There is no need for rhetoric to describe what has been happening for several days before our eyes in Gaza. The Israeli media and their European and French relays in particular took care of it. “political-military earthquake”, “a new Yom Kippur War”, “a new Israeli September 11” “a lamentable failure of Israeli military intelligence”, “bankruptcy of the Israeli deterrence system” But the most important question remains today : What should we expect in the coming days?
After the first hours of the psychological shock suffered, Israeli leaders were unanimous in brandishing the threat of an exceptional response equal to the challenge launched by Hamas. They had no choice but to make such a threat. Firstly to psychologically reassure the Israeli population and in particular the settlers. Then there is the deterrence strategy followed until now by Israel and which it is reasonable to doubt will be able to withstand the blow it has suffered.
To hope to put an end to the threat from Hamas, the Israeli government could only envisage a response different from that which it has followed until then since the war of 2009 until the battle of 2021 which opposed the Israeli army to Islamic Jihad fighters through the 2014 war against Hamas. The strategy of aerial bombardment and systematic destruction of infrastructure has not solved the problem, it is logical to expect something different this time. According to US media, Netanyahu informed Biden that Israel had no choice but to move to a ground offensive with the aim of neutralizing the power of Hamas.
“Land offensive”, the magic formula is launched. But on the fifth day of clashes since the launch of operation “Al-Aqsa Flood”, Israel seems to be hesitating. The general staff of the Israeli army has just declared that it had not made any decision concerning a possible ground offensive but that it was preparing for it.
The Israeli media, which has maintained a certain level of criticism of the events (better in any case than their French counterparts), remains doubtful. Haaretz, Israel’s leading left-wing daily, published excerpts from the letter from the Israeli Air Force reserve general, which clearly warns against any large-scale ground offensive that could have appalling consequences not only among civilians. Palestinians but also within the Israeli army. The general does not hesitate to warn of what he calls “the Gaza trap”. The Israeli general’s fears clearly show that we are facing the emergence of a new strategic equation in the region. But the general also has the lucidity to ask himself the other fundamental question which is of a political nature: assuming that the Israeli army succeeds in its ground offensive at a high cost, what will it do afterwards? stay and occupy the territory once again and return to the situation before 2005? to retrace the path that led to the present situation?
But the scenario of the ground offensive could be confronted with other constraints, external to Israel this time. On the surface, the United States and its European allies appear to agree with what they consider to be Israel’s right to defend itself. In official declarations, they do not seem to set any limits to the State of Israel which, moreover, has never been burdened by legal and humanitarian considerations since its creation. But behind the scenes, things are more complicated. The clues leaked by American media close to the Democratic Administration such as the New York Times and the Washington Post show that the Americans, if they understand the Israeli concern to re-establish the factor of deterrence, are no less concerned about the possible consequences of a total war in Gaza which could constitute the casus belli of a regional extension of the conflict that they fear above all else.
Apparently, Americans and Israelis are hesitant to launch a large ground offensive due to the loss of countless civilian casualties and dozens of Israeli prisoners held by Hamas in Gaza. But however important this issue may be, it will not outweigh cold strategic considerations in Israeli decision-making.
The Americans and at least part of the Israeli establishment know that even assuming that the Israeli army manages to definitively dislodge Hamas from Gaza, this will not resolve the question of Israel’s security and American strategic interests in the region. Hamas today undoubtedly constitutes a formidable adversary for the Americans and the Israelis (but also for many Arab states in the region). But who guarantees that the actor who will replace Hamas will be less intransigent? American and Israeli strategists should remember that some forty years ago, Israeli intelligence services cynically played the Hamas card against Fatah. The rest, we know it. The temporality of the great game of the intelligence agencies is not the same as that which is at work in the heavy trends which structure the social and political spaces of a region of old civilization to which an iniquitous international system is subjecting it to a of the greatest injustices in contemporary history.
An event that may seem trivial to some could corroborate this reading. The White House has withdrawn its appalling accusations against Hamas over the alleged massacre of Israeli babies, saying it was misled by a spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister and some media outlets. from this country. Why such repentance which undermines all the efforts of the pro-Israeli propaganda machine if not to later justify a painful negotiation with Hamas through regional actors who have kept in contact with it ( Egypt, Qatar, Turkey)?
The reminder of these geopolitical constraints clearly shows that there will now be a before and an after operation “Flood of al-Asa”. If for some reason Israel does not engage in a large and costly ground offensive aimed at the annihilation of Hamas, it can say goodbye to its deterrence and it should put its feet on the ground and stop thinking that peace can be built elsewhere than with the Palestinians. If, despite everything, Israel allows itself to listen to the self-destructive voices of its extremist component and launches into a ground offensive with incalculable consequences, there is a great risk of witnessing a geographical extension of the conflict that Israeli strategists themselves fear. The entry of the Israeli army into Gaza means the conflagration of the West Bank with shock waves in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. And if Lebanese Hezbollah goes to war, that means thousands of Iraqi and Yemeni volunteers will be there. We do not even dare to talk about the scenario which would see Iran drawn directly into a regional conflict with international dimensions while the war in Ukraine is not yet over.
The scenario of the opening of a second force in the north which would see Hezbollah invade the Galilee where a million Israeli settlers reside is for the moment improbable and Washington is doing everything to prevent it, but it knows that it cannot. will not only be prevented by sending the aircraft carrier Gerald Ford to the Eastern Mediterranean. While waiting for the uprising of their brothers in the West Bank, the combatants of Gaza, who have undoubtedly foreseen this scenario, will have, in the medium to short term, to continue alone to bear the weight of this fifth war in less than 15 years, a war which will undoubtedly be more frightening but perhaps also more politically fruitful than those which preceded it. History is reminding in horror and pain the short memory of the great people of this world that it is neither healthy nor reasonable to seek to sacrifice a people as valiant and as resilient as the Palestinian people on the altar of the sordid and petty calculations of those who hastened to sign the Abraham Accords in the hope of safeguarding their power and wealth for some and of garnering a few crumbs of shame for others.