Israel is widely expected to embark on a major ground incursion into Gaza, seeking to wipe the Palestinian militant group Hamas “off the face of the Earth” in response to a devastating and coordinated terror attack earlier this month.
The prospect of an imminent mass incursion has raised questions about what a postwar future could look like, particularly since Israel’s military strategy does not appear to have a clear endgame.
It comes just more than two weeks since Hamas launched its Oct. 7 assault on Israel, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostage. More than 5,000 people have been killed in Gaza and over 15,000 injured since the Israel-Hamas war began, according to Palestinian authorities.
Samuel Ramani, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said Monday that a ground assault by Israel into Gaza now appeared inevitable — albeit not likely over the next 48 to 72 hours or even the rest of the week.
The bigger question, Ramani said, may be what comes next.
Asked whether there is a danger that Israel may end up in a position that it can’t then get out of, Ramani replied, “That’s actually what some of the Israeli officials have even been saying, you know, off the record and privately to various media outlets: We don’t really know what will happen next.”
“One thing that the Israeli political establishment seems to be firmly united against is the notion of occupying the Gaza Strip or reoccupying it,” Ramani told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”
“But the big question is when you remove the Hamas leadership, what exactly do you replace it with? Do you replace it with the Palestinian Authority, which has extremely low levels of popularity in the Gaza Strip?”
Ramani highlighted that a Hamas senior political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, is more popular among Palestinians than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “by a significant margin,” since many view Abbas as a corrupt pillar of the status quo.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is likely to be reluctant to look like they are collaborating with Israel, Ramani said.
“So, it is very, very hard to understand what will happen once Hamas goes, and the risk is that many civilians die in this war, Hamas could be going underground, or new extremist movements could develop and Israel’s security could be threatened once again,” he added.
A spokesperson for Israel’s government did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The Israel Defense Forces, meanwhile, has said a full surrender of Hamas and the return of Israeli hostages could end the war in the Gaza Strip.
“The aim here is to totally dismantle Hamas from its military capabilities. If that can be done from the air, and with standoff measures, with very limited exposure to our troops and less damage on the ground, that would be great,” IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus told ABC Radio Melbourne.
‘Violence will just breed more violence’
The United Nations has previously called for an “immediate humanitarian cease-fire” amid the Israel- Hamas war, pushing for Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release those it is holding captive and urging Israel to allow unrestricted access of essential basic supplies to Gaza.
The Gaza Strip is a narrow portion of land sandwiched between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the most densely populated places in the world, with more than 2 million people living in conditions that human rights organizations have equated to an “open-air prison.”
Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow at Chatham House, said Monday that there was “no magic wand” to bring an end to this kind of war, a conflict which he said had been left “to fester for way too long.”
“I think right now, gradually everyone understands that wiping out Hamas is not a matter of just bombing Gaza and not a matter of even a ground offensive. You have to deal with Hamas as a military force, Hamas as a political force and also Hamas as an idea,” Mekelberg told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe.”
“At the same time, we see the magnitude of destruction and death among Palestinians right now. It is not a crisis anymore, it is a disaster … which is unacceptable,” he continued.
“How you reconcile between all of this, reducing the casualties, the suffering of Palestinians but at the same time ensuring that Hamas is not capable of hurting Israel the way it did is a challenge,” Mekelberg said. “It probably won’t be resolved in a matter of days or weeks in just one operation.”
To find a political solution to the Israel-Hamas war, Mekelberg said, policymakers would need to take a fresh approach to the root cause of the conflict. “You need new leadership in both political entities. You need people to think along peaceful co-existence,” he said.
“You need innovative and creative ideas, and you need a new generation that understands that violence will just breed more violence and bloodshed and won’t improve the life of either side one iota.”