A colleague of mine asked me a series of questions for an article that he published in Breaking Defense that can be found here. The questions are excellent in that they caused me to ponderously reflect, and he was unable to publish all of my answers which I wanted to be captured in total.
Question 1: What would constitute a victory for Israel in Gaza and how difficult would it be to achieve?
Answer 1: I am going to give two answers. One is what I think the Israelis are trying to do and the other is what I think is possible in this circumstance.
What I don't know is how much the tragedy of 7 October scarred the Israeli psyche and how much anger and willingness to endure additional losses exists in Israel.
Question 2: What impact would a northern front have on the Gaza offensive?
Answer 2: None. Not really none, but relatively close to none. It would depend on the scope and scale of the front. If it is relatively limited to rockets and missiles then none. If there are regular ground incursions then that might change the calculus a bit. I don't think that Hezbollah is in a position to mount a ground offensive and I doubt that they would want to. Hezbollah's strength lies in their ability to harass at range and simply make life difficult for Israel. Though they have developed the ability to take villages during the Syrian civil war that hasn't been against Israelis. I think that Hezbollah could take the Hula Valley of Israel if it was committed to an all out effort and such an attack would then cause a serious degradation of Israeli capability as Israel would be forced to regain lost territory which would be the preeminent priority, but I think this is well outside Hezbollah's intent or objectives. Additionally, such an effort would cause massive damage and loss to Lebanon and Hezbollah would bear the brunt of the blame for the carnage.
Question 3: What do you expect would happen if Israel emerges militarily victorious from the Gaza War?
Answer 3: The answer depends on what you mean by victorious. If by victorious you mean my option one above - the defeat of Hamas - then Israel will have a stronger position in the region. If option two - the reduction of Hamas' capability, but Hamas remains - then Hamas will gain credibility in the region as it will have weathered the storm and lived to stand and still fire back.
What I hope is something very different. I would hope that this effort will reduce Hamas such that a responsible Palestinian Authority leader can come forward and govern Gaza and the West Bank in a manner that allows for some sort of legitimate partnership between the international community (which doesn't really exist), the Palestinians, and the Israelis. This is a hope or maybe even a dream, but I would like to see it. I want the bloodshed and hatred to end.
Question 4: Do you think there is a successful effort to achieve a two-state solution?
Answer 4: I don't believe that there is a leader on either side who has the wasta to lead to this sort of resolution. Netanyahu is a weak leader without the ability to force his will on the Knesset. I don't think he truly wants it, but even if he did, he couldn't make it happen. The irony is that only Ariel Sharon could do that and see what that got him? Mahmoud Abbas doesn't have the authority or charisma either and, like Netanyahu, I don't think that he truly wants it. Maybe an outside power could impose it, but there isn't sufficient agreement on what it looks like to make it happen nor is there a leader who can risk the domestic blowback by forcing it and then having a rocket launched from Tulkarem.
I gave my hope for this scenario above. I think that an outside possibility would be to have an external and respected Arab power come in and control the Palestinian territories, but I know that no one wants to do that. Mohammed bin Salman could be that person if he were so inclined and then he could make his family the guardian of the three holiest sites in Islam. He is visionary enough, but no Arab leader wants to be seen as serving as the jailers for the Israelis nor do they want the hassle of dealing with the raucous Palestinian street.
Brian L. Steed is an applied historian,