Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, has promised to “change the Middle East.” According to Joe Biden, there is “no going back.” Where is the battle headed, and what will happen next, though, as Israeli soldiers intensify their assaults on the Gaza Strip and issue new, urgent warnings to Palestinians to evacuate?
Israeli officials repeatedly declare their intention to remove Hamas from the Gaza Strip on a military and political level following the horrors of October 7.
However, it is unclear how this extraordinary goal will be accomplished other than by using unrelenting, overwhelming military force.
Dr. Michael Milshtein, the director of the Palestinian Studies Forum at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center, asserts that “you cannot promote such a historic move without a plan about next day.”
Concerning Israeli Military Intelligence, Dr. Milshtein, the former head of the Department for Palestinian Affairs, feels that preparation is still lacking.
He tells her, “You have to do it now.”
Diplomats from the West claim that although they are having extensive talks with Israel over the future, nothing is certain yet.
One informed me, “There’s really no set plan.” “Weeks or months of diplomacy will be required to turn a few ideas you doodle on paper into reality.”
There are military options that range from taking over significant portions of the Gaza Strip to weakening Hamas’s military capabilities. That’s about as far as the planning goes, according to people with extensive experience handling past crises.
Haim Tomer, a former senior officer of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency Mossad, states, “I don’t think that there is a viable, workable solution for Gaza the day after we evacuate our forces.”
There is a near unanimity among Israelis that Hamas must fall. It was just too horrible, the October 7th atrocities. It will never be acceptable for the group to govern Gaza once more.
Dr. Milstein asserts, however, that Israel cannot just eradicate Hamas; rather, it is an idea.
It differs from 1945 Berlin, when the Reichstag was covered by a flag and nothing more.
He claims that the US-led troops’ 2003 invasion of Iraq in an effort to eradicate any reminders of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship serve as a more accurate comparison. This process, dubbed “de-Baathification,” backfired. It created the conditions for a catastrophic insurgency by forcing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi government employees and military personnel out of employment.
While in Israel, American veterans of that war are sharing their experiences in locations like Falluja and Mosul with Israeli military personnel. “I hope they make the Israelis aware of their grave errors in Iraq,” adds Dr. Milshtein.
As an example, to not fool yourself into thinking you can overthrow the current government or influence public opinion. It is not going to occur.
And so do Palestinians.
As stated by Palestinian National Initiative head Mustafa Barghouti, “Hamas is a popular grassroots organization.” “They must ethnically purge Gaza as a whole if they wish to remove Hamas.”
The idea that Israel is quietly planning to drive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into neighboring Egypt and out of the Gaza Strip is arousing the deepest anxieties among Palestinians.
Recalling the horrific events of 1948 is unsettling for a populace already predominately composed of refugees—those who were forced to flee or were driven from their homes at the time of Israel’s founding.
Former Palestine Liberation Organization spokesman Diana Buttu claims that fleeing is equivalent to buying a one-way ticket. “Returning is not required.”
The necessity of temporarily housing Palestinians over the border in Sinai has been frequently mentioned by Israeli pundits, including former high-ranking officials.
Civilians must leave Gaza if Israel is to carry out its military objectives there without murdering a great number of innocent Palestinians, according to Giora Eiland, a former head of Israel’s National Security Council.
He advises them to enter Egypt, either permanently or just temporarily.
A paragraph in US President Joe Biden’s proposal to Congress on October 20 to approve financing to support Israel and Ukraine has added to the concerns of the Palestinian people.
There is a possibility that this crisis will lead to cross-border displacement and increased needs for humanitarian aid in the region.
Israeli policy regarding Palestinian border crossings has not been stated as of yet. Only those who relocate to vaguely defined “safe areas” in the south are instructed to do so by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).
However, Israel’s aggression in Gaza may be “an attempt to push the civilian inhabitants to… migrate to Egypt,” as Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, has said.
Who will rule the Gazans when this is all over, if there are still Gazans in the Gaza Strip?
Said Dr. Milshtein, “that’s the million dollar question.”
Israel, he claims, need to back the establishment of a new government headed by Gazans, with backing from the US, Egypt, and maybe Saudi Arabia, as well as endorsement from local authorities.
It ought to include representatives of Fatah, the rival Palestinian group that Hamas forcibly drove out of Gaza in 2006, a year after the latter won elections.
With its headquarters located in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, Fatah is in charge of the Palestinian Authority.
That being said, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip hold a deep dislike for the PA and its aging president, Mahmud Abbas.
Though she cautions against “riding in on the back of an Israeli tank,” Diana Buttu believes that the PA may have hidden aspirations to return to Gaza.
And that outsider, including Israel, will try to dictate to Palestinians again how to live their life is a source of great frustration for experienced politician Hanan Ashrawi, who briefly held office in the PA in the 1990s.
“People who think that this is a chessboard and they can move a few pawns here and there and have a checkmate move at the end. It won’t happen like this, she declares.
She states, “The Gazans will not take kindly to a few collaborators you might find.”
Deep fear and the feeling that nearly everything has been attempted before are felt by people who have dealt with Gaza wars previously, albeit not on this scale.
According to Haim Tomer, a former Mossad officer, he would halt military operations for a month in an attempt to free the prisoners beforehand.
He went to Cairo in 2012 with the director of Mossad to attend closed-door negotiations that led to a truce following a previous round of warfare in Gaza.
According to him, Hamas delegates were situated “across the street,” with Egyptian officials commuting between them.
He would almost definitely pay a heavy price if a similar method were to be utilized again.
If a few thousand Hamas inmates are freed, it doesn’t bother me. I hope that our folks return to their native country.
According to him, Israel would then be free to choose between a protracted ceasefire and a return to full military activity.
Nevertheless, he believes Israel would always have to deal with the Gaza Strip, short of physically severing the region from Israel and dragging it into the Mediterranean.
“Our throat feels like a bone.”