OPINION: Israelis know that this is a pause – not the beginning of a ceasefire

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OPINION: Israelis know that this is a pause – not the beginning of a ceasefire

By Richard Miron, a former spokesman for the UN Secretary General's Middle East Envoy

Emily Hand reunites with her father.
Emily Hand reunites with her father.

The feeling in Tel Aviv is one of muted celebration and respite as hostages continue to be released as part of a deal with Hamas.

Israeli TV screens have been filled for the past few days with pictures of families reunited amid tears and hugs. The sirens that have regularly punctuated daily life have fallen silent as a pause in fighting between the IDF and Hamas holds while the exchange of Israeli women and children for Palestinian prisoners goes on.

But this relief looks set to be brief and is likely to end very soon as the fighting resumes with equal or even greater intensity.

Following the atrocities of 7 October, Israel has pledged to destroy Hamas on the ground as a functioning military and political entity in Gaza, and it is not going to be diverted from that objective, even if some hostages remain in captivity.

Well informed Israeli security sources have set out what lies ahead, with preparations for a long war made up of different phases.

Having initially hit Hamas from the air in the first phase, the IDF is now in the midst of the second phase with ground forces deep inside Gaza. The military operation will extend from the north of the Strip to the south where most of Hamas’s leadership and fighters are now situated.

This second phase is expected to take at least a few months, by which time Israel hopes to have denuded Hamas’s capability to function.

A third planned phase of at least half a year will follow in which the IDF will conduct raids and operations with a reduced level of manpower to destroy the last vestiges of the organisation.

The final part of the IDF’s plans is for it to remain in Gaza while a new administration is established and internal security is passed to a force, potentially made up of Palestinian and international elements.

These are the plans, but reality in one form or another is likely to frustrate, delay or alter those objectives.

The complexities of operating in the densely populated south of the Strip against a well dug in and highly prepared enemy are immense. The population of southern Gaza has doubled in the last few weeks, as people fled Gaza City and its environs in the face of the IDF advance.

Palestinian civilians are now crowded into anywhere they can find space, making hitting Hamas’s infrastructure extremely difficult.

Hamas, which operates amid the civilian population, is counting on extensive casualties to help its cause. It knows that TV pictures of civilians injured and killed in IDF actions puts Israel under growing international pressure, even from Washington.

In addition, Hamas is counting on inflicting significant damage to the IDF as the army begins to move into the south. The war will have to be fought with infantry – alongside the air force – and that will mean inevitable losses for the IDF.

Yahya Sinwar, the evil genius behind the massacres on 7 October, believes that Israel’s weak spot is its aversion to suffering casualties. He believes that Israel will blink first when it starts losing ever more soldiers on the field of battle, and as it faces growing international criticism of its military operations.

But the mood in Israel is different from anything I have experienced in the past. People from all parts of society, left, right, religious and secular are resolute. The images and horrors of 7 October have changed the country.

This is a war that must be fought and won, whatever the cost to Israel itself. As one former national security advisor said a few days ago on Israel Radio: “We will kill and be killed.”

Time and again I have heard the same from ordinary people and security experts alike. They know that if they fail to destroy Hamas, then their country will be weakened and fatally vulnerable in the face of all its enemies from in the immediate vicinity and beyond.

For Israelis, this conflict is existential. They are fighting to recover their deterrence which was stripped away on 7 October. They are battling against an enemy in Hamas with whom they cannot negotiate and with whom there can be no option but to eradicate as a threat.

So, the current moment in Gaza and Israel, is not a precursor to a ceasefire, it is the opposite. It is the brief calm before a long storm, which has already changed Israel and Gaza forever.

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