in Gaza, killing an estimated 91 Palestinians). The airstrikes marked the largest—in terms of number—ever lobbed toward the Jewish state in its young history. The tactic was by design.

Because while Hamas has grown in strength, so has Israel. It has the Iron Dome missile defense system that can, at this moment, effectively counter Hamas's rockets. It has more technologically advanced drones (air and sea) to counter Hamas's and a tunnel detection system in place to minimize the threat Israel faces in its own territories.

But by firing as many missiles as it could—including a five-minute salvo that included a "remarkable 137 rockets"—Hamas was testing to see whether it could overpower and confuse Israel's Iron Dome. It didn't work. At no point in the 11-day battle did Israel incur significant destruction. Hamas, however, came close with a "lucky strike" near the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline that could have crippled the oil supply and attempted strikes at the secretive Dimona nuclear facility that could have ended even worse.

"The Gaza war of 2021 truly provided a glimpse of future warfare," says Schanzer. "But even the best technology and intelligence are no guarantee against the unforeseen events of war."

Fortunately, the fighting earlier this year did not get worse. And that's, surprisingly, thanks to the Egyptians, who brokered peace between Israel and Hamas to get back into the good graces of the newly sworn-in Biden administration. "On the one hand, it was a thankless job with little prospect of success," Schanzer says. "On the other hand, Egypt was now viewed as a friend of the White House again."

The most recent conflict between Hamas and Israel is just the latest in a decades-long war—and sadly won't be the last. So where should things go from here? Schanzer has some productive thoughts.

"Under the current circumstances, a three-state solution (Israel, the West Bank under the PA, and Hamas-controlled Gaza) appears to be the only path forward." Yes, that would mean the only prospect for peace is between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the West Bank—but the Gaza solution is not so simple.

To do that, the Iran problem must be solved. "Gaza is now ground zero in a proxy conflict. It is part of a bigger battle between Israel and Iran," says Schanzer. But that's a larger problem for perhaps his next book.

Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel and Eleven Days of War
by Jonathan Schanzer
Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 284 pp., $29.95

Daniel Halper is the author of Clinton, Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine and the coauthor of A Convenient Death: The Mysterious Demise of Jeffrey Epstein.