Israeli ideas for Palestinians

Iron Swords: How to Evacuate the population from Southern Gaza? One possibility is American-Managed Camps in the Negev

By Col. (res.), Shay Shabtai
December 1, 2023

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 2,237, December 1, 2023

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: In order to complete the eradication of the Hamas organization in Gaza, a ground offensive in southern Gaza will be required. A serious challenge in executing this offensive is that the majority of the population, following their evacuation from northern Gaza, is now in the south, effectively doubling the population in that area. If Israel is to deprive Hamas of its last defenses against the IDF, continue its impressive compliance with international law, and fulfill its commitment to the Americans to conduct a war based on shared values, it will have to move the Gazan population away from expected combat zones in urban areas of the south. As Egypt will not accept the use of Sinai as a haven for Gazan citizens, other solutions are being considered, including establishing protected areas in the South or relocating Gazans back to the north. But it might also be worthwhile to advance a plan led by the Americans, with international and regional participation, to establish temporary accommodation camps for the residents of Gaza in the Negev. This plan would also involve international assistance for returning Israeli residents of the Gaza envelope.

In order to complete the destruction of the Hamas organization’s military and governmental capabilities in Gaza, Israel will have to conduct a ground offensive in southern Gaza. One of its main challenges in doing this is that as a result of the evacuation of the north, the population of southern Gaza is now twice its normal size.

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Israel will have to reduce the number of Gazan civilians in the south both before and concurrently with the commencement of military operations in the area for several reasons.

The first is the operational fact that Hamas’s last defense is to fight under the cover of the Gazan population. In the northern stage of the operation, the IDF demonstrated that it can defeat Hamas in any ground encounter; eliminate tunnels and turn them into deadly traps (a time-consuming process); and disrupt Hamas’s reliance on operations from sensitive sites, particularly hospitals. Hamas believes that when fighting begins in the south, it will be able to continue its longstanding tradition of engaging in warfare in an area containing many civilians, effectively using its own population as human shields. A widespread evacuation of the population from the settled areas in the south will leave Hamas without this defense.

The second central reason is Israel’s commitment to the laws of war. The IDF is committed to proportionality in the use of force. Despite the propaganda campaign by anti-Israel elements worldwide, the northern part of the operation provided a model for combating guerrilla warfare and terrorism in densely populated urban areas. This is especially evident when comparing the scope of casualties to previous operations in urban areas in the Middle East. Consider, for example, the number of casualties in Mosul liberation in Iraq and Al-Raqqa in Syria in 2016-17, both of which were conducted by a coalition with American support. Following the battle for Al-Raqqa, internal American learning process was conducted regarding the extent of the air campaign carried out. The takeover of Aleppo in 2016 by rebels, backed by the Syrian government coalition with Russian assistance, involved Russian carpet-bombing during the battle, which destroyed large parts of the city without regard for the civilians within.

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It will be a grave mistake if international criticism affect the IDF’s operational methods, particularly in the south. The IDF must continue to fight in a manner that insists on proportionality in warfare and maintains a reasonable ratio of civilian casualties resulting from the enemy’s use of them as human shields.

The third reason is Israel’s commitment to the coalition with the Americans. As I have mentioned elsewhere, as part of the “moral clarity” underlying the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s operation to destroy Hamas, there is an expectation that Israel will operate proportionally based on shared values and minimize civilian harm as much as possible. This is an American request, coupled with the provision of humanitarian aid, and Israel must adhere to it.

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