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Israel-Hamas war resumes after week-long ceasefire: Evaluating hopes against realities!

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Israel-Hamas war resumes after week-long ceasefire: Evaluating hopes against realities!

The Hamas too recommenced rocket fire on border cities of Israel to indicate its residual capability to respond.

Caught in a crossfire, it’s a distressing news for hostages and civilians of one of the most populated region of the world, blockaded in a landmass, left with no safe zones.

Although, most rational voices condemn the brutal, barbaric, terror attack by Hamas on October 7, and felt Israeli’s actions against Hamas was justified, but the scale, cost and methodology of Israeli response, causing fourteen times more Palestinian civilian casualties and large scale forced displacement of people has invited global criticism for violation of International Humanitarian Law.

Despite Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) maintaining that “it doesn’t target civilians”, reports of more than 400 Palestinians killed in span of three days concerns everyone, including its closest ally the US, which expects Israel to do more to protect civilians in pursuance of its legitimate military objectives in Gaza.

Why was the truce destined to collapse?

The week-long truce war was a result of tireless negotiations by mediators including Qatar, Egypt and US President Joe Biden’s administration, which was feeling the heat of heavy political cost in pre-election year under domestic and global pressure, hence persuading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who is also struggling for his political survival) for truce made sense, in addition to internal pressure on him by family members of hostages.

Although, the truce was a big relief to the hostages released, their families and civilians in Gaza Strip, but the Netanyahu’s War Cabinet, IDF and hardliners was viewing it as an avoidable reorganisation opportunity for Hamas fighters.

Embarrassed by their possible security lapses of October 7, Netanyahu led Israel was convinced that application of total military might to obliterate Hamas, notwithstanding the cost on innocent civilians, can perhaps mitigate their loss of prestige; hence a disruption like truce was unwanted and needed to end soon.

Israel has mobilised over 300,000 people, most of them were involved in various economic activities, which stand disrupted; hence early consolidation of Hamas is an economic compulsion too. It blamed Hamas for not releasing women and children as per truce terms as cause of collapse of truce, which Hamas denies.

Hamas took hostages on October 7 to use them as bargaining chips against Israel. Israeli’s announcement at the beginning of temporary ceasefire that the war will continue once the temporary humanitarian ceasefire was over, was perceived by Hamas that it needs to retain some high value hostages till end of the war for ensuring its survival.

After releasing 105 hostages (mainly ladies and children) and having scored a favourable point on released Palestinians, a disruption in truce suited Hamas too, so that it can retain remaining hostages and blame Israel for ‘predetermined decision to recommence criminal aggression’.

Opposing strategies and outcomes

As per Netanyahu the Israeli’s objective in this war is to liquidate Hamas completely, ensure that its citizens are never again threatened by an attack from Gaza and ensure release the hostages. He thinks that it can be done by military action and has pulled back Israeli team from ongoing negotiations in Qatar.

The force level used and the scale of destruction being caused indicates that his undeclared aim is to make Gaza unhabitable and force Palestinians out of Gaza, as its extremely difficult to identify Hamas in such heavy population density of Palestinians and selectively destroy them. To minimise own casualties, IDF has chosen the strategy of mass destruction and pulverising targets/buildings alleged as hideouts by standoff attacks, avoiding hand to hand fighting in built up area.

The strategy of Hamas on October 7 was to pick up maximum hostages to be used as bargaining chip, embarrass Israel and provoke it beyond limits to respond disproportionately, causing heavy casualties to innocent Palestinians in Gaza, to put the Palestinian issue from back burner to forefront, besides inviting global criticism of Israel for human right violations, which seems to have been achieved.

Hamas also expected favourable reaction in their support from Arab countries, radical Islamic countries and organisations and drive a wedge in relationship of some Arab countries and others getting closer to Israel. This has not been fully achieved as Arab countries have voiced in favour of Palestinians (not Hamas, in context of its brutal assault violating human rights) and have not intervened beyond diplomatic and moral support.

