Israel’s much anticipated raid on Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital produced far less drama than many expected, and it should reset many people’s prior assumptions about the IDF’s war conduct—and Hamas’s.
The troops deployed to the Gaza City compound last night have already left the hospital, according to those inside. So far, events have borne out Israel’s account of the war in three key ways.
First, that al-Shifa hospital and others are used by Hamas’s military. “I can confirm for you that we have information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including Al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them, to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters yesterday, adding that “Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad—J.I.D.—members operate a command and control node from Al-Shifa in Gaza City. They have stored weapons there, and they’re prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against that facility.”
The U.S. confirmed this with its own intelligence assessment, he stressed. Dave Harden, the former West Bank and Gaza mission director for USAID, chimed in this morning to note that Hamas’s practice of using hospitals was widely understood in Palestinian circles as well. According to international law, he explained, the protection of a hospital from attack would be void “if a hospital is used as a base from which to launch an attack; as an observation post to transmit information of military value; as a weapons depot; as a center for liaison with fighting troops.”
That also helps explain why Kirby specifically said this morning that Hamas has violated the laws of war.
Second, Hamas was specifically using patients in the hospital as human shields. Israel’s demonstrated ability to transfer patients and medical equipment to and from al-Shifa backs up the fact that, as John Podhoretz noted over the weekend, “Every single patient, every single doctor, every single nurse, and every single piece of medical equipment in that building could have been moved, carefully and without molestation from Israel, over the course of the three weeks that Israel’s military task seemed to be to soften the battleground miles and miles north of al-Shifa.”
Meanwhile, the IDF released video of its soldiers delivering fuel to al-Shifa and also revealed that Hamas prevented the fuel’s acceptance and use. Hospital-based casualties represent a clear case of Hamas taking Palestinians hostage and then causing their deaths.
Third, when Israel says it is undertaking a surgical mission, it is telling the truth. The IDF put its own soldiers in danger by telegraphing its intent to clear the hospital of Hamas fighters and weaponry, and when it finally did so, soldiers entered along with Arabic-speakers and medical teams after having delivered baby food and medical supplies. Forget house-to-house battle, this was a hallway-to-hallway sweep, even after being met at the outskirts of the building complex by explosives.
And one assumption about the war that might be proved misguided, in addition to the ones already confirmed above, is that Israel’s delay of a ground invasion was self-defeating and evidence of indecision. It’s far too early to make a definitive judgment, but the IDF’s battlefield successes suggest its planning was strategically sound and that the Biden administration’s patient support will be vindicated. At the very least, Israel has given the White House good reason to continue that support.