Monday, Jun 10, 2024

Is Israel Winning the War in Gaza?

 

Two days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague ordered Israel last week to halt operations in the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah that would risk the civilian population, the Israeli military carried out an airstrike in which 45 people including women and children, were killed and dozens more were injured, when the tents in which they were taking shelter caught fire. The Palestinian Red Crescent organization claimed that the “displaced persons’ tents near the United Nations headquarters northwest of Rafah,” in an area known as Tel Sultan, had previously been designated as a humanitarian safe evacuation zone for civilians by Israel, but the IDF disputed that claim.

In its initial statement, the IDF said that “the attack was carried out against terrorists who are a [legitimate] target for attack, in accordance with international law, using precision munitions, and based on intelligence indicating the use of the area by Hamas terrorists.” The IDF later identified the targets of the attack as Yassin Rabia, the commander of Hamas’ so-called West Bank headquarters unit charged with carrying out attacks against Israel from or in the West Bank, and Khaled Najjar, another senior member of the same unit. Both terrorists had long histories of personally carrying out deadly attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians in the West Bank dating back to the Second Intifada between 2001 and 2003.

The IDF said in a later statement that before launching the air strike, it carried out “many steps to reduce the chance of harming uninvolved [civilians], including aerial surveillance, the use of precision munitions, and additional intelligence information. . .”

It also claimed that the warheads mounted on the two missiles were “reduced in size” in order to further limit collateral damage, and that the target was outside of the al-Mawasi region of the Gaza coast, which Israel had designated as a “humanitarian zone” for the safe evacuation of civilians from Rafah.

“Based on [these steps],” the IDF statement continued, “it was estimated that no harm was expected to uninvolved civilians.”

NETANYAHU OFFERS AN APOLOGY ON THE KNESSET FLOOR

However, once the Israeli government confirmed that the airstrike was responsible for the civilian death toll, Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to say from the podium of the Knesset that, “Despite our efforts not to harm [civilians], there was a tragic mishap. We are investigating the incident.”

The main focus of Netanyahu’s Knesset speech was a spirited defense of his handling of the Gaza war and a defiant rejection of his critics who claim that a final victory over Hamas is impossible. “Those who say they are exhausted, that they are not ready or cannot withstand the pressure, should hold up the white flag of defeat. But I will not wave that kind of flag. I will continue to fight until we wave the flag of victory,” the prime minister declared.

Netanyahu also angrily denied accusations that there never was a second hostage release deal with Hamas because he has refused to adequately empower the Israeli negotiating team. “From the end of December and until now, I received five requests from the negotiating team to expand the mandate, to allow flexible terms, and I authorized all of them,” Netanyahu insisted.

The initial reaction by the Biden White House to news of the tragic civilian deaths due to the Israeli airstrike was relatively mild. It called the news pictures of the attack, “devastating” and heartbreaking,” but then went on to re-affirm that “Israel has a right to go after Hamas, and we understand this strike killed two senior Hamas terrorists who are responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians, but, as we’ve been clear, Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians.”

The White House spokesperson also said, “We are actively engaging the IDF and partners on the ground to assess what happened,” and left open the possibility of further White House comments on the incident once more information has been gathered.

The Israeli air strike came several hours after Hamas fired a barrage of eight long-range rockets from Rafah at targets in the Tel Aviv area for the first time in four months. The IDF also claimed later Sunday that it had destroyed the Hamas rocket launcher used in that attack.

RAFAH EVACUATION TEMPORARILY SILENCED WHITE HOUSE CRITICS

Meanwhile, Israeli tanks have been probing the area of Rafah, near the border crossing from Gaza into Egypt, and have entered some of the city’s eastern neighborhoods in search of Hamas fighters, but have yet to enter the central portions of the city in force, in compliance with U.S. demands to avoid military operations likely to put large numbers of civilians remaining in Rafah at risk. Over the past few weeks, Israel has also succeeded in persuading as many as 950,000 of the displaced civilians who had been living in Rafah to move to safer areas nearby. This has enabled the Israeli military to operate against Hamas with greater freedom in the designated combat areas. It also temporarily silenced the Biden administration officials who have been playing up to the Muslim voters in Michigan and pro-Palestinian liberal campus protesters by deliberately and falsely implying that Israel was intentionally killing large numbers of civilians in Gaza.

