Sun 26 Nov 2023 9:29 am - Jerusalem Time

The temporary truce reveals Israel's weaknesses in the war

When Israel launched its brutal war on the Gaza Strip after last October 7, its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed clear indifference towards the fate and lives of the Israeli prisoners held by Hamas and other factions, to the point that he believed that the lives of the prisoners were not even worthy of being given to the Israeli killing machine in Gaza a temporary pause before achieving its declared goal of eliminating Hamas.

Now, with more than a month and a half of war having passed, Netanyahu has proven that he was extremely naive, and that his bet on a scorched earth policy to force Hamas to release prisoners was simply a failure. The partial exchange deal - which was reached with Qatari mediation and included a temporary truce for only four days, and allowing shipments of humanitarian aid to enter the Strip - does not mean that Netanyahu will no longer abandon continuing the scorched earth policy in this war, but merely accepting a deal of this kind, this means that he will not be able to continue the war in Gaza the way he wants.

The fact that the deal included the release of a small number of Israeli prisoners held by the factions - (50 out of approximately 240 prisoners), in exchange for Israel's release of 150 Palestinian prisoners - indicates that Netanyahu reluctantly accepted entering into the prisoner negotiation game with Hamas, and what it entails in putting pressure on the course of Israeli military operations in the future.

It is known that the issue of prisoners constitutes the greatest weakness in Israel's strategy in the war. Because it put Netanyahu under intense pressure at home, as well as abroad; as a number of prisoners hold dual American and Western nationalities. Thus, despite his intense efforts to limit the Israeli focus to the war itself, he was ultimately unable to ignore this pressure to undertake unpalatable initiatives such as agreeing to a temporary truce and negotiating with Hamas.

It is certain that when Hamas decided to detain the largest number of prisoners in the October 7 attack, it built an essential part of its strategy in the war on this Israeli weakness. I wrote an article in Al Jazeera Net on October 7th, about how the prisoner file would hinder Israel's ability to continue its war. If the approval of a partial prisoner exchange deal - designed from Netanyahu's point of view to relieve internal pressure on him on this issue - will in fact increase pressure on him more than ever before to release all the factions' prisoners.

For Hamas, the deal is a win-win by all standards. Although it will not immediately lead to an end to the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip. On the one hand, Hamas sought to reduce international pressure on it by accepting the release of civilian prisoners, and this matter gains great importance in the media context of this war.

On the other hand, the release of fifty prisoners may help Hamas and other factions strengthen their grip on other prisoners to negotiate with them on stronger terms in the future. In addition to its success in using the prisoners’ file - as a pressure card on Israel to force it to enter into negotiations with it through back channels - the four days of stopping the war, despite its infrequency, help Hamas’ efforts to partially mitigate the scale of the massive humanitarian catastrophe caused by the Israeli war.

The issue of bringing humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip - which Israel and the United States used as a bartering card with Hamas in the issue of prisoners in an unethical and inhumane manner - remains the main priority on which back-channel diplomacy should focus, and this is what Hamas succeeded in imposing on Israel. However, the partial breakthrough in the issue of humanitarian relief for the afflicted in the Gaza Strip should not make the world feel complacent if the partial prisoner exchange deal does not lead to the creation of a sustainable humanitarian path in the coming period. According to the deal, 300 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid will be allowed to enter Gaza daily during the ceasefire, meaning a total of 1,200 trucks during the four days of the truce, but it will not be enough in any way to deal with the large scale of the humanitarian disaster.

The biggest question in this deal revolves around its potential impact on the course of the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip after the end of the temporary truce. Israel designed the terms of the truce to allow it to continue its military operation vigorously after the end of the four days. However, resuming the war in a normal way - as if nothing had happened in the four days - will not go the way Netanyahu hopes.

Israeli officials tried to highlight some of the military benefits from this deal, on the grounds that it will help the Israeli army reorganize its forces for the next phase of the war, which they say will include the southern part of the Gaza Strip after being limited to the northern part for a month and a half. However, the fact that the Israeli army has not yet been able to completely eliminate the resistance presence in the northern Gaza Strip - and to effectively deal with the tunnels through which the resistance continues to inflict heavy military losses on Israel - does not give reason to believe that Israel is capable of significantly changing the dynamic of the War as soon as the scope of military operations expanded to the south. Indeed, expanding these operations will mean one thing, which is doubling the military challenges that Israel faces in the war, rather than reducing them.

Moreover, after the end of the four-day truce, Israel will face difficulty in avoiding major repercussions of its war on its image before the world for two basic considerations:

The first is that the resumption of the war will generate a strong international reaction as if the war had just begun.

Second: The major humanitarian repercussions of expanding military operations into the southern Gaza Strip will be greater than the ability of Israel and the United States to ignore and contain its repercussions on the international level. The expected civilian losses in this case would be more than double; Because the southern Gaza Strip has become the only refuge for Palestinians fleeing the hell of war, and there is no other place where they can take refuge.

The clear conclusion that can be drawn from the partial prisoner exchange deal is that this war will not end without a political settlement. Certainly, this settlement will not be similar to what Israel aspires to, which is to completely remove Gaza from the equation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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The temporary truce reveals Israel's weaknesses in the war