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Intel Brief: Middle East Update


 


Date: 17/05/2024











Hamas-Israel

  • As Israel has started a limited military operation in Rafah to destroy the remnants of Hamas’ command structure, the IDF is also conducting military operations in the north of Gaza, where supposedly some Hamas militants have regrouped to escape the Rafah offensive. The fighting in Rafah is intense and both sides seem to be digging in for a prolonged period of fighting.


  • Negotiations between Israel and Hamas have reportedly stalled as even mediators acknowledged that both parties have conflicting objectives and they are not willing to compromise. While Israel wants a temporary pause to be able to later proceed with the planned Rafah offensive, Hamas wants to end the war and only then exchange hostages. On 06/05/2024 Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal, but Israeli authorities later declined the proposal, stating that it did not meet their demands. 


  • On the same day the IDF ordered the evacuation of civilians from eastern parts of Rafah towards tent cities built near the southern city of Khan Younis, later expanding the order to central areas of Rafah and to Jabalia in the north. According to the head of the World Food Programme northern Gaza is experiencing a famine, and it will likely soon reach the south. Civilian casualties have reached 35,000 and the humanitarian situation is getting worse, with Palestinians severely lacking food, water, electricity and medicines. Israel took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing on 06/05/2024, which was previously jointly controlled by Egypt and Gaza authorities. The crossing has been closed since, as Egypt has refused to cooperate on its administration. Only the border crossings in Erez and Kerem Shalom are open, but limited aid is allowed in. The situation is complicated by the increasing attacks by Israeli extremists on aid trucks, especially the Tsav 9 group. Airdrops are still ongoing but are a poor substitute for aid over land routes. 



Iranian proxies

  • The Houthis have continued their attacks on merchant ships passing through the Red Sea and Western navies, including the US but also the UK and the European mission, are attempting to protect merchant shipping. Most of their drones and missiles have been intercepted by Western navies or have created only minimal damage. 


  • The Islamic Resistance in Iraq is continuing its attacks on Israeli, Iraqi and US positions, as it struck against a military base in Israel on 09/05/2024 and on an Iraqi base on 13/05/2024. The group said it will not stop, as a response to Israeli attacks on Gaza. 


Israel domestic politics

  • The Israeli government is increasingly divided over the continuation of the war as centrists, including Netanyahu's main rival Benny Gantz, prefer a more cautious approach to not alienate the US. Instead right wing nationalists prefer a hardline approach to definitively dismantle Hamas, regardless of civilian consequences.


  • Public opinion has also split. Protests over the handling of the war have increased in many cities with more and more people asking the government to give the highest priority to the hostage deal with Hamas in order to finally free the hostages.


Hezbollah

  • The past two weeks have seen a rise in Hezbollah activities. Dozens of unguided rockets and anti-tank missiles have been launched at the north of Israel, even reaching as far as Haifa. Several Israeli soldiers were killed and injured due to these attacks, but mostly there was material damage done to houses and military compounds. The IDF and IAF have in response attacked dozens of Hezbollah targets throughout Lebanon killing high ranking commanders and destroying military sites. The call from Israeli displaced citizens from the north of Israel to be able to return to their homes has become louder and several groups have threatened to return to their homes despite Israel’s warning not to do so. 


International politics

  • Pro-Palestinian protests have picked up in the West since mid-April, especially in universities and colleges, where protesters have built encampments and occupied university buildings. The main demands of these protests are transparency from universities about investments in Israel-related companies, companies that profit from the war, and demanding divestment from such companies. The response in many countries, especially in the US and the Netherlands, has been harsh with police intervening to clear up encampments and often exercising violence on protesters. Hundreds have been arrested. In a few cases, universities have agreed to the requests presented by protesters and encampments ended peacefully.


  • On May 10 the General Assembly of the United Nations recognized Palestine as qualified to join and recommended the UN Security Council to reconsider the matter favorably. However, Palestine needs the approval of the Security Council to become a full member of the UN and the US is likely to veto it, as it did in April 2024. Some western countries have also started proceedings to recognise Palestine as a state, with Spain, Malta and Ireland set to recognise it in May and Slovenia in June.  


