Israel will stay in Gaza for the long term

Israel will “have the overall security responsibility [in Gaza] for an indefinite period”, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday. Netanyahu’s announcement came as his defence minister said Israeli forces had “reached the heart of Gaza City” and were “tightening the noose.

Israel has been here before.In 1967, the IDF conquered the Gaza Strip and other adjacent territory (including the West Bank) during the Six-Day War. For the next several decades, Israel occupied and administered Gaza and around 9,000 Israeli citizens settled there.

Then in 2005, in an effort to forge peace with Palestinians following years of violence known as the Second Intifada, Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces from Gaza and forcefully evicted Israeli settlers in the area.

Back in the present, Netanyahu’s decision to assume ‘overall security responsibility’ in Gaza has seemed inevitable ever since his government announced it would launch a ground operation to “completely destroy Hamas”.

Responding to concerns that Israel would, in reality, be occupying Gaza, Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu, said yesterday that “[t]here will have to be an Israeli security presence [in Gaza], but that doesn’t mean Israel is re-occupying Gaza, that doesn’t mean that Israel is there to govern the Gazans.

Intrigue’s take: It’s hard to square that circle. Israel will have few realistic alternatives after it achieves its war aims (and that remains an enormous if):

  1. It could try to give control of Gaza to the Palestinian National Authority while retaining a security presence (US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with PNA president Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday, a sign the US is keeping all options open).
  2. It could create a new government in Gaza, though it’s not clear how.
  3. It could try to work with neighbouring Arab countries and the UN to install a multinational governing body with responsibility for Gaza.
  4. Or it could end up occupying Gaza indefinitely (an idea repugnant to almost all countries and many Israelis).

The initial political reaction to the Hamas attack has narrowed Israel’s medium and long-term options and now threatens to bog the country down in Gaza as it has been for much of its existence.

Also worth noting:

  • A former Egyptian diplomat, Abderahman Salaheldin, proposed forming a multinational force “for a transitional period of two years until a Palestinian police force from the Gaza Strip is formed, trained, and equipped to assume the tasks of maintaining security.”
  • John Kirby, a White House spokesperson, reiterated President Biden’s concerns to CNN “that a reoccupation of Gaza by Israeli forces is not good”. 
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