November 30, 2023

4 days after Hamas’s assault, Israel appeared poised to order a full-scale floor invasion of the Gaza Strip.

With more than 1,000 killed in Israel and a couple of,600 wounded within the deadliest incursion on Israeli territory in its historical past, the federal government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is underneath monumental strain to ship its forces into the enclave. It has already responded with airstrikes which have killed greater than 900 Palestinians in Gaza.

Earlier than going any additional, Israel should contemplate that it could be strolling right into a Gaza entice. Right here is why.

Hamas knew that the assault on Saturday would give Mr. Netanyahu little alternative however to retaliate with a floor invasion, and it is aware of that the Israel Protection Forces’ expertise and navy superiority would provide little benefit on the crowded streets of Gaza Metropolis; in Jabalia, Gaza’s largest refugee camp; or by way of Hamas’s labyrinth of underground tunnels. Gaza, 140 sq. miles with a inhabitants of greater than two million, is one of the most densely populated locations on earth.

It seems Hamas desires to attract Israeli troopers right into a quagmire, as Hezbollah did in Southern Lebanon from 1985 to 2000. After years of combating, Israel suffered a humiliating and chaotic withdrawal, leaving an empowered and threatening Hezbollah on its northern border.

Why would possibly Hamas wish to draw the Israel Protection Forces right into a bloody floor battle? Hamas is the uncontested energy in Gaza, although elections haven’t been held since 2006. The Palestinian Authority; its fundamental political celebration, Fatah; the enterprise neighborhood; civil society; and household clan leaders can not successfully problem Hamas, which has develop into solely stronger after every successive battle with Israel. Regardless of an Israeli blockade and round the clock surveillance, Hamas has apparently been in a position to construct and purchase extra rockets, steadily enhance their vary and accuracy, present offensive fight coaching for its fighters and develop an intelligence community refined and far-reaching sufficient to launch a simultaneous assault on 22 Israeli locations. Hamas certainly believes it could defeat the Israelis on its house turf in a struggle of attrition.

Hamas additionally stands to develop its political credibility within the West Financial institution if Israel invades Gaza, significantly if Israeli advances stall. Many Palestinians within the West Financial institution already regard the Palestinian Authority, which administers components of the Israeli-occupied West Financial institution, as corrupt, enfeebled and unable to understand the aspirations of its individuals. Israel’s July incursion into the West Bank city of Jenin additional highlighted that the federal government of the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, can neither shield the individuals of Jenin nor present a imaginative and prescient of a extra hopeful future. If Israel invades Gaza, Hamas might have the general public help to problem the Palestinian Authority within the West Financial institution and probably assume management as the only consultant of the Palestinian individuals.

Within the broader area, Hamas may depend on its ally Hezbollah. The day after the Hamas assault in southern Israel, Hezbollah, presumably in an try to check the readiness of Israeli forces, engaged in fighting with the Israeli military alongside the northern border close to Shebaa Farms, land that’s managed by Israel however claimed by Lebanon. Hezbollah might search to achieve benefit if Israel is combating Hamas in Gaza and the West Financial institution.

Regardless of its grotesque atrocities in opposition to civilians, Hamas might have already reset the political realignment within the Center East by disrupting potential diplomatic talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia. But when Gaza had been now to escalate right into a protracted floor struggle, Hamas may additionally undermine the Abraham Accords, which established agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and break the development of accelerating Arab-Israeli normalization. The Palestinian Authority was unable to dam the Abraham Accords, however Hamas may nonetheless unwind them.

Israel, after all, can depend on U.S. help because it takes its subsequent steps. The Biden administration has despatched a service strike group to the japanese Mediterranean Sea, in what it has said is a “deterrence posture” that can present the Israel Protection Forces with “further tools and sources, together with munitions.” The nationwide safety adviser, Jake Sullivan, reaffirmed U.S. help for Israel instantly after President Biden’s information convention on Tuesday.

Over the subsequent week or so, Israel may destroy a lot of Hamas’s infrastructure. The Israel Protection Forces will channel the outrage of the nation if it launches a floor invasion of Gaza and can precise an infinite value for Hamas’s bloodbath within the Kfar Aza kibbutz. And but operationally, Hamas complicates the Israel Protection Forces’ freedom of motion, provided that it holds not less than 150 hostages. If a floor struggle drags on, Israel would make battlefield beneficial properties however virtually actually fail to destroy Hamas’s governing ideology or the Palestinians’ unrealized aspirations for statehood.

To keep away from the Gaza entice, Israel wants Arab allies on the bottom and within the area. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan have all regarded Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Muslim Brotherhood as a collective strategic risk. To achieve the help of the important thing regional leaders, Israel must provide main safety concessions and intelligence within the occasion of a wider struggle with Iran and set a significant and clear political horizon for a post-Abbas, post-Hamas Palestinian state. But Mr. Netanyahu faces a steep credibility hole each domestically and with Israel’s Arab neighbors. Solely a real unity authorities might be able to blunt the Hamas risk with breakthrough diplomacy within the area. That success may cost him his job.

The times forward shall be bloody and tough for Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas might nicely have set a entice if it induces an Israeli invasion of Gaza. Earlier than Israel makes that decision, it must have a technique for exiting Gaza and a plan for the day after. An Israeli miscalculation in Gaza may set off a disaster within the Center East that lasts for generations.

R. David Harden is a former assistant administrator at USAID’s bureau for democracy, battle and humanitarian help; USAID mission director to the West Financial institution and Gaza; and senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s particular envoy for Center East peace.

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