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  • Writer's pictureJuan Francisco Muñoz Gómez

Scenarios for Gaza – What Can We Expect Now?

Disclaimer: This article was written by the author in cooperation with colleagues in the field of Geopolitical Analysis and Intelligence Analysis from different backgrounds and nationalities, using public data and Open-Source Intelligence. The result is solely responsibility of the author.


Little needs to be said as an introduction to the topic we will discuss in this paper. We are currently witnessing large scale violence in and around Gaza that is unprecedented since 1948, when the state of Israel was formed. Before continuing reading, beware that the author will try to be as objective as possible, however acknowledging that objectivity in Social Sciences and related disciplines is more an aim than a reality. Do not believe those who tell you that they are not subjective in their analyses, for either they are lying to you, or to themselves.


How did we get here? 

After several months of escalating bellicose rhetoric from the far-right government of Israel headed by Benjamin Netanyahu as well as an increase in violence and illegal settlements in the West Bank (Zonszein, 2023), the Palestinian-Islamist organization Hamas launched “Operation Al-Aqsa” on October 7th. An attack from the Gaza Strip that represented the sole deadliest day in Israel’s history, with over 1200 people killed and more than 250 kidnapped.


One of the most plausible reasons for such an attack is the perceived loss of legitimization as the government body of the Strip, where socioeconomic conditions have been deteriorating for years (Jamal & Robbins, 2023). It is highly likely the group perceived that a moderate stance and cooperation with Israel would not bear any positive results for Gaza, especially as there were limited Israeli economic concessions and statements acknowledging Hamas’ role in governing the Strip. The group also faced criticism from other Palestinian militant groups such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) for the lack of action against repeated Israeli settlement expansions and aggression towards Palestinians in the West Bank.


With a strong blow, Hamas leadership likely expected to gain popular recognition in Gaza, appease rival groups and establish a solid ground for negotiations (and concessions) with Israel (Byman & Holtz, 2023).

The plan, however, did not go as expected.


What’s the current situation?

Israel declared full-scale war against Gaza with a bombardment campaign and ground operation that has dismantled a great deal of Hamas infrastructure, killed much of its senior leadership, and caused large-scale devastation in the Strip.


Map 1, South Gaza Strip by War Mapper*


Israel currently has control of large parts of northern Gaza and has expanded operations in the South (see Map 1 above) with the aim of “fully eliminating Hamas” (Aliberti & Byman, 2023). As of Dec 15th, the Israeli campaign in Gaza has caused more than 17.800 deaths according to the Ministry of Health of Gaza, out of which 70% of them are women and children, there are over 51.000 reported injured, and over 60% of Gaza’s housing units have been destroyed or damaged (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2023). Hamas has continued launching rocket barrages towards Israel, albeit on a lesser scale and intensity, and has also confronted Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza. The IDF has reported 119 fatalities since the start of the ground offensive and 648 injured (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2023).


What are the possible scenarios for Gaza?

Applying Structured Analytical Techniques used in the Intelligence Analysis field, we can forecast three possible scenarios for the upcoming weeks and months in Gaza, which we will briefly summarize here. Each scenario will be given a probability in % based on the opinions of the author and colleagues after carefully analyzing the available information and latest developments. Each scenario has indicators that would likely trigger the scenario itself. Some of those indicators have already happened while some others would make the scenario more plausible.


Scenario 1 (50%) – Occupation is limited to Northern Gaza. Ground operations affect mostly Gaza City although targeted operations expand to the South. Siege and airstrikes continue for at least several weeks.


Indicators:


-       The Israeli government has no apparent political solution for Gaza apart from destroying Hamas. Given the nature of urban combat and asymmetric warfare, this will take months and massive casualties on both sides.


-       Both Hamas and the Israeli government keep their conditions for negotiation are unmeetable. Hamas wants a complete ceasefire before negotiating the liberation of hostages and Tel Aviv wants the liberation of all hostages before any negotiation takes place.


-       Hezbollah in the North, although not engaged in full war, still poses a threat to Israel, and thus the IDF cannot use its entire military capabilities in Gaza. There is also a threat coming from the potential spill-over of the conflict into the West Bank in case Israel advances in the south.


