The first stage of Israel’s war with Hamas – the destruction of Hamas’ military infrastructure north of Wadi Gaza – will end shortly, in a few weeks-time. The actual demilitarization of Gaza to the north of Wadi Gaza will take several months more. The demilitarization of the area north to Wadi Gaza, will allow for a safe return of tens of thousands of presently displaced and war-traumatized Israelis to the border towns next to Gaza, and the rebuilding of their communities.
What about Gaza south to Wadi Gaza?
Presently the Israeli public and its political leadership seem to be unified behind the idea of implementing south to Wadi Gaza the same strategy that was used to the north of Wadi Gaza: essentially a full-blown military operation to completely eliminate Hamas. This would be a mistake: it is not humanly feasible, nor politically desirable.
It is not humanly feasible: The Palestinian civilian population south of Wadi Gaza will have nowhere to flee to avoid being crushed between Hamas and the IDF, there will be no more “humanitarian corridors” to move the population out of the way. The Palestinians will not move south into Egypt, because Egypt will not allow it. A full-blown military confrontation between Hamas and the IDF south to Wadi Gaza would create a humanitarian disaster and the human toll with be unbearable.
It is not politically desirable either: regimen change cannot be imposed externally. The examples of Afghanistan and Libya are still fresh in the minds of everyone. Israel should not try to replace the rulers of Gaza south of Wadi Gaza: It will be up to the Palestinians to replace them. And the time will come. Israel should now disconnect itself from any future responsibility of providing electricity, water, work permits and humanitarian aid to Gaza south of Wadi Gaza: It will up to the Palestinians to procure these necessities by themselves, as any other people on this Earth do. Israel should not interfere with the flow of goods and people through the Rafah crossing: what comes and goes through the Rafah crossing will be for the Palestinians and Egypt alone to decide.
The Israeli policy regarding Gaza south to the Wadi Gaza should consist in the foreseeable future only on purely defensive measures, to avoid a repetition of the territorial invasion into Israeli territory by creating effective buffer zones, or to repel any aerial attack, either using the Iron Dome or pin-pointed air force strikes on the sources of fire south of Wadi Gaza.
Concurrently with the end of the major military operations, and the return of the Israelis taken captives to Gaza on October 7th, hopefully both by the end of year 2023, Israel should concentrate on de-escalating the situation in its north border with Lebanon to create the conditions for the safe return of the tens of thousands of Israelis displaced from their communities in the north.
This will allow Israel and the US to concentrate on achieving peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia. I believe there will still be a short window of opportunity to achieve this, when the interests of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel are still aligned, and pressed by the political calendar in the US: any significant tri-lateral treaty must be approved by Congress by September 2024, before the US presidential elections in November 2024. Do not let Hamas and Iran achieve their main goal of their aggression, which was to derail this process. Diplomatic normalization and the establishment of peaceful relations between Israel and the largest and most important Muslim country in the Middle East can only be achieved – but not guaranteed – if the present war between Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and Israel has clear, limited, and tangible achievable objectives, and is short, decisive, and ends in a few weeks-time.