The Gaza Strip is a small area (365 square kilometers), and it has been highly monitored by Israel, making it easier for the IDF to gather vital information about Hamas and other groups there. The IDF also has been training to confront Hamas. Nevertheless, in retaking the Gaza Strip, hundreds of Israeli troops will be killed or injured, fighting their foe above and underground.
Hamas dug long tunnels in the Gaza Strip, preparing itself for war, including as part of an IDF territorial seizure. The fight would therefore not be over after the IDF captured the entire Gaza Strip. The IDF would have to destroy the existing military infrastructure. Palestinian combatants, not only from Hamas, would aspire to harm Israelis, including taking them as prisoners. Israelis in the Gaza Strip would inevitably be targets for ambushes, IEDs, etc.
As in prior similar campaigns, Israel has relied on firepower, mostly through aircraft, to make significant achievements. However, these accomplishments fall short of the chance for complete victory. Since Israel will not retake the Gaza Strip, Hamas will keep its base, recover and produce additional and more sophisticated rockets and missiles with longer range, accuracy etc. Following Israeli strikes, Hamas might need months, and in certain areas, years to rebuild its strength. Hamas, including its naval commando, were hit hard. Overall, Israel managed to inflict Hamas quite a blow in this round.
Israel theorizes that more strikes in the current round will be adequate to cripple the military wing of Hamas, delaying another round, but there is no guarantee of that. Hamas will still have a capability to challenge Israel.
This round started following clashes in Jerusalem, which are capable of occurring again at any time for a variety of reasons. Israel needs to be careful in this matter, but predicting in advance what will ignite riots, let alone another round with Hamas, is a speculative undertaking. The latter can easily rely on friction between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem as an excuse for striking Israel, producing yet another extended campaign.
Hamas is an Iranian proxy, although independent in many respects. Its self-determination has been demonstrated in several instances, such as when it refused to fight for Assad, Iran’s ally, during the Syrian civil war. Nevertheless, Iran recognizes the importance of Hamas due to its location, near Israel, and since it is Sunni. The mostly Shi’ite Iran uses this religious factor to present itself as one that assists Sunnis, and not only Shi’ite groups such as Hezbollah.
IN RECENT YEARS, Iranian training and knowledge helped Hamas upgrade its missiles and rockets, with the results being shown in this latest round. Iran hereby hits Israel indirectly, as part of the ongoing conflict between them. Israel returns the favor by bombing Iranian targets inside Syria, and by conducting covert operations against Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel’s most crucial national security concern is stopping or at least delaying the development of Iran’s nuclear program. It is a top priority for Israel, more important than any issue Israel has with Hamas or any other national security concern for that matter.
Talks between Iran, the United States, and other powers about containing Iran’s nuclear program are ongoing. Israel does not have much leverage in those negotiations, but as long as Israel is occupied with Hamas, Israel cannot focus on what matters most: handling Iran’s nuclear program. In that sense, Hamas serves Iran even if Hamas fights Israel for its own reasons. This is another major reason why Israel should end the current campaign with Hamas.
Israel and the United States have close ties, but the Biden administration does not have very friendly relations with the Israeli government. Israel needs its American patron in order to reach the best outcome for the current round with Hamas. Israel relies much more on the United States to make sure the talks with Iran will be effective at restraining Iran’s nuclear program.
If Israel annoys the Biden administration with respect to the Gaza Strip, the United States might be less willing to listen to Israel about Iran. The Biden administration lends Israel time in fighting Hamas but it is clear the Biden administration wants this campaign to subside. If Israel insists on persisting with this round, it risks increasing friction with the Biden administration.
Hamas, due to its mismanagement and eagerness to confront Israel, caused a deep economic and social crisis in the Gaza Strip. Some predict that this area might collapse, driving thousands of desperate Palestinians to infiltrate Israel and ask for help. Obviously, Israel does not prefer this outcome. If Israel continues with this round, the probability of further decline in the Gaza Strip increases.
Many Arab states oppose Hamas, and some, like those in the Gulf, have ties with Israel. Arab states can’t openly support Israel in this round, fearing public opinion inside their countries and across the Arab world. Arab criticism of Israel is not as pronounced as it used to be, but this can easily change for the worse. The longer this round is continued, the higher the burden of casualties amongst the Palestinian population will reach, forcing even Arab states that have normalized relations with Israel, to speak and maybe even to act against Israel.
All in all, ending the current campaign will frustrate many in Israel who wish to defeat Hamas. However, Israel should cut its losses, and not extend this campaign, because it is simply not worth the cost and the risks.
Dr. Ehud Eilam has been dealing with and studying Israel’s national security for more than 25 years. He served in the Israeli military and later worked for the Defense Ministry as a researcher. He has had six books published in the US and UK, the latest being Containment in the Middle East (University Press of Nebraska, 2019).