Claims and denials about a potential ceasefire in Gaza continue. Some reports say there will be a three-day break in fighting, while others say the truce will be extended to a full five days. Others, however, say a ceasefire could begin soon. And so on.
Even the statements from the horse’s mouth are different. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied a report published Saturday by The Washington Post that a tentative agreement had been reached; The representative of the United States confirmed that talks were ongoing, but a breakthrough was still expected.
On Sunday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani announced in Doha that the differences between Hamas and Israel are “very minor.” Qatar played a key role in mediation efforts during the war, including the release of Israeli prisoners.
The latest to be questioned in the case was Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that the sides “are close to reaching a ceasefire agreement.” Another Hamas official told Al Jazeera that the negotiations focused on the duration of the truce, details of delivering aid to Gaza and the exchange of hostages and prisoners.
Where there is smoke, there is fire. With most of the parties involved keen to temporarily stop the carnage in Gaza, this small step towards temporary respite is to be hoped for.
It is also prudent to investigate why both warring sides would consider such a pause.
While such a pause would be beneficial to Hamas politically, there appears to be no obvious benefit militarily – as I will explain on Wednesday.
In turn, for Israel, stopping the war could be beneficial from a military point of view and disadvantageous from a political point of view.
The Israeli war machine has been operating at full capacity for six weeks in the air and three weeks on the ground in Gaza. Since the Hamas attacks, Israeli aerial bombardment has continued at a surprisingly rapid rate.
It was clear from day one that the main purpose of such ruthless attack on Palestinian civilian targets was not a military target. Initially, many analysts believed that the intense air strikes were intended to show the Israeli public that the armed forces were doing something and that the bombing would be eased when ground troops moved in.
Even a country that boasts of its readiness for war must maintain significant reserves of weapons and ammunition.
Omar Bradley, a US Army general during World War II, once said that “amateurs talk about strategy, professionals talk about logistics.” Israel’s forward commanders may be eager to continue striking Gaza no matter what, but the rear has miscalculated and doesn’t like the result. There are credible reports outside military secrecy that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) is running out of smart bombs.
It is always difficult to assess the credibility of allegations in military matters. Sometimes an officer disappointed with his side – especially when it is fighting outside its borders or causing heavy civilian casualties – anonymously reveals important details.
Several specialized internet forums claim that the IAF, after using more than 2,500 sets of Joint Direct Attack Smart Bombs (JDAM) over Gaza, has just 10 days of supplies.
Each military regulates the amount of ammunition that must remain in reserve in case of emergencies. The exact numbers are a guarded secret, but everything indicates that Israeli quartermasters raised the alarm, asking for urgent resupply.
Specialized military items can be purchased to fill the gaps. In 1973, when Israel was threatened with running out of supplies to fight Syria, Egypt and their Arab allies, the United States launched “Operation Nickel Grass,” the largest military airlift in history. The United States Air Force transported nearly 1,000 tons of weapons and ammunition per day to Israel, for a total of over 22,000 tons.
This is happening again now, although on a smaller scale. For two weeks, American C-17 transports have been regularly landing at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and at the Nevatim air base in the Negev Desert.
Most of the planes come from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where the United States has warehouses full of “pre-positioned cargo” – equipment intended for military needs in emergencies.
There is no doubt that heavier and less urgent supplies are sent to Israel by sea. These will certainly include complementary missiles for the tracked version of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and the M270 Multi-Launch Rocket System (MLRS), which has been used extensively in Gaza.
In October, the United States launched its own missiles into Israel for the Iron Dome air defense system. Israel’s response to initial heavy rocket attacks by Hamas and attacks by Hezbollah and the Houthi depleted Israel’s stockpiles to such alarming levels that Israel demanded all of the Tamir interceptor missiles, which the United States had purchased and kept in Israel until they could be deployed.
Israeli forces would also welcome a break in fighting to evaluate their tactics to date in light of their results against Hamas tunnels. As many analysts – including myself – have warned, despite dogs, robots, ground-penetrating radar and other technologies, the tunnels can only be destroyed once soldiers get inside. It’s a bloody task, as proven last week when four commandos were killed by an improvised explosive device after opening a tunnel cover.
A few days ago, an unidentified Israeli officer admitted during a briefing to reporters cooperating with Israeli forces: “We don’t want to go there. We know they left us with a lot of side bombs.” On November 16, The Jewish Chronicle, a weekly newspaper published in London, reported that the standing order was clear: “No one may enter the tunnel.”
Israeli forces must also test the effectiveness of their supposedly sophisticated and specialized training in Gaza City simulators. Some simulation assumptions based on the 2009 and 2014 incursions into Gaza were found not to apply in 2023. It will also be necessary to analyze why so many Merkava tanks, considered almost invincible, were disabled. Reliable reports indicate that as many as 30 have been destroyed or are too damaged to be used.
While the military would welcome three or five days of respite – but probably wouldn’t admit it – politicians would clearly see it as their loss.
Netanyahu and his hawks have been adamantly opposed to any pause, so if they accept it now, the public will see it as their weakness, no matter how they try to justify bowing to international pressure. The fact that US President Joe Biden, supposedly Israel’s closest ally, has placed emphasis on securing a break must rub the Israeli Prime Minister’s wounds.
If the agreed non-fighting period is met, which is always a high risk, Israeli politicians will face new pressure at the end of it; the world might ask, “If it was a success, why don’t you just extend it?”
Netanyahu’s worst nightmare would be to reach a point where he has not only failed to destroy Hamas, but has de facto recognized it through negotiations, even if indirectly. Deprived of Gaza, angry Israelis would surely choose his political skin instead.