In the last few days, the conflict between Hamas and Israel has reached a new level of escalation that has killed thousands of people, and the risk of more lives being lost is rising. Hamas’ Operation Al Aqsa Flood has enraged and embarrassed the Israeli military and intelligence services. Now, Israel wants to make the point that it will never allow Hamas to take this initial blow as a sign of Israeli weakness. Immediately after Hamas’ offensive, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war. Now a full-scale invasion of Gaza seems imminent.
Israel’s military command has ordered Palestinians living in the north to evacuate to the other parts of the Gaza Strip within twenty-four hours. It dropped leaflets from the sky to warn people of new air strikes. Once Gaza’s only power station ran out of fuel, people had to use private generators for limited electricity. This has only increased the suffering of the civilians who are now torn between fleeing or remaining in their homes. Israel has imposed a new “complete” blockade from the border crossing and has refused to allow any humanitarian aid into Gaza until its abducted civilians are returned. Early in the fighting, Hamas boasted that it captured over 100 people in its attacks, many of whom are foreigners, including Americans.
Israeli minister of energy and infrastructure Israel Katz stated that no humanitarian aid will be delivered to the besieged territory until Israeli captives are freed.
“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electrical switch will be turned on, no water pump will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home. And no one will preach us morals.”
Hamas has claimed that thirteen of its prisoners have been killed by Israeli jets bombing the densely populated area. It has also informed Israel that if it persists with its attacks that result in Palestinian deaths, it will “execute” civilian hostages.
The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades had warned this week that “every targeting of our people without warning will be met with the execution of one of the civilian hostages.” In a televised address, U.S. president Joe Biden confirmed that at least over a dozen Americans had been killed and others are currently in the hands of Hamas. The United States is supporting Israel in its war. Hours after Hamas’ multi-strike force hit Israel, the United States delivered munitions for the Israeli army and a naval strike group led by the U.S. Navy’s most formidable supercarrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is a message that Washington will defend Israel against its enemies. But will it endorse an Israeli invasion of Gaza that could lead to the Israel Defense Forces re-occupying the enclave?
No safe passage for Palestinian civilians to leave Gaza
The White House National Security Council coordinator, John Kirby, had recently said that Israel’s call for civilians to leave Gaza so quickly is a “tall order, given how densely populated it is.” The Gaza Strip is home to a little over 2 million people. For many of them to survive the Israeli incursion into Gaza, there needs to be corridors for them to escape to. The only other country that Gaza shares a border with is Egypt, and that border crossing is still functioning despite being bombed by the Israeli Air Force. Washington and Cairo are reportedly in talks to open the Rafah crossing for American nationals and other foreigners. The Egyptian government has said it is willing to create a humanitarian corridor to supply food and medical supplies but has thus far rejected allowing a massive wave of refugees to escape into the Sinai Peninsula. According to U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken, the discussion for establishing a humanitarian corridor is “ongoing” but “understandably complicated.”
The United Nations has said that Israel’s order for Palestinians to flee from the north is “impossible” and cannot be done without “devastating humanitarian consequences.” It is calling for the decision to be reversed.
The war has now killed over 1,300 Israelis and 1,800 Palestinians with many thousands more wounded. Reports from Human Rights Watch assert that Israel’s military is using white phosphorus in its operations in Gaza, which increases the risk of serious and long-term injuries.
The probability of an invasion is rising
If Israel chooses to invade, it may be a partial one. Israeli leaders may not want to take on the responsibility of re-occupying Gaza, as the country had removed all of its military and civilian settlements from inside the territory in 2005. Either way, an Israeli invasion would be catastrophic for the Palestinians trapped inside what has become the Middle East’s most dangerous warzone.
A spokesperson for Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigade, Abu Obaida, made it clear that Hamas is ready for a new phase of the war. He addressed the Israeli public and government by saying, "Since this morning, we have launched 150 rockets towards Ashkelon and 50 rockets towards Sderot. We also targeted Ben Gurion Airport.” More attacks are expected soon. It is becoming increasingly clear neither side wants to back down first. Yet, it should be understood that the longer the fighting goes on, the more innocent lives will lost.
Everyone is working around the clock to see an end to the bloodshed before the situation worsens. The first order of business is to get both sides to agree to a general and permanent ceasefire, followed by humanitarian assistance and negotiations to release the hostages.
Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.
Image: Abu Adel - Photo / Shutterstock.com