Israel’s Gaza Siege Will Contend With People, Tunnels, Politics — and Time | BLOOMBERG

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Avi Melamed’s insights quoted in “Israel’s Gaza Siege Will Contend With People, Tunnels, Politics — and Time”, an article by Marc Champion for BLOOMBERG.

Melamed considers Hamas a shared, international problem and responsibility, akin to al-Qaeda and ISIS, and thinks that Arab governments will understand it is in their interests to help Israel destroy it, and then rebuild Gaza. When I said there was no sign of that, he said “they cannot stand aside and say OK, now Hamas 3.0 may arise. They will have to take measures to minimize the possibility.’’

The shape of Israel’s ground attack in Gaza is becoming clear, and commentators have been quick to draw analogies to previous attempts to flush out defenders from densely populated urban centers, in Fallujah and Mosul in Iraq, in Raqqa, Syria, or in Lebanon back in 1982.

The historical analogies are good reminders of how just how common, brutish and bloody such urban sieges are. You could add the Chechen city of Grozny to the list, twice obliterated by Russian forces at the cost of up to more than 30,000 lives. Or Mariupol, in Ukraine just last year, the siege of Vukovar in Croatia in 1991 and many more. And that’s just since the end of the Cold War.

Yet there are two areas where all these analogies fall down, and it is these that define the unique challenge facing the Israel Defense Forces.

The first concerns time. Israel has moved quickly to shape Gaza city into a battlefield it can control, driving toward the coast just south of the area to cut off Hamas from the tunnels across the Egyptian border, on which it relies for supplies. Another force is pushing down the coast from the north, to cut off access to the sea. But once that is done, the grim business of clearing Hamas from the city in house-to-house and tunnel-to tunnel fighting will begin, and it can’t be done quickly without even more devastating consequences for civilians.

The Israeli government has as a result prepared public opinion for what it calls a long and difficult war, yet the clock is already ticking. It may not have time to destroy Hamas before international pressure forces a halt. The cost in Palestinian lives of what Israel sees as exercising its legitimate self-defense has now reached 9,000 dead, according to Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health authority. As T.X. Hammes, a former US Marines officer and now senior research fellow at Washington DC’s National Defense University pointed out this week, the scale of injuries involved here is far greater than for most historical analogues. On a per-capita basis, the death toll of Israelis on Oct. 7 would be equivalent to 53,000 Americans, he said in a Q&A with the website War on the Rocks. The toll in Gaza — 7,000 at the time Hammes made his calculation — was equivalent to 1.13 million Americans dead, he said. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that last figure would now be 1.5 million

The resulting fury, first in Israel and then across the Muslim world, is something Hamas was counting on, either to limit Israel’s freedom to retaliate, or to expand the war to include other players. The organization’s goal is the destruction of Israel, and it can’t achieve that alone. On top of that, the warren of tunnels that Hamas has spent years digging and its capture of well over 200 hostages were calculated to slow Israel’s progress.

For sure, the US also came in for heavy criticism over its invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, and specifically for its tactics in the siege of Mosul, due to the high civilian casualty rate, where according to an Associated Press investigation, 9,000-11,000 non-combatants died in the nine-month battle. But even Iran agreed ISIS was a threat that needed to be stopped. Nor did the US depend on anyone else for weapons or a UN Security Council veto, so it could set its own timetable. The US administration has so far protected Israel from pressure at the UN to agree to a cease-fire, but President Joe Biden on Wednesday has also called for a pause in hostilities, to give time for more hostage negotiations. Just how long Israel has to complete the multi-phase operation required in Gaza “depends on when the United States of America will say to Israel `OK, it is time to wrap things up,’’’ Avi Melamed, a former Israeli intelligence official and negotiator, told me.

The second factor that makes Israel’s siege of Gaza unusual is that it’s being pursued without any visible sign of a political strategy. The military has its task – to destroy Hamas as a military and governing force. That’s clear enough, but Hamas is a movement and ideology as much as it is a particular band of people. It can be degraded, as al-Qaeda was after its Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the US, but al-Qaeda became al-Nusra in Syria, and was displaced by Islamic State in Iraq and elsewhere. Israel drove the Palestinian Liberation Organization out of Lebanon in 1982, but that war left up to 20,000 Lebanese dead (estimates still vary widely) and — not by coincidence — Hezbollah was founded in the same year, developing into a force more powerful than the PLO ever was. Hamas itself entered the terrorism business only after the PLO left it, in the 1990s.

There must be a succession plan that ensures Hamas doesn’t remain in charge of Gaza. In Iraq, the US could move the state apparatus into Mosul to run the city after driving out Islamic State in 2017. But there is no state waiting to take over in Gaza. In Chechnya, Russia appointed a local warlord to keep the republic safe for Moscow. When he was assassinated a year after becoming president, his son Ramzan Kadyrov took over and continues to run Chechnya as a mafia-fiefdom until today. Even in Beirut, Israel believed it had a day-after plan, installing a friendly Christian government as the IDF withdrew. But that plan died with the assassination of Bachir Gemayel, the Christian leader, just weeks after his election as president.

Melamed considers Hamas a shared, international problem and responsibility, akin to al-Qaeda and ISIS, and thinks that Arab governments will understand it is in their interests to help Israel destroy it, and then rebuild Gaza. When I said there was no sign of that, he said “they cannot stand aside and say OK, now Hamas 3.0 may arise. They will have to take measures to minimize the possibility.’’

The tough part is that all these elements impact each other. Yes, Hamas uses civilians as human shields. Nor is enough said about the fact that while the organization found the time and money to build hundreds of miles of reinforced tunnels in preparation for war, they weren’t interested in building bomb shelters so civilians could survive the attack they then deliberately provoked, on Oct. 7. Those arguments can’t, however, survive the fact of human suffering in Gaza; the civilians dying there don’t get to tell Hamas what to do or not to do. As Mick Ryan, a former major general in the Australian army wrote recently, “Killing and wounding civilians is not only a moral and legal issue. It is a strategic one.’’ It’s a brutal calculation, but the more Palestinian civilians Israel’s bombs kill, the less time the IDF will likely get to finish off Hamas.


Avi Melamed’s insights quoted in “Israel’s Gaza Siege Will Contend With People, Tunnels, Politics — and Time”, an article by Marc Champion for BLOOMBERG.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamedhttps://insidethemiddle-east.com
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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