Jamie Dettmer serves as the opinion editor for POLITICO Europe.
Former United States President George W. Bush was warned by General Colin Powell about the consequences of invading Iraq after 9/11, stating, “Once you break it, you are going to own it.”
As the strategy for invasion was finalized, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld prevented any thorough preparations for the management of Iraq after the current leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed. He believed that once the military tactic of “shock and awe” had dismantled Iraq, others could handle the aftermath.
The British military leaders were extremely angry about this. General Mike Jackson, who was in charge of the British army during the invasion, later criticized Rumsfeld’s strategy as lacking intelligence.
It is important to remember that history, and it seems that U.S. President Joe Biden was thinking about it when he advised the Israeli war cabinet to avoid making similar mistakes to those made by the U.S. after 9/11.
Although Biden urged them to do so, Israel has yet to come up with a clear strategy for handling the Gaza Strip after the destruction and lasting impact on Hamas following the October 7 attacks.
Putting aside the immense challenge that Israel will encounter in attempting to achieve their stated goal of dismantling Hamas as a group, former American General David Petraeus warned in a recent interview with POLITICO that a ground war in Gaza could result in a situation similar to “Mogadishu on steroids”. This lack of a clear endgame plan reflects a concerning lack of intellectual thoroughness that is reminiscent of Rumsfeld’s approach.
The Israeli Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, informed legislators on Friday that their country has no intentions of retaining control over Gaza once their conflict with Hamas is over. He stated that Israel will no longer be responsible for the well-being of the 2.3 million residents in the Gaza Strip, bringing up concerns about how they will obtain vital resources such as energy and water, as these needs are mostly met by Israel.
According to Israeli and Western officials, the most probable course of action would be to transfer authority to the Palestinian National Authority, based in the West Bank. The Authority previously managed the enclave until it was taken over by Hamas through force in 2007. Last week, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid stated, “I believe it would be best for the Palestinian Authority to regain control of Gaza.”
It is uncertain if Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the dominant Fatah party within the Palestine Liberation Organization, would agree to these conditions for Gaza. Furthermore, it is questionable whether he holds enough authority to make any significant changes in the territory.
Abbas is currently facing challenges in maintaining control over the West Bank as he is not well-liked and his government is viewed as corrupt and too compliant with Israeli demands.
Israel currently holds a majority of the West Bank, approximately 60 percent, and the expanding settlements in this region are in violation of international law. These settlements have not been beneficial for Abbas, and Israeli attempts to impede the development of the West Bank, referred to as “de-developing” by critics, are seen as a means of hindering growth and suppressing Palestinian self-governance.
Palestinian Authority President Abbas’ security forces in refugee camps in the West Bank have relinquished their control to armed factions, including dissatisfied members of the Fatah party. It is uncertain if Abbas would be willing to take on the role of subcontracting for Israel in Gaza, which would diminish the PA’s already weakened domestic reputation, according to Hugh Lovatt, a Middle East expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Not only Gaza or the West Bank, but also other regions are at risk of breaking in the upcoming weeks.
The surrounding nations are becoming increasingly concerned as they observe the unfolding events. They worry that without careful consideration and collaboration, Israel’s reaction to the brutal Hamas attacks could result in their own destruction. If Israel desires the assistance or backing of these countries in managing the expected backlash from their citizens following a military operation, it must gain their approval and cooperation regarding the future of Gaza and the Palestinian people. Furthermore, it must refrain from employing language that suggests retribution on a group level.
The country of Lebanon is currently facing increased conflicts along its border with Israel, fueled by the support of Iran’s proxy group, Hezbollah, which is also an ally of Hamas. Lebanese leaders are expressing frustration at being ignored by major players involved in the situation, including Israel, the United States, and Iran. They do not want to be involved in the tragic events unfolding.
Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam expressed concern that Lebanon, already struggling with an economic crisis that has left 85% of its population in poverty, could become another battleground in Iran’s conflict with Israel. The country’s caretaker government is not equipped to handle such a scenario.
The leaders of Egypt and Jordan also express Lebanon’s grievances, stating that the consequences for them are being disregarded. This is the reason why Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi convened a summit on Saturday in Cairo with regional and international leaders.
El-Sisi emphasized the conference’s goal of finding a lasting political resolution, with the hope of earnestly fulfilling the 2007 Annapolis Conference’s decision to establish a Palestinian state next to Israel.
The escalation of the war could have severe consequences for Egypt, and its leaders are angry over what they perceive as Israel’s disregard for the aftermath in Gaza once Hamas is defeated. This could leave Egypt, already struggling financially, to deal with the aftermath.
More than that, Egypt and Jordan harbor deep suspicions — as do many other Arab leaders and politicians — that as the conflict unfolds, Israel’s war aims will shift. They worry that under pressure from the country’s messianic hard-right parties, Israel will end up annexing north Gaza, or maybe all of Gaza, permanently uprooting a large proportion of its population, echoing past displacements of Palestinians — including the nakba (catastrophe), the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians in 1948.
Both el-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II are refusing to accept the “humanitarian” requests for displaced Gazans to seek shelter in their nations. They are concerned that this may not be a temporary solution and could increase their own security threats, as the Gazans would likely have to be housed in the Sinai region. This area is already facing ongoing counterinsurgency efforts by Egyptian security forces against militant Islamist groups.
Both nations have valid reasons to be worried about Israel’s intentions.
Certain writers for the publication Israel Hayom, which is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a close friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are advocating for the annexation of certain territories. One columnist, Jonathan Pollard, a former American intelligence analyst who was imprisoned for 30 years for spying for Israel before moving there, wrote, “My hope is that the current population of enemies residing in the area will be removed and that Israel will annex and repopulate the Strip.”
Last week, Gideon Sa’ar, the recently appointed minister in Netanyahu’s government during the war, stated that Gaza “must be reduced in size by the end of the conflict… Any party that instigates a war against Israel will forfeit territory.”
In light of recent events, there are indications that the Biden administration is beginning to acknowledge the potential consequences of the Gaza crisis, despite concerns from the Arab world. Initially, there was criticism for not promptly expressing compassion for the suffering of ordinary Gazans during Israel’s attacks on the region. While this can be attributed to Hamas, it is important for American officials to vocalize this sentiment frequently.
Some experts believe that the delay in Israel’s ground attack may be a strategic move by the United States to encourage them to reconsider their approach to attacking Hamas. This delay could also give Israel the opportunity to come up with a feasible end goal that will gain support from Arab leaders and counter anti-Semitic propaganda.
Currently, discussions to secure the release of hostages are taking place through Qatar, following the recent liberation of two American captives on Friday. There have been rumors of senior members of Biden’s team communicating with Iran through Oman.
According to Michael Young, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center, the Biden administration’s response may be more nuanced than it appears, despite criticism from Arab nations. He believes that while publicly supporting Israel was expected, the main goal is to limit Israel’s response to the attacks by Hamas while also showing deference to the country.
As time passes, Israel will have the opportunity to reflect more deeply, giving Washington a chance to persuade, soothe, and clarify the potential disastrous consequences of Israel’s actions if they continue unchecked and do not address the challenging inquiries posed by Biden.
However, this may not be enough to avoid a complete loss of control. Israel has both the moral and legal right to protect itself from savage assaults, which could be considered as a pogrom. The safety of its citizens must be guaranteed. Moreover, there are other actors, particularly Iran, who desire the annihilation of the Jewish nation. Even a reduced retaliation from Israel could potentially lead to the feared escalation in the region.