"We have no strategic objectives in Gaza"

Israel Ziv credit: Guy Hamooi
Israel Ziv credit: Guy Hamooi

Former head of the IDF's Operation Directorate Gen. (res.) Israel Ziv says Israel can win the war without entering Rafah but must replace Hamas's civil control of Gaza.

The war in Gaza seems to be grinding to a halt and the Israeli public is confused about the situation on the ground. "Globes" asked Gen. (res.) Israel Ziv, a former head of the IDF's Operation Directorate to explain what is happening.

What is the current situation of the fighting in Khan Younis? There have been recent claims that the campaign is faltering.

"With the exception of two targets, Nuseirat and Deir al-Balah, where there is still some kind of Hamas military organization, in the rest of the Gaza Strip the army is currently dealing with resistance cells. It's not big, it's not organized forces. It's more resistance cells that have dug themselves into various places and need to be flushed out.

"The final place in Khan Younis where there is still significant work to do is the Hamad neighborhood. It's an area that attracted a lot of Hamas fighters because it's a Qatari neighborhood and the IDF initially avoided entering it, so they had the feeling that it was a protected area. They arrested hundreds of terrorists there, seized a lot of weapons and the IDF has been operating there for several days with quite great success."

Ziv then moves on to the problematic nature of the current situation. "Most of the army's current operations are disarmament activities. That is to say dismantling the infrastructure. In most of the area there is currently no war in terms of the need to win, or massive conquering of positions. That already ended more than two months ago, and in fact we are busier with cleaning up and secondary dismantling of things that still remain. There is currently mostly tactical combat that is not as powerful as a war and its contribution to the strategic achievement of the war is also marginal. This is dealing with more of the same. It is very important, but the most important thing is actually what the strategic goals are and how you actually leverage the military achievements to reach this goal."

Ziv continues, "The political echelon avoided making two decisions that are not clear to the army and therefore do not allow it to understand where we are going from here. The first issue is what the strategic objectives are. The army does not need the political echelon to tell it which neighborhood to attack and where to move a tank. It's been three months without any operative definitions about the war's objectives. This slogan 'total victory' is a political slogan. You, as an army, do not know how to translate it either into time-scales or objectives. And an army does not know how to work without objectives, time-scales and means. Without these things it does not know what to do, and therefore it is currently at such a stage in the fighting that it is carrying on tactical activity, but without any direction."

How does this lack of direction express itself on the ground?

"The difference between war and day-to-day security is that in day-to-day security you dismantle a threat at a particular point and move forward. But in a war you concentrate all resources and use everything you have, and I mean everything, to bring about strategic change. And in Gaza, the change means that you have to erase the presence of Hamas and as long as you operate only militarily and Hamas continues to rule civilly, then what is happening at this point is that Hamas has realized that it cannot fight one on one against the IDF, but it is taking advantage of the civilian control it has left, because Israel has left it this opening.

"The hardest problem is that for three months the heads of the defense establishment have been asking the political echelon to make a decision on who controls the Strip in civilian terms. This is critical because this situation where there is no civilian control allows Hamas to recover, to organize, to reopen the war in different ways and with different methods. We are in fact messing up the achievements and momentum and unfortunately entering into an endless war of attrition, based on clashes, in which we kill them, but they also kill us."

Israel's international support

Ziv is also concerned about this situation from an international perspective. He says, "Israel lost its way at the same time as international support starting closing in on us. There are already five countries that have imposed an embargo on us and want to extend this embargo to the EU. The UN wants to impose an embargo on us and does not succeed only thanks to the US veto. We are still not completely secure in terms of arms supply because the US continues to help us, but they are also frustrated and do not understand where Israel is going and what it wants. They understand that the Prime Minister is hesitating over these decisions, and in the absence of a decision the IDF is also hurt. In fact, we continue to grind out more of the same, without changing the situation in Gaza and entering the next phase of the changeover from Hamas. It is Hamas that fully benefits from this."

Do we really need to enter Rafah and to what extent will the international pressure influence the decision

"Look, although it is important to disband the 2-3 battalions that are there in Rafah, it must be understood that this would not be a real strategic achievement for this war. Rafah should be dealt with as part of the phase of disarming and dismantling Hamas' military infrastructure there. This can be done through a war or in an agreement in which they lay down their arms, or someone who takes civilian control there will see to it that they disarm. There is no achievement there that can give us the desired strategic victory. Therefore, in my understanding, Israel is more likely to use the Rafah issue, because of the refugee problem and the world's fear, to pressure the world to achieve goals. Entering Rafah will probably harm Israel and the truth is that Israel has no real interest in entering Rafah. That's the truth. So it's more of a diplomatic-political matter than really the military essence of the need to conquer Rafah."

