Last week saw a flurry of diplomatic activity as US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, among others, visited the Middle East as the Gaza crisis unfolded.
Both were very clear in their support for Israel in the aftermath of the Hamas terrorist outrages of 7th September and the abduction of Israeli civilian hostages into Gaza where they are, as far as we know, still being held. The release of two US hostages on Friday was a rare ray of sunshine penetrating the dark clouds of war.
Both western leaders were severely critical of Hamas and its barbaric assault on the innocents, but also careful to acknowledge the plight of Palestinian civilians caught up in the conflagration.
Biden promised both military aid to Israel and humanitarian aid to Gaza, and Sunak more or less backed his line. Where the US leads the UK tends to follow.
Their presence, however, probably delayed the imminent Israeli Defence Forces’ offensive into Gaza by a few days. Attacking Hamas while the President’s Air Force One was still on the tarmac would not have been a good look.
However, the coast would now appear to be clear for the Israelis to execute their plan. The preliminary bombardment from land and the air will have softened their enemy up, eliminating commanders, disrupting command and communications networks, destroying their logistics and supplies, and killing their fighters.
Having prepared the ground, and having encouraged perhaps a million civilians to flee to south of the Wadi Gaza, I expect the IDF will implement a phased operation. They will probably enter the north of the Gaza Strip first and clear Gaza City, where Hamas has perhaps its most extensive network of tunnels and defence works.
This could take weeks, if not months, and is likely to lead to widespread destruction.
Thereafter, and when initial gains have been consolidated, they will tackle south Gaza, probably advancing from both the north and the east across the border. This may prove to be a quicker part of the operation although it is hard to predict.
Israel’s aim in all of this is quite clear: it is to completely eliminate Hamas as a political and military entity. This they should be able to achieve, more or less, although there is always the fear that the deaths of the current terrorists might lead to the radicalisation of the next generation and then history will repeat itself.
What to do with the civilian refugees is another matter altogether. Currently Egypt will not let them escape into its territory, and of course the Israelis will not permit them to cross into Israel. So they’re stuck in the middle in terrible circumstances with no lasting relief in sight.
We can only hope that the humanitarian aid lorries currently stuck at the Rafah crossing will eventually make it through to them. But it looks as if the Gaza Palestinians are fated to stay where they are.
As for Israel, I don’t think they have any appetite for re-occupying the Gaza Strip long term. The IDF will want to go in and get out as quickly as possible, but for now their exit strategy is not clear.
Whatever transpires, it’s obvious that this has a long way to go before it’s over. We can only hope that a cessation of hostilities and a return to what passes for peace in Israel and Gaza is not too far off.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
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