In 3 weeks, over 8,000 deaths in the Strip
In the last hours IIsrael has dramatically raised the level of conflict in Gaza which, in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is destined to “change the Middle East”. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have reported killing numerous Hamas terrorists in clashes in the northern Gaza Strip. In one case, the IDF said, a group of militiamen came out of a tunnel near the Erez crossing and opened fire on the soldiers. Deaths and injuries were recorded in the fighting, as well as in other clashes. The IDF also reported that it had requested the intervention of the Air Force to conduct drone raids against two Hamas hideouts.
“The terrorists who shot at the soldiers were killedas well as the terrorists who were identified on the coast in the Gaza Strip near the Zikim area”, reads a post on Telegram. The IDF statements came after the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades on their Telegram account Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, had reported clashes with Israeli forces near Beit Lahia, in the north of the Strip.
What is Israel’s strategy?
The land operation continues and expands. In the Strip, in the last 3 weeks, Over 8,000 deaths have been reported according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. Among the victims, there were also 3,342 minors.
The Israeli soldiers who entered the Gaza Strip on Saturday apparently raised, or at least waved, the Israeli flag on top of a building apparently hit by bombing. This is at least what emerges from a video shared online, which is not clear when it dates back, to which the Jerusalem Post also dedicated an article: it would be the first time in almost 20 years since the “disengagement” of 2005.
“Three weeks after the horrible crime (Hamas attack in Israel), soldiers of the 52nd Battalion of the 401 Brigade raised the Israeli flag in the heart of Gaza, along the beach,” says a man’s voice in the footage. “We will not forget – he says again in the video shared on social media also by the newspaper Israel HaYom, the authenticity of which cannot be verified – We will not stop until victory”.
According to many analysts, including Israeli ones, it is not clear what the “end game” is, i.e. the precise objective: when and above all how to end the conflict? “You cannot promote a move of such historic importance without a plan for the aftermath,” Michael Milshtein, head of the forum for Palestinian studies at the Moshe Dayan center at Tel Aviv University, told the BBC.
A former head of the Palestinian affairs department of Israeli military intelligence, Milshtein fears that the Israeli government is far behind with this planning. “It needs to be done immediately”, he adds that what could happen in Gaza, and above all who will govern the Strip once the conflict is over, “is a million dollar question”. Even among Western diplomats, who have been conducting intense discussions with Tel Aviv in recent weeks, it is believed that the Israelis are unclear about the objectives of their war response to the October 7 attacks, in addition to their reiterated desire to destroy Hamas.
“There is absolutely no set plan – a diplomatic source always tells the British broadcaster – it’s one thing to have some ideas written down on paper, but to make them real it takes weeks, months of diplomacy”. On paper, Israel says it intends not to reoccupy Gaza and is ready to support a new administration, run by Palestinians, with the support of the United States, Egypt and perhaps Saudi Arabia.
But for the moment the only certainty are the military plans which range from the annihilation of Hamas’ military capabilities to the control of large areas of the Gaza Strip. “I don’t think there is a viable, workable solution for Gaza after the evacuation of our forces,” says Haim Tomer, a former Israeli intelligence official, Mossad. Also because Hamas is an idea that, Milshtein warns, cannot simply be eradicated. “It’s not like Berlin in 1945, when they put a flag on the Reichstag and it was all over,” he explains.
The most apt comparison is that of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when US forces attempted to erase every trace of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the so-called “de-Baathification”, which from one day to the next left hundreds of thousands of people without work. Iraqi civil servants and officials, it was a disaster that planted the seeds of the insurgency.
It is no coincidence that Joe Biden invited Netanyahu not to make the “mistakes” committed by the USA in the post-9/11 era. And it is no coincidence that the American president sent generals who played a central role in that war to Tel Aviv: “I hope that they explain to the Israelis that they made enormous mistakes in Iraq – continues Milshtein – urging them, for example, not to delude themselves into thinking that they can eradicate the ruling party or changing people’s minds, that’s not going to happen.”
Words that echo those, on the opposite front, of Mustafa Barghouti, president of the Palestinian National Initiative: “Hamas is a grassroots popular organisation, if they want to remove Hamas, they must carry out ethnic cleansing in Gaza”. And this is the Palestinians’ greatest fear, that is, that Israel’s secret intention is to force hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to leave Gaza and take refuge in Egypt. “Escape is a one-way ticket, there is no possibility of return”, says Diana Buttu, former PLO spokeswoman, evoking the specter of a new Nakba, the mass exodus of 1948.
The Israeli government has so far made no such request, but insists that the Palestinians move from the north to the south of the Gaza Strip. But commentators, such as Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council, have said that the only way Israel can achieve its goals without killing multitudes of civilians is for them to leave Gaza: “They have to cross the border into ‘Egypt, temporarily or permanently’.
A border that the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, continues to keep closed, apart from the opening in recent days of the Rafah crossing for entry with a drop of humanitarian aid, denouncing precisely that the war in Gaza could be ” an attempt to push Palestinian civilians to migrate to Egypt.”