First published on NewCatallaxy.blog on 31st January, 2024
One of the first declarations of intent was reported from an unnamed official.
The unnamed defense official told Israel’s Channel 13 that the Palestinian territory, home to more than 2 million residents, would be reduced to rubble. “Gaza will eventually turn into a city of tents. There will be no buildings.”
There have been plenty of others. In November the Agriculture Minister and Security Cabinet member Avi Dichter announced that, “We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba.” That is, the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza.
The Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, lays out the rationale to LBC interviewer Iain Dale.
But the clearest call for ethnic cleansing of Gaza came from Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. On the 31st of December, he told Army Radio,
If in Gaza there will be 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs and not 2 million the entire conversation on ‘the day after’ will look different.https://www.jpost.com/israel-hamas-war/article-780229
It’s an ambitious policy, but it would forestall any accusations of Israel’s being an apartheid state, because there could be no majority of Palestinians in areas under effective control by the Israelis.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir made similar calls for “voluntary emigration,” which brought a rare rebuke from the US State Department. But Netanyahu has not offered such a direct rebuke.
For months, Netanyahu has bucked US requests to begin planning for who will govern the Gaza Strip after the war, ostensibly recognizing that his far-right coalition partners would reject proposals that do not include Israel’s reoccupation and resettlement of Gaza — which the security establishment and Washington oppose.https://www.timesofisrael.com/likud-minister-slams-smotrich-ben-gvirs-unrealistic-call-for-gazan-emigration/
In a video posted on the 8th of January, Shlomo Karhi, the Israeli Minister of Communications, restated the aim of “voluntary emigration” of the population of Gaza. On the 1st of January, Netanyahu told an internal Likud meeting that, “Our problem is [finding] countries that are willing to absorb Gazans, and we are working on it.” These reports were subsequently denied.
It’s not all doom and gloom when discussing these issues, though, as this comic turn by a Channel 14 news anchor shows.
Mass population expulsion is enabled by ensuring that the current population has nowhere to live, and no infrastructure to depend on. For this part of the policy, so often discussed by representatives of the Israeli government, including many Ministers, Israel needs only its own resources, and the steady supply of munitions from the United States. It has been, and continues to be, put into effect, as can be seen in the following videos.
From 20th December, land clearing in Northern Gaza.
Israeli slapstick from 3rd of January.
From the 6th of January, having a casual smoke.
It was getting dark on the 8th of January, so the scene was lit up with flares so that every moment could be caught on video.
Going for a record in Khan Yunis; 18th January.
This one from 21st of January generates a lot of excitement in the English speaker recording the event.
The following is a relatively subdued effort of the IDF. A couple of adjacent buildings, the surroundings of which have been bulldozed, are demolished in a single explosion. The buildings are those of the University of Palestine, a private university, and the last higher education institute left in Gaza, until now. The demolition can be seen embedded within this video from a press conference.
Lee’s questions about the context in which this demolition takes place can be asked equally pertinently about every such demolition shown above. There is no threat, and, if we are to believe the Israeli insistence that they will retain security control of Gaza, there is not even any remote future military justification.
Attention is now turning to the Philadelphi Corridor; that is, the buffer zone along the Egypt-Gaza border. The Gaza Strip is not part of Israel. The Corridor is the border between Egypt and Palestinian Gaza.
The IDF had controlled that zone under terms set out by its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt until it withdrew from Gaza in 2005…
The Egyptian army in agreement with Israel increased its forces at the border both in 2005 and in 2021 to prevent weapons smuggling, [head of the State Information Services (SIS) Diaa Rashwan] explained.
“Egypt has full sovereignty over its land, and has complete control over its entire northeastern borders,” he added. “Israel’s continued marketing of these lies [that Egypt has not controlled smuggling] is an attempt to create legitimacy for its attempt to occupy the “Philadelphi Corridor” or “Salah al-Din Corridor”, in Gaza along the border with Egypt, in violation of the security agreements and protocols signed between it and Egypt,” Rashwan stressed.
