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Gaza: Israeli Options


In Gaza, as we have seen, Hamas is waiting for Barak and the Israeli government to make up their minds. Hamas claims it is confident that it can inflict significant casualties on Israel if Israel widens the war. Even if it doesn't really believe it, Hamas is confident they can get Israel to believe it, or it is sure that Israel will not attack for fear of creating horrendous numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza. The Hamas scenario is based on an Israeli attempt to take cities in house to house fighting.

Whatever the reason, Hamas is not interested in a truce except on its own terms, and contrary to assessments by Israeli military personnel, Hamas doesn't admit that it has suffered significant damage. There is evidently no way to pressure Hamas diplomatically. That leaves the ball in the court of Israel and the international community.

Egypt evidently will not agree to U.S. or other engineers who would monitor arms smuggling on their side of the border. Egypt maintains stoutly that no arms passed through the tunnels. Since they could not arrive by any other means, this claim is absurd. The Hamas are not going to allow a monitoring force on their side of the border unless the purpose of that force is to prevent Israeli retaliation. In any case, Hamas has the option of firing rockets at Israel if they don't agree to any arrangement. Israel is thus left with a number of options, all bad:

Status Quo - Israel can continue operation "Cast Lead" without committing to a wider deployment. Meanwhile, rockets continue to fall on Israel and show no real signs of abatement. Hamas claim they have not yet begun to fight, despite optimistic Israeli assessments of Hamas fatigue. Sooner or later, static troop deployments will be vulnerable to Hamas suicide attacks, or a large number of IDF soldiers will be killed in another "friendly fire" incident, or Israeli troops will accidentally kill a large number of civilians and will be forced to withdraw, resulting in a Hamas victory. In ten days, a new administration will be installed in Washington, and Israel may lose its diplomatic backing. It is not known how long the current supply of Hamas ammunition and rockets can last, or whether or not they are still being resupplied through the tunnels beneath the Rafah crossing.

Same thing only more so - Israel can step up the pressure just by inserting more troops into Gaza. It is possible that this is the planned "next stage."

Cease Fire - It is not too late for Israel to accept the cease fire that it rejected or an improved version of it, and hope that Hamas, despite its rejection, will stop firing rockets at Israeli towns. This might be the best option. However, it could easily lead to a situation where the rocket fire continues while Israel is constrained from responding.

Widen the operation to take Philadelphi corridor - Israel can widen the operation to occupy the Philadelphi route and control Rafah crossing at the southern edge of the Gaza strip. This would allow Israel to establish a permanent presence that prevents arms smuggling through the Egyptian border. This option is favored by several right wing Israeli politicians. Much of the area around the Rafah crossing has apparently been bombed, but it is likely that the Hamas have a network of underground tunnels there, similar to the ones found elsewhere. A prolonged Israeli presence would of course invite Hamas attacks. Moreover, there is a report that a plan is being hatched to install the Palestinian Authority backed by an international force at Rafah. Hamas objects of course, and the only way to overcome that objection is to first have the IDF conquer this territory.

Eliminate the Hamas - Hamas propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding, Israel can eliminate the Hamas. They can do it in a lightning air campaign that would not involve any Israeli casualties, in the space of a few hours. Bunker-buster bombs would destroy the network of tunnels Hamas built under the cities of Gaza, using cement that the UN forced Israel to supply as "humanitarian aid." There is no military obstacle to doing this, but it would probably cause many more casualties than the 10,000 civilian deaths that Hamas has promised in the next phase. In Pakistan, such operations, which level whole villages, are routine:

The Pakistani army has used helicopter gunships and fighter jets to blast entire villages in Bajur to rubble, driving 250,000 tribesmen out of their homes.

The Israeli air force certainly has this capability. From the point of view of many Arab governments, this solution is ideal. They would be rid of the Hamas in a few hours, before the U.N. or anyone else could react, and the entire carnage could conveniently be blamed on Israel in suitable speeches about Zionist barbarity. It would kill more people than the genocide in Dafur or the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in al Hama by Hafez Assad. However, Israel is not Pakistan or Syria, and could not allow itself such an operation, at least not under the current government.

