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A recap of Israel’s options in Gaza

March 28, 2019 at 4:45 pm

Israeli soldiers can be seen on top of tanks on their way heading to the Gaza fence on 28 March 2019 [Maan News]

It seems necessary to remind everyone of Israel’s options in Gaza with every round of confrontation in order to prevent the truth from being mixed with delusion. It is also necessary so that the Palestinian compass does not remain misguided, with some believing that they are on the correct path and that others should reconsider their thoughts.

The first option is a comprehensive war that ends with the reoccupation of Gaza and an end to Hamas’s rule. This is favoured by the far right in Israel. It seems possible and should not be ruled out, although it is a costly option for the Israelis (as well as the Palestinians, of course), and requires a major political decision when the dust of the General Election has settled. Ending the Hamas-led authority in Gaza will require a ground offensive to complete what the air force has started. It will be a complicated operation that may require an unknown length of time to complete, depending on the preparedness of the resistance factions.

The second option is to acknowledge Hamas as the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip and agree on a long-term truce with, no doubt, very specific conditions. The most important of the latter would be financial guarantees allowing weapons to be purchased, as the resistance groups do not have advanced capabilities for smuggling, producing and developing weapons. The two sides must ensure their complete commitment to the terms of the truce. Moreover, Israel could impose strict monitoring of what and who enters or leaves the Gaza Strip in exchange for a significant easing of the sanctions, isolation and blockade imposed on the enclave for over a decade. Those in the centre of Israeli politics would prefer this option.

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The third option is to manage the crisis with Gaza by maintaining the status quo: calmness in exchange for calmness; controlling crossings and the goods and individuals passing through; and committing to silencing mortars and rockets, incendiary kites, what are known as the night-time “confusion units”, naval activity and the Great March of Return protests. In this equation, the amount of goods and number of people going into and out of the Gaza Strip correlates with the level of tension in the hot spots and lines of contact between the two sides.

Comprehensive war is the most unlikely option in the eyes of the majority of Israelis, not only due to its human cost for Israel, but because it will basically put an end to the division amongst Palestinians and will, instead, unite them. This is something that Israel does not want. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said explicitly several times that those who reject the establishment of a Palestinian state should work on prolonging the division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel’s problem with this option also lies in the question of what it will do the day after it takes control of the territory. For these reasons and others, this option seems the least likely, but cannot be ruled out entirely.

Accepting Hamas rule in Gaza seems ideal for Israel, especially as Netanyahu’s government is engaged in negotiations with Arab and international mediators to achieve it. However, reaching an agreement that does not cost Netanyahu’s government its majority in the Knesset and Hamas its authority and credibility is not easy. The gap between the two sides’ positions and their demands is still relatively large and may require more efforts to bridge it. This is especially true with regards to issues related to Israel’s security and its guarantees, as well as Hamas’s ability to deliver them. This option is difficult, but it is not impossible and may be favoured by both sides.

Maintaining the status quo is the relatively static option, although developments are happening in a dramatic and interesting manner. Both sides are on the verge of a full-fledged confrontation every few weeks and the tug of war between them is never ending. It is like playing with fire or negotiating with live ammunition. This option is not easy for Israel, but it is even harder for Hamas, which is facing a real crisis with the hungry and besieged Palestinian people in Gaza. It would be hard to follow it through even if the Egyptian mediators succeed occasionally in providing the Gaza Strip with the bare minimum of its needs and securing Hamas some additional finance. Above all else, it must coincide with Israel’s security demands over and above those needed for the Gaza envelope settlements, not least the cities in the middle sector of the country, which are now within the range of the rockets that Hamas has at its disposal.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.