However, Israel is also aware that some of the Hamas fighters have joined the exodus from the combat area, posing as civilians. They then try to regroup in areas previously conquered by the Israeli military in northern Gaza and from which Israel has withdrawn, in an effort by Hamas to re-establish their military control there.

Israeli officials claim that the somewhat ambiguously worded ICJ order does not specifically prohibit normal military operations in the Rafah area. According to Tzachi Hanegbi, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, “What they (ICJ) are asking us is not to commit genocide in Rafah. We did not commit genocide and we will not commit genocide.”

Hanegbi then explained in a statement to Channel 12 news, “According to international law, we have the right to defend ourselves and the evidence is that the court is not preventing us from continuing to defend ourselves,” and indicated that the IDF operations in and around Rafah would continue.

Netanyahu also defiantly rejected the ICJ order by declaring that, “No amount of pressure and no decision in any international forum will prevent Israel from defending itself against those who seek our destruction.”

In a podcast interview with Dan Senor, the prime minister also reiterated his claim that the only way to force Hamas to release more of the hostages it is holding in Gaza is by applying more military pressure. Netanyahu declared that “when he [Hamas chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar] senses that the pressure is too heavy, he releases hostages.”

Hamas is currently believed to be holding about 125 hostages, of which at least 36 are believed to be already dead.

ISRAEL WILL FACE ANOTHER FALSE ACCUSATION IN THE SECURITY COUNCIL

While the ICJ does not have any enforcement ability to make Israel comply with its order to stop the fighting in Rafah, it does intend to submit the order to the U.N. Security Council, where the ICJ’s request for enforcement will likely be vetoed by the United States.

Israel suffered another diplomatic setback last week when Ireland, Norway, and Spain announced simultaneously that they would formally recognize a Palestinian state on Tuesday, May 28 as a protest against the high civilian death toll in Gaza. They join 140 other members of the United Nations who have already formally recognized Palestinian statehood.

The Norwegian Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, sought to justify the move by declaring, “In the midst of a war, with tens of thousands killed and injured, we must keep alive the only alternative that offers a political solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Two states, living side by side, in peace and security.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz responded by immediately recalling Israel’s ambassadors to Oslo, Dublin, and Madrid while filing strong protests against the recognition with the ambassadors of those countries to Israel.

Katz said that by recognizing the Palestinian state, the three countries “send a message today to the Palestinians and the whole world: terrorism pays.” He also warned that the recognition could further complicate efforts to return the Israeli hostages being held in Gaza and make a cease-fire less likely by “rewarding the jihadists of Hamas and Iran.”

The White House did not object to the recognition by the three NATO member states, but did issue a statement declaring that President Joe Biden “believes a Palestinian state should be realized through direct negotiations between the parties, not through unilateral recognition.”

Both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the leadership of Hamas welcomed the recognition by the three European states, with Hamas calling it “an important step on the path to establishing our right to our land.”

WHY ISRAEL MUST COMPLETE THE CONQUEST OF RAFAH

Israel considers its military operations in Rafah to be essential to completing the task of defeating Hamas militarily, by destroying its last four fully operational battalions in the area, as well as its remaining rocket launchers and network of tunnels hidden in the city. Equally important from Israel’s point of view, is its effort to gain control of the entire 8.7-mile length of Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. The so-called Philadelphi corridor is honey-combed with smuggling tunnels operated by Hamas which pass under the border, and which Hamas has long used to bring in large quantities of heavy weapons and other sorts of contraband from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula into Gaza.

Israeli intelligence believes that over the years, most of Hamas’ weapons have entered Gaza through Egypt, either through the smuggling tunnels or carefully concealed in the regular commercial truck traffic which routinely passed through the Rafah crossing daily before October 7.

Israel announced a few weeks ago that it had discovered some 700 tunnel shafts leading to 50 larger smuggling tunnels crossing from Egypt into Gaza, but had chosen not to blow them up yet to avoid causing damage on the Egyptian side of the border. It has also refused to reveal photographs of the cross-border smuggling tunnels to avoid embarrassing the corrupt Egyptian government officials who are supposed to prevent the smuggling and destroy the tunnels.

Israel’s intentions after the war to tightly control the entire length of the Gaza border with Egypt as well as the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing point, has run into strong Egyptian government opposition. Egypt is refusing to allow any humanitarian aid to enter through the Rafah crossing point as long as Israel remains in control of the Gaza side, forcing some of those shipments to be rerouted through crossing points on the Israeli border.

