Israel has vowed to “completely destroy” Hamas. So here are just two scenarios that might play out, and the questions we’d be asking if we were ‘in the room’.
1. ‘Get in, get out’
- The longer the offensive drags on, the more it benefits Hamas. As conditions in Gaza deteriorate, Israel will come under growing pressure to withdraw, while the risk of a regional escalation rises.
- So Israel may seek a short, sharp ground offensive to root out Hamas leaders beyond the reach of targeted airstrikes (like the one that reportedly just killed Hamas political leader, Osama al-Mazini).
- But Hamas will deploy every asymmetry to its advantage – tunnels, hostages, civilians – to maximise Israel’s operational and reputational costs. And that’ll make the complete defeat of Hamas difficult.
2. Occupy until Hamas is ‘completely destroyed’
- This would mean a longer-term occupation with more responsibility (willingly or not) for Gaza’s humanitarian needs; it’s one thing to invade, another to try to govern, and still another while also pursuing Hamas.
- And there’s still no guarantee Hamas would be destroyed. Urban fighting will favour Hamas, with Israel’s costs rising as it fights door-to-door while the world watches on in high-def.
- And what happens after Hamas is gone? Israel might hope any disarmament and deterrence is long-lasting, but history suggests a new, freshly radicalised generation will emerge and fill any power vacuum.
Final thought: There truly are no ‘good’ options here, but even President Biden thinks option two above “would be a big mistake”. So option one may be more likely. Biden himself will visit Israel tomorrow (Wednesday), and we assess he’ll publicly support Israel while privately cautioning about the limited but growing risk of all this escalating into a broader regional conflict.
And either way, it’s hard to imagine Israel making a move until Biden’s departed.