"War is the continuation of policy with other means," wrote Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz in the nineteenth century. Israel has no clear policy on Hamas. No in-depth discussion on Israel’s national strategy towards the Palestinians in general and Hamas in particular has taken place in years. The current government treated security matters as marginal to its judicial overhaul, and it is not at all certain that it approved the operational plans for the IDF, headed by the goals of the war.
As the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin said, behind the culture of "it’ll be OK" generally lies arrogance and exaggerated self-confidence, and overweening power, and this culture was one of the things that contributed to the events of Octave 7.
I is therefore no surprise that after 100 days of fighting, we have no political strategy for the Gaza Strip, while significant change in the configuration of the war is taking place.
In order to try to explain the current situation, to examine the achievements and to assess what will happen in the foreseeable future, let us look at the point of origin: definition of the war’s goals.
The first goal is to bring back the hostages. This goal has not been achieved in full. 84 Israelis have been released; 136 hostages remain in captivity. Bringing back the hostages is not only the most important goal, it is the only goal failure to achieve which fully will represent a critical blow to Israel’s national security. A terrorist organization, Hamas, cruel as it may be, is not a threat to our existence as a nation. A crisis of trust between the state and its citizens is a genuine existential threat. A citizen who does not feel secure and whose personal resilience is weak will not manage to be part of the process of regeneration and rehabilitation required after the traumatic event of October 7.
The strength of the Gaza border area communities and their return to their homes also depend on the return of their captive members. If these consequences are clear to the decision makers, Israel will do whatever it takes to bring the hostages back home, including a halt in the fighting.
The second goal is destroying Hamas’s military capabilities and its capacity to rule in the Gaza Strip. According to the reports, this goal is very close to being achieved. Attainment of this goal too can be examined easily. Military capabilities are based on command and control, in turn based on leadership, commanders, and command posts.
The IDF has eliminated a large part of Hamas’s command and control capability, chiefly by killing commanders and activists, and destroying command posts. These achievements are recognizable on the home front. Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip has diminished, people are spending less time in protected spaces, and in fact there is an almost complete return to routine.
They are also recognizable in the extent of contact between IDF fighters and the enemy, and in the size of the forces required to continue the campaign.
There is till a long way to go, however, before this goal is fully achieved. The Hamas leadership, headed by Yahya Sinwar, is still functioning, and it would appear that it is still managing to make decisions and to influence events in the Gaza Strip, and at the strategic level, for example over the hostages.
Unclear what Israel wants
Hamas operatives and weaponry are still active in the Gaza Strip, mainly in the central and southern parts. Continuous fighting will therefore still be required to complete the achievements, and to prevent Hamas from recovering and attempting to rebuild forces in areas where the IDF has gained control. How long this stage will take will depend not just on success on the battlefield, but, mainly, on a political decision that will involve the US and the moderate Arab states, to reconstruct the Gaza Strip while safeguarding Israeli interests. The main interests are a fairly deep security zone, military freedom of action, and full control of the Philadelphi Corridor between the Gaza Strip and Egypt to prevent weapons smuggling.
As the military have said, a year is a reasonable period for this stage. It’s a period that will also require large forces of the reserves. My estimate is that in addition to the length of service under the emergency call-up, each reserve soldier will be required to perform another 40 days of active service, which will have a direct effect on the economy.
The third goal is a political decision on how the Gaza Strip will be governed, given the military achievements. Besides the clear understanding that Israel will not allow Hamas to go back to ruling the territory, it is not clear what Israel wants. Unless this goal is defined, the IDF will have to continue controlling the area, a situation that experience in Lebanon and in the West Bank demonstrates is not optimal for it. Among other things, such a situation leads to a high rate of casualties, and a significant diversion of forces.
To sum up, the IDF’s tactical achievements have succeeded in removing the immediate threat to Israelis, and to residents of the Gaza border area in particular, but we face a long period of holding territory, and defensive and offensive measures to complete the goals as defined. Israel’s national security depends on bringing the hostages home, and that is the main goal that Israel should be dealing with at this time.
Colonel (res.) Talya Lankri is a former deputy head of the National Security Council.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 14, 2024.
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