OPN Gaza
Israel’s military operation has already killed almost 12,000 people in Gaza and more than two-thirds of them are children and women. Image Credit: Gulf News

Since Hamas’s surprise and ominous attack on 7 October, Israel’s military operation has already killed almost 12,000 people in Gaza and more than two-thirds of them are children and women.

Israel has been not only bombing Gaza for more than five weeks, but it has also engaged in a large-scale ground operation and fast-moving to reoccupy the small stretch of land that houses more than 2. 3 million Palestinians.

Any military operation of this nature must have a clear and achievable aim and also an exit strategy. The big question here is this: Is Israel’s war aim in Gaza clearly defined and achievable on the ground? Tel Aviv says it will not stop its military operation till it eliminates Hamas completely. This aim sounds grand but is almost impossible to achieve. Let me clarify why.

A clear aim is fundamental to the planning, execution, and assessment of military operations. It provides a strategic direction, ensures efficient resource allocation, helps manage risks, and facilitates communication and accountability, all of which contribute to the success and legitimacy of military actions. Unfortunately, Israel lacks that clear aim.

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Extremism to gain inroads

Israel’s unrelenting military operations from the sky and on the ground may eliminate a large number of Hamas militants and its operational infrastructure but that is not going to make Hamas disappear.

The short-term setbacks might help the group to gain more strength in the near future. The mass deaths and devastations may most likely lead to more radicalism.

While Israel is using all its power to destroy Hamas in Gaza, its ongoing provocative military operations and the physical violence and humiliation against Palestinians by the illegal settlers, may help extremism to gain inroads to the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, in charge of governing the West Bank, has lost almost all of its legitimacy and has become ineffective as a provider of any form of security to the people. The approval rate of Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas is hardly even in double digits.

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This image provided by Maxar Technologies shows al-Shifa hospital and surroundings in Gaza City, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies via AP) Image Credit: AP

No clear exit strategy

Israel, by using highly disproportionate violence and creating a terrible humanitarian disaster missed a big opportunity to delegitimise the Palestinian struggle in the eyes of the world. The large pro-Palestine demonstrations around the world show that Gaza has won the public perception battle in a much bigger way vis-a-vis Israel.

As any rational assessment can see Israel’s stated aim of ‘total’ elimination of Hamas in this ongoing war is unlikely. When the aim sounds grandiose but unlikely to be achieved, it is important for Israel to have a well-thought-out exit strategy.

An exit strategy is crucial for ensuring that a military occupation remains somewhat consistent with international law and strategic objectives. It helps manage resources, maintain political and public support, and facilitates the eventual transition to a more stable and peaceful situation.

Without a clear exit strategy, military occupations can become protracted, costly, and politically unsustainable. The longer the military occupation continues without a clear exit strategy, the more likely Israel is to face resistance from both the occupied Palestinian population and the international community.

Israel cannot occupy Gaza and keep it within the control of its security forces for long. Tel Aviv had not been able to do that in the past and it is in no way going to succeed now.

In August 2005, Israel was forced to implement the Gaza Disengagement Plan after several years of occupation. While doing that Israel had to evacuate all Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip and withdraw the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from the area.

The evacuation of Israeli settlers from Gaza settlements was a highly contentious and difficult process. If Israel does not want to learn from its own mistakes of the past, it should see how a superpower like the US failed miserably in its occupation of Afghanistan for 20 years.

Newborns are placed in bed after being taken off incubators in Gaza's Al Shifa hospital after power outage, amid the ongoing Israeli bombardment in Gaza City, Gaza November 12, 2023 Image Credit: Reuters

Breaking the shackles

Like Israel, the US invaded Afghanistan with an inflated aim to completely destroy the Taliban and without a calculated exit strategy. The US lost the war and was forced to face a humiliating withdrawal while the Taliban did not vanish. The group simply recaptured Afghanistan with more power than ever before.

It is important for Israel to realise that force cannot buy its security in the long run. It can’t win the war having such an unachievable aim and the end result will be much worse than before due lack of a strategically planned exit strategy. Self-determination struggles are best managed through negotiation and accommodation.

Military power can help to keep a territory under control but not the people living in it. Palestinians will always find ways to break the shackles.

Israel needs to realise this dangerous loop. Instead of making it worse, Netanyahu needs to immediately agree on a ceasefire and sincerely start a political process with an aim to achieve a lasting two-state solution.