Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett explained to The New York Times his plan to defeat Hamas and avoid a bloodbath for both Israel and the civilian population of Gaza.
Bennett claims that an invasion of Gaza City would lead the IDF into a protracted, bloody war on unfamiliar terrain, in a variety of combat with which the modern IDF has little experience. The large number of casualties that would be expected from such a campaign would provoke widespread public pressure—both domestic and international—to bring the conflict to a premature conclusion.
In this scenario, he says, Hamas would fight on familiar ground, behind defenses and traps it has had a long time to prepare, and would continue to exchange hostages for various supplies. This assessment coincides with statements by Pentagon officials who have expressed doubts about the IDF’s preparedness for a prolonged urban war in Gaza City.
Bennett’s plan is to avoid urban combat entirely. He proposes that the IDF cut the Gaza Strip in two, separating Gaza City from Khan Younis and establishing a buffer zone approximately two kilometers wide across the Gaza Strip. Those wishing to flee south from Gaza City will be offered two Israeli-controlled humanitarian corridors, with Israel allowing water, food and medicine to reach the south and creating medical and humanitarian shelters in the buffer zone.
Consequently, Gaza City will be cut off from all supplies. Control of the proposed buffer zone will require a smaller force, allowing Israel to demobilize a portion of its reservists and reduce pressure on the economy. Hostages captured by Hamas, particularly children and the elderly, will become a major liability, requiring additional care and supplies from the organization’s arsenals.
The Israeli military can swap continuous bombing — a costly technique of dubious effectiveness in light of Hamas’ infamous underground network of tunnels and bunkers — for smaller, targeted raids by its special forces. These raids, Bennett explains, are one of the strengths of the Israeli army and have been carried out successfully for years against targets in all Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria.
They save military resources by not holding the ground and spare the civilian population the collateral damage inherent to aerial or artillery bombardments. They can also garner considerable international support for Israel and reduce the chances of a triggering event opening another front with Hezbollah or in Judea and Samaria.
The IDF has recently launched a series of ground raids into Gaza, claiming to be paving the way for a larger invasion yet to come. Infantry, combat engineers and armored forces have participated, attacking and eliminating multiple Hamas targets.
As a final stage, Bennett says, Israel would offer Hamas operatives wishing to leave Gaza the opportunity to leave, apparently in exchange for the release of the remaining hostages.
“It would be like Beirut in 1982 when Yasir Arafat and all his terrorists got on a boat and left Lebanon forever,” Bennett says, recalling the Palestinian Arab leader’s forced eviction to Tunisia under the Israeli siege of the city. At that time, the displaced in southern Gaza could choose to return to their homes, and the displaced in southern Israel could confidently choose to return to theirs.