He also reminded Israel that Cairo also considers any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai as a “red line” that should not be crossed.https://www.jpost.com/israel-hamas-war/article-783285
The last point is the most relevant. If Israel is to “encourage emigration,” the only avenue open to it is the Philadelphi Corridor. Egypt has made plain that it will not let the Gaza Strip empty into Sinai. As of mid-December, “hundreds of thousands” of refugees had crowded into Rafah and adjacent areas of the Corridor. If Israel takes control of the border, it has the option to punch holes in the wall, and encourage refugees to flow into Sinai. Hamas did it in 2008, so that Gazans could stock up with difficult-to-obtain supplies in Egyptian Rafah. Since then, Egypt has done its own land clearing.
Between 2013 and 2015, Egypt also evicted thousands of people from their homes and destroyed more than 3,000 structures along its side of the border to create a buffer zone, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.https://www.nytimesn7cgmftshazwhfgzm37qxb44r64ytbb2dj3x62d2lljsciiyd.onion/2023/12/14/world/middleeast/gaza-border-rafah-egypt.html
Passage through the wall, should it eventuate, would be a one-way ticket. It would also end the Peace Treaty, which has held between Egypt and Israel since 1979. The speculation comes in the wake of the withdrawal of one of four divisions of IDF troops from Gaza for R&R and training. The IDF estimate that fighting will continue through all of 2024, despite claims that “the [Hamas] battalion frameworks have been dismantled” in Northern Gaza, and that “the Khan Younis Brigade is gradually disintegrating as a fighting force.” Rifts are opening in the war cabinet. The particular issues are not as important as the facts that the rifts are public. Cracks come through pressure. If the war is conforming to the press releases there is a strong incentive to maintain cohesion. Talk about a regionally destabilising takeover of the Egypt-Gaza border is a way to “explain” why Hamas has not yet been broken despite all of its dismantling and disintegration.
Since this post was first drafted, more details have come to light. The split in the war cabinet, alluded to above, was made public by Gadi Eisenkot, a former IDF Chief of Staff, and a member of the Benny Gantz led National Unity alliance. Gantz and Eisenkot are both members of the war cabinet, which Netanyahu pulled together to pursue a unified approach to the war. Eisenkot’s son was killed in fighting in December.
Eisenkot revealed the he had argued himself hoarse (literally) in an October 11 cabinet meeting to forestall a preemptive strike against Hezbollah. About the course of the war, he had this to say.
“Those who say that there was a major blow and demolition of the capabilities in the north of the strip are telling the truth,” Eisenkot told told Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 News on Thursday evening. “Those who talk about an absolute defeat and lack of will and ability do not tell the truth. This is why there is no need to tell tall tales.”
Even this may have been optimistic. The CNN report is from 20th January. On the 16th, the Institute for the Study of War, a pro-Israel and pro-Ukraine military think tank, published its update on the situation in Gaza.
Palestinian militias are likely re-infiltrating into areas of the northern Gaza Strip where Israeli forces previously conducted clearing operations. CTP-ISW has observed renewed militant activity in several neighborhoods across the northern part of the strip in recent weeks, as Israeli forces have transitioned to less intense fighting there. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed on December 31, 2023, that it withdrew five brigades from the northern Gaza Strip and said that it would transition to targeted raids with its remaining forces. CTP-ISW assessed on January 2 that the IDF transitioning to this new phase of operations will very likely enable Hamas to reconstitute itself militarily.
In this environment, Israel’s demolition activities carry some risks. On the 22nd of January, Israeli soldiers who were rigging buildings for demolition were attacked with RPGs or other anti-tank weapons. The attack triggered the demolition charges, killing most of the IDF soldiers in the vicinity. Reports vary from 21 dead to 24, the number Netanyahu announced.
On the 28th of January, the Wall Street Journal headlined “Israel Struggles to Destroy Hamas’ Tunnel Network.
As much as 80% of Hamas’s vast warren of tunnels under Gaza remains intact after weeks of Israeli efforts to destroy them, U.S. and Israeli officials said, hampering Israel’s central war aims.
The bottom line is that Hamas still has significant operational capability. It seems that Israel is incapable of destroying Hamas.