However, in response to a request from President Joe Biden, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has agreed to start the delivery of Egyptian humanitarian aid for Gaza through Israel’s Kerem Sholom border crossing while the Rafah crossing remains closed on the Egyptian side.

Tamir Hayman, a former IDF head of military intelligence who is now the executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies, said that Israeli officials had not expected the Egyptian government to object so strongly to Israel’s takeover of the Rafah border crossing and efforts to shut down the smuggling tunnel operations along the Philadelphi corridor. Hayman also argues that, in the long run, it is more important for Israel to seal the entire length of the Gaza border with Egypt to prevent Hamas from re-arming than to engage and destroy the four less capable Hamas battalions remaining in Rafah.

The Biden administration has somewhat grudgingly acknowledged the success of Israel’s efforts to remove most civilians in the Rafah area from the areas of combat in an incredibly short period, and has therefore refrained from any further public criticism of the “limited” Israeli military operation in Rafah.

But Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general for the U.N.’s relief operation for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, seemed to be angered and disappointed by the fact that most of those civilians are now safely out of harm’s way. “The claim that people in Gaza can move to ‘safe’ or ‘humanitarian’ zones is false. Each time, it puts the lives of civilians at serious risk,” Lazzarini declared. “Gaza does not have any safe zones. No place is safe. No one is safe,” he said.

Israeli officials also claim that there is no real threat of mass starvation facing the civilians in Gaza. Jerusalem Post reporter Tzvika Klein was told by those officials that the use of the terms “food shortage” and ‘hunger’ has been grossly exaggerated.” They claim the real problem is that most of the food that Israel has been sending into Gaza has “immediately been taken by Hamas terrorists, who then sell some of the supplies [on the black market] for ten times more than what it’s worth.” According to another Israeli official, “there is no food shortage in Gaza; there are those who are hungry [because] Hamas has taken all of the food and they don’t have enough money to pay Hamas on the black market.”

LATEST IDF OPERATIONS IN GAZA

The Israeli military is continuing its operations against Hamas fighters who recently returned to the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. It reported killing dozens of Hamas gunmen, including members of a Hamas sniper cell, in close-quarters combat and by calling in precision airstrikes.

Over the past two weeks, Israeli soldiers and security forces, operating on new intelligence information, were able to recover the bodies of a total of seven Israeli hostages who were all killed on October 7, and whose bodies were then hidden by Hamas in tunnels in Jabaliya.

Combat operations also continued in central Gaza, where the IDF claimed that it had killed one of the deputy commanders of Hamas’ national security force, Diaa al-Din al-Sharafa, who was responsible for “managing the Hamas unit that prevents the civilian population from evacuating from combat zones in Gaza.”

The main current Israeli military effort is the operation in and around Rafah involving five brigades — about 10,000 Israeli troops. They are beginning with the occupation of the lightly populated area along the Egyptian border and then moving in slowly from the east towards the more densely populated areas in the city’s center, reaching the neighborhood known as Brazi, near the Egyptian border, and the Al-Shaboura refugee camp.

Based upon its interviews with Israeli soldiers who have been involved in the fighting since the start of the Gaza war, the New York Times reports that the Israeli military in Rafah has been using less air power and heavy artillery, and fewer, smaller bombs, than it did at the start of the war in northern Gaza, in deference to demands by the Biden administration that Israel sharply reduce the number of civilian casualties.

According to one reserve soldier interviewed by the Times, Israeli troops operating in Rafah have been divided into two groups “advancing slowly west in a pincer movement, with one division working near the border, and the other moving into Rafah’s outskirts.”  The IDF’s chief spokesman, Daniel Hagari, said last week that the army had killed 180 Hamas fighters in the Rafah area.

In an earlier statement, Hagari said that since Israeli forces entered Rafah on May 6, they were, “refining our operations so that there is minimal harm to the Gazan civilians Hamas is hiding behind. We’re not smashing into Rafah; we’re operating carefully and precisely.”

“LIMITED OPERATION” IN RAFAH WINS WHITE HOUSE APPROVAL

As the result of weeks of intense pressure from the Biden White House to scale back the intensity of the Israel assault on Rafah, both the Israelis and the Americans are now characterizing it as a “limited operation,” and it is going forward with cautious White House approval. However, because of the new constraints being imposed on Israel’s military forces, they have been suffering more casualties when engaging in urban guerrilla warfare with Hamas fighters in Rafah.

Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said after returning from his most recent trip to Israel that, so far, the Israeli Army was not violating American red lines in Rafah.

“What we have seen so far in terms of Israel’s military operations in that area has been more targeted and limited, has not involved major military operations into the heart of dense urban areas,” Sullivan said. “We now have to see what unfolds from here. We will watch that, we will consider that, and we will see whether what Israel has briefed us and what they have laid out continues or something else happens.”

While the Biden administration and Israel appear to have worked out a mutually agreeable process for the current military operation in Rafah, they are still far apart on the security arrangements for Gaza the “day after” the shooting stops. As Hayman points out, while the current Israeli military operation in Rafah is likely to be completed in a few weeks, an Israeli effort to fully uproot and dismantle Hamas’ control over the civilian and social infrastructure in Gaza could take years.

BIDEN STILL PURSUING THE TWO-STATE SOLUTION DREAM

The Biden administration has been trying to use the Gaza war as an opportunity to revive the failed efforts to negotiate a two-state solution. Biden’s grand vision for the region calls for putting postwar Gaza under the security supervision of a rehabilitated Palestinian Authority, as well as a process leading to the creation of an independent Palestinian state which would include the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Such an outcome is totally unacceptable to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who refuses to cede any control over postwar Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, and argues that the creation of a Palestinian state would be seen as a justification of and a reward for Hamas’ October 7 attack.

However, Netanyahu’s intention for Israel to maintain security control over Gaza for an indefinite period after the fighting stops is also meeting with resistance from leaders of Israel’s military establishment, and other members of his war cabinet. General Herzi Halevi, the Israeli army’s chief of staff, has said that he does not want to see Israeli soldiers in Gaza exposed as targets while conducting traffic. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has publicly called upon the prime minister “to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over Gaza.” In addition, retired IDF general and chief of staff Benny Gantz, who is one of the three voting members of Netanyahu’s policymaking War Cabinet, has given the prime minister a June 8 deadline when he promises to quit the coalition if Netanyahu fails by that time to lay out a viable postwar strategy for governing Gaza.

There is no shortage of ideas about possible international arrangements for the postwar governance of Gaza without Hamas, as well as well-meaning proposals to use the Gaza war as an opportunity to negotiate a comprehensive, region-wide peace agreement. But there is no sign at this time of a consensus forming among major players in the region that include the U.S., Israel, Egypt, the Saudis and their Persian Gulf allies, and Iran and its terrorist proxies. Such a consensus would be needed to begin the process of negotiating such an agreement, let alone putting it into practice.

There is another political reality that was created across Israeli society by the shock and trauma of Hamas’ October 7 attack, which does not seem to be adequately appreciated by the Biden administration and those in the international community who have been supporting Hamas’ demands for an immediate and permanent end to Israel’s war in Gaza. The Biden administration and its Democrat allies, such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have been waging a thinly disguised public relations effort to encourage the replacement of Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition government with new Israeli leaders who would be more amenable to the Biden administration’s grandiose but completely unrealistic post-Gaza war diplomatic scenarios.

The White House’s hopes for the near-term ouster and replacement of Netanyahu are based in part on the resumption of massive weekly public demonstrations organized by the Knesset opposition and left-wing NGOs calling for Bibi’s ouster. Many Israelis are also deeply sympathetic to the plight of the family members and loved ones of the more than 100 hostages being held in Gaza whose fate is unknown, as well as their calls for an immediate, unconditional Israeli halt to the war in Gaza, in the hope that Hamas will then return the hostages to Israel, alive or dead.

MOST ISRAELIS AGREE WITH NETANYAHU ON GAZA SECURITY

But that does not mean that Bibi’s many Israeli political critics disagree with his insistence that Israel cannot afford to risk sub-contracting its anti-terrorism and security responsibilities in postwar Gaza to any other government or international entity, especially the Palestinian Authority under its current corrupt leadership.

The latest evidence that Netanyahu is right when he argues that Israel dares not put its trust in such security arrangements, is the request by the U.N.’s International Criminal Court (ICC) for warrants to arrest Netanyahu and Gallant for war crimes allegedly committed by Israel in Gaza, and the ICJ’s order to Israel to halt its military operations in Rafah. Meanwhile, the international community continues to ignore or excuse Hamas’ flagrant October 7 atrocities, human rights violations, and deliberate use of civilians as human shields, while challenging Israel’s right to defend itself from such attacks.

