Ups and downs of northern Gaza security zone strategy – analysis

Ups and downs of northern Gaza security zone strategy - analysis

One idea being considered by the war cabinet is a ground invasion that is larger than any seen since 2014 and including 2014, but one which is still limited in how long and how deep the IDF goes into parts of Gaza, with one of the goals being to create a new northern Gaza security zone.

No one will admit this on the record, but several officials also would not deny it and there have been growing anonymous leaks about the idea.

There are a variety of upsides and downsides to this idea.

The most obvious upside is fewer dead Israeli soldiers in the short term.

What are some priorities of the IDF operation?

In one IDF briefing, senior officials made a big deal about the enhanced armored personnel carriers the IDF currently has, suggesting that force protection during the invasion is not just one priority, but possibly a primary one.

IDF tanks stationed near the Israeli Gaza border on March 27, 2019. (credit: Dudi Modan/Flash90)

Another IDF briefing suggested that one of the reasons that the invasion has been delayed was to further tailor the invasion to force protection.

In 2014, estimates were that Israel would lose 500-1,000 soldiers if it did a deep invasion of Gaza, which was a primary reason why it did not, and most of the invasion was kept to a small two kilometer entry into the outskirts of Gaza.

While initially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others implied that these issues would not hold Israel back due to the severity of the Hamas invasion, more than two weeks of delay have suggested that force protection concerns have been a massive, if not decisive, factor for grand strategy.

At the same time, the government is expected to order a deeper invasion than 2014, because it has repeatedly said it would, because an invasion without a deep entry simply cannot kill beyond a certain number of hiding Hamas members (hiding in tunnels, with civilians, in hospitals and mosques, or constantly moving around) and because anything less than that would likely lead the public to demanding across-the-board resignations (that may happen anyway, but a failure to invade would pretty much guarantee it.)

If the IDF does not kill as many Hamas members as it said it would because it spends less time or less deep time in Gaza, how will it and the government make Israel safer than it did after the 2014 war and explain a changed reality?

One idea is a security zone in northern Gaza.

The positives are that Israel could withdraw faster from the other two-thirds or more of Gaza, making it clear to the world it has not reoccupied and that it could move backward any Hamas rocket arsenal which survives the invasion.

The further back Hamas’ arsenal must move, the harder it will be for Hamas to fire either on the Gaza corridor as well as on th e Tel Aviv and central Israel areas.

This would not necessarily hermetically end the rocket threat, but it would put a large number of mortars and rockets out of range and would make others less effective.

AN IDF tank crosses a main road near the border with Gaza. (credit: CHAIM GOLDBEG/FLASH90)

It would also be a major power mover that Israel has not done since it withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and could be presented to the Israeli public as such,

If this sounds familiar, it should, because it is not so different from Israel’s formula after the 1982 First Lebanon War.

The IDF maintained a security zone in southern Lebanon for around 20 years,

Results of the withdrawal

By the time the IDF withdrew in 2000, the southern security zone concept was viewed by most defense officials as a failure, or at least a burden which left IDF soldiers constantly exposed to being attacked in enemy territory which the IDF did not really want to be in, other than to keep Hezbollah (originally the PLO) away from Israeli civilians.

The withdrawal did not go well.

Hezbollah constantly continued to fight with Israel on the 1967 lines and eventually the sides fell into the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Yet, Israel did not decide to reinitiate the security zone in southern Lebanon in 2006. The zone was still viewed as either an error, or as having had more costs than benefits over time.

Why wouldn’t a northern Gaza security zone meet the same fate?

In the short term, the zone would have Israeli support by most because the memory of 1,400 dead Israelis, mostly civilians, would be fresh in the public’s mind.

But if daily or monthly IDF soldiers are periodically attacked and killed in the zone, as happened in Lebanon, would support for the zone not erode over three, five or 20 years?

The same may be true globally. The US and the EU may support such a zone temporarily, but very unlikely in the long run.

In sum, a larger invasion than at anytime since the IDF’s 2005 withdrawal plus a security zone afterwards, would be less forceful than what the government and the IDF originally promised, but would have a chance of securing the goals of a changed reality in Gaza and might reduce the number of IDF troops killed in the short term, while leaving Israel more exposed to a returned Hamas and to more IDF soldiers being killed in the long term.

Of course, this could be theoretical. Even if the government and IDF are seriously considering this option, until they do it, or in real time if developments surprise them, they could change their mind.

We could still see a full scale invasion deep into Gaza lasting a very long time and many IDF dead, with or without a security zone, a the zone could be larger or smaller.

But whatever the government decides, there is no easy answer to balancing a mix of rotting out Hamas with some kind of diplomatic idea afterwards which will bring Gaza and the Palestinians to a state of greater stability and less violence against Israel.

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