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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reoccupy Gaza?

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is one of Prime Minister Netanyahu's closest confidantes, said on Saturday that the current operation in Gaza may end in the reoccupation of the entire Strip.
The price that both sides will pay is yet unknown. 270 Palestinians have been killed so far in this most recent wave of violence, and more than 2,000 have been injured, while two Israelis have been killed and about 10 Israelis injured. The human cost of the conflict is unpredictable in part because Israel has not yet decided how far it’s going in Gaza, and, therefore, what its exit strategy should be. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Friday that the operation would continue “until it’s necessary and until the quiet returns.”
The main target of Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza are secret tunnels linking it to Israel, like the one Israel says Hamas militants used this week in an attempt to infiltrate and attack it. Still, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, said that Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” could result in Israel taking control of the entire Gaza Strip.
“The tunnels are the target of this operation, but alongside that, I don’t rule out the possibility of addition stages, of Stage B and Stage C, and the expansion of this operation,” Steinitz said in a speech following Netanyahu’s and broadcast on Israel Radio. “We will weigh all options in coordination with the needs of the operation, and even though we’re not interested in it, the possibility of taking control of the entire Gaza Strip to eliminate the possibility of launching missiles from there.”
Some members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been vocal about their assessments that the only solution in Israel’s eyes is a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. Israel seized Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War, and didn’t remove its settlers and soldiers from the region until 2005, nearly 40 years later.
But Azriel Bermant, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, says that re-taking control of the Gaza Strip is considered an extreme option among Israel’s security policy-making circles, and is probably some combination of bluster and wishful thinking on the part of rightists like Lieberman. Netanyahu, Bermant says, is more “risk-averse” and unlikely to want to make a move that would not only be condemned internationally and lead to casualties on both sides, but could also further complicate things in Gaza.
“The problem with talk of overthrowing Hamas is that you don’t want to leave Gaza in a state of chaos, and you have no idea what will replace it. Given what’s going on in the region, I don’t think anyone really wants to take that risk,” Bermant said, referring to ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has taken control of major swaths of Iraq after pouring over from Syria’s border amidst that country’s ongoing civil war.
On Friday, I reported that eliminating Hamas could take 8-12 months. The source of that assessment - which I did not mention at the time - was allegedly Prime Minister Netanyahu himself in a meeting with Haredi MK's that was reported in Haredi media.

I doubt Israel will ever go back to the situation in Gaza as it was before 2005. But I could see a temporary reoccupation and de-Nazification of Gaza, which would include an attempt to totally disarm all Islamist groups. While the 'international community' might will complain about that, the al-Sisi government in Egypt would likely be supportive. They feel at least as endangered as we do.

And although it wasn't called that, what Steinmetz referred to as Phase B likely started Saturday night.
“We are currently expanding our ground operation against Hamas in Gaza,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit tweeted.
“Our goal remains, to strike a significant blow to Hamas' terror capabilities so that the citizens of Israel can live in safety and security,” read another tweet.
In a statement, the IDF said that ground forces in large numbers have joined the military activities which are focusing on the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.
“The IDF operation was carried out pursuant to the decision of the political echelon and according to the IDF's operational plans and will continue, depending on a security assessment by the IDF General Staff,” said the statement.
“The forces are at high readiness and are prepared for the mission after a period of increased training and planning and thorough preparation,” the statement emphasized.
Here's how the Time Magazine article described Phases B and C.
The stage B and C that Steinitz referred to could include going into urban areas – Gaza City as well as the strip’s many refugee camps – in search of rocket launchers and rocket stockpiles. Israeli soldiers were sent to do this kind of high-risk, house-to-house combat during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, and also in the West Bank during the Second Intifada. Few want to get to a Stage C, which could mean a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip for a period of months, says Dr. Jonathan Spyer, an analyst at the Gloria Center at the IDC Herzliya.
“As of now, they’re not headed that far into Gaza. If it stays focused on the tunnel openings, then they might stay quite close to Gaza’s border. But my sense is that if the rocket fire on Israel continues, it raises the possibility of a further incursion.
“A large element of this is punitive: to punish Hamas in order to build deterrence,” Spyer adds. “But I don’t think there’s any intention of reoccupying Gaza and bringing down Hamas as an authority. Israel has no realistic options in that matter – I don’t think that [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas can just receive the Gaza Strip from Israel on a silver plate. We’re also not going back to 1992 with an open occupation of the Gaza Strip.”

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