July 5, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Impending Gaza deal: Is Israel ready to make painful concessions?

Israel faces critical decisions as military pressure mounts and the possibility of a controversial deal with Hamas looms.
July 5, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Impending Gaza deal: Is Israel ready to make painful concessions?

Israel faces critical decisions as military pressure mounts and the possibility of a controversial deal with Hamas looms.

After nine months of fighting in Gaza and the north, direct attacks from Iran, and terror attacks inside Israel, the country faces several difficult decisions.

The main challenges are the wise transition from a high-intensity war to an ongoing low-intensity war in Gaza, promoting a hostage deal, and shifting the center of gravity to the north (by agreement or war) and to Iran (preventing a nuclear breakout and weakening the regime).

The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is nearing the completion of the first war goal, under the old war cabinet guidance, of negating Hamas’ military capabilities and crushing its military organizational structure. Unfortunately, the denial of Hamas’ governmental and organizational capabilities and the killing of all its leaders has not yet been completed, despite some impressive achievements, and the war goal of returning all the hostages is far from complete, despite some successful operations and deals.

Recently, there have been increasing headlines about a new deal and its possible characteristics. Unfortunately, some of the reports, regardless of their accuracy, especially those that emphasize the tension and disagreements among the political and military echelons, play into the hands of Israel’s enemies and could distance a deal by hardening the Hamas and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar positions.

Reading the situation in Gaza

Despite some denials by those who do not read the correct situational map, the capability to succeed in all three challenges is closely integrated. My main argument is that we may be getting closer to a deal mainly due to the success of the heavy military activity in Rafah and the southern Gaza Strip, in parallel with the sequence of activities in northern and central Gaza.

The continuous military pressure leads to chaos among the remaining Hamas terrorists and a desperate desire for a ceasefire and a deal at any cost by most of the remaining Hamas forces that have lost their military structure. There is no doubt that this desperate desire for a deal reaches Sinwar’s ears even in the deep tunnels in which he hides, alongside some of the hostages.

If there is a chance to reach a deal that Israel can accept, it is only by increasing the military pressure, not by reducing it. A logical argument being raised is that if Hamas’ situation is so desperate, this is not the time for a deal but for pressing the pedal. This is a correct assumption, but the hostages’ situation after nine months, combined with the families’ pressure, apparently does not allow such an approach. But as long as Sinwar is convinced that he will achieve his full goals without concessions, and unfortunately, many in Israel and around the world are helping him reach this conclusion, there will be no deal that Israel can agree to.

Along with some painful concessions and acceptance of some of Hamas’ demands, the main demand must be the full release of all the hostages and bodies at the outset. Failure to meet this demand, which is apparently and unfortunately unattainable, raises a great danger for the chance of releasing the last group of hostages unless Israel reserves enough leverage and bargaining chips for the future.

Sinwar’s main demand, while his main goal is to return to October 6, is a complete cessation of the war permanently, guaranteed by international guarantees, alongside a full withdrawal of all IDF forces from the Gaza Strip, with an emphasis on IDF’s three main outposts: the Philadelphi corridor, the wide Netzarim corridor, and the one km-wide strip (the perimeter) alongside the border with Gaza’s surrounding communities.

To release the hostages, Israel will have to give up some of its achievements so far, and it is important to decide what Israel can give up. To the best of my assessment, it should be forbidden to relinquish control of the Philadelphi corridor until all the crossing tunnels between Rafah and Egypt are exposed and destroyed, and Hamas or other hostile forces should be forbidden from entering the security zone alongside the perimeter.

So, what can be done to free the hostages? Maybe temporarily give up the Netzarim corridor (leaving the capability for a future reentry if required), and perhaps also dilute some of the forces in the perimeter, but not completely.

Israel must retain, looking forward to the next negotiation phase and the “day after,” the capability to have full security control in Gaza and full freedom of action, entering and staying deep in the territory to immediately deal with any terror threats and attempts to rebuild Hamas’ capabilities that will threaten Israeli communities.

Quotes like the one that appeared in The New York Times last week: “Israel can even allow the continuation of Hamas’ governance in Gaza to release the hostages,” are irresponsible, and they are certainly not the opinion of the political echelon. Despite the reporters’ views, this is most likely not the opinion of a vast majority of the security echelon, and it will lead to the opposite result.

The challenge in the north remains the most complex one, and it is connected to the Gaza situation and to the Iranian axis. Hezbollah is indeed in a dilemma, in light of the severe blows it has suffered, the elimination of many of its leaders and capabilities, the destruction seen in Gaza and southern Lebanon, and its reluctance to turn Lebanon into Gaza. But make no mistake, Hezbollah has the full ability and desire to harm the Israeli home front over a long period.

To return the Israeli residents safely to their homes in the northern communities, a wider war against Hezbollah will probably be postponed under a southern deal, and it will enable the IDF to arrive more prepared. Reaching an agreement that Hamas will accept might enable Hassan Nasrallah (the Secretary-General of Hezbollah) to declare “victory” while helping his “Hamas brothers” and postpone the war in the north, even if Nasrallah will have to compromise on removing his forces from the border. It is important to understand that the northern residents can be guaranteed the removal of Radwan forces from closely watching their homes alongside the border. Still, there is no way to ensure the removal of the direct fire (anti-tank and similar) threats from the missile-loaded houses based in the Lebanese villages, which will remain near the border and within firing range.

In addition, the Iranian desire to break out to a nuclear weapon has not changed, and it remains Israel’s main existential threat. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s desire to continue developing a mass destruction war to build his weapon didn’t change. Israel’s emphasis must now be on preventing Iranian weaponization efforts and on weakening the regime. As a second priority, Israel should continue its work on enrichment, especially against Iran’s covert underground facilities.

An American/Israeli/Saudi agreement, including an important normalization, the US November elections, the economic challenges, and Israel’s internal struggles and disagreements, must now be pushed aside. Israel must concentrate on completing its mission in Gaza and maybe reach a deal that will bring back home the hostages, but not at any price, strive for a solution in the north, even temporarily, that will return the residents to their homes before September 1, and if not, to launch a broad but short war, because it is impossible to continue the current situation in the north. At the same time, Israel should do all it can to prevent Iran’s ambitions to take advantage of the opportunity and to break for a nuclear bomb.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Prof. Jacob Nagel is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a professor at the Technion. He served as the National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and as the head of the National Security Council (acting).

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Israel Israel at War