Antony Blinken, the American Secretary of State, is hardly to be envied these days. Everywhere he goes, he receives urgent pleas to urge Israel to agree to a ceasefire. On Saturday, his colleagues from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt urged it, and on Sunday it was the turn of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. At a meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank, Abbas said there was an urgent need for a ceasefire to allow more humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip.
But Blinken has no plans to pressure the Israelis for the time being. He remains convinced that Hamas benefits too much from this. Moreover, he realizes that the question in Jerusalem will fall on a cold stone. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again rejected a ceasefire on Sunday. First, Hamas must release all hostages, he said. But there’s more. The ground offensive is in full swing. Netanyahu and his war cabinet are not prepared to temporarily halt this. They do not want to allow Hamas’ military leaders time to catch their breath and possibly reorganize.
After ten days, the Israeli soldiers have surrounded Gaza City and are starting their most dangerous task: ‘cleansing’ the city of Hamas fighters as much as possible. Because that remains the greater goal of the large-scale operation. Hamas must lose control of Gaza and its military branch must be destroyed.
Since the start of the ground war, the army has regularly reported that Hamas fighters and commanders have been killed. Hundreds are said to have died in the meantime, although experts in Israel wonder whether the reported numbers are correct. “Some officers believe reports of hundreds of dead terrorists have not been sufficiently corroborated,” writes Amos Harel, the Israeli daily’s defense specialist Haaretz. He warns that Hamas is far from being eliminated.
As expected, the terrorist movement avoids direct confrontations with the army and opts for guerrilla tactics. As the Israeli army moves deeper into Gaza City, the situation becomes more dangerous for the soldiers. So far, losses have been limited, but the longer the war lasts, the greater the risks of body bags. Military analysts continue to warn that Hamas should not be underestimated. The extremist movement has been able to prepare for this urban guerrilla for a long time and is much stronger than in 2014, when the Israeli army entered Gaza for a more limited operation. According to the military, the movement now has about 40,000 fighters, up from 16,000 in 2014.
According to a Haaretzjournalist who was allowed to go with the Israeli soldiers, the army works slowly but very systematically. They use their immense firepower and are assisted by the air force. But despite this dominance, Hamas’s command structure continues to function. In the coming days and weeks, the army’s focus will shift even more to the tunnels where the fighters are hiding. The deepest tunnels cannot be destroyed from the air. The Israeli army will try to trap the Hamas fighters inside.
What after Hamas?
The biggest victims, meanwhile, remain Palestinian civilians. Not a day goes by without hundreds of Gazans dying as a result of the bombings. According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, 9,970 people have already been killed, including 4,000 children. The bombings also take place in supposedly safe areas. On Saturday evening, again according to Hamas, 47 people died when the al-Maghazi refugee camp was bombed. However, al-Maghazi is located in the zone that Israel had designated as a place of refuge. Such actions only increase the anger among the population and make a long-term solution for Gaza further away than ever.
Who will govern Gaza if Hamas is eliminated? In his conversation with Abbas, Blinken said that a prominent place is reserved for the Palestinian Authority. But is that a realistic idea? Abbas has not had a good reputation among Gazans for a long time. If the Palestinian Authority is put forward by Israel and the US as an alternative to Hamas, Abbas will be seen even more as a traitor. He knows that too. That’s why he says such a scenario is only possible as part of a comprehensive two-state solution.