Israeli Army Recommends Further Strikes in Gaza Before Negotiating Process Begins

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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An IDF force on its way to the kibbutzim of the Gaza Strip
An IDF convoy on the way to the Gaza border, this weekCredit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The Israel Defense Forces has recommended to the government that it approve further attacks on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip before launching an accelerated negotiation process.

The IDF expects the fighting to continue for another few days, during which there will be further attempts to assassinate senior Hamas officials.

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In recent days, Hamas has delivered messages to Israel in an attempt to reach a quick cease-fire, but Israel has replied that the time is not ripe.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second time in two days. The United States is not demanding that Israel halt its attacks immediately, but it seems to seek an end to the fighting soon. The West Bank has witnessed a serious escalation, with 11 Palestinians killed on Friday by the IDF.

The security cabinet will meet Sunday to discuss developments. In New York, the UN Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency session to discuss the situation.

Senior officers told Haaretz that offensive actions are providing ever diminishing returns, especially after Thursday night’s massive attack in which a Hamas tunnel network in northern Gaza was destroyed.

In the assault, Israeli planes dropped 450 tons of bombs. The IDF is worried that further attacks will lead to civilian casualties.

There are also concerns that Hamas will chalk up another achievement in the fighting, making it hard for Israel to end the confrontation from a position of strength.

Israeli airstrikes last week killed dozens of people, including many women and children. The toppling of an apartment building that housed the offices of several media outlets and Hamas has stirred international criticism, even though Israel warned the occupants to leave.

Over the weekend, hundreds of rockets were fired at southern and central Israel. A resident of Ramat Gan was killed on Saturday by a direct hit.

Hamas is believed to still have thousands of short-range rockets and many hundreds of rockets that can reach central Israel. The IDF has foiled several attempts by Hamas to launch attacks using various types of drones.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating due to great problems with the power grid. Israel halted the supply of diesel fuel to Gaza’s power station midweek, and Palestinian sources say power lines from Israel to Gaza have been hit. The electricity supply has been drastically cut, hampering the operation of vital services.

There is great satisfaction with Israel’s ability to condense effective operations into five days, compared with the 50 days of the 2014 Gaza war. The generals do not support a ground offensive at this point.

Contacts with Hamas are being handled by Egyptian intelligence, led by intelligence chief Abbas Kamel. Qatar, which mediates between the two sides in normal days, is almost out of the picture for now. The details of any agreement are expected to be the same as those reached in 2014.

The longer the campaign, the more difficulties are expected regarding countries Israel signed normalization agreements with in recent months, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. The Arab world is very sensitive to developments in Jerusalem, especially on the Temple Mount.

In contrast, ties with the United States have been good, at least in the early stages of the clashes. The head of the Political-Military Bureau at the Defense Ministry, Zohar Palti, was in Washington last week for meetings with senior officials at the Pentagon, State Department and the National Security Council. There was great understanding for Israel’s need to use force to defend its people.

Defense officials have said they fear rising tensions in the West Bank. In violent demonstrations marking Nakba Day on Friday, nine Palestinians were killed by the IDF. Two others were killed while attempting to attack Israeli soldiers. Israel is worried about a decline in the security coordination with the Palestinian Authority and by the intensity of the identification with Hamas.

The IDF now has 24 battalions in the West Bank, almost twice the normal number. Reserve and regular army units have been deployed in the West Bank, replacing Border Police units that were moved to Israel proper. It’s possible that the high casualty number is linked to the deployment of less-skilled forces just as things were heating up. Intelligence warnings indicate a threat of infiltration into settlements or drive-by shootings on West Bank highways.

The United States has unofficially asked for clarifications from Israel regarding the high number of Palestinian casualties. There is also growing tension on the Lebanese border after a Hezbollah fighter was killed by the IDF during a protest when he tried to cross the border fence into Israel. Another person in Lebanon citizen was seriously wounded.

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