The action by the ICC to request Netanyahu’s arrest, and by the ICJ to shut down Israel’s war in Gaza has had the unexpected effect of at least temporarily bolstering the prime minister’s flagging popularity. The Israeli public had been growing impatient with the slow progress of the IDF operation in Gaza and the government’s inability to negotiate another cease-fire deal with Hamas to secure the release of at least some of the hostages being held in Gaza.

AFTER OCTOBER 7, MORE ISRAELI JEWS OPPOSE PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD

Since the October 7 attack, public opinion polls have found that an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews are strongly opposed to the formation of a Palestinian state. In December, the American Gallup polling organization reported that “[only] one in four Israeli adults currently support the existence of an independent Palestinian state, while most (65%) oppose it. This is almost a complete reversal of where they stood on the issue [in a similar 2012 poll], when twice as many Israeli adults supported an independent Palestinian state (61%) as opposed one (30%).”

The Gallup report also noted that even fewer Israelis now think that an enduring peace between Israel and the Palestinians will ever be achieved. Most Israelis have been skeptical about the prospects for peace with the Palestinians since the Second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, when more than 1,000 Israelis were killed by terrorist attacks. As a result, according to Gallup, between 2006 and 2017, only 29% of Israelis, on average, thought lasting peace with the Palestinians was possible.

It is no coincidence that during the same period, the Israeli political left, which had been committed to supporting the failed Oslo Accords and subsequent peace negotiations, went into steep decline. The once mighty Labor Party, the traditional leader of the Israeli left, lost its electoral following. Starting with the 19 seats it won in the 2006 Knesset elections, which made it the second largest party in parliament, Labor was reduced to just 6 seats in the 2019 Knesset election. Labor was then forced into a merger with the ultra-liberal Meretz Party to remain a relevant force in Israeli politics. Nevertheless, in the 2022 Knesset election, Labor was reduced further to just 4 Knesset seats, an all-time low.

The trauma of the October 7 attack then further reduced the Israeli public’s support for a peace agreement with the Palestinians by half. Only 13% of those surveyed afterward were willing to express hope that such an agreement could still happen, while a record-high 74% of Israelis said that a permanent peace with the Palestinians is no longer possible.

Many Israelis are still angry at their government’s negligence in permitting the October 7 attack to take place. While Netanyahu, as prime minister, bears the primary political responsibility for the disaster, the entire Israeli military and security establishment failed to recognize the obvious signs of the Hamas buildup before the attack and fostered the overconfident belief that it could effectively manage the security threat from Hamas while leaving it in control of Gaza since 2007.

Even if his announced goals in the Gaza war are ultimately achieved, it is unlikely that Netanyahu will be able to survive for long as prime minister once the inevitable Israeli government commission looking into the October 7 attack issues its report. But that does not mean that Netanyahu’s successor as prime minister will be any more sympathetic to the Biden administration’s post-Gaza war, pro-Palestinian, two-state solution-based approach to Middle East diplomacy and power politics.

NO END TO THE WAR YET IN SIGHT

Meanwhile, it appears increasingly unlikely that the Gaza war will definitively come to an end in the foreseeable future, even if the IDF does succeed in eliminating the military capabilities of Hamas’ four remaining battalions in Rafah. Having learned its lessons from previous IDF ground incursions in Gaza, Israel’s military leaders have no intention of leaving their troops in fixed positions in built-up areas across Gaza, turning them into inviting targets for Hamas snipers and RPG attacks.

Once an identified Hamas target is attacked and the battle is won, Israeli troops are quickly withdrawn to safe positions on the Israeli side of the Gaza border to await notification of the next target. Meanwhile, the only significant Israeli ground force inside Gaza is deployed along the central Netzarim east-west corridor, preventing Hamas from rapidly shifting its fighters and weapons from north to south or vice versa.

The Netzarim corridor divides the strongholds in the north to which Hamas fighters posing as civilians have been returning, such as the Al-Shifa hospital complex, the Jabalya refugee camp, Beit Hanoun and Zeitun, and the Hamas-controlled, densely populated refugee camps in central Gaza, such as Nuseirat, Meghazi, Bureij, and Deir al-Balah, which the IDF assault has avoided so far.