Siege - In theory, against a totally recalcitrant enemy, it should be possible to conduct a regular siege. This was the technique used by the allies against Germany in two world wars. Nobody in the west protested the malnutrition of German babies. It was the technique used by the Arab side against Jerusalem in the 1948 Arab - Israeli war: No food, no water, no medical supplies, no evacuation of wounded. The Jordan Legion was lauded for its humanitarian actions in Jerusalem, since the Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem were ethnically cleansed rather than being massacred. The USSR attempted a similar siege of Berlin in 1948, but was foiled by the US airlift. The North Vietnamese carried out such sieges in Da Nang, Plei Me, Plei Ku and Khe Sanh. It is not recorded that the "progressive forces" or anyone else objected. Nonetheless, it is clearly unrealistic for Israel to contemplate any such operation. The reality of the Gaza campaign is that the Palestinians are resupplied daily, and the Hamas take a portion of that aid by force.

Repeat of Lebanon - The principle is to reach an agreement that works like UN Security Council Resolution 1701 in Lebanon. That is, it gives Israel an excuse for exiting from Gaza, but it protects the Hamas behind the screen of a worthless international force and allows them to build up their arms stores in peace, as long as they do not fire on Israel. The advantage for Israel is that it puts an end to the rocket attacks for a while. The advantage to the Hamas is that it guarantees an eventual Hamas takeover of the West Bank, just as Resolution 1701 is almost inevitably leading to a Hezbollah takeover in Lebanon. The Israeli government may not like it, but since Israel is showing its reluctance to widen the attack, the conclusion is that Israel has no better option. One obstacle in the way of this outcome is that Hamas refuses to play the game. They will not accept even a charade of controlling arms smuggling into Gaza.

City fighting option - We can be pretty certain that the option of house to house city fighting that Hamas envisages is not going to happen. Israel would require far larger land forces for that than it has so far called up. That could indeed result in a lot of Israeli deaths as Hamas envisages.

Cut a deal with Hamas (aka "end the siege of Gaza") - The best strategy for Israel, at least in the short term, might be to cut a deal with the Hamas. This is what is bound to result from what is proposed by Mr. Jimmy Carter, by many in the European community and by "liberal" Jewish groups in the United States along with CAIR and the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP). That would be the result of negotiations with the Hamas which they propose, or of "ending the Gaza siege" or of "immediate cease fire." The deal would eliminate the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas and give the Hamas control of the West Bank as well as Gaza. In any case, the Hamas no longer recognize Abbas as head of the Palestinian authority. Moreover, incoming US President Obama is reportedly ready to talk to Hamas (report denied here). These talks would de facto elevate the Hamas into the status of the "legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people." That would leave Israel little choice in the matter. The same result would be achieved if Israel knuckles under to the Hamas demand for unsupervised arms shipments through the Rafah crossing (euphemized as "ending the Gaza siege"). Of course, unlike the "Lebanon" outcome, Hamas would gladly agree to this option. A significant Hamas gain, however achieved, would mean the end of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority.

The end of the US sponsored Palestinian Authority would spell the end of the peace process, which would be convenient for Israeli hawks, for Hamas and for Iran. It would leave the Hamas free to subvert Egypt and Jordan, as long as it maintained quiet along the Israeli borders. Given the support and the legitimation that the Palestinian Authority itself has publicly given to Hamas, as well as the growing pressure on Israel and the ambiguous stance of the Egyptians, this option would solve a lot of problems. However, the current Israeli government is not likely to adopt it, because it is committed to the peace process, and because a deal of this nature would make the victory of right wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in next month's elections a virtual certainty. A Netanyahu administration, which is almost certain to be elected anyway however, would face no such obstacles.

