The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade waged an unprecedented incursion into southern Israel on October 7. This surprise attack by the armed wing of Hamas shifted the world’s attention to Israel-Palestine and away from Ukraine. With over 5,700 deaths in Gaza and 1,400 in Israel, this ongoing crisis continues escalating and spreading into the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. There are valid concerns about this horrific violence spilling into even more parts of the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt have sought to de-escalate the conflict. Doha and Cairo’s diplomacy has played a constructive role in terms of securing the release of some hostages held in Gaza by Hamas. Nonetheless, all international efforts to rein in Israel’s monstrous bombing of Gaza have so far proven futile.
Gaza’s humanitarian disasters, which were already serious before Israel began its current military operations, worsen by the minute. Of the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, at least 1.4 million are now homeless. Generators in Gaza’s hospitals are running out of fuel and there is a lack of medical supplies while surgeons now use vinegar as a substitute for antiseptics. With sanitation and water services collapsing in the blockaded territory, cholera outbreaks and the spread of various infectious diseases are coming.
Even if delayed due to some pressure from the White House, an Israeli invasion of Gaza looms. Israel’s stated mission is to eradicate Hamas. But all serious observers agree that the Israeli leadership lacks any realistic endgame for Gaza.
“The endgame appears largely in the making given delay in the ground offensive, but many would rightly argue that the assassination of the very existence of the Palestinian cause and the rights of the Palestinian people are integral to Israel’s endgame,” explained Ibrahim Jalal, a non-resident scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, in an interview with Newslooks. “Another two goals would be full, indiscriminate and barbaric destruction of Gaza to bring it down to knees and mass displacement of more than a million of Palestinian civilians into Egypt and Jordan, or beyond.”
The Biden administration has sought to caution Israel against launching an invasion of the enclave without carefully considering potential scenarios that could unfold. “No one thinks [Israel has an endgame], which is why US authorities have been warning Israel not to make the mistake that the US did in occupying Afghanistan and Iraq,” Dr. Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told Newslooks.
Perhaps the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) will annihilate all of Hamas’s infrastructure in Gaza. But that won’t spell the end of Hamas. After all, Hamas maintains a presence in the West Bank and Lebanon. Moreover, the conditions that have led many Palestinians to support Hamas will not end no matter how brutally Israel attacks Gaza.
“Israel is not likely to be able to wipe out Hamas,” said Dr. Landis. “Many young members will simply rebuild it. We have seen this with other tough militant groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization or Hezbollah.”
If Israel wages this expected invasion, it is not clear what the IDF would need to achieve on the ground in order for Israel to consider the campaign complete. “Israel will want to destroy the tunnel system as well as retrieve its hostages,” Dr. Landis told Newslooks. “It has also promised to kill Hamas’s leaders, but developing an exit strategy that will keep Hamas from rebuilding itself will be difficult.”
There is no way that Israel could invade Gaza without many of its soldiers being killed. An invasion of Gaza might result in more Israeli deaths than what Israel experienced on October 7. In light of everything Israel has done to Gaza this month, the Palestinians trapped in this besieged enclave are likely to become all the more militant and radicalized. Israel’s authorities seem unable to understand how this will ultimately make their citizens less secure throughout the future.
Also, if the IDF annihilates Hamas, what type of political order Israel can realistically prop up in Gaza? When asked about the gravest dangers and the most serious risks that Israel would face in Gaza after launching an invasion, Dr. Landis replied, “Other than booby traps and suicide bombers, Israel will have to develop an alternative government to Hamas.”
If we assume that Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) end up returning to Gaza as the coastal territory lays in ruins following Israel’s military campaign, could the PA successfully provide a form of security that suits Israel’s government without the IDF needing to re-occupy Gaza?
Israel says it doesn’t want to re-occupy Gaza with on-the-ground forces. But that might be what Hamas pulls Israel into and that could be an extremely costly quagmire for Israel. Perhaps such a scenario would have much in common with Israel’s 22-year experience in Lebanon that came to a humiliating end in May 2000.
The question is, are there authorities in Israel with enough wisdom to avoid taking the bait, or will the strong Israeli desire for revenge prevent strategic thinking from prevailing?
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