The Duck of Minerva

Israel in Gaza: What’s the Plan?

18 July 2014

10557671_684954708219777_6909228407805769384_o(Photo by Oliver Weiken—EPA)

What’s the Israeli plan with all of this? According to the Israeli Defense Forces statement, “The IDF’s objective as defined by the Israeli government (in the ground offensive) is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”

Despite the somewhat ambiguous language here, what this apparently means is that the Israeli government wants to return to some kind of status-quo ante — albeit one with a weakened Hamas stockpile of rockets and tunnels. It doesn’t want to return to full-scale occupation in Gaza and it doesn’t want to defeat Hamas. Both would be too costly. As Aaron David Miller writes :

Israel needs Hamas in Gaza. Of course, it doesn’t want a militant terrorist organization launching rockets at its cities and citizens. But a Hamas that maintains order there and provides a hedge against even more radical jihadi groups is preferable to a lawless vacuum. Indeed, fewer rockets were fired from Gaza in 2013 than in any year since 2001. I’ve often pondered why al Qaeda has never been able to set up shop in an effective manner in Gaza, or undertake a terrorist extravaganza in Israel. The absence of an al Qaeda presence is not only a result of the Israeli security presence — it’s due to the determination of Palestinians not to allow the jihadists to hijack their cause. The absence of an al Qaeda presence is not only a result of the Israeli security presence — it’s due to the determination of Palestinians not to allow the jihadists to hijack their cause…

…The last thing Israel wants is a vacuum in Gaza.

But, while the status quo ante may be acceptable to Israelis, it almost certainly is not possible.
The immediate humanitarian effects of the Hamas-Israeli military violence over the past two weeks have been disastrous:

Between July 7 and 16, Israel’s bombardment of Gaza killed 214 Palestinians (164 of whom were civilians) and injured 1,585 (including 435 children and 282 women). To date, 22,600 people have been displaced and are living in UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools, because their homes have been destroyed or damaged or their neighborhoods are unsafe. Since the start of the emergency, 79 schools and 23 health care facilities in Gaza have sustained damage, at least 25,000 children are estimated to be in need of specialized psychosocial support, and 900,000 people are currently without water supply.

But, even before the recent escalation, Gazans were experiencing an acute humanitarian crisis. At the only border crossing between Israel and Gaza at Karem Shalom only 250 trucks transit into Gaza from Israel each day.  Clearly, not nearly enough to provide all of the food, clothing, medicine, and other daily materials to support Gaza’s 1.8 million residents. And while the intensity of the blockade on Gaza has ebbed and flowed over the past nine years, as Pia Wanak further reports, the collective effects of the blockade have been profound:

Around 60 percent of the population is food insecure and about 50 percent of household income is spent on food. Israel bulldozed one-third of the arable land of the Gaza Strip in 2001 to create a buffer zone that runs the length of the Strip, which has led to an estimated reduction of 75,000 metric tons of produce each year. Fishing, a major industry that had employed 35,000 Gazans, was reduced drastically when Israel restricted fishermen to six nautical miles of the Mediterranean, the same water which receives 90 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage each day.

It has been estimated that by 2020, the population of Gaza will be 2.1 million and that by 2016, Gazans will run out of potable water. Unless there is a change in the political status quo, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip will continue to worsen even when the current conflict ends.

Furthermore, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council:

A mere ‘return to calm’ will not address the pre-existing humanitarian crisis and will not allow humanitarian agencies to provide adequate assistance to those affected by the latest spiral of violence, exacerbated by the ground invasion. Against the backdrop of the eight-year-long blockade, which has caused severe deterioration in the humanitarian situation, structural and lasting solutions will have to be implemented to ensure that the residents of the Gaza Strip are not forced to return to the status quo.

So, this gets us back to the basic question: What’s the Israeli plan with all of this? Even if the IDF is able to accomplish its most immediate objective and strike a “blow at Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure,” then what? What’s the plan for the day after? What’s the plan to alleviate the long-term affects of the on-going humanitarian crisis — and in the absence of such a plan, how can the Israel and the IDF really achieve its objective to “establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security?”