Because the Netzarim corridor is not densely populated, it is a relatively safe area in which Israeli troops can operate freely. It is also near the floating pier that was recently built by the United States to supplement the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilians.

ISRAEL FACES A WAR OF ATTRITION AGAINST TERROR ON AT LEAST TWO FRONTS

The emerging Israeli military strategy in Gaza appears to concede that Hamas will continue to infiltrate and re-occupy areas across Gaza that had earlier been sites of major battles after the main Israeli military force has been withdrawn. That will require the Israeli military to come back periodically to those areas of Gaza to attack them again, making the surviving Hamas forces progressively weaker. The conflict in Gaza is evolving into a slow war of attrition, similar to the operations the IDF and Israeli security forces have been carrying out for some time against the terrorist hotbeds of the West Bank, such as in Jenin.

Unfortunately, that low-level conflict is likely to continue in both the West Bank and now in Gaza for the foreseeable future, or as long as no alternative civilian Palestinian leadership that is truly willing to live in peace with Israel emerges to replace Hamas or Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority. In the meantime, Hamas’ leaders are trying to hide from the Israeli forces actively searching for them. They are trying to preserve as many of their remaining fighters and supplies in Gaza as they can, while laying their plans for the promised follow-up on their October 7 attack.

As a result, the Israeli army is having to re-learn what it means to occupy Gaza for the long term, as it did between 1967 and 2005 when Ariel Sharon ordered the Israeli army and about 8,000 settlers to leave Gaza, in the naive hope that its Palestinian population and their leaders would be content to let both sides live in peace. Back then, the Palestinian terrorist threat in Gaza was far less deadly than it is today, and some Israelis hoped that the voluntary Israeli withdrawal from Gaza might help to lead the way to a negotiated peace agreement. But those hopes have since been repeatedly dashed, leaving only more distrust and bitterness on both sides.

Meanwhile, real fears remain that if one of the several combatants miscalculates, the war in Gaza could trigger a much deadlier regionwide conflict, directly involving the U.S. and Iran and their respective allies, as happened on a limited scale when Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones to attack Israel on the night of April 13. There is also the possibility that Israel’s leaders will run out of patience with Hezbollah’s continuing bombardment of Israeli targets on the northern border and force a confrontation that could lead to a full-scale war with Lebanon.

WHY ISRAEL HAS REJECTED CONVENTIONAL MILITARY DOCTRINE IN GAZA

Meanwhile, the debate rages among military commentators over the effectiveness of Israel’s military tactics in Gaza so far, and whether it is on course to achieve Israel’s war objectives. According to retired British Army Major Andrew Fox, writing in the Tablet, much of the criticism of Israel’s tactics in Gaza to date is that they are being judged against the counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine which the U.S. and its European allies applied in the “global war on terror,” and which led to deeply disappointing results from the long and costly military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to Fox, the goal in those wars was “to seize a chunk of territory and clear it of enemies through military force. The plan was then to hold the territory through forward operating bases (FOBs) and try to conduct [a Western form of nation-building] in those areas while providing security [for the local population].”

Because the American and allied troops were “embedded in the local civilian population, [the enemy] always knew where we were and what routes we were likely to use. They could use mortar, rocket, and [use IED explosives against] us at will. It was a recipe for endless violence and huge numbers of casualties,” Fox wrote.

He then explains that the IDF “has absolutely no intention of using the clear-hold-build COIN tactics the West tried in Afghanistan and Iraq, [because they led to] an unmitigated disaster in both campaigns, which ended in humiliating defeats.”

Israeli military leaders also rejected the COIN tactics because they were too time-consuming and costly to be applied in Gaza. If the Israeli military had wanted to occupy Gaza according to the COIN military doctrine, it would have had to deploy a permanent force of 50,000 soldiers just to police the civilian population which would be impractical because of the relatively small size of the active duty Israeli army.

WHY ISRAEL DOESN’T NEED TO OCCUPY GAZA

Fox argues that such a massive troop deployment would also be unnecessary to achieve Israel’s basic security goals in Gaza, because, using various technical means, Israel could easily keep most of Gaza under close surveillance from its bases inside Israel along the Gaza border, as well as the mobile units deployed in the middle of Gaza along the Netzarim corridor. That gives Israeli military leaders the luxury of only committing significant numbers of combat troops against the occasional Hamas outbreaks when their intelligence tells them that they would have the advantage.

