How long will Israel stay in Gaza? This is not the time for “good souls” to ask!

(To Antonio Li Gobbi)

Benjamin Netanyahu stated that, after defeating Hamas, Israel will maintain security in the Strip for an "indefinite time".

Official US sources report that Joe Biden would have been very upset by this statement which he considers an Israeli "flight forward". On the other hand, it is no secret that there has never been a great understanding between Obama's former deputy and the brother of the hero of Entebbe. In fact, Netanyahu's statement was firmly rejected by Secretary of State Blinken, during a brief stop in his frenetic "shuttle diplomacy" in recent days. “Shuttle diplomacy” during which, despite his undoubted personal qualities, the US Secretary of State seems to encounter more closed doors in his face than generous welcomes. Not exactly the shuttle diplomacy we remember from Henry Kissinger. Different times and, above all, a different global perception of the solidity of the stars and stripes superpower.

It is obvious that the hypothesis of the IDF remaining in the Strip for an "indefinite time" does not excite even Antonio Gutierres, who has been "nominally" secretary general of the UN for six years. That is, of an International Organization that in the last thirty years and especially after 2022 has not missed an opportunity to plastically demonstrate the sidereal distance that exists between its great ambitions and its limited real capabilities. A distance of which he had, however, become aware and which his predecessor in the 90s, Boutrous Boutros Ghali, had painfully taken note of, after some unpleasant experiences in Somalia and Bosnia. Furthermore, the not exactly pro-Israeli declarations of the general secretary are understandable, given that Gutierres could not fail to take into account the political weight, within the General Assembly, of both the "Islamic world" as a whole and the so-called "south of the world” (which appears increasingly critical of the US superpower).

We do not want to make political judgments here on the actions of the Netanyahu government before October 7th, it is not up to us, but rather to the Israeli voters who chose him, who with their vote determined his political alliances with ultra-Orthodox parties (which personally I think it would have been better if they did not access the "button room") and that, in any case, with their vote they can send him home wherever they wish. A privilege that neither the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip nor those of the West Bank have been able to enjoy for 17 years in relation to their immovable "political leadership" (a term which I recognize may seem euphemistic).

Personally, despite having great esteem for the IDF, I have some doubts regarding the methods of conducting Israeli operations in the Strip, as I believe that Israel's long-term and, therefore, priority objective should be the demolition in the eyes of Palestinian population of the credibility of both Hamas and those who maneuver it from abroad (from Qatar and Iran). From a strategic perspective, this could be even more important than pursuing the albeit sacrosanct physical elimination of Hamas militiamen. It would be about pursuing a long-term solution that would require Israel to be able to demonstrate to all Palestinians, both in Gaza is in the West Bank, that Hamas is neither capable nor even remotely interested in protecting them or guaranteeing them minimal acceptable living conditions.

This requires a long siege, protracted over time, despite the inevitable internal and external political pressures. Time during which the Strip should be kept under continuous psychological pressure even before military pressure, with a campaign that combines the use of broad-spectrum non-kinetic means alternating with kinetic means that are as selective as possible. Objective: to foment the feeling of anti-Hamas revolt on the part of the same Palestinians who in 2006 had chosen it as their leader and who must now realize that they have become its hostages. Such an approach would involve a military campaign that would be neither easy nor short. Hate … so would the US presidential campaign be affected? Certainly a possibility that Washington would not appreciate.

Therefore, the interruption of fuel supplies and also of "essential goods" from Israel and the Strip (the UN must deal with it) combined with the conduct of episodic and possibly "surgical" operations within the Strip is certainly fine , with extreme attention to limiting "civilian casualties". We mean those victims who, with a horrendous term, some of those who today call for respect for international humanitarian law, not many years ago in Afghanistan and Iraq called "collateral damages" or others who in Chechnya had not even bothered to attribute a name to this type of "victims".

Should all these limitations be adopted on the basis of ethical reasons? Certainly. Furthermore, even if one wanted to leave the ethical factor aside (but culturally Israel could not leave it aside unlike many of its enemies) it is also a question of the objectives one wants to pursue. When you have an enemy that bases its appeal to the masses on the exaltation of the concept of martyrdom, as Hamas and other Islamist terrorist organizations do, to take away the strength of their undeniable ability to attract, it is necessary not to allow today's terrorists to be able to be considered "martyrs" who heroically fell against the overwhelming "forces of evil". Furthermore, it is necessary to limit the number of their potential converts as much as possible. It is quite natural that those who today have had children or parents who died under Israeli bombing could in the future represent an ideal recruitment pool for organizations such as Hamas.