Update: IDF is already dropping leaflets warning that it is about to step up the Gaza offensive.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 10 comments

I don’t think that any side in the conflict believes in a quick, decisive and one-sided resolution. Further, I don’t think that it would be to Israel advantage to completely eliminate Hamas, even if possible. The optimal scenario for Israel would be maintaining Hamas in power, but reduced in political influence and completely disarmed of rockets, missiles and other terror projectile weapons. This option will best serve Israel interests for the long run and minimize world wide descending public opinion. This scenario, encouraging the politically separation between Gaza from the West Bank, may also benefit Jordan, Egypt and other moderate Arab countries (which will never admit to it publicly). Therefore, ensuring that Hamas will never have terror weapons capabilities should be the primary concern in any settlement.

Posted by Zvi @ 01/11/2009 12:02 AM CST

israel is a terrorist .peace peace for gaza.free gaza now.

Posted by horie.sh @ 01/11/2009 07:17 AM CST

This is hands down the best analysis of the Gaza situation I have read to date, and I have read quite a few.

The one thing I don't understand is why the bunkers cannot be destroyed without using bunker busters which would create much collateral damage. There are mine and tunnel seismic detectors which ought to allow the localization of a bunker, and drilling into the bunker and pouring gasoline or some similiar substance down the holes. Air shafts could also be detected, providing a route as well. No doubt Hamas has some civilian hostages down there, and collateral damage could not completely avoided, but it seems far less likely to end up on the front page of the news due to the technical difficulties of capturing the actual destruction. Yes, this would take some time to achieve but large bunkers could be knocked off with high Hamas casualty rates with a high degree of certainty.

I'm sure someone has looked into this but I haven't seen any explanation anywhere of why it wouldn't work.

Posted by DaMav @ 01/11/2009 08:42 AM CST

i support palestine!!! m against these bloody israel who are killing the innocent people!!!

Posted by hamza @ 01/14/2009 03:48 PM CST

It's a pity that Gaza can't simply be governed by Egypt. It seems so logical. Would the Gazans prefer to live in peace with a stable Egyptian government? Or would they prefer their existing situation - under constant threat of retaliation for their government continuously tempting Israel by firing rockets north? I would guess that the standard of living of Egyptians is higher than Gazans, and Egyptians are not under any potential threat by Israel, since they are at peace with each other. It is difficult to fathom what is on the minds of Gazans...and those in government. If the government's stated aim is the destruction of the state of Israel, how do they think they would achieve that? With a couple of hundred rockets? A couple of thousand? Impossible. It's as though Hamas is WILLING the Israeli attacks against them, knowing that 'hiding' amongst the civilian population will cause deaths of innocents and the natural reaction against Israel as recorded by the media.
It is clear that the Hamas government is making conflict with Israel more important than looking after the safety of their constituents. If I could, I would WILL Gazans to get rid of their warmongering government that made annihilation of a neighbor more important than looking after their safety and security.
Radical ideas may sometimes lead to practical solutions.

Posted by G_in_Oz @ 01/16/2009 02:26 AM CST

By my count, 20 of 22 Arab League nations still don't recognize Israel. This implies they are not in favor of it's existence. What advantage to Israel's continued existence would an independant Palestinian State in the West Bank be without Israeli having air space allowance and defense outposts or missle detection stations in stategic locations in the West Bank? In due course, those in favor of a single Islamic state among the Arab League nations or their supportive elements would have an overwhelming strategic advantage via the West Bank's territory. Seems to me that peace in the Middle East first and formost requires all 22 of the Arab League nations to 1) recognize Israel and establish diplomatic missions, 2) renounce and apprehend support from their nations or it's population to those organizations supporting or advocating for a Single Islamic State in Palestine. If these conditions aren't in the offing then it would be suicidal for Israel to give up anything it needs to assure its continued capability to adequetly defend itself from aggressions. Hamas is dedicated to the single Islamic Palestinian state, so those Arab League nations that provide it support, militarily, diplomatically, or economically support the same. What I don't understand is how any nation can or would give another organization that actively and ideologically strives for its elimination anything but the back of its hand (or worse).

What am I missing here?

