The conflict in Gaza is about to enter a crucial phase as Israel continues its military campaign to destroy Hamas. After a seven-day pause in hostilities saw Hamas release 110 hostages in return for 240 Palestinians, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are now locked into a more complex and politically tricky battle as they venture into southern Gaza. If the IDF adopts the same tactics in the south as they did in the north of the Gaza Strip, then thousands more Palestinian civilians will die. There are signs, however, that Israel is changing tactics after bowing to pressure from allies.
Over 15,000 civilians have been killed, according to the Hamas-controlled health authority in Gaza. That number could easily double in the weeks or months ahead, unless Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders his generals to change their tactics. While the Israeli government is determined to press ahead with its stated war aim of destroying Hamas, the country’s most senior politicians will know that their political room for manoeuvre is rapidly diminishing.
United States secretary of state Antony Blinken has repeatedly made it clear that the US wants Israel to change the way it is fighting against Hamas in order to reduce civilian casualties. This latest round of fighting could prove a crucial moment for Israel and might well be a line in the sand for president Joe Biden if his warnings about reducing Palestinian casualties go unheeded. Biden might soon consider whether he can continue supporting Israel. If the US changes tack, other western allies will follow. What that means – and how that weakening of support might materialise – is open to question and could potentially include anything from public condemnation to reducing military support.
French president Emmanuel Macron has already warned Israel its goal of eliminating Hamas will take a decade, if it is achievable at all.