  • Many of Israel’s allies have called for a stop on an offensive on Rafah as they are concerned about catastrophic humanitarian consequences. The US has suspended a shipment of heavy bombs citing worries for civilian safety when used on urban areas, with some officials concerned that Israel has violated the terms for their use and international law. Shipments of other weapons are still ongoing but the US President has threatened to halt shipments if Israel proceeds with the Rafah offensive.  Both Italy and Germany have also decreased their arms exports to Israel, while the UK has expressed no intention of doing so. 


  • Israeli diplomatic and economic ties with the UAE, one of its biggest allies, are becoming strained as disagreements about the war in Gaza and the delivery of humanitarian aid grow. On 09/05/2024, the UAE was unknowingly presented by Netanyahu as a possible partner for a future government in Gaza, causing the UAE government to lash out against this plan. On the other side, Turkey has decided to stop all imports and exports with Israel until a ceasefire deal is reached. Ties with Egypt have also faltered as Egypt has refused to cooperate with Israel on the administration of the Rafah crossing. Both Egypt and Turkey have decided to intervene in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, as South Africa is pushing the Court to order Israel to withdraw from Rafah. 


Analysis:

  • As the Israeli government has vowed to press on with the military operations in Rafah, the next months will likely see more fighting. The operation will focus especially on Rafah in the south, where remnants of Hamas are said to be stationed, but also on some parts of northern Gaza, where some militants are trying to reorganize. The humanitarian situation is likely to worsen as many refugees currently living in Rafah will be once again displaced to avoid the fighting. Moreover, if border crossings remain closed, especially the one in Rafah, even less humanitarian aid will be able to get into Gaza. It looks unlikely that Hamas and Israel will be able to reach a ceasefire deal. Negotiations seem to be stuck as the two parties cannot come to an agreement on the final outcome of the deal. Tensions between Israel and other powerful players in the region, including the US and many European countries but also Egypt and the UAE, will probably increase and make the situation more complicated and progressively lead Israel to be more isolated. 


  • The situation in the north of Israel is likely to get worse in the coming weeks. Hezbollah seems to be more confident in its ability to attack Israel. With thousands of displaced people from the north wanting to go home the pressure on Netanyahu is immense. It is also highly unlikely that Israel will just abandon the north and leave it as a buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon. And even though Netanyahu has hinted at the possibility of not engaging Hezbollah until the war with Hamas is over, there is the likelihood of other cabinet members and military leaders who will pressure him to act against Hezbollah soon. The IDF has several plans ready for an attack on the south of Lebanon to oust Hezbollah from the area. Those plans are likely to include a ground invasion of a large part of the south of Lebanon. It is also probable that the IAF will do bombing runs on targets all across Lebanon, including Beirut. It is very likely that the US and Europe will put an enormous amount of pressure on Israel to not engage Hezbollah, but they will have to come up with an acceptable alternative to just leaving the north abandoned and letting Hezbollah get away with its continued assaults on Israel.


Conclusion:

The war in Gaza is likely to continue the coming weeks and months. Netanyahu and his advisors are convinced they can dismantle Hamas by destroying Hamas infrastructure in Rafah and by killing as many Hamas commanders and militants as possible. The resurgence of Hamas forces in the north of Gaza will be seen as another reason to continue the war until every Hamas militant is neutralized. Negotiations between Hamas and Israel on hostage release versus prisoner exchange are slow as both sides have added additional demands on the agreements that are unacceptable to the other. Meanwhile, Hezbollah seems willing and able to continue attacks on the north of Israel despite heavy losses due to bombing raids by the IAF. With pressure on the Netanyahu government to make sure that Israeli citizens from the north can return to their homes, it is highly likely that Israel will turn the engagements with Hezbollah into a full scale battle. International pressure from governments and protests alike on Israel to end all military operations are unlikely to have a lasting effect on decisions made by Netanyahu as he seems willing to isolate Israel from the rest of the world in order to finalize his plans of destroying Hamas for once and for all.



 

17_05_2024 Israel Update
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