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Israel’s Challenges In Gaza: Examining Some Post-War Scenarios

By Ilan Hulkower

“When you go out to war against your enemies, the Lord your G-d shall deliver them into your hands...”

Deuteronomy 21:10

The aftermath of the October 7th massacres, also known as the Black Shabbat, of primarily Israeli civilians at the hands of the terrorist group Hamas shattered the previous modus operandi that Israel had built up with Gaza. The Israeli declaration of war that followed this surprise invasion of southern Israel by Hamas, which was coupled with comments that the war goals were the end of the terror organization’s rule in the Gaza Strip, formally marked this change of attitude. Previously, Israel operated under a policy called “mowing the grass” wherein the objectives of their military action, when it was needed against Hamas, would be to space out the episodes of violence and (re)establish a state of deterrence. In effect, Israel in its previous military operations against Hamas in Gaza did not fundamentally seek to topple Hamas from power but rather to keep the violence that would flare up manageable.

With the old policy now apparently dead, the question of what replaces “mowing the grass” follows. Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant told the Knesset that Israel was seeking to “defeat and destroy” Hamas in Gaza and replace it with “a new security regime” where Israel did not run daily life in the Gaza Strip. While the war between Israel and Hamas (and with other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip) is still raging following Israel’s aerial campaign and its ground operation into northern Gaza, it is difficult and perhaps premature to say what the precise post-war situation will be.

Afterall, international pressure could force a premature end to this military campaign by Israel or Israeli war aims might be more modest than official proclamations suggest. Nevertheless, several post-war templates have been flouted before the public that deserve mention and commentary. It is the aim of this article to provide this for the scenarios regarding a multinational force policing the Gaza Strip, Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, and the transfer of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The article also attempts to highlight the minimal post-war objectives Israel can take now that it has entered the devil’s nest Hamas has prepared for it.

One post-war resolution would be that the security of the Gaza Strip is left to a multinational force that would ensure its demilitarization. This force may include moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia and various Abraham Accord signatory states who might also contribute funds to the reconstruction of Gaza. These Gulf states largely do not like Hamas. As one source close to the United Arab Emirates told The Hindu, “Hamas is not their favourite organization…It is Muslim Brotherhood after all.” Moderate Arab media tends after all to be critical of both Hamas, whom they see as an Iranian pawn causing needless instability in the region, and of Israel. On the surface at least such a force if Arab-led and staffed could have an easier time policing the Gaza Strip than Israel or a non-Arab international coalition. Yet, there are problems with such an arrangement.

Multinational forces tend to not work in Israel’s favor. The United Nations’ first peacekeeping mission was deployed in 1956 to the Sinai in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis to separate Egyptian and Israeli forces. In 1967, this force left the Sinai amid an Egyptian military buildup in the region despite other mechanisms being available to delay the withdrawal and/or to raise protest in order for the Egyptians to reconsider their course of action.  Ultimately, the force’s withdrawal allowed the Six Day War to happen. More recently the creation of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in 1978 failed to quiet rocket fire and terrorist attacks from southern Lebanon into Israel. Similarly, an international force that entered Lebanon in 1982 were withdrawn in 1984 after the security situation in the civil war-torn country further deteriorated.

The strengthening of UNIFIL’s mandate in 2006- after the Second Lebanon War- to “facilitate the entry of Lebanese Forces in the region and the establishment of a demilitarised zone”  in southern Lebanon as well as the disarmament of any other force than the Lebanese army failed miserably. A 2010 transcript of a hearing before the American Senate on Hezbollah strength noted: 

Despite the devastating effects of its 2006 war with Israel and the 2008 domestic conflict in Lebanon, which Hezbollah initiated, Hezbollah remains today one of the best armed and most dangerous militias in the world. Its capabilities exceed those of the legitimate Lebanese security services and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)…However, we believe that, in addition to its increased activities outside of UNIFIL's area of operations, Hezbollah continues to maintain weapons caches in the south and is actively seeking additional armaments. Hezbollah also claims publicly to have reconstituted and improved its arsenal since the 2006 war.

In effect, far from achieving the disarmament of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hezbollah is better armed than both the Lebanese state and UNIFIL.

Another drawback is that Arab states aligned toward Israel in an international force in Gaza might not be wise for a variety of reasons. The public in these countries might accuse the governments of open and undesirable collaboration with Israel in (what they see as) oppressing the Palestinians. Such a force might consist of members, be they individual soldiers or countries, who are very sympathetic toward the Palestinians to the point of failing to carry out the necessary security tasks needed to ensure a demilitarized Gaza.

 In the event that rocket fire resumes from Gaza with this multinational force inside it then Israel’s response might put it directly in conflict with moderate Arab states. Thus, any action Israel might take in Gaza would carry with it a much more immediate risk of a regional war. At the end of the day, Israel must be able to ensure its own security and given the history of multinational forces such international measures tend to falter and fail.

