••• The International Writers Magazine - Gaza
Can Israel ‘Reoccupy’ Gaza?
Dr Marwan Asmar
What is the endgame for devastated Gaza?
Israelis are confused. Although they are bombing Gaza, right, left and center - 32,000 tons of explosives were dropped on the strip so far and equivalent to two Hiroshima nuclear bombs - their leaders do not have a clear path.
Besides the bombs and missiles, the Israelis have no clear strategy of what to do next in Gaza other than striking civilians, hospitals and infrastructure whilst acing tough, fighting Hamas operatives and losing much soldiers, tanks and artillery on a daily basis.
This is a developing into a real war between a state with the backing of a full army against a non-state actor that is at best a militia. However, it is Palestinian civilians who are taking the brunt. Already the number of Palestinian dead (19 October) stands at over 12,300 with more than 25000 injured and 70 percent of those killed are women and children.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is acting tough, seeking to deflect this state of affairs by talking about the post-war conflict stage in what is seen a closed Palestinian enclave. He is saying Israel will impose its own rigid security regime on Gaza to make sure it will no longer pose a threat to the Jewish state.
Isn’t he putting the cart before the horse, talking too soon, as if it’s a forgone conclusion that he will win this war. Doubts are setting in his mind as well as those of his ministers and maybe the military about this war and its length.
This has already set the alarm bells ringing in the Biden administration who want to revitalize the long stale-mated peace process and involve the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to have a say in Gaza. But Netanyahu doesn’t want that, saying the PA won’t have any role in the running of the enclave as ruled by Hamas since 2007 and which is today fighting the Israeli army strenuously.
Can he chance any Israeli takeover of Gaza. Will he be allowed this time, not least of all by Hamas?
Netanyahu is adamant with his view about making Gaza a “full security zone”. This is a view supported by other rightwing members of his extremist government. Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, for instance, is outrightly saying Gaza should be reoccupied, presumably after winning the war and filled with Israeli settlements and settlers which was the case after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. In this he is supported by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
However, they forget when Israel withdrew from the strip in 2005, it did so under great military pressure from the Palestinians, a final decision willingly made by Ariel Sharon, the then prime minister.
Israel was forced to draw, and dismantle all of its 21settlements in Gaza and leave the enclave. Therefore, the reoccupation Ben-Gvir talking about will not be easy because the Gaza Strip, like it or not, is an effective entity with its own institutions and civil society, or what has become of it after the 24/7 Israeli bombing now well in its in its second month and going into the third. This is plus, the armed resistance groups and para-military organizations like Hamas and its Izz Al Din Al Qassam as well as Islamic Jihad and the Saraya Al Quds Brigade.
However, there is a great element of frustration in the Israeli government in spite of the day-and-night bombing to the point that government ministers are coming out with bizarre statements that actually reflect their state of mind. Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu of the extremist Otzmz Yehudit Party and a colleague of Ben-Gvir, is not mincing his words. Quite simply, he said Gaza should be nuclear bombed. He added this is one “option” to get rid of it and wiped off the face of the earth. And he was serious when he said this few weeks ago!
Such a fanciful view was immediately abhorred by the international community.
Netanyahu immediately suspended the minister for this extremist view and because of the Biden administration, which despite wholesale support for Israel after 7 October, in which 1200 Israelis were allegedly killed by Hamas, sought to play an intermediary, albeit humanitarian role, to force Israel to let supplies into the enclave through the Rafah border which it sealed off.
One of the reasons why Netanyahu might want to show as if he is submitting to President Joe Biden is because he does not want to lose US and international support built in the light of 7 October, and in which the White House effectively turned a blind eye to the continual Israeli bombing of Gaza. Netanyahu believes this may not last forever and wants to make the most of criminally bombing the enclave to try and get to Hamas and destroy it before any possible ceasefire and/or political solution is reached.
As well, the bizarre elements continue in the Israeli government. Of the displacement of the now 1.7 million Palestinians of Gaza, who are still making their way to the south of the Strip under pounding guns, Israeli Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter is openly saying “We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba” as quoted in Israel’s Channel 12.
What that means is Israel, and despite the visit of Biden to Tel Aviv just after 7 October, and the continual visits of the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the country and region, is actively thinking about the concept of transfer of the Gaza Palestinians. This is an idea it tried to sell to the Americans in the early days of the conflict.
It then wanted to transfer displaced Palestinians across the Rafah border into the Sinai Peninsula but failed because Egypt, stood up to the Israeli government as did the United Nations and even the United States which felt such a move would increase the activity of Hezbollah in the north rather than contain it and bring Iran, Houthis and Shia militia groups into the conflict.
This is not to forget the domestic angle. Everyone is talking as if Hamas has already gone but the reality of the fact it is active and kicking hard.
According to the Israeli army it has already killed around 1200 of its Jewish people, it continues to hold around 250 Israelis and foreigners, some of whom have already died because of the Israeli bombing Hamas says, killed around 57 soldiers just in Israel’s land war on Gaza and injured over 365 soldiers. Further, it killed 377 soldiers since 7 October.
But these figures provided by the Israeli army, are strictly censored and likely to be much higher according to military analysts. Hamas and its Izz Al Din Al Qassam Brigades as well as Islamic Jihad are presently embroiled in a battle with the Israel’s army who by their own structured admission, are losing expensive tanks and artillery on a daily basis.
All military options are open. The Israelis know this is not a walk in the park despite the heavy civilian casualties its inflicting with its Defense Minister Yoav Gallant saying this war could last up to one year.
© Marwan Asmar - 20th Oct 2023
Marwan has a phd in Political Science from Leeds University in the UK and long worked in the journalism field in the Middle East and is based in Amman.
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