Tue 05 Dec 2023 6:18 pm - Jerusalem Time

Israeli Opinion| The Khan Yunis operation may be the last ground operation

By Nahum Barnea

The headlines that emerged after the words of the Chief of Staff are wrong. The Israeli army’s ground operation in Khan Yunis will not be similar in size and strength to the ground operation in the northern Gaza Strip. Absolutely not, and this is the time to lower expectations. If we take a serious look at the currently available options, this will lead us to the conclusion that the ground fighting in Khan Yunis cannot last more than 10 days or two weeks. If we did not succeed in purging Gaza City and its suburbs of militants during 59 days of war, how could we purify Khan Yunis and its suburbs during a much shorter period? In addition, the combination of two million displaced people (one and a half million from the northern Gaza Strip, and 200,000 new displaced people from Khan Yunis), with American pressure, are two things that impose the limits of the operation, in addition to the risk of an exchange of fire there as well. The price we are paying in this regard in the northern Gaza Strip is very disturbing, and the Khan Yunis area could incur a similar price.

Hovering over every discussion of American pressure is the threat that this American support for the Israeli army could be weakened, which has not happened yet, but it is in fact possible, and casts a shadow over every decision the cabinet makes regarding the operational plan. The White House is concerned about the impact of images of destruction on young voters and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Despite this, President Joe Biden is determined to fulfill his promises and grant Israel $14 billion in aid, in addition to his political and military support, but no approval has been made for the proposal. This assistance is yet to come. 

Republicans in the House of Representatives and Congress are setting difficult conditions, some of which have nothing to do with Israel, and now, some of the Democrats are also setting conditions that are directly related to Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians.

The White House believes that Israel is stubborn and reckless, as it rejects everything related to a serious discussion of the next day in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinians, does not care about its intensive bombing of cities in Gaza, and does not respond to warnings of the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe. The issue here is not "Who is right in this controversy?", but rather "To what extent can Israel pull the rope?", and this is at a time when Israel's dependence on the United States has become much greater than the government is willing to admit.

Two days ago, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a public speech that included a harsh statement regarding the Israeli government: “When you push a civilian population into the arms of the enemy, you turn a tactical victory into a strategic defeat.” He added: "I have made this clear more than once to Israeli leaders. They have a moral responsibility to protect the lives of the civilian population in Gaza, and this is a strategic necessity." US Vice President Camilla Harris conveyed a similar message in a speech she delivered a few days ago.

The ground incursion into the entrances to Khan Yunis is part of the second phase of the war, and thus, Hamas’s withdrawal from the agreement allowed them to keep 15 civilian women in captivity, as the movement proposed to replace the women with elderly people, but Israel refused, and the main pretext was that it would not allow Hamas to quickly change the agreements. 

Against this backdrop, an alternative idea was put forward in the Israeli army. It is to replace the sick among the abductees with sick Palestinian prisoners. It is an interesting idea. It could secure a day or two for the abductees to be liberated, but its chances are slim.

Assuming that the ground operation in Khan Yunis will be carried out, it is almost certain that it will be the last operation, and we cannot expand it until Rafah, as the displaced have nowhere to go. 

So, the second phase of the war that began in the northern Gaza Strip will soon end in Khan Yunis.

Yesterday (Monday), large numbers of people gathered at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, the largest hospital in the south (according to a report issued by the United Nations, Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza has regained some of its activity), and Al-Shifa Hospital was a control center for the leaders of the Hamas brigades in the northern Gaza Strip; Does Nasser Hospital play the same role in the south? The big question and difficult dilemma: Do we attack it and open a front with the White House and the Western media?

At the end of the Khan Yunis phase, the buffer zone phase will begin; that is, establishing a security zone between Gaza and the enclave, but this zone will not provide much security, as the land is very narrow and densely populated. Israel wanted Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni countries to intervene alongside the United States in managing and rebuilding the Strip, but the chances of this happening are slim as long as Israel intends to continue the IDF’s movement in Gaza. 

In the army, they talk about the future of Gaza just as they talked about the cities of the West Bank after Operation Defensive Shield [2002], that is, an area administered by others, but in which the army moves freely, but it is difficult to believe that foreign countries would agree to expose their soldiers to the risk of an exchange of fire.

There is a lot of talk in the National Security Council and in the Israeli army about the next day, but the conclusions are not presented to the cabinet, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to do so, and internal politics trumps the security need, and perhaps the general mood among the majority of Israelis as a result of the “atrocities” on October 7. It does not match the requirements of reality...


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Israeli Opinion| The Khan Yunis operation may be the last ground operation


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