Netanyahu’s government has indicated that the halt in fighting cannot last more than 10 days
Truce for a few more days, then Israel’s attack resumed, this time concentrated in southern Gaza. This is the scenario outlined by the Washington Post for the future of the Jewish State’s military operation in the Palestinian enclave, launched in response to the October 7 massacre by Hamas.
According to the conservative American newspaper, the days following the truce that came into force last Friday were “bright” compared to weeks of “desolation” and deaths. Civilians stranded in Gaza began to receive aid, more than 90 hostages held by Hamas were released, and in return Israel freed over 200 Palestinians, many of whom were held in prison without charge. But the apparent improvement in the situation is only the result of what happened before the truce: Gaza has been devastated by thousands of airstrikes and fighting, with more than 13,000 Palestinians dead and 80% of the population displaced. And violence is also breaking out in the West Bank.
The forecasts for the future do not suggest anything positive. Despite appeals from the United Nations and mediating parties, including Qatar, the truce looks set to end soon. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that the halt in fighting cannot last more than 10 days, i.e. no later than this weekend. After that, Israel is determined to resume the war since its primary objective – the destruction of Hamas – has not yet been achieved.
Yesterday the head of the Israeli army, Herzi Halevi, declared that he had approved the battle plan for the next few days. “We know what needs to be done and we are ready for the next step,” he said. It’s unclear what exactly this plan entails, but the only route for Israeli forces appears to be south, the Washington Post highlights, noting that Israeli officials believe many Hamas leaders have fled to this area from Gaza City and the north. Not surprisingly, before the pause began, Israel had begun dropping leaflets near Khan Younis, a city in the south of the Strip, asking the population to move west.
The resumption of the military operation inevitably brings with it fears, including those of the United States, that another massacre of civilians could occur. An estimated two million Palestinians and a large percentage of displaced people are in the southern part of Gaza, many of whom have already heeded earlier Israeli warnings to leave the densely populated northern area.
Privately, according to the Washington Post, the Biden Administration has begun to warn the Israelis about the need to reduce civilian casualties as much as possible. “They can’t do in the south what they did in the north,” a senior official said. The United States is calling for strict operational limits on where operations can take place and the protection of hospitals and UN facilities. And while Washington continues to work for an extension of the truce, Netanyahu is under pressure at home in the opposite direction.
“Stopping the war = shattering the government,” far-right figure Itamar Ben Gvir, who serves as national security minister in the fragile governing coalition, said on Tuesday. Not long after, Netanyahu said that “there is no situation in which we don’t go back to fighting until the end.” It’s not hard to understand why Israeli authorities bristle at the idea of a prolonged ceasefire. If the most significant purpose of this conflict is to destroy Hamas, that task is not complete: Hamas clearly has not been destroyed if it still holds hostages and is able to negotiate their release.
Israel also has to deal with the enormous economic cost of the conflict, given the number of people who now work in the army rather than in the economy: the Central Bank predicts that the war with Hamas will cost $53 billion between 2023 and 2025, with a 3% hit on GDP.
Some say the price is worth paying. “The costs of war are short-term compared to the long-term benefits resulting from people returning to a safe life,” an Israeli official told David Ignatius last weekend. Yet, with so much uncertainty about the next round of fighting and no firm plan for what will happen in Gaza once the conflict ends, it may not be such a simple calculation.