"US plan divorced from Israeli reality"

Meir Ban-Shabbat  credit: Meir Elipur
Meir Ban-Shabbat credit: Meir Elipur

Former National Security Council head Meir-Ben-Shabbat says Israel must press ahead with achieving its war aims despite US concerns.

The war in the Gaza Strip has entered a complicated stage in which the decision makers in Israel will have to decide whether to operate in Rafah, how to act in order to advance a deal for the hostages held by Hamas, and how to deal with the pressure from the US to reach a settlement leading to the creation of a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, the tension on Israel’s northern border is rising.

To understand the situation, and where we go from here, "Globes" spoke to former head of the National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Will the escalation in the north spark all-out regional war?

"There’s a clear trend of escalation, even if it’s controlled, slow, and gradual," says Ben-Shabbat, who currently heads the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem. "Nasrallah’s statements are more militant now than in the past. I presume that the IDF is prepared for the possibility of a broad conflagration, whether started deliberately by either side or whether as a result of the dynamic of escalation or of a miscalculation.

"Either way, we have to make clear by word and deed that, if that occurs, it will be Lebanon that pays the price. We won’t play cat and mouse with Hezbollah. There is a country from which we are being fired on, and that country will pay the price."

And in the Gaza Strip, what is the significance of the video that the IDF released in which Yahya Sinwar is seen? Does it have anything beyond PR value?

"I assume that the IDF’s intention was to show anyone viewing it that we are reaching the guts of Hamas. Indeed, our forces should be lauded for the daring and stubborn combat they are engaged in above and below ground to expose and destroy Hamas’s capabilities."

How important is it to reach senior Hamas figures, and do you think we close to catching them?

"Eliminating Hamas leaders is not just a symbolic step; it’s a vital step in toppling the Hamas regime and its military and organizational infrastructure. That has extra importance in the case of Hamas, because we’re taking about a very experienced leadership group that works together with mutual trust and precise coordination. Such leadership represents a force multiplier for the organization’s capabilities. Eliminating it will significantly damage Hamas’s capabilities, and it will take time for it to build an alternative leadership that can operate at that level."

Can Israel enter Rafah and succeed in carrying out the mission of cleansing the area without very high civilian casualties? After all, there are 1.4 million refugees and residents there.

"The IDF operates in the Gaza Strip in accordance with standards that the Western world, which talks in lofty terms of the need to avoid hurting non-combatants, can only envy. I would remind you that Hamas mingles with the population, is aided by it, and uses it as a human shield. It’s sufficient to hear the descriptions of our soldiers of how in almost every home they enter they find signs of Hamas: weaponry, tunnel entrances, and so forth, to understand the dimensions of the operational challenge that the IDF is coping with.

"At any rate, the operation is Rafah is essential to achieving the goals set by the political leadership for this war. It is not possible to topple Hamas without dealing with its capabilities in this sector, which is extremely important as the Gaza Strip’s gateway to the outside world, with all the evil that that brings. The IDF will know how to deal with the challenges of Rafah just as it was able to deal with the challenges of Gaza and Khan Younis, which were also crowded and full of people."

It has been reported that in the negotiations for a deal on the hostages, Israel agreed to a longer ceasefire, and not to increasing the number of prisoners that it would release. Will we really be able to resume fighting after a long ceasefire?

"I suggest waiting for authorized information and not paying attention to all kinds of speculation and noise that accompany negotiations of this kind," Ben-Shabbat responds diplomatically. "Hamas, through Qatar, wants to lead to the end of the fighting and to obtaining its demands. Israel wants to lead to the release of the hostages and to continuing fighting until Hamas is brought down.

"At the moment, Hamas feels sufficiently confident to insist on its demands. The way to change this is to increase the pressure on it, among other things by eliminating its leaders wherever they are, by hitting the people that it places in the various territories to maintain its rule, by moves to remove its control of the humanitarian aid, and through continuation of the military operations on the ground."

Looking at the diplomatic arena, are we too dependent on the US, and are we on the ay to a confrontation with the Americans?

"First of all, as can be seen, Israel and the US do not agree about everything. The disagreements are not hidden. Despite this, we should appreciate the way President Biden has stood with Israel and the aid he has provided, for which he is apparently paying a political price in the US. We must conduct the dialogue with the US administration sensibly, isolate the disagreements, and, above all, act in accordance with our national security considerations."

How should Israel respond to the US plan for using a hostage deal to start advancing the formation of a Palestinian state unilaterally?

"The reports of moves to complete a lightning diplomatic plan that will include a rigid timetable for the formation of a Palestinian state shouldn’t surprise anyone on the Israeli side. As far as Washington is concerned, the war in the Gaza Strip, with all the regret over its price, is an opportunity to generate a new regional order in the Middle East at the center of which stand regional integration for Israel and a Palestinian state.

"Biden and his people need such a move for internal reasons in the US as well, because of the criticism from the rank and file of the Democratic Party of his support for Israel in the war, and his declining popularity. Washington understands that such a move can’t be advanced without first ending the war in the Gaza Strip. The political leadership in Israel, however, and they understand this, cannot end the war unless three conditions are fulfilled: return of the hostages; the overthrow of the Hamas regime; and Israeli security control in the Gaza Strip to prevent its recovery. As the US sees it, the answer to all these things lies in the deal that it is pressing to promote at this time and the introduction of an ‘improved Palestinian Authority’ to run civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip.

"The significance of this plan is not just that it will ensure the survival of Hamas and preservation of the capabilities it has left, but also crowning it as the organization that, through the barbaric massacre and the war crimes it perpetrated, gave the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people the greatest political achievement they have ever won. In the light of the high levels of support for Hamas among the Palestinian public, this is a sure way for Hamas to seize control in the Palestinian Authority and in Judea and Samaria as well. A Palestinian state that is credited as an achievement for Hamas is a reward for terrorism. It will strengthen ‘the way of resistance’ and will be conclusive proof of the ideology of the Islamic zealots who preach from every pulpit that, against Israel, only force will decide.

"Moreover, the timing of the setting in motion of such a plan, after the barbaric attack on Simhat Torah, harms the main goal that Israel seeks to achieve in this war: restoring deterrence. While, to that end, Israeli security forces are exacting an ever greater price from Hamas, Israel’s friends overseas are liable to give Hamas an unprecedented political achievement, in the very discourse about putting a plan for a Palestinian state in motion.

"In my view, anyone who thinks that, after October 7, Israel will be prepared to take the kind of risks it has taken in the past, is unaware of the reality in Israel. The Palestinian Authority, which has not condemned the massacre, is leading the diplomatic fight against Israel, and is encouraging terrorism through its payments, continues to enjoy Washington’s favor.

"Without the intense activity by the IDF and the Shin Bet in the towns and refugee camps in Judea and Samaria, to thwart Hamas terrorism and hit its infrastructure, it’s doubtful whether the Palestinian Authority would be able to stand against it. When that is the situation of the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria, talk of upgrading its status or broadening its control is divorced from reality.

"Israel must make clear, determinedly and openly, that it will oppose this. At this point, what is required is to continue destroying Hamas’s capabilities, to complete the work in Rafah, to increase the pressure to bring about the return of the hostages, and not to let the background noises damage our solidarity. Israel’s opposition reflects not only a sober and realistic approach, but also a moral approach in the face of the wickedness and evil that surround us."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 18, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Meir Ban-Shabbat  credit: Meir Elipur
Meir Ban-Shabbat credit: Meir Elipur
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