Posted by Wondering @ 01/16/2009 10:47 AM CST

Egypt is the de -facto ruler /government of Gaza but won,t exercise it,s sovereignty over the territory.The question is why isn,t Egypt exercising this right?Simple logic says that the Mubarak run administration is dead scared of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas coming together to destabilise Egyptian society with its hard line Shia inspired (Iran) fanaticism .The majority Sunni bloc of Islam won,t tolerate the fanatical extremism Shia faction who are clearly much less powerful both in size and influence.Just look at what the Arab League says and what Hamas ,Fatah and the other groups say and do

Posted by Samuel @ 01/19/2009 03:21 PM CST

How about Israel pulls out, recognizes Palestines sovereigncy and allows Hamas to have weapons. Ceasefire agreements kept and all is happy!
As it is, the so called democracy, does not allow it's territories to vote. Claims control over it's government, and needs to disarm it so it can not protect itself.
Yes, Palestine is un-organized and has shown efforts to deny existence of Israel, but after the last ceasefire agreement, they have shown good will, since it was Israel that broke that agreement with killing in Gaza.
Let's take today, and watch...without paranoid premptive strikes (a no-no).
If Hamas arms, but does not invade then we know of the NEW ATTITUDE. But to not allow sovereigncy and blocking the countries advancement, you will ask for some retaliation. AND, to use that to war...is wrong.
The people are apart of the governemnt, so taking the place over after a unilateral offensive, would be not blatant. Then, and only then would it be right to include (which Israel does not want) or to reorganize the government.

Posted by truth seeker @ 01/20/2009 06:38 AM CST

Only Arafat can take the credit for these poor retched people's abject desperation that they would turn to the Hamas to try regain something that will NEVER be attained. It really is just fanciful thinking that the 'evil Zionist entity' will just dissapear or even more fanciful to believe that they will be militarilly trounced by the armies of the true believers.

The people of Gaza voted en-mass to be rid of the corruption of the Arafat era & wanted leadership that provided them with hope that one day they WOULD triumph over the Zionist Entity & drive them into the sea. Unfortunately the Gazan's themselves are reaping what they have sown, military action targetting mainly civilian infastructure within Israel is NEVER going to bring them what they desire the most.

Until their leadership & Arab nations in general, face up to the fact that Israel exists & will continue to exist and finally ACCEPT that there will NEVER EVER be a right of return .... then the status quo will go on forever. Those who believe that Israel will be destroyed militarily & arabs will 'return' is simply a pipe dream & the longer this myth is perpetuated, the longer the so called 'Palestinians' will be used as pawns by the Arab/Muslim world.

I believe that the best of the worst options for Israel would be to totally destroy the brave Hamas leadership hiding in their re-inforced concrete bunkers. Show the people of Gaza that trying to achieve their aims supporting terrorism will just lead to more death & misery for them.

One day hopefully they will have brave leaders who will call for an end to the mindless deaths & killing of their own people & recognise that the only way to have 'Peace' is to renounce terrorism, acknowledge of the right of Israel to actually EXIST & accept that there will NEVER be a right of return. Until this happens these poor people have nothing to look forward to except more death, killing, destruction & misery.

Posted by Realist @ 01/21/2009 03:20 AM CST

"Whatever the reason, Hamas is not interested in a truce except on its own terms" - who is writing this stuff? Remembering that Israel has broken their truce numerous times. It is Zionist Israel who do not want peace, because it means, bringing peace means they will need to return illegally occupied Arab land, which the Zionists DO NOT want to do. They want to fill the whole of Palestine with their Jewish settlements, and ethnic cleanse all Palestinians. This is their goal if you read their literature.
Israel are the cause of Hamas firing those rockets in resistance because they steal their land, suppress/oppress them, bulldoze their homes and destroy all infrastructure for their livelihood. Who would not resist this ethnic infliction for the past 40+ years?
With the new extreme right Zionist government, peace is a fantasy because Israel will fight to the death for that land regardless....

Posted by Meg, UK @ 02/20/2009 12:13 AM CST

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