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Friday, 19 July 2024
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Gaza cease-fire: Is Israel’s 3rd phase of war a stumbling block or wrecking ball?

Gaza cease-fire: Is Israel’s 3rd phase of war a stumbling block or wrecking ball?


By Muhammed Enes Calli

ISTANBUL (AA) – While a series of talks held in Doha have raised some hope for a cease-fire in its deadly war on Gaza, analysts say Israel’s recent actions and statements from its top leadership could prove to be a major stumbling block.

Israeli media reports last week said the military is gearing up for a third phase of operations in Gaza, which apparently means a transition to intelligence-based attacks from the intensive bombing that has laid waste to most of the enclave, killed more than 38,200 Palestinians and wounded over 88,000.

In a meeting attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and top military and intelligence officials, the army’s commanders asked for at least four more months of operations in Rafah, according to Israeli Channel 12.

The reports, more or less, have poured cold water on intense speculation over a possible truce deal, although a new round of talks is set to kick off in the Qatari capital, with an Israeli delegation led by Mossad chief David Barnea departing Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

Ihab Maharmeh, a doctoral researcher at the University of Sussex, believes the ongoing negotiations are unlikely to have any impact on Israeli plans for the third phase of its “genocidal war.”

Palestinian groups have shown their proclivity for a cease-fire agreement, but “Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition seem intent on continuing the genocidal war,” Maharmeh, who is also a researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, told Anadolu.

“While signs indicate that Hamas has been open from day one to reach an agreement, Netanyahu is working to undermine negotiations by intensifying his aggression against civilians in Gaza.”

Hamas is likely to interpret this as a signal that Israel is not genuinely interested in a cease-fire, he said, with the group having clarified that any agreement must have a complete end to Israeli aggression.

“Nevertheless, Hamas will remain open to any agreement that achieves a cease-fire, withdraws the IDF from Gaza, and contributes to humanitarian aid entry,” he added.

Maharmeh said even if there is a “temporary truce” then Netanyahu can be expected to simply use it to “repatriate some Israeli prisoners only to resume the genocidal war afterward.”

Omar Rahman, a fellow at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, also stressed that Netanyahu is “clearly the spoiler” in the ongoing cease-fire negotiations.

“Every time Hamas takes a step in the direction of accommodation, Netanyahu finds a way of subverting the negotiations,” he told Anadolu.


- 3rd phase ‘likely aimed at reoccupying Gaza Strip’

Maharmeh dismissed the idea of Israel wanting to shift to “accurate” and “intelligence-baed” attacks in Gaza, saying the assertions made in media reports are “inaccurate.”

“Although Israel describes this phase as limited and precise, in line with some timid international pressure, it is likely aimed at reoccupying the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Under Netanyahu, Israel appears to be advancing long-term strategic colonial objectives, including “ongoing ethnic cleansing in Palestine, which appears to outweigh efforts to ease international pressure,” said Maharmeh.

In the third phase, he warned, the Israeli army and its “colonial military infrastructure such as the Netzarim corridor,” are likely to face more mortar and rocket attacks from Palestinian groups, potentially leading Israel into a “prolonged and complex war of attrition.”

Rahman also does not believe that Israel plans to change its tactics in Gaza, at least not yet.

“If that does happen soon, it will most likely be in response to the rising threat of large-scale war with Hezbollah in Lebanon and the need to redeploy its military accordingly,” he said.

He pointed out that Israel has already caused massive death and destruction in Gaza, leaving millions facing mass starvation.

“If the Netanyahu government’s intention is to make Gaza unlivable in order to force the population out, it is doing the deed, whether it carries on intensive bombing or not,” said Rahman.

On the combat front, he said Hamas has “remained fairly resilient and capable of striking back against the Israeli military.”

The Israeli army has “already conceded that Hamas’ destruction is an impossible goal – much to the consternation of an Israeli political leadership that promised total victory,” he said.

“I expect that Hamas will remain a fighting force in Gaza for the foreseeable future,” said Rahman.

For Israeli political analyst Ori Goldberg, there is no distinct third phase strategy in play.

“There is no real difference between the so-called third phase and the second and first phases other than, perhaps, scope,” he told Anadolu.

“There is nothing ‘limited’ about this operation. It depends on complete freedom of action for Israel … There are no clear objectives, just sunk costs and a desperate hope to find and kill (Hamas leader Yahya) Sinwar.”

He believes Israel’s only plan is to keep up its raids and attacks indefinitely until Hamas is “eradicated.”

“No one knows what this means. Will there be an occupation? Who will manage Gaza? No one knows,” said Goldberg.

“This isn’t really different from what Israel has so far claimed to be doing … Israel doesn’t really think it can redeem itself.”

He stressed that Israel has “no real goals to achieve so, obviously, they cannot be achieved.”

“Israel is undecisive and only killing Palestinians. This is a political issue that cannot be decided by military means,” said Goldberg.


- Israel pursuing ‘long-term settler-colonial goals’

A possible example of what Israel plans to do in Gaza going forward is what it has been doing in the occupied West Bank, according to Maharmeh.

“Israel’s third phase of the Gaza war usually refers to a more subtle phase of daily military operations, similar to the one currently taking place in the West Bank, but on a broader and more aggressive scale,” he said.

Since last October, there has been a consistent uptick in Israeli violence in the West Bank, including killings and settler attacks.

At least 571 Palestinians, including at least 133 children, have been killed and nearly 5,350 others injured by Israeli forces in the occupied territory since Oct. 7, according to Health Ministry figures.

At least 9,600 Palestinians have also been detained by the Israeli army in the West Bank since last October, including those who were released after being arrested.

Scores of violent attacks on Palestinians by illegal Israeli settlers have also been documented, with a UN-backed commission saying last month that the Israeli government and military have “permitted, fostered and instigated” a pattern of settler aggression against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Demolition of Palestinian properties and expansion of illegal settlements has continued unabated, with at least 194 mostly residential buildings destroyed in the first five months of 2024, affecting 254 Palestinian facilities, according to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Commission Against the Separation Wall and Settlements.

Maharmeh said the Israeli military will use the third phase to focus more on specific areas of Gaza and infrastructure of Palestinian groups.

There will likely be “more aggressive fighting aimed at erasing Palestinian resistance and asserting Israel’s control over strategic locations to secure long-term settler-colonial goals,” he said.

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