(Special envoy to Tel Aviv, Israel) Benjamin Netanyahu has already made the decision to attack Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but it faces four dilemmas that still condition its war offensive aimed at exterminating the terrorist organization. The Israeli premier’s questions are linked to the role of Iran in the conflict, to the complex evacuation of a million Palestinians who are escaping the imminent war and the warlike response of Hamas in the face of an offensive that will be unprecedented and exorbitant.
The Israeli war cabinet already has 300,000 soldiers enlisted in the vicinity of Gaza and has the support of the USA to keep their supplies topped up and their intelligence reports updated. But in the dynamics of the war board, four key circumstances that condition the situation and pose a future challenge to Israel and the balance of power in the Middle East.
The regime of the ayatollahs supports the Hamas offensive against Israel and influences the foreign policy positions of Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistanwhile it may raise objections to the regional agenda of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Iran also articulates its tactics in Middle East with China and Russiawhich, faced with the United States, uses the crisis in Gaza to wear down the administration of Joe Biden.
Tehran granted Hamas financial, logistical and intelligence support and will support its resistance in Gaza when Israeli troops have landed. That means Lebanon would open a second conflict front on its southern edge, through the active participation of Hezbollah and its terrorist militias.
Two open fronts, and Iran in the middle. A problem without immediate resolution that could worsen if terrorists in the region consider that a new chapter of Islamic Jihad has begun and move towards Lebanon and the Strip to join the Hamas war apparatus.
2. The evacuation of civilians in Gaza
Israel’s war cabinet gives the northern Strip tactical weight in its battle plan, and Netanyahu and his opposition allies aim to avoid significant collateral damage linked to civilians that still remain on the future battlefield. From this perspective, in combination with United Nationsurged the evacuation of one million Palestinians who had to move from the north to the south of the Strip.
Israel granted a period of 24 hours to complete the evacuation and then extended that ultimatum to another 24 hours, waiting to close a massive displacement in extreme conditions of security and absence of light, water, health care and food.
Hamas turned the UN-managed evacuation into a war tactic and blocked the main highway that connects the north with the south of the Strip. With the transfer of Palestinian civilians permanently delayed, Israel is delaying its military response to Hamas, which nine days ago carried out a terrorist operation with a still undetermined result of deaths, injuries, missing, raped and kidnapped.
The tactical game of the terrorist organization has a logic of war that reveals its consideration for the civilians living in the Strip. He prefers that they function as human shields to hinder Israel’s war offensive, rather than facilitate its movement to an area of northern Gaza that would not be involved at the beginning of the operations.
The speed of the evacuation of the Strip and its weight in the war schedule, It is the main dilemma that the Netanyahu administration must resolve. Until this happens, there will be no massive landing in Gaza to end Hamas. Nearly 400,000 Palestinians still remain to be displaced, and health authorities linked to the terrorist organization have already announced that they will not evacuate hospitals in the probable conflict zone.
3. Hamas’ war response
The war in Gaza will not be easy for Israeli troops. Hamas set up a system of tunnels to guarantee logistics, protect its terrorists and move with little military cost; will have support from the civilian population that remains in the conflict zone, designed a booby trap system throughout the entire extension of the territory itself and It has an arsenal of missiles supplied by Iran that is almost inexhaustible.
Israel’s war cabinet assumes this Hamas roadmap and deployed a mixed operation – intelligence and destruction on the ground – to mitigate the human and logistical costs in the first weeks of the conflict. Netanyahu wants to exterminate the Hamas leadership and disarm its terrorists, and that will imply an unprecedented war effort for the Israeli military apparatus.
There is no way to know the full extent of the Gaza tunnels and there is no way – yet – to cut off Iran and Russia’s support for the terrorist organization. Financial funds flow from the Middle East and missiles arrive with few obstacles from Tehran and Moscow via Beirut or Damascus.
Despite this dynamic prior to the start of the war in Gaza, Netanyahu is willing to take the political risk and will define – in the next 72 hours – when he disembarks in the Strip. He has the political front closed and exhibits majority public support for his decision to go to total war against Hamas.
4. Political control of Gaza
Israel left the Strip and Hamas used that geopolitical decision to consolidate its internal power and put the Palestinian National Authority in check, which manages West Bank. The terrorist organization transformed Gaza into a settlement and He set up a powerful business in his territory supported by the international aid it receives from Europe, the United Nations and certain Arab countries.
This scenario poses a strategic dilemma for Israel, which knows the difficulties of occupying and managing a territory with a hostile population and a terrorist organization that will seek to recover a lost space. In Tel Aviv they have already studied what happened to the United States when it tried to control what was happening in Vietnam and Afghanistan from Washington.
However, and despite the lessons of 20th century history, Netanyahu assumes that decapitating Hamas means controlling the Strip. Joe Biden has already warned that he does not support a virtual annexation of Gaza and this dilemma seems like a quagmire for Israel’s war cabinet. All options are on the table, including ceding formal control to Mahmoud Abbas, current president of the Palestinian National Authority. Abbas is discredited and his political cycle is dying.
Netanyahu promised Israeli society that he would destroy Hamas with a lightning landing in Gaza. That promise encountered geopolitical, warlike and humanitarian obstacles. The premier is now pondering his next steps, but here in Tel Aviv his closest advisors swear that The total war in the Strip will begin before the end of this week.