I realize that this requires a very long time, patience, control in the use of force and above all unconditional support for the operation from an executive impervious to the predictable pressures of "hurry up". Domestic pressure from a deeply wounded public opinion, which wants the release of the hostages and the punishment of the instigators and hitmen of the October 7 massacre. But also external pressure from an increasingly fearful West, which wants to close its eyes and forget as soon as possible that October 7th even happened. Pressures that make it difficult for the Israeli authorities to pursue a patient approach like the one described. A difficulty that is further increased by having the Prime Minister accused by the media at home and abroad.

That said, once Israel has neutralized (permanently or otherwise) the Hamas threat from the Strip, what should it do with that territory?

What else could any Israeli prime minister, whether enlightened or otherwise, pacifist or warmonger, declare today, other than that Israel will maintain security in the Strip indefinitely?

Who would be the potential international actors "today" to whom the political management of the strip should pass on the one hand and the management of its security on the other (responsibilities to ideally pass to the same authority, but which in theory could be traced back to different entities)?

Let's start with the civil administration of the Strip (here we mean the provision of essential services, including health and school services, but also the urgent start of the reconstruction work). Unfortunately, we must immediately discard the geographically and historically simplest solution, that is, returning at least temporarily to the pre-1967 situation. I intend to return the jurisdiction of the Strip to Egypt, of which Gaza was part from 1948 to 1967. A solution that Israel would probably be willing to discuss given that Egypt is a state that has normalized relations with Israel for decades and that would have the capacity political and military to manage this territory and its inhabitants. Furthermore, we know that Egypt would not be absolutely willing to even consider such a hypothesis at the moment.

We consider it unrealistic and in any case unacceptable for Israel to attribute responsibility to the Arab League or to individual Arab countries other than Egypt.

The UN? The UN managed some civilian administrative functions in both Kosovo and Iraq, but did so in both cases with substantial military forces ensuring the security framework (the NATO KFOR operation in Kosovo and the US-led coalition of the willing “Iraqi Freedom” in Iraq). Here a similar "Western" military presence would not be conceivable and given how the situation has degenerated it would not even be conceivable that the UN would be able to set up a military and police force that could be credible in carrying out this mission: it would not be only of interposition but also and above all of maintenance of public order, intelligence and anti-terrorism activities to prevent the return of Hamas-type organizations to the Strip. Let's be realistic: it's not for the UN! However, and rightly so, Israel would not consider a UN military force suitable to fulfill this function.

Washington is considering the option of attributing this responsibility to Fatah's Palestinian National Authority. That is, those who were effectively driven out of the Strip by popular vote in 2006 and allowed Hamas to take power, without ever being able to undermine its authority. The same ones who have since no longer called elections except at the local administrative level because they would have lost them to Hamas. If what is reported is true, the USA intends to pull Abu Mazen out of mothballs, considered by some Palestinians to be weak, by others to be under the control of Israel, by still others to be corrupt, and by many others to consider all three things together.

On the other hand, the last twenty-two years, i.e. from 11 September 2001 to today, have provided us with numerous examples of the US acumen in finding political leaders of unquestionable charisma and authority to replace those killed in the "global war on terror" or in the export of democracy (for references ask in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya). In this case the Biden administration gives the unpleasant impression of being more worried about settling this latest issue before the US presidential elections than about the future of the Israelis who live within rocket distance of Gaza

How would Israel trust?

Certainly, I believe that in Jerusalem they are perfectly aware of the risks associated with the continuation of a long Israeli military presence in the Strip after the end of the ongoing military operation. I also believe that Israeli generals are the last to hope for such an option. Moreover, during the operation, with the hostages still in the hands of the terrorists, the Israeli soldiers falling in combat and the Hamas terrorists still safe in their bunkers, when we see an Abu Mazen option being floated, which would only be the screen behind which Hamas could rise again, what else could any Israeli prime minister declare other than Israel “will maintain security in the Strip indefinitely”?

Photo: IDF