Another suggestion has been for indefinite Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip. This act might allow the IDF to freely operate as needed within the region in order to ensure Israel’s security, but it comes with many costs. For one thing, the population of the Gaza Strip is fundamentally hostile to the State of Israel’s existence to begin with and would not welcome an Israeli presence there. Hamas along with other armed militia groups are rather popular in Palestinian society. Hamas enjoys a 58 percent approval rating from Gazans according to a Washington Institute poll conducted in July 2023. Such popular support for these armed political factions within Gaza might mobilize the populace to revive an otherwise defeated Hamas, rally around another terror organization, or create a new radical faction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself warned about such a line of thinking in his memoirs. Here he stated that starting such a military operation geared toward regime change in Gaza is easier than ending it and might bog Israel down for years when it is Iran and potentially other active fronts that Israel had to worry about.

Israeli occupation is not likely to change these hard-wired public attitudes. The Palestinian education system is still dedicated toward jihad against Israel and the glorification of violence against Jews. Such anti-peace concepts are even prevalent in internationally organized and funded educational programs in Palestinian society. Indeed, over 100 Hamas terrorists were graduates from these international organization run schools. Israel may be able to militarily defeat Hamas, but it is a longer and perhaps a more difficult struggle to defeat the mindset within the public that supports organizations like Hamas. Israel may be reminded why it chose to leave Gaza in 2005 if it decides to stay for the long haul.

The third option given is that Gaza should be handed back to the PA. The faction that runs the West Bank, Fatah, is seen by many in the West as more moderate (or at least more controllable) than Hamas.  Yet, Palestinian officials and media aligned with Fatah profusely praised the October 7th operation by Hamas. One Fatah official called it “a morning of victory, and morning of joy, a morning of pride” and said that all Palestinian people should participate in such an event. President Mahmoud Abbas said of it on October 8th that the Palestinians have the right to defend themselves from Israeli aggression. A Fatah aligned militia group also claimed to participate in the October 7th attack on Israel. Similarly, the PA-controlled education system has also been anti-peace and filled with incitement to violence. 

Even if Abbas was controllable, he is deeply unpopular and seen as corrupt by his own society. Only about 19 percent of Palestinians in one survey thought he should remain in office. The 87-year-old Palestinian politician was elected in 2005 to serve only a four year term (which has lasted 18 years now). The popular sympathy of the Palestinian voter (if allowed to vote) appears to be more in line with Hamas. One poll found that if elections were held back in September of 2023, voters would elect Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas) to the presidency over the current incumbent. Back in 2006, Hamas was elected to a majority of seats in Palestinian parliament.

Even if Abbas managed to claw back Gaza and keep it from Hamas during his lifetime, it is not certain whether Hamas would lose in a free and fair election against Fatah in parliamentary and presidential elections following Abbas’s death. Even if they did, it is not out of the odds that Hamas would simply violently seize control of the PA like they did in Gaza back in 2007. In effect, handing Gaza back to the PA is not necessarily the stable remedy to prevent a resurgence of Hamas.

Military victories do not always translate into political victories. A post-Hamas Gaza settlement by Israel should aim to carry some political victory. Israel must principally seek two things: (1) measures that guarantee its own long-term security and (2) measures that do not alienate Israel from the Arab states that have expressed interest in (or have already) normalized relations. The demilitarization of Gaza is a necessary post-war aim and can be accompanied by an Israeli security corridor covering Gaza’s Philadelphi Route, which is Hamas’s main avenue for the mass-smuggling of weapons into Gaza. While local autonomy can be given to the rest of Gaza in the form of whatever authority is acceptable to Israel and its Arab partners, the dismantling of the local and internationally sponsored indoctrination of hate in the education system must follow in Gaza (and indeed in other Palestinian areas as well). A generation raised in hatred cannot be expected to be a generation ready to accept peace.

 It is here that certain Arab aligned states can introduce their own recently reformed textbooks that encourage normalization and are pro-peace into the Palestinian education system.  Since the Arab states want a two-state solution, the demand for a change in educational material needs to emphasize that any chance on such a prospect relies on this. Such changes should also be closely monitored by all responsible parties involved. In part to aid this venture of encouraging change, Israel ought to place on trial the senior surviving Hamas officials in a manner reminiscent of its 1961 Eichmann Trial. The trial(s) should expose not only Hamas’s crimes against humanity, its horrid treatment of fellow Palestinians, but the hate-filled ideology behind Hamas to the world. Such trials would aim to bring attention to the Hamas mindset and delegitimize it. If Israel is to topple Hamas, the rebuilding of Gaza must be made into a joint Israeli-Arab partnership that isolates extremist forces like Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood from re-gaining a foothold there.

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