"The current ground maneuvers are the first stage of a long-term plan. This is a stage that came after a little more than two weeks of air force activity on a great many targets that were known to the IDF and new targets that were revealed following interrogations. From the beginning it was clear that there would be things that could be done from the air, and some things that had to be done from the ground, so all in all, in my eyes, there is a lot of logic in the conduct here," explains Tel Aviv University Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) senior researcher and head of the Iran program Sima Shine and formerly the Mossad's Head of Iran Research.
She says, "It seems that things are being done cautiously, partly because of the understanding that Hamas prepared a lot of mines and all kinds of things of this kind, with their clear understanding that the first response would be airstrikes, followed by ground entry. That is why to a certain extent the slower process that the IDF has been undertaking and the way it is being done, has allowed it to actually deal with what the IDF understands that Hamas estimated would happen."
The chance of an "everyone for everyone" deal
Does your perception have anything to do with what the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Minister Gantz said yesterday about the fact that the ground operation will help free the hostages?
"I get the impression that what happened is that there were actually several days of intense negotiations, and it turned out that Hamas does not really intend to make a significant deal, and I think that in general this phase, the ground entry, does not harm it. I do not know how much it will help and how much it speeds up the return of the hostages, but it doesn't harm it, and that's what's important in my opinion."
"From all the things that the three men said yesterday, it is implied that the more pressure there is on the Hamas leadership, the more chance there will be of a normal deal of everyone for everyone, although none of the trio said this explicitly, but that's what Hamas would have heard from the studio.
"The IDF's interest both in the matter of the hostages and because of the preparations of Hamas is to enter in a gradual manner. I would call it a kind of salami process, and it seems very correct to me. At first I thought that the ground entrance should not be accelerated. Time works more in our favor than in their favor, by and large. Not that much and not in every respect, but by and large. So it makes sense to do things in a gradual way, and especially in efforts to reduce losses."
The fact that senior officials are already saying that everyone should be released for everyone, which is already our starting point, doesn't it harm the future negotiations? How can we deal with this at all as a country?
"It's impossible to cope with it. I've been thinking about it for a long time, for many days. It's also the media interviews, for example the excellent interview of Shaul Mofaz and others. It's not just all kinds of commentators and security personnel, there is definitely harm here. But this is what happens in a democratic society, and this is the price we all pay for it. The families talk about it, the pressure that the families exert is also something that Hamas knows. It remembers the Shalit deal. It definitely harms the process. It simply tell them in advance what price is acceptable to the public."
"It won't be easy"
Is the goal of the war to eliminate Hamas? Is that a realistic aim?
"It is about stages, and it is complex. In an ideal world, the government would like, first of all, to eliminate as much as possible the military capabilities of Hamas and their military elite. The second layer is the political and government level.
"There is no need to repeat, as the Egyptians say, that they succeeded in removing the Muslim Brotherhood from power, but it is impossible to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from the public's faith. The same cannot be removed from Hamas. It is true that Hamas also developed in the Gaza Strip from below. It developed through schools and social work clinics and all its 'Dawa' grass-roots institutions.
"You have to remember, even if Hamas is not in power, Iran will still finance them and slowly rehabilitate them. This should not stay the hands of the decision makers, but it should be taken into account, so even after this is over, and we will feel that we have achieved a large part of our aims, you'll have to look through a magnifying glass at everything that happens.
"There is a greater likelihood that after the war, Gaza will turn into a place more resembling Somalia, than anything more normal."
In other words, if we topple Hamas, we won't be able to easily bring some other body to take control there but it is more likely that there will be anarchy there?
"There are many more problematic groups and interests there as well as even smaller groups. There are other ISIS groups and other extremist groups and militias and many weapons. It's just really a very difficult situation. But I say again, it is definitely possible to deal with it, and if we achieve significant success from the military point of view, then it will be possible to work on additional solutions for the day after, but it will not be easy at all."
"A malicious but correct idea as far as Hamas is concerned"
Do you think Hamas is surprised by our response? Did it expect this?
"I don't know if it thought there would be so many attacks and so many days of attacks, but in general I don't think it was surprised. It should have taken into account that once it makes such a move and entered the settlements, then the reaction would be unlike anything that we have known, and that's why I think they are very focused on the matter of the hostages. You can see it in the things that were published that were found in their papers. They were told to abduct citizens of all kinds. Both children, women, and men. I mean, there was a malicious idea here, but from their point of view it was correct. The first, so that they have as many cards as possible, of different types, so that they can better manipulate and achieve some sort of understanding.
"I think what surprised them was the fact that the Judea and Samaria region didn't really warm up following the Gaza attack, and that the Israeli Arabs didn't rebel like they did during Operation Guardian of the Walls (May 2021). Therefore, every time I hear about a 'price tag' activity or an incident where Jews beat Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, it enrages me, because it's immoral, but it's also actually acting against the Israeli interest. A country that values life should prevent such things at all costs."
"Nobody wants Beirut to look like Gaza"
Is there in your opinion a danger of war in the north?
"I think there is a reluctance on the part of Hezbollah and Iran to create a war in Lebanon now, for many, many reasons. I would say first and foremost for two big reasons. The IDF is fully mobilized, and the settlements have been evacuated, and secondly, nobody wants Beirut to look like Gaza. There are really quite a few independent considerations by Hezbollah not to do this. I think that for the most part right now both sides - both Israel and Hezbollah/Iran - don't want to get there, but it's impossible to know.
"In the context of the Iranian interest, it should be understood that at the end of the day Hezbollah is the jewel in the crown. So to 'waste' it on Hamas and Gaza, despite their importance, is a crazy gamble for the Iranians."
To what extent do you really think the US is dictating the pace for Israel in this war?
"I think the Americans are trying to tell us what is important to them; and it is important to them, because of the pressure from the street and the Democratic Party, the humanitarian issue, and they are determined to prevent a humanitarian disaster. In other things, I think we have a free hand by and large."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 29, 2023.
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.