Israel has been at war with Hamas since the start of the second intifada in 2000. This was accelerated by the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005, leading to Hamas's victory over Fatah in the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006.
Since then, Israel has fought short, violent wars in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021, with clashes in between. It's become a familiar cycle to both parties. There are no coincidences or surprises within this aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; there is never a definitive end in this war the Israeli military and national security community refer to as the "war between wars." But while the cycle and actors are predictable, the larger threat grows from war to war with the increasing support for Hamas from Iran, Qatar, Turkey, and Malaysia.
Jonathan Schanzer's Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel and Eleven Days of War is the only book on this latest war in Gaza. Schanzer shows how the cycle actually works time and time again while adding new variables. Though unwanted, Gaza has never existed in a vacuum. Owing to the Sunni-Shiite Islamic divide between them, Hamas and Iran work together only under the "greater cause" of eliminating the Zionist entity. "During the 2021 Gaza war, Iran did not try to hide its patronage of Hamas and other terrorist groups," Schanzer notes. "The regime's supreme leader openly cheered on Hamas. General Esmail Qaani of the IRGC's Quds Force called Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to offer moral support. Qaani also lauded Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif, calling him a 'living martyr.' After the ceasefire, Haniyeh thanked 'the Islamic Republic of Iran, [which] did not hold back with money, weapons and technical support.' An IRGC statement warned that 'in the future the Zionists can expect to endure deadly blows from within the occupied territories.'"
There are many key fixtures in the Gaza war cycles, one of them being the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, an organization to which Schanzer devotes a full chapter. This internationally funded welfare organization for Palestinians is run by Palestinians, but for its employees, the job can either be a career builder or killer; the rule is never to tell the truth.
This was the case in the 2021 Gaza war when Matthias Schmale, then the agency's director of operations for the Gaza Strip, became persona non grata there. Schmale's crime was telling Israel's Channel 12 that Israeli attacks on Hamas installations were precise: "I'm not a military expert, but I would not dispute that. I also have the impression that there is a huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military struck over the last 11 days." Schmale also denied that there were shortages of food and medical supplies in Gaza.
Too much money and too many careers are at stake: The agency boasted $806 million in 2020 and some 30,000 employees. Its leaders, therefore, cannot in any way jeopardize the narrative of the agency's indispensability to perpetual Palestinian "refugees."
Schanzer obtained firsthand accounts from both Israeli and Palestinian decision-makers, invaluable resources for understanding the mechanics of the conflict. But Gaza is an evergreen problem that continues to grow because no one really wants it. Neither Israel nor Egypt, nor the Palestinian Authority for that matter, have any interest in running the place. This guarantees that the next war is never too far off.
In the end, the author shares some conclusions from his meeting with Israeli military officials, summing up what they saw during the May conflict. While the IDF achieved its military objectives, Hamas was still able to achieve what it needed:
"First, the group walked away from the conflict with the appearance that it defended the al-Aqsa mosque. Second, because of this perception, Hamas succeeded in making the conflict a religious one. Third, Hamas was able to effectively erase Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority from the Palestinian-Israeli equation. Fourth, Hamas was able to ride the wave of the Arab-Israeli riots, making it seem as if this population was more connected to the violent extremist group than to the sovereign state that granted them the rights and citizenship that they had long enjoyed — albeit with reservations. Finally, Hamas was able to put the center of Israel — the region around Tel Aviv — under more rocket fire than ever before."
Gaza is ground zero for the proxy and nonproxy actors, in a perpetual state of war between wars with no end to the cycle. Schanzer's ability to unpack this cycle is the key value of his book.