-       Egypt rejects opening the border in Rafah, therefore Gaza’s population has nowhere to flee to.


Implications in the short term:


-       International pressure for a ceasefire will grow as the number of Palestinian deaths keeps increasing and the humanitarian situation keeps deteriorating. Internal pressure asking Netanyahu’s government to pursue an agreement to liberate the hostages will also increase.


-       Continuation of asymmetric warfare in northern Gaza against the IDF. Growing number of casualties will create a mild military fatigue that will be felt within Israeli society.


-       Hezbollah won’t engage in full combat although insurgency in the West Bank may rise.


-       Israeli and US assets in the region will continue to be targeted by Iran-backed militias, however not triggering a regional conflict.


Implications in the long term:


-       The humanitarian situation in Gaza will be unsustainable but won’t fully collapse. The numbers of civilian deaths will likely increase as the population keeps on being pushed to relocate in smaller locations.


-       The conflict will stagnate as the ground operation does. Hezbollah and other actors won’t enter the war but will still attack Israeli and US assets in the region.


-       The proximity of the US elections and the loss of popularity will likely force the Biden administration to push for a ceasefire that ends the bloodshed at least temporarily.


-       The Palestinian Authority (governing the West Bank) losses legitimacy due to its inability to mediate or resolve the conflict. This opens the door for alternative governments both in Gaza and the West Bank.



Scenario 2 (40%) – Israel tries to occupy the entire Gaza Strip with a large-scale ground operation.


Indicators:


-       IDF and senior Israeli officials including PM Netanyahu have recently made clear that the operation will continue despite international opposition including the US’ recent (mild) criticisms of Israel’s strategy.


-       Israeli hostages have probably been moved to South Gaza during the conflict, and neither Hamas nor Israel want to ease conditions for negotiation.


-       Another large-scale event with the psychological effect as Oct 7th happens from Lebanon, West Bank, or Gaza, triggering an even more destructive reaction from Israel.


-       The international community, especially the West, fails to refrain Israel from continuing the bloodshed.


-       Egypt accepts to open the Rafah border crossing.


Implications in the short term:


-       Massive civilian deaths in the Palestinian side as urban warfare makes every civilian a target. Forced removal of the Palestinian population from Gaza, probably overrunning the Rafah border crossing in the case Egypt doesn’t willingly open it. Palestinians flood Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate with the potential of destabilizing the entire country.


-       Massive IDF casualties in the conflict and potential killing of the hostages. Demonstrations against Netanyahu’s government expand.


-       The security situation within Israel dramatically worsens as Hezbollah ramps up the rocket barrages and Israel enters southern Lebanon. West Bank militants also scale up their attacks against Israeli settlers in the West Bank and against civilians within Israel with terrorist attacks.


Implications in the long term:


-       Ostracism of Israel in the region and the world. Western populations force their governments to severe ties with Israel in the light of its perceived brutality.


      Massive force displacement of Gazans constitutes a stain in the International Law-based order, eroding the perceived morality of international institutions and opening the door for other countries breaching International Humanitarian law and committing war crimes.


-       Rise of alternative powers in West Bank and Gaza as Hamas and Palestinian Authority are perceived as useless, or even damaging, to the Palestinian cause.


-       Risk of regional instability and even war increases as populations across the Middle East push their governments to act.



Scenario 3 (10%) – Israel withdraws significantly from Gaza while still monitoring the area.


Indicators:


-       Either Hamas or Israel eases their conditions for engaging in ceasefire talks.


-       Internal pressure against Netanyahu makes the opposition leave the emergency coalition government created after Oct 7th and it collapses.


-       US stops its support to Netanyahu’s cabinet and calls for a change in government to pursue a political solution.


      Popular uprising in Gaza creates an alternative power to Hamas that tries to negotiate a ceasefire.


Implications in the short term:


-       Ceasefire is signed. There is an infight between factions in Gaza regarding the management of the outcome and the ceasefire.


