The Israel Defense Forces (IDF)

Israel Predicts End To War With Hamas. It’s Not Clear What Happens Next

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF)
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) By Jake SMith, DCNF.

More than six months in, Israel is seeking a quick end to the war with Hamas as the country navigates a series of complexities on the ground, including how exactly the conflict will end and what comes next, foreign policy and defense experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Israel is entering the later stages of military conflict against Hamas, the terrorist group that attacked the country on Oct. 7,  killing over 1,200 civilians and kidnapping hundreds of others.

Israeli leadership has predicted the war will be ended in a matter of months, but challenges remain stemming from military operations on the ground in Gaza, pressures from the international community, and the question of who should govern over the region once the conflict ends.

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A key element to winning the war for Israel is an impending ground assault in Rafah, the densely-populated, southernmost urban region of Gaza and the last stronghold of the remaining Hamas battalions, even as the West and the Biden administration have warned Israel against doing so. Israeli leadership has made it fully clear they intend to go into Gaza despite the Biden administration’s demands otherwise.

At the same time, the international community is struggling to agree on who should run war-torn Gaza once the war ends — the Palestinians, the Israelis or a coalition of other nations in the Middle East.

“That remains to be seen,” Simone Ledeen, senior fellow at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law and former Department of Defense (DOD) official, told the DCNF.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have already seized control of northern and central Gaza since beginning a counteroffensive on Oct. 7, though some control gaps remain in those regions, according to the Institute for the Study of War and Critical Threats. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that IDF fighting in Gaza should be most wrapped in “maybe six weeks, maybe four,” having destroyed roughly three-quarters of Hamas’ battalions in the region.

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Experts who spoke to the DCNF either agreed with the four to six-week timetable or said three to six months was more realistic depending on when the IDF begins a ground assault in Rafah.

“It all depends on when they start. Israel has been very deliberate and thorough in its response to the October 7th Hamas attacks,” Ledeen told the DCNF. “I don’t expect Rafah to be any different.”

From an operational perspective, the IDF has the skills and resources needed to defeat what’s left of the Hamas battalions in Rafah, experts told the DCNF. The IDF is ranked the 17th strongest military in the world and beats out several Western rivals, according to the 2024 Global Firepower Index.

“[Israel has] a highly capable and motivated fighting force,” Ledeen told the DCNF. “We will be studying this war for years to come both strategically and tactically – Israel is writing the book on the evolution of modern urban warfare.”

However, Hamas has embedded itself among the roughly 1.4 million Palestinians in Rafah who have little ability to flee anywhere else, as Egypt has closed its northern borders to incoming refugees. The IDF will have to balance civilian safety while simultaneously taking on military operations, experts told the DCNF.

“People have had room to move south throughout the campaign in Gaza, and now they’re out of room,” Michael DiMino, senior fellow at Defense Priorities and former CIA officer, told the DCNF. “That’s going to create an even more complicated urban warfare environment than the Israelis have had to deal with to this point.”

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Starting a ground assault in Rafah poses another challenge; it may strain U.S.-Israeli diplomatic relations, experts told the DCNF. The Biden administration has repeatedly pressured Israel to scale back military operations in Gaza – going so far as to vote on a United Nations (UN) resolution calling for a temporary “ceasefire” on Friday – and has warned that launching an assault in Rafah would be crossing a “red line,” citing humanitarian concerns.

Israel says it has a plan to ensure civilian safety during operations, but the Biden administration as of Wednesday said it hadn’t seen the plan yet. The Biden administration could consider several retaliatory options if Israel goes into Rafah, experts told the DCNF.

“I suspect that would be slow rolling or stopping military aid could be the main component, you could see curtailment of intelligence sharing, which I think both of these are self-inflicted wounds with the Biden administration if it does these things,” Gabriel Noronha, executive director of Polaris National Security and former State Department official, told the DCNF. “It’s important to remember that the faster Israel can wrap up this war, the better for everyone involved. And on intelligence sharing, it’s kind of preposterous that we would withhold information that can help Israel secure itself… So either thing would be shameful.”

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“Shockingly, the U.S. is already slow-rolling some of the promised military aid to Israel. They also fronted a UN resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire,” Ledeen said. “Anything further would backfire, both at home during this election year, and in the international community — which is taking notes on how America is threatening to turn its back on yet another close friend and ally.”

The Biden administration is also currently implementing a plan to deliver aid to Gaza via a maritime through the Mediterranean Sea.

The idea is to deploy naval vessels off the coast of Gaza, build rafts stacked with aid and float them over to an artificial dock on the shores of Gaza without having to put U.S. troops on the ground. Despite this, experts previously told the DCNF that the plan is rushed and undercooked and could potentially put U.S. forces at risk.

“This proposal is unconscionable,” Advancing American Freedom organization wrote in a letter to Congress last week, urging lawmakers to defund the port. “This plan would leave American troops vulnerable to attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups intent on murdering Americans. This is not in our national interest.”

While military and aid operations continue, Israel is also negotiating with Hamas through U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators to secure the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Hamas originally had over 200 hostages in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks, as some have been released, freed or died in captivity.

There is a separate question as to what will happen with Gaza when the war ends, one that nobody in the international community has fully answered. In the immediate aftermath of the war, a new series of challenges will emerge in Gaza, such as the effort to deradicalize the Palestinian population and ensuring Hamas doesn’t flare up again; the IDF will likely have to stay in the region at least temporarily, experts told the DCNF.

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“This is where things immediately start to get difficult, because you have to do some cleanup even in northern Gaza where the Israelis have long moved. There are still Hamas cells in the north,” DiMino told the DCNF. “There is still what I would say, a certain degree of freedom of movement for Hamas – this gets to the issue of the tunnels. This gets to just the nature of an urban battlefield.”

“The deradicalization part will take years,” Noronha told the DCNF. “I don’t expect Israel to withdraw anytime soon.”

In the longer term, a renewed Palestinian Authority could start governing over the region — a proposal favored by the Biden administration but rejected by the Israeli government. It could also take the form of an Israeli security force or a coalition of surrounding Arab states, who may come to help so long Israel guarantees certain provisions.

“I think the hope from the Israeli perspective is to have the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and maybe a degree of Egyptian involvement. I think realistically, Qatar is going to have interest in being involved, and it’s trusted more by the Palestinians on the hierarchy,” Noronha said. “There’s going to have to be I think some levels of commitment by Israel, whether that’s some Congress’s about a pathway to a Palestinian state, or greater or some level of autonomy and governance. That will be required from Israel to unlock that coalition.”

“Hopefully some of the Gulf states end up playing a key role,” Ledeen told the DCNF “They have had success with deradicalization and can offer Gazans, and indeed all Palestinians, a different, more peaceful and profitable future.”

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Netanyahu on Friday, warning him against a Rafah invasion and telling him that he needs “a coherent plan” in the next phases of the war, warning him that the current path will lead to Israel being “stuck in Gaza,” according to Axios. Netanyahu told him that he hopes Israel has the “support” of the Biden administration in the coming phases of the war, “but if needed, we’ll do it by ourselves,” according to The Washington Post.

“The next couple of weeks are going to be really interesting for the U.S.-Israeli relationship,” DiMino told the DCNF. “And I think everybody is sort of waiting with bated breath here.”

The IDF and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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