In terms of outcome, Israel had finished the war in six days in 1967, Yom Kippur war in 19 days, but against Hamas, the war is nearing two months and the obliteration of Hamas is nowhere in sight. It is overambitious because Hamas is an ideology, brewed out of subjugation of population confined into bounds of Gaza, with airspace, maritime space, six exit points and inflow of essential services controlled by Israel.

With growing hatred towards Israel due to unprecedented casualties, the ideology is unlikely to die down. Moreover, many Hamas leaders are outside Gaza, away from striking distance of Israel; hence, will survive even after the destruction of Gaza to annihilate Hamas. While Israel may be able to comb Gaza to reduce striking capability of Hamas, in the long term it will make itself and its people more insecure to terror attacks within and outside Israel, as the US Defence Secretary rightly warns Israel that failure to protect Palestinian civilians could lead to ‘strategic defeat’.

Who will control Gaza after the war?

While Israel is planning to have a buffer zone or a security envelope along Gaza border, inside Gaza to prevent Hamas being positioned on the border, but it may not be easy as world opinion is shifting against Israel and inclined for two state solution.

Even Israel’s closest ally US is insisting on two state solution, which has laid down five principles for the future of Gaza, as its Vice President said: “No forcible displacement of the Palestinian people, no reoccupation of Gaza, no siege or blockade, no reduction in territory, and no use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism.”

The idea of Gaza to be ruled by Palestinian Authority (PA) has own drawbacks due to lack of credibility PA leaders, who haven’t had elections after 2005, and they do not represent the people of Gaza. Governance under UN stabilisation Mission till elections are held could be an option, but will Israel agree to completely vacate Gaza remains a question? With angry population, the Israeli occupation of Gaza will be marred by risk of frequent insurgent attacks.

The future of Two-State Solution?

While Israel and Palestine have legitimate right to live, have a homeland, govern and defend themselves, but lack of accommodation of these rights within the boundaries of Israel, West Bank and Gaza Strip remains problematic leading to bloodshed for over decades. While every peace propagator including US is talking of two state solution, but no such solution succeeded due to the competing claims to Jerusalem, which is crucial to Christians, Jews and Palestinians.

The problem, therefore, remains how to divide that landmass into two states, as both sides want East Jerusalem, because Palestinians can’t compromise on al-Aqsa Mosque (Third holiest shrine for Islam) and Jews can’t compromise on Temple Mount or Western Wall (the holiest site in Judaism). The complexities of Palestinian enclaves embedded by Israeli settlements in the West Bank and their continued encroachment, makes it impractical for anyone of them to vacate their enclaves, complicating the situation further.

Way ahead

The strong support demonstrated by the US to Israel in the initial stages has not allowed direct involvement of any other country into the war, although groups like Hezbollah and Houthis did show some support with standoff attacks.

The Arab countries have expressed support for Hamas, condemned Israel for violating International Humanitarian laws and excessive civilian casualties, but no one has directly entered the conflict. Considering the responses so far, it appears that this conflict may not expand into larger regional conflict.

This conflict has further divided the global power blocks with the US and Israel standing together, getting increasingly isolated. Most of the world is raising concerns for Palestinian cause and unprecedented casualties and the USseems to be doing damage control internally and externally, short of stopping Israeli offensive. The number of ladies and children killed in less than two months has exceeded two years of Russia Ukraine War violates self-defence logic.

The war may end with Israel’s combing operations over destroyed Gaza, claimed as victory by Israel. It may work as face saver for Israeli Government, but Israel can neither hope to be safe nor peaceful in the long term. In counter terror operations, people are centre of gravity. The next generation of Hamas will arise, with a frustrated populace demanding revenge. Until a two states solution that is acceptable to both parties is reached, the Israel-Palestine conflict will persist, albeit in an active insurgent form, for an extended period of time.

(Major General (Dr) S.B. Asthana is an international strategic and military analyst. The views expressed are personal).

–Ajit Weekly News

asthana/ksk


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