OPINIONS

Thu 09 Nov 2023 3:58 pm - Jerusalem Time

The occupation of Gaza City and the temporary displacement of the population is the Israeli step that broke the balance

By Aluf bin

Israel's main strategic step in the war against Hamas is to expel the residents of Gaza to the south, even temporarily, and demolish the city. The army spokesman's press conferences, which focus on tactical steps - the number of targets targeted, the number of "terrorists killed", the tunnels that were closed - like the prime minister's slogan-filled speeches, are things that distort the broad picture of the war: the occupation of the northern Gaza Strip, and clearing the place of Hamas forces, gradually. This is the story.


Expelling the Palestinian residents, turning their homes into rubble, and imposing restrictions on the entry of fuel into the Gaza Strip were balance-breaking steps that Israel used in the current confrontation, unlike previous rounds in the south. The October 7 "massacre" carried out by Hamas in the "cover towns", in addition to the kidnapping of hundreds of Israelis to Gaza, all gave Israel internal and international legitimacy to activate unprecedented force, in terms of firepower and the continuation of the operation. Even if a ceasefire is announced soon, under American pressure, Israel will not rush to withdraw and allow residents to return to the northern Gaza Strip. And even if they did return - where would they go back? They will have no homes, no roads, no educational institutions, no shops, and no modern city infrastructure.


The British military thinker Basil Liddell Hart, whose theories many army officers learned, wrote that the goal of war was to influence the mind of the enemy's leadership, not just to kill its soldiers. According to him, the goal of strategy is to subjugate the enemy, by providing force, and not to wage bloody battles. Israel is working to harm Hamas forces holed up in the tunnels, and is trying to hunt down its leaders, Yahya Al-Sinwar and Muhammad Al-Deif. However, the step that aims to "dismantle" the organization and its ability to control Gaza is the orders issued to one million residents of the northern Gaza Strip to head to its south. The lack of clarity about their possibility of returning to their homes constitutes a psychological move, described by Liddell Hart, as aiming to paralyze the enemy's freedom of movement.


Hamas cannot force the return of residents to Israel, and unlike in the past, it finds it difficult to mobilize international pressure on Israel in order to “prevent a humanitarian crisis” and withdraw from the Gaza Strip without conditions. Even if the Palestinians were able to cause deaths among the army, and Israel were to withdraw its ground forces, or most of them, to the Green Line, it could prevent the population from returning to the north, through aerial bombardment. Hamas has no way to defend them, and in any case, it does not try, and prefers that civilian victims pressure governments in the West, Egypt and Jordan, to restrain Israel.


It is not yet clear, and may not be clear at all, what was Sinwar and Deif's assessment of Israel's response when they ordered the "massacre" to be carried out on October 7. It can be estimated that they believed, as did the army leadership and the leadership of Israel, and they prepared for war as before: violent aerial bombardment, the possibility of a hesitant ground entry, a ceasefire mixed with international pressure, Israel’s fatigue due to the deaths, and concern for the kidnapped. It can be said that, just as no one in Israel imagined the “reverse Nakba” plan that Hamas implemented in the “cover towns,” neither did Sinwar think in his hideout that Israel would displace half of the Gaza Strip’s population and demolish their homes, under the pretext that it was a humanitarian plan to protect them.


The war is nowhere near over, and could spiral into a continuous and bloody war of attrition; Meanwhile, Israel will have to take care of hundreds of thousands of internal refugees for whom it is responsible, from the south to the north, as it is not clear when they will be able to return to their homes, in addition to the hundreds of kidnapped and missing people. But in long wars, what is decided is the numerical, economic and diplomatic balance of power, which tends to favor Israel. 

When Gaza is destroyed and empty of the majority of its population, Hamas will not be able to return and control the Strip, as happened during the past 16 years. Israel will not agree to withdraw, return the population, and allow the reconstruction of the city, as long as its keys are still with Hamas. 

The difficult picture that will emerge from the shelter centers in Khan Yunis, Deir al-Balah and Rafah, as well as the winter and mud season and the upcoming threat of epidemics, are things that will push the international community and the Arab countries to find someone to take over Gaza, instead of Sinwar. These are the forecasts for the coming winter.


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The occupation of Gaza City and the temporary displacement of the population is the Israeli step that broke the balance