Fox claims that since it is simply not practical for the Israeli army to occupy Gaza, its strategic aims should be scaled back to more readily achievable objectives, including defeating Hamas militarily, and “securing the Gaza border with Israel to prevent a repeat of October 7.”

It is also probably not possible for Israel to “destroy” Hamas to the last terrorist fighter, simply because Hamas fighters are too numerous and deeply entrenched in Gaza. Also, after suffering heavy losses during the initial Israeli assault on northern Gaza, Hamas has shown great flexibility in replacing the commanders that Israel has killed in combat. It has also adopted hit-and-run guerilla warfare tactics, using booby traps and ambushes, and retreating from decisive engagements with superior Israeli forces, all of which makes it harder for Israeli soldiers to kill the remaining Hamas fighters.

REDEFINING VICTORY AND DEFEAT

But Fox argues that it is possible for Israel to “defeat” Hamas in military terms by significantly reducing its fighting strength, by 30-50%, thereby rendering it incapable of launching another October 7-style attack. While it may be necessary over time for the Israeli army to go back more than once into areas of Gaza where Hamas has tried to reconstitute its military capabilities, that is still a relatively small price to pay to keep Hamas from ever again becoming a serious threat to Israeli security.

The Israeli government, and Netanyahu in particular, have come under heavy criticism from the Biden administration and Israeli political commentators for failing to present a credible “day after” plan for the postwar governance of Gaza under international supervision. According to Fox, that is likely because no nation in the international community has expressed a willingness to partner with Israel in the postwar security arrangements for Gaza. Nor can Israel afford to entrust that crucial task to any other country or group of countries, because that would make it impossible for Israel to defend itself should that security arrangement fail.

Furthermore, there is virtually no possibility of a peaceful political alternative to Hamas emerging in Gaza, because all of the polls show that the vast majority of Gaza civilians, despite their suffering, prefer to continue living under Hamas rule.

WHY ISRAEL HAS AVOIDED PROPOSING A GAZA ENDGAME

As a result, Israel’s leaders so far have avoided presenting any endgame plan for Gaza because they know that the U.S. and the international community would not like any proposal that satisfies Israel’s basic security requirements.

Fox argues that IDF planners have instead come up with a loosely defined hybrid military plan that falls somewhere between the classic definitions of a conventional war and a counterterrorism operation. Given the severe political and diplomatic limitations that Israel is now facing, it offers the best possible version of what “success” will ultimately look like for the war in Gaza.

Instead of the impossible task of trying to clear Hamas from Gaza, Fox says the Israeli military is now trying to permanently reduce the security threat it poses to Israel to a bare minimum. He writes, “To accomplish that end, the IDF has methodically razed what Hamas infrastructure they could find in Gaza City, Khan Yunis, and now Rafah. They have secured the Netzarim corridor to control freedom of movement from south to north. It looks like they are trying to do the same thing along the Philadelphi Corridor and Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, to cut off the inflow of weapons and supplies to Hamas. . .

“At the same time, the IDF has methodically destroyed buildings to create a 1-kilometer buffer zone around the Gaza border — a measure that if enforced would indeed prevent a repeat of October 7. If Israel has its way, nobody in Gaza is getting anywhere near the border again.”

WHAT IF THE WAR ENDED TOMORROW?

If the war in Gaza were to end tomorrow, Fox argues that it would already be judged a major success for Israel and the IDF, given the severe external limitations they are working under. “As things stand, the operational end state looks like significant Hamas infrastructure is destroyed, its fighting capability severely degraded, and the border secured, with the IDF retaining the capability to strike into Gaza at will.”

Fox also cites a statement by John Spencer, chairman of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at the U.S. Army’s West Point Military Academy, who credits the efforts by the IDF in Gaza to protect civilians in combat areas as unprecedented in modern urban warfare.

According to Fox, while the IDF, through no fault of its own, may not be able to achieve Netanyahu’s initially stated goals, the total destruction of Hamas and its removal from Gaza, what “we are seeing in Gaza is not a failure [but rather] a quite brilliant IDF operational design, within the bounds of what is realistically possible.”

Twitter
WhatsApp
Facebook
Pinterest
LinkedIn

LATEST NEWS

My Take on the News

  Hostility in the Court This week’s top story, without a doubt, was the Supreme Court hearing this Sunday that dealt with the draft of

Read More »

NEWSLETTER

Subscribe to stay updated