-       The humanitarian situation in Gaza is improved as relief materials and personnel are allowed into the Strip. Foreign actors such as Qatar, Turkey or Egypt compete for influence and their role in the reconstruction of Gaza.


-       Palestinian Authority loses even more support as Hamas tactics seem to be effective for the cause.


-       Netanyahu is ousted. He was already facing strong criticism before Oct 7th due to facing corruption charges. The failure to prevent the terrorist attack will likely weight against him once a ceasefire is signed.


Implications in the long term:


      Israel will monitor the security situation in Gaza and probably the civilian government of the Strip.


-       The security situation will go back to a pre-Oct 7th situation of relative calm, although terrorist attacks may still target civilians inside Israel after a period of reduced activity.


-       There will be the need of a re-thinking of the Two State Solution and the Oslo Accords, delivering a new framework for Palestinian coexistence with Israelis.


-       Settler violence in the occupied West Bank will likely spark eventual violence.

 

Photo by Ash Hayes on Unsplash


Conclusions and Thoughts

The events that happened in the last decades cannot be ignored when analyzing the current spike in violence. While many analysts have focused on Oct 7th and Israel’s reaction, we need to rethink how the Palestinians are treated and how to address their claims of territoriality and independence. Before Oct 7th, 2023 had been the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2006, and settler violence in the West Bank was at a record high (Mustafa, 2023). Regardless of the outcome, Gaza will never be the same, as more than half of its buildings are damaged, including hospitals and schools. The level of destruction brought by Israeli bombardments will likely fuel hate in those that have suffered the loss of their family members and will surely shape the minds of a whole generation of children that have been suffering terrible conditions since they were born.


Moreover, the current proposal of Netanyahu’s far-right government has been deemed as genocide by every single international organization and has received the condemnation of even Israel’s allies, whom although acknowledging the brutality of the events of Oct 7th, have more and more difficulties to look away from the blatant lack of respect for Human Rights of Palestinians.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


The inability of key actors such as the United States and the United Nations to stop violence has further eroded the belief of people in a peaceful international order, and poses a serious threat for the near future. Before October 7, the Middle East seemed to be walking towards cooling down conflicts between regional powers and other actors (namely the US), and the brutal response given by Israel will likely stop or even backpedal the previous trend.


None of the scenarios explored in this paper draw an encouraging future for the region. Israel and the International Community must provide a clear political solution for this conflict. If not, we will witness the repetition of the same situation over and over again. Even if Israel would succeed in removing Hamas or even the entire population of Gaza from the Strip, the security threat that exists will not disappear. The message is clear, then: Destroying Gaza will only fuel more hate towards Israel, isolate it from the world, and pose new (and potentially more dangerous) threats in the future.


Bibliography

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*Editor's Note: Map 1 is taken from https://www.warmapper.org/

War Mapper is a one-person project that produces regular updates presenting confirmed territorial control changes. You can support this excellent service by buying a coffee to World Mapper via https://www.warmapper.org/donate

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Aliberti, D., & Byman, D. (15 de December de 2023). What Does Destroying Hamas Mean? Obtained from https://www.csis.org/analysis/what-does-destroying-hamas-mean


Byman, D., & Holtz, M. (6 de December de 2023). Why Hamas Attacked When It Did.


Jamal, A. A., & Robbins, M. (25 de October de 2023). What Palestinians Really Think of Hamas. Foreign Affairs. Obtained from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/israel/what-palestinians-really-think-hamas


Mustafa, T. (24 de November de 2023). With All Eyes on Gaza, Israel Tightens Its Grip on the West Bank. International Crisis Group. Obtained from https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/east-mediterranean-mena/israelpalestine/all-eyes-gaza-israel-tightens-its


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (15 de December de 2023). Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel - reported impact | Day 70. Obtained from https://www.ochaopt.org/content/hostilities-gaza-strip-and-israel-reported-impact-day-70


Zonszein, M. (2023). Settler Violence Rises in the West Bank during the Gaza War. International Crisis Group. Obtained from https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/east-mediterranean-mena/israelpalestine/settler-violence-rises-west-bank-gaza-war


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