Neither Rafah nor a deal…

It’s possible to pursue three things at once – the defeat of Hamas, the release of the hostages, and relief for the extraordinary civilian suffering caused by this conflict.

These are not inherently contradictory. But they are being treated as such and it risks not only a moral travesty, but also decades of further conflict.

There is pressure to see the Egypt- and Qatar-led negotiations as the only game in town.

America now seems to be accepting that the price of the deal is conceding to Hamas its goal of ending the war and staying in power. No Israeli government could accept that outcome, the heartbreaking predicament of the hostages and the anguish of their loved ones notwithstanding.

Israel’s alternative is the Rafah operation. This, in some form, has already started. The Israeli Government is walking an incredibly fine line – it hopes to weaken and pressure Hamas without provoking an international backlash that could seriously jeopardize the country’s long-term security.

Defiant talk from PM Netanyahu, and many strident comments under TOI articles, reflect a fantasy world where the response of the international community does not seem to matter. It is nonsense to dismiss the impact of arms embargoes, ICC warrants, economic boycotts and cultural exclusion, G-d forbid any of the above, as a cost that Israel can realistically incur as a small country surrounded by powerful enemies.

Israel should realize that as neither option is good, neither Rafah nor the deal, it must just stop. And it must use this stop for every advantage to take back the initiative and reshape the agenda.

Stopping, in the form of a unilateral humanitarian pause, will ease the plight in Gaza, and allow Israel to lead proactively on the humanitarian front, rather than giving the impression (rightly or wrongly) that it is reacting to the demands of others. This is the right thing to do.

Stopping, as I previously argued here and here, will enable Israel to draw legitimacy from the fulfillment of UNSC 2728,  and therefore launch a concerted campaign of international pressure on Hamas to release the hostages – the other demand of UNSC 2728 – without resort to a bad deal. World leaders have shown every sign of supporting this campaign and there is significant leverage that can be used against Hamas that has not yet been fully explored via Qatar and Turkey.

Stopping will enable Israel to dictate the terms of the pause to Hamas, keeping Hamas hidden in their tunnels, and – when Hamas commits breaches (because it is clear they will) – allow Israel not only the freedom of response but also to widen again the moral daylight between the two sides, at least in the international perceptions.

Stopping will – per their previous declarations – undercut further action by Hezbollah or the Houthis, allowing Red Sea shipping routes to stabilize and reducing risk of the wider more dangerous regional war that many fear, clearly re-establishing Israel as the more responsible party in the conflict and drawing some appreciation from its allies. (Perhaps also providing a face-saving way for Hezbollah to withdraw from the border).

Stopping will take the steam out of growing worldwide efforts for boycotts and arms embargoes, and the surging antisemitism that seems deeply linked to these.

Finally, stopping will allow a new strategy to emerge as the price the international community must pay to maintain the pause that focuses on containing and squeezing Hamas while its leaders and personnel remain hidden in tunnels, restricting its flow of arms and money, destroying its infrastructure, and loosening its hold over aid and civilian services.

About the Author
Adam Gross is a strategist that specialises in solving complex problems in the international arena. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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