What does Israel want in Gaza?

A ‘defeat’ of Hamas seems out of reach, while analysts say recently a announced ‘Phase Three looks more like occupation.

An Israeli tank manoeuvres near the Israel-Gaza border
An Israeli tank manoeuvres near the boundary between Israel and Gaza. Israeli forces continue to attack across the Gaza Strip [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

While Israel has given the world some hope by saying on Thursday that it would consider the latest draft of a ceasefire proposal submitted by Hamas, the current situation in Gaza may be far from a solution.

Yet, on the other hand, Israel spoke in the days preceding the Hamas response about its “next phase” a reportedly lower-intensity conflict, but one that would keep Israeli soldiers on the ground and prioritise a continuation of the fighting over the release of the remaining Israeli captives.

The Israeli government has insisted so far that fighting will not end until Hamas is “fully defeated” but with the group’s fighters and other Palestinian factions re-emerging in parts of Gaza where Israel had declared them defeated, it is clear that is not imminent.

This means there seems to be no defined end to Israel’s presence in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has an “incentive to perpetuate this as long as possible”, Omar Rahman, a fellow at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, told Al Jazeera.

Other analysts agree.

“The ongoing genocide, destruction of Gaza, starvation of Palestinians and devastation of livelihoods, combined with Israel’s strategic and security considerations, point towards a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip with the goal of displacing Palestinians from their land,” Ihab Maharmeh of the Doha Institute said.


In the months before Israel’s land assault on Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians sheltered, political pressure had accumulated on Netanyahu and his government through global protests, including many on college campuses around the US.

On May 9, US President Joe Biden went as far as to say he would withhold bomb deliveries to Israel if it invaded Rafah.

But Israel’s operation in Rafah – portrayed as a limited attack – went forward without pushback from the Biden administration as the Israeli army took all of the Philadelphi Corridor separating Gaza and Egypt. Ceasefire talks have since stuttered, and Netanyahu’s domestic poll numbers improved.

And with added manoeuvrability, Netanyahu’s government may now be working towards a different objective.

“Many of us take [Israel’s] real objective to be the endless Israeli presence and takeover [of Gaza] and the liquidation of Palestinian presence there,” Rahman said.

Israel’s goal is to “ethnically cleanse as many Palestinians as possible from Gaza. Israel has learned that Palestinian resistance stems not from their governance nor from the identity and orientation of the ruling group but rather from the existence of a unified demographic Palestinian society”, Hani Awad of the Doha Institute said.

Life and death in Gaza's 'safe zone'
A Palestinian child reacts, following an Israeli strike near a UN-run school sheltering displaced people, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, July 3, 2024 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

While some on the far right, including those in government, have pushed for the full takeover and settlement of Gaza, Netanyahu has insisted that is not his position.

However, by forcibly clearing a “buffer zone” all along Gaza’s periphery and along a corridor through its heart, Israel is working to change the enclave’s reality.

“My analysis for a long time is that Israel’s main goal is the West Bank-isation of Gaza [and to manage] the security and military situation and not as much on civil matters,” Eyal Lurie-Pardes of the Middle East Institute told Al Jazeera.

“The idea behind ‘phase three’ is that Israel doesn’t need a whole brigade inside a city. Think of it as the West Bank. They are stationed outside the central population but always have the ability to make small incursions or [launch] operations.”

Israel’s dilemma

Netanyahu had made his opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state clear. But his alternative proposals have not met with much approval from the international community either.

In recent months, Netanyahu floated various scenarios for the day after the Gaza war, including having Arab states – namely Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates – help rebuild and manage the enclave.

Biden has said Arab states are willing to help rebuild Gaza, but there’s little evidence they’re interested in managing its day-to-day affairs.

The UAE “refuses to be drawn into any plan aimed at providing cover for the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip”, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed tweeted in May. He also said the UAE was not willing to “participate in civil administration of the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli occupation”.

But even if Netanyahu were to succumb to the long-simmering internal resentment against him, there is no guarantee of a change in Israeli state policy.

“This stance is not limited to Netanyahu’s coalition but represents the position of the entire Israeli establishment, particularly the army,” Awad said.

Analysts said Netanyahu’s ambitions are reflected in Israel’s political mainstream, including his main political challenger, Benny Gantz, and his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, who recently met US officials during visits to Washington.

“Even if Netanyahu’s government is gone and replaced, Israel faces a dilemma that it cannot remove itself militarily from the Gaza Strip because of its own unwillingness or inability to grapple with the political context of the Palestinians,” Rahman said.

Israel bombing Gaza people run away
Palestinians run for safety after an Israeli strike near a UN-run school sheltering displaced people, in Khan Younis, in this still taken from a video, July 3, 2024 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

Israel and the international community do not want “to cede governance or control back to Hamas, but at the same time why would Arab states and the international community rebuild, govern and police [Gaza] on Israel’s behalf after what they did and without a long-term political resolution?”

What would it take to withdraw?

Israeli media recently announced that the military was moving troops towards the border with Lebanon in anticipation of an expanded war there.

But there is no sign of a complete withdrawal of the military, something that would take an extraordinary event.

“Israel’s military efforts aim to make these bases permanent, implying that the war will persist until Israel is either militarily defeated or forced by the US to withdraw,” Awad said.

“The likelihood of either scenario is uncertain and largely depends on the outcomes of the US elections and the willingness of the next American president to take action.”

Short of a dramatic change in US policy or an unforeseen devastating defeat in Gaza, Israel’s military presence in Gaza is set to continue. There is no end to the war in sight.

“Israel has no other plan,” Rahman said.

Source: Al Jazeera