AMU Intelligence Middle East Original

Why Israel Has Pulled Out of Southern Gaza – for Now

After six months of war, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) stated that they had withdrawn from southern Gaza and that the initial invasion phase of the war had concluded, according to CNN. IDF forces remain in other parts of Gaza, but the feared assault on the southern city of Rafah has been put on hold, at least for now.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that a date for the assault on Rafah has been set, according to CNN. However, this statement may be a negotiating tactic, given the ongoing talks with Hamas leadership over the return of the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza.

Additionally, pressure from the U.S. over the duration and scope of the conflict may have played a role in Israel’s decision to pull back in southern Gaza. Keep in mind that Gaza is a small piece of territory and the IDF can rapidly return units to the south if needed.

In essence, this concession isn’t as large as it may seem. Pulling Israeli troops out of southern Gaza also makes them available to fight on other fronts if necessary. Those troops may indeed be necessary, now that Iran has retaliated for the Israeli bombing of an Iranian consulate in Syria.

The Iranian retaliation may not require a conventional military response from the IDF. However, maintaining flexibility during a time of war is vital to Israel, given the variety of threats the country faces.

Hamas Needs to Make the Next Move in Negotiations with Israel

With the IDF pulling back from potential action in Rafah, it now falls to Hamas to make the next move in the negotiations. At issue, however, is the welfare of the remaining hostages that remain in Gaza. If the number of live hostages is lower than what Israel has demanded, then the IDF can make the short jump back into southern Gaza and execute a raid on Rafah.

According to some media reports, that may be the case. Hamas claims that it needs a ceasefire in order to track down the 40 requested hostages for release, but sources close to Hamas state that it cannot meet that demand, suggesting that the remaining hostages may be deceased.

A similar situation occurred this past November when Hamas failed to turn over a specific number of hostages, which led to a breakdown of a weeklong ceasefire. Despite claims of victory over the pullout of some IDF brigades, Hamas needs to offer something in these negotiations or it will face continued Israeli wrath. 

Continuing the War in Gaza Would Cost Israel Politically and Economically

Despite Israel’s overwhelming military force in Gaza, Israelis need a quick resolution to this conflict, too. While the government does want to destroy Hamas – or at the very least diminish the group’s power to insignificance – continuing the war carries significant political and economic costs.

Israel is a small nation. Whenever the government calls up reserve units, that leads to economic disruption and this war has been long.

Israel’s government can shoulder that debt for a little while, but eventually, people will need to return to work and social normalcy. Also, there is the issue of other pressing threats to Israel that must be addressed, such as the recent attack launched by Iran. Emerging threats in multiple theaters can be difficult for even the most advanced military forces.

Israel has an immediate need to reestablish its strategic deterrence so that it can return to economic growth and diplomatic matters involving normalizing ties with its neighbors. The longer Israel remains at war with Hamas in Gaza, the less flexible the country will be in meeting additional security threats.

William Tucker serves as a senior security representative to a major government contractor where he acts as the Counterintelligence Officer, advises on counterterrorism issues, and prepares personnel for overseas travel. His additional duties include advising his superiors in matters concerning emergency management and business continuity planning.

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