Israel is under intense pressure from its main ally, the United States, to end the large-scale war in Gaza. Everything indicates that the war will lead to very limited action. The question is when.
To ratchet up the pressure, President Biden sent his national security adviser, Jack Sullivan, to Israel on Thursday to deliver a message to Netanyahu. “There will be a transition to another phase of this war,” Sullivan said Friday after a meeting with Netanyahu and the Israeli war cabinet. “The circumstances and the timing are certainly up for debate.”
The message from Washington was veiled but very clear: the bloody bombing campaign of recent months must stop. The US says now is the time to move to smaller scale operations, such as precision strikes targeting Hamas leaders, finding 132 hostages and destroying tunnels.
Israel cannot now avoid changing its war strategy in Gaza. This week Biden went so far as to call the heavy Israeli bombings “indiscriminate” in his harshest criticism. He also advised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to “focus on how to save citizens’ lives.”
Netanyahu must have listened to the American message through gritted teeth. “We are determined more than ever to continue fighting until Hamas is eliminated and we achieve complete victory,” the prime minister stressed.
But he also has to deal with the reality that the US is Israel’s most important ally and arms supplier. Without American bombs and precision weapons, the Israeli Air Force would be crippled within days. The big question is how quickly the Israeli campaign, which has claimed the lives of nearly 19,000 Palestinians in two months, will stop.
Biden wants it to happen within three weeks, US media reports. This means that a large-scale ground and air campaign should be completed by early 2024. Israel would then switch to targeted, limited operations by small groups to monitor the Hamas leadership.
Sending elite troops
Biden also realizes that it would be easier for Netanyahu to declare victory if Israel kills or arrests two key Hamas leaders, Yahya Shinwar and his military lieutenant, Mohammad Taif. Learning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has proposed sending more commando units to the Israelis to carry out key jobs.
These elite forces must move in and out of cities, gather intelligence, search for hostages, track Hamas commanders and destroy an extensive network of tunnels. Such a military campaign at a lower level should make it possible to provide relief to the people. Residents can also return home. 85 percent of Gaza’s 2.2 million people have fled.
Sullivan acknowledged that it will take months for the Israelis to achieve their goal of destroying Hamas. However, the question is whether this is possible with operations of this small scale. The Israeli military says around 7,000 of the 30,000 Hamas fighters have been killed so far.
Unless Israel wants to reoccupy Gaza for a long time, it seems almost impossible to get rid of all the remaining militants in the coming months. Another problem is that Hamas fighters will have more room to maneuver and become more visible when daily airstrikes are reduced. If that happens, it will send a signal to Israel that Hamas cannot be completely eradicated in the short term.
“Passionate analyst. Thinker. Devoted twitter evangelist. Wannabe music specialist.”