How much does the killing of Marwan Issa, if it did indeed happen, impact the war?

"The damage to the spinal column and especially to the leadership of the terrorist organization is very significant. Unlike a country where you conquer land and assets, terrorist organizations do not have that, so it is very important to damage their top leadership. On the other hand, as I mentioned, if you do not put in place an alternative to the terrorist organization, even if you kill Yahya Sinwar you will not win. The way to win strategically is to place a governmental and sovereign change on the ground instead of Hamas. As long as you do not bury it with a replacement, you will not win completely."

Ziv explains the current strategy of Hamas by trying to get inside the thoughts of Yahya Sinwar.

"Sinwar very quickly understood the new situation he has found himself in and made several moves designed to deal with it. First of all, he changed the nature of the fighting and turned it into guerrilla warfare. Secondly, he understands that Israel is being shut down internationally and at that moment he says why do I have to go and make a deal now. Let the world, let the US, close down Israel and bring it to a ceasefire, and I don't want to give them a prize of releasing hostages. Why do I have to pay in installments, what does it do for me? So I keep this card with me. This is the strongest card he has. The third move he is trying to initiate is to take advantage of Ramadan to enflame Judea and Samaria. The chance that it will really work for him is, in my opinion, very slim, but he is trying. I don't see Judea and Samaria burning at this time."

Many studies have been published recently about the failures before the attack on October 7, how do you see what happened there?

"Eyes usually search for the coin under the lamp, but that doesn't mean that's where things got lost. The main problem for me is not just the indications that were missed on the night of the sixth. The problem is completely different, and that is that we went to bed on the Friday with a feeling that on the other side of the iron wall was a cat, and we woke up on the seventh with a tiger. That is, we reduced, for many conceptual reasons, the threat of Hamas and kept it small, even though it grew under our eyes. And there were many factors for that."

What were those factors?

"When you live next to a problem, then you don't see it grows every day. It's like you live next to a child, you can't notice their growth every day. Maybe suddenly, after a few years, you say wow, how did you become 18 years old? So it was the same here. They grew little by little under our eyes and you cannot see these changes on a daily basis. We did not have the understanding that Hamas of 2014 is not the Hamas of 2023. The second factor is that we assumed that we also had a sufficiently good warning system. But it relied on the perspective of day-to-day security rather than the perspective that there was a well-armed military. The perspective was of small terrorist cells that needed to be thwarted. It dealt with terrorist attacks or riots on the fence, but the attack they carried out was a military attack to all intents and purposes, not a terrorist attack. In other words, all our surveillance was localized and not from a broad perspective.

"The third factor is that what has happened over the last year, since the establishment of this government, greatly influenced Hamas's decision to launch an attack. We know this clearly today from the intelligence material. This government influenced Hamas from two points of view. Firstly from the way Sinwar perceived Itamar Ben-Gvir and the Temple Mount issue. From his perspective, Ben-Gvir plans conquering the Temple Mount, and as a religious man, Sinwar saw himself as the protector of the Temple Mount. His fear that Ben-Gvir would continue to go onto the Temple Mount and damage it, led him to the conclusion that he needed to act.

"In addition, the judicial reform, and this is not a political matter, I am speaking from intelligence data, gave Hamas the feeling that here Israel is divided, the army is divided and this is a good opportunity to do what they did. And the third thing that greatly influenced them was the feeling that Hezbollah and the Iranian axis would join them. They were wrong about that. Perhaps the last thing that influenced Sinwar was the fear that after the holidays the targeted assassinations would be resumed and he would be one of the first to be killed, which is also why he rushed to take this action."

Why do you think this?

"There were all sorts of reports and talk at the Ministry of Defense about the need to resume targeted killings"

What about the normalization talks with Saudi Arabia? Did that also influence Hamas?

"Absolutely. Hamas feared that this entire move to an agreement with Saudi Arabia would neglect the Palestinian issue. This was certainly in the background of things but it did not directly influence the date and the manner of the attack but it was in the background and provoked action."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 13, 2024.

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

Israel Ziv credit: Guy Hamooi
Israel Ziv credit: Guy Hamooi
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