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Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

Israel’s Internal Strife Over Gaza Strategy

Route of humanitarian pause in Salah al-Din (IDF Media Center)

The recent announcement by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of a daily “tactical pause” in military operations in parts of the Gaza Strip has unveiled a significant rift between the Israeli government and its military. This decision, ostensibly meant to facilitate humanitarian aid delivery, has sparked a heated debate among Israeli political and military leaders, exposing how the conflict in Gaza is now being weaponized to accelerate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s succession.

A Tactical Pause for Humanitarian Purposes

The IDF announced that the cessation of hostilities for humanitarian purposes would occur daily from 8 AM to 7 PM, along the route from the Kerem Shalom crossing to Salah al-Din Road and then northwards. This decision aims to create a safe corridor for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza. However, this announcement was met with immediate resistance from Netanyahu, who declared the humanitarian pause “unacceptable” upon hearing about it.

Government vs. Military: A Deepening Rift

According to Israeli press, following a clarification, Netanyahu was informed that there was “no change in the IDF’s policy and that the combat operations in Rafah would proceed as planned.” The IDF, on its part, defended its decision, emphasizing that it was a military judgment call made in light of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and recent incidents involving the deaths of humanitarian workers due to IDF fire.

The Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, reportedly was not aware of the IDF’s decision to halt combat operations near the humanitarian corridor, indicating a significant communication breakdown within the Israeli leadership. This lack of coordination and the ensuing public disagreement highlight the ongoing struggle within Israel’s political and military establishments.

Political Backlash

The announcement also drew sharp criticism from Bezalel Smotrich. The Finance Minister lambasted the IDF’s decision in a tweet, calling it a “delirious announcement” and arguing that the humanitarian aid reaching Hamas could undermine the war’s objectives. Smotrich advocated for a more aggressive approach, suggesting that the only path to victory was the full occupation of Gaza and the establishment of a temporary military government until Hamas was completely eradicated.

International and Diplomatic Implications

The United Nations welcomed the IDF’s announcement, albeit cautiously. Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the UN’s emergency agency (OCHA), emphasized that while the announcement was positive, it had yet to translate into increased aid for those in need. But this should come as no surprise, given the international community’s longstanding bias in favor of Palestine, echoing the old refrain and its expectations for more substantial and consistent humanitarian efforts from Israel.

Meanwhile, the tension between Israel and the United States escalated when Netanyahu criticized the Biden administration for allegedly delaying the shipment of arms to Israel. In a video posted on social media, Netanyahu expressed his frustration, comparing the situation to Winston Churchill’s plea to the USA during World War II: “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” This public criticism resulted in a temporary cancellation of a key meeting between Israeli and American officials, though the White House later clarified that the details of the meeting had not been finalized, thus nothing had been officially canceled.

Military Strategy vs. Political Objectives

The internal conflict within Israel extends beyond the humanitarian pause. IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari, in a recent interview to Channel 13, implicitly criticized the government for lacking a coherent strategy regarding the war’s objectives and the post-war scenario in Gaza. Hagari argued that the notion of completely eliminating Hamas was unrealistic, as Hamas is not merely a military organization but also an idea rooted in the local population’s hearts and minds.

Netanyahu’s response reiterated the government’s stance that the war’s objective was to destroy Hamas’s military power and its governance in Gaza. However, the ongoing criticism from within the military and from political opponents like Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, who withdrew their party’s support for Netanyahu’s war cabinet leading the Prime Minister to dissolve it, shows the existence of an internal division aimed at replacing Netanyahu at the cost of precipitating Israel to snap elections in the midst of the war.

A Historical Perspective

On this count, Netanyahu is right. Drawing parallels with historical conflicts, Niram Ferretti, a Middle East analyst, argues that the eradication of an ideology is far more complex than defeating a military force. Just as the Nazi ideology persisted in various forms even after the defeat of the Third Reich, and the memory of Osama bin Laden lives on among jihadist terrorists despite Al-Qaeda’s disarticulation –Ferretti explains– the idea of Hamas may persist regardless of military actions. This perspective suggests that while military operations can weaken or destroy organizational structures, the underlying ideologies may survive and even thrive in the shadows. It is therefore Hagari’s stance to be mistaken.

Future Outlook

The current discord between the Israeli government and its military, exacerbated by international diplomatic tensions, paints a complex picture of the Gaza conflict. The IDF’s decision to implement a daily humanitarian pause, despite political opposition, indicates the lack of a unified strategy and clear communication within Israel’s leadership. This state of the affairs hampers efforts to address long-term conflict resolution.

As the situation unfolds, it is crucial for the Israeli government to reconcile its internal divisions and establish a coherent strategy that balances military objectives with political considerations.

In the words of Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The time for political discord and strategic ambiguity must give way to a season of clarity and resolute action to ensure a future of peace and stability in Israel. After the war, and only then, outstanding accounts can be settled.

About the Author
Giuseppe Levi Pezzulli ("Bepi") is a Solicitor specialised in International financial law and a foreign policy scholar. His research interest is economic statecraft. In 2018, he published "An alternative view of Brexit" (Milano Finanza Books), which investigates the economic and geopolitical implications of Brexit. In 2023, "Brave bucks" (Armando Publishing House), which highlights the role of private capital in the industrial policy mix. Formerly an Editor-in-Chief of La Voce Repubblicana; is a columnist for the Italian daily financial newspaper Milano Finanza; a pundit for the int'l financial TV channel CNBC; and a Middle East analyst for Longitude magazine. He received degrees at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome (LLB), New York University (LLM), and Columbia University (JD). He stood for a seat in the UK Parliament at the general election 2024.
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