Sherwin Pomerantz

The 177th Day of Israel’s War Against Hamas

The US has presented their alternative to a full-scale IDF conquest of Gaza’s Rafah city, Kan News reported on Saturday night. The Biden administration opposes a military invasion of Rafah, where more than a million Gazans have sheltered during the war, causing friction with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Instead, the highest-ranking military officer in the US offered Halevi an alternative plan for Rafah, Hamas’s last bastion in Gaza.

The alternative plan includes technological advances to secure the Gaza-Egypt border, a major source of arms smuggling, including border closures and using cameras and sensors. It also includes the isolation and encirclement of Rafah by Israeli forces, with targeted raids based on intelligence information. Finally, the plan involves the establishment of a joint US-Israeli command center to coordinate activities in the Gaza Strip.

According to the Kan report, the White House is also concerned that Israel has not made plans for who will rule Gaza the day after Hamas is defeated. US Secretary of State Blinken met earlier this month with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, where a proposal was made for Arab forces to be stationed in Gaza, Judea and Samaria. An Arab diplomat familiar with the details of the Blinken meeting told Kan that the proposal took place as part of an effort “to launch a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and to implement the two-state solution.” There is no official reaction yet from Israel.

The last few days on the Israeli border with Lebanon can be defined as violence-heavy. Both sides are on an escalatory ladder, and both are climbing it, trying to stay on top — while avoiding stepping too high. A symmetry of sorts has taken shape in the north over the last five months, as Hezbollah has maintained its near-daily attacks on Israel and Israel has responded in kind, a symmetry reflected not just in strikes but in the civilian toll as well. Just as Israel felt compelled to establish a kind of “security zone” in the north, evacuating tens of thousands of residents from towns near the border, similar action has been taken in south Lebanon. Some 80,000 residents of northern Israel have been forced to leave their homes amid the hostilities. According to Israeli estimates, more than 120,000 Lebanese have become internally displaced by the fighting.

In certain south Lebanese villages where Israel has intelligence on a major Hezbollah presence, the IDF’s fire policy is strict: Anyone defined as a suspect is attacked.

Interestingly, throughout the months-long conflict, Hezbollah has chosen to send Palestinian groups rather than its own people to carry out infiltration attempts. The organization appears to be doing this in order to be able to portray the acts as ostensibly tied to the defense of Gaza, rather than unprovoked aggression. In an official announcement after the elimination of the latest terror cell last week, the IDF emphasized that the strike was conducted to thwart an imminent attack. It is quite possible that Israel had been following the cell for some time.

The Palestinian Authority is in the final stages of talks with the Biden administration about reforming its controversial welfare policy, which includes payments to terrorists and their families, two sources familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Friday. Drafts of the altered policy have been vetted by the administration’s lawyers and the reform was on track to be announced in the coming weeks, one of the sources said, confirming reporting in Politico. The altered policy would base welfare stipends that Palestinian security prisoners receive on the recipient’s financial need rather than the length of their sentence, as is currently the case, the source told The Times of Israel, adding that there were a number of outstanding issues still being negotiated.

The practice of paying allowances to those convicted of carrying out terror attacks and to the families of those killed while carrying out attacks — often referred to by some Israeli officials as a pay-to-slay policy — has been pilloried by critics as incentivizing terror.

Nearly six months after the devastating Oct. 7 invasion, data from the IDF Home Front Command reveals a significant return of Gaza periphery residents to their homes. Approximately 70% of those affected have made the decision to return, despite the continued unrest and occasional rocket fire from Gaza.

The return rates vary significantly across communities, heavily influenced by their proximity to the Gaza Strip. For instance, in Netiv HaAsara, a moshav directly adjacent to the Gaza fence, a mere 4.5% of residents have returned. This contrasts sharply with other areas a bit further from the conflict zone, where the return rate is considerably higher. For instance, in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, around 60% of the residents have returned, and in kibbutzim Karmia and Zikim, the figures are approximately 50% and 40%, respectively.

Most of the towns located between 4 and 7 kilometers from the Strip have seen the return of 75% of residents. This includes communities such as the city of Sderot and the Sa’ad and Urim kibbutzim, indicating a greater sense of security or perhaps a stronger attachment to their homes among residents of these areas.

This gradual return of Gaza periphery residents, while marked by caution due to the unpredictable nature of the conflict, signifies a critical phase in the region’s recovery. It reflects both the challenges and progress in restoring life to a region that has been on the frontline of the Israel-Hamas war.

Let’s hope that the situation in the north will improve shortly as well so that the 80,000 who have been displaced from their homes can also return to some semblance of normalcy.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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