Israel is about to launch another attack on the Gaza Strip. So what?
The Israeli government has implemented a punitive policy called “mowing the grass.” He viewed the cycle of retaliatory strikes against Hamas as a necessary but unpleasant task to prevent the terrorist organization from spiraling out of control.
But the Israeli government offered one way to “kick the can” and not touch the territorial, civil, humanitarian and international law issues underlying the Palestinian crisis in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Two decades and Hundreds of Israelis and thousands of Palestinian civilians live there Later, the surprise attack on October 7 proves that the strategy failed spectacularly, says RAND analyst Raphael Cohen.
“It was not just an intelligence failure and an operational failure, but a broader strategic failure,” he argues.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government was caught completely off guard. So much so that he diverted many military units guarding the Gaza border to protect illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
Codenamed “Operation Iron Swords,” Netanyahu's crackdown is far greater than past “Operation Weeding.” More than 360,000 reservists have been mobilized for the main ground campaign, many of whom have pledged not to take part in military service after Netanyahu recently moved to curtail the power of Israel's Supreme Court.
But for what purpose?
Key members of Netanyahu's “emergency security cabinet” have called for an “exit strategy” from Gaza. They fear a repeat of past failures, with a new generation of jihad born out of the civilian “certain damage” of a new military occupation.
“What will determine who wins this war is completely unclear,” said John Alterman, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “What politics will emerge after the fighting in Gaza ceases and the rubble is cleared?” Who will be in control and who will support them? Will the people of Gaza find a way to live in peace and growing prosperity, or will the voices of alienation and despair grow louder and lead to a new cycle of violence?
What is Israel's end game?
“We will wipe this thing called Hamas, ISIS-Gaza off the face of the earth.” It will cease to exist,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant said on October 7, days after his forces were humiliated.
Israel has long had the military power to wipe out Hamas. But a 2017 research paper by the RAND Corporation said that attempting to do so would come with great political risk.
Civilian casualties will be enormous, as Hamas fighters are residents of Gaza and members of the wider Palestinian refugee population. According to unverified reports, 1,300 Israelis and 4,600 Palestinians have already died in the latest round of fighting.
And any permanent occupation means that Israel must take responsibility for the administration of the territory.
“As such, Israel's grand strategy has become ‘mowing the grass' — accepting its inability to permanently solve the problem and instead repeatedly targeting the leadership of Palestinian militant organizations to maintain control of the violence,” the RAND report said.
But avoiding the issue is no longer politically expedient for the Netanyahu government.
The population of Israel was sufficient. Shortly after the October 7 attack, a poll showed that about 65 percent supported a full ground invasion.
What will happen next is not discussed.
“It's not surprising that Israelis are still not discussing these long-term issues,” Alterman says. “Israelis are still reeling from the shocking losses of October 7 and the hostage crisis. They are united in acting decisively, restoring Israel's deterrent power and avenging what appear to be hundreds of cold-blooded murders.”
Are you repeating the mistakes of the past?
“While violence is likely to increase in the coming weeks, violence will not determine who wins this war,” Alterman said. “The winners will be announced at the negotiation table. The purpose of war is to get there. Even the most brutal attack alone cannot lead to victory, and as Hamas will soon learn, the most brutal attack can actually lead to defeat.”
This is a lesson that also applies to Israel.
And this is US President Joe Biden, who visited the conflict-torn state last week. “The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas,” he said. “Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people.
Not recognizing such a difference, he said, led the United States to make serious mistakes after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
“As four US presidential administrations have discovered in Afghanistan, building stability after a conflict is far more difficult than toppling a weak regime in the first place,” it said. Professor of Military History Peter Moore.
“Israel has the ability to flatten Gaza and collect segments of the population, but it may not be wise. Doing so may serve as an immediate impetus to retaliate against enemies, but Israel will likely receive massive international condemnation for creating a desert in Gaza and calling it peace, thus giving up the moral high ground it claims after Hamas attacks. “
It points to the survival, strengthening and eventual victory of the Taliban during the US-led coalition's occupation of Afghanistan.
“Wars based on revenge can be effective in punishing the enemy, but they can also create a power vacuum that leads to protracted, deadly conflict that fails to provide sustainable stability,” says Moore. “This is what happened in Afghanistan and this is what could happen in Gaza.”
in the abyss
“The question is what kind of government will emerge in Gaza after the war,” Alterman says. “This could result in greater control by the Ramallah-based Palestinian National Authority, some kind of new local government, rule under the supervision of the Israeli military, or perhaps a coalition of Arab states.” There are many possibilities, but it is difficult to imagine that Hamas will remain in power.”
But without a plan for what will happen after the ceasefire, the chances are that another power vacuum—like the ones in Syria, Lebanon, and Afghanistan—will emerge from the rubble of destroyed homes, institutions, and infrastructure.
“Wars based on revenge can be effective in punishing the enemy, but they can also create a power vacuum that leads to protracted, deadly conflict that fails to provide sustainable stability,” adds Moore.
The instability and chaos that followed the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are widely believed to have created the conditions for the Islamic State to launch an extremist terrorist campaign in 2015.
Radicalized Palestinians are also capable of mobilizing campaigns against the occupation forces and Israeli civilians. It would also offer recruiting opportunities for external militants, including Iran-backed groups.
But is Israel ready to end the failed cycle of retaliation and “mowing the grass”?
“It's going to be difficult for the Israeli public, which has gotten comfortable with the idea that Palestine is not only difficult to solve, but a problem that doesn't need to be solved,” Alterman says. “And it will be particularly difficult for a government that includes a number of hardline, tough voices who represent a strong minority of the electorate, and of whom the public will insist on accountability this winter, just as diplomacy unfolds.”
But there is a growing sense of “house cleaning” among Israel's besieged population, he adds. “They are critical of their leadership. They accuse both politicians and the military of missing signs of an impending attack and of being detached from the real issues of the country's security. The time of responsibility will come. Meanwhile, the Israelis will need their guidance to make an agonizing decision: when to stop fighting and on what terms.