Speaking to a Knesset committee on 20 October, Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, described the ‘three phases’ of the current military operation in the Gaza Strip. The first phase, Gallant said, was to destroy Hamas through ‘a military campaign by fire and later by tactical manoeuvres’. The second, to be waged at a ‘lower intensity’, would ‘eliminate pockets of resistance’. The third would see ‘the creation of a new security regime in the Gaza Strip, the removal of Israel’s responsibility for life in the strip and the creation of a new security reality for the citizens of Israel’.
This radical agenda for ‘regime change’ has its antecedents. Four decades ago, another defence minister, Ariel Sharon, outlined a similarly grandiose strategy to eradicate the Palestine Liberation Organisation, directing an invasion of Lebanon in 1982 that eventually resulted in the expulsion of the PLO leadership. He would have been pleased with recent events. On 9 October, Gallant described the Palestinians in the blockaded strip as ‘human animals’ before cutting off all water, food and fuel. The images emerging from Gaza of entire neighbourhoods reduced to rubble recall the devastation that earned Sharon his nickname ‘the Bulldozer’.
But Operation Iron Swords, as the IDF calls it, is also an attempt to rectify what Israel’s far-right leaders believe was Sharon’s most disastrous mistake. Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, misleadingly labelled a ‘disengagement’, right-wing ideologues have vigorously advocated for the total recapture of the strip; one think tank recently published a detailed paper suggesting how this might be done. Israeli generals and intelligence officials, humiliated by Hamas’s attack and facing a disillusioned Israeli public, have lined up in support, eager to demonstrate the state’s strategic might. ‘At the end of this war,’ announced Eli Cohen, the foreign minister, ‘not only will Hamas no longer be in Gaza, the territory of Gaza will also decrease.’ Gideon Sa’ar, who recently joined Israel’s national emergency government, echoed the sentiment: ‘Gaza must be smaller at the end of the war ... it must lose territory.’