Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?

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A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Dec. 10, 2023, shows Israeli armored personnel carriers driving along the border fence as smoke rises above the Palestinian enclave amid ongoing battles with the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (AFP)
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Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel on Dec. 9, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2023

Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?

  • Term used by Israeli PM Netanyahu faulted by experts for not offering clarity on status of Gaza once war is over
  • West Bank-style system would mean loss of space for movement Palestinians had under Hamas rule

LONDON: Israel’s endgame for Gaza appears now firmly set on the enclave’s demilitarization, but some experts say that goal and “total destruction” in this conflict have become indistinguishable.

Even as the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants entered its third month on Dec. 7, precisely who would govern war-devastated Gaza after the dismantling of the Palestinian militant group remained unclear.

Talk about the West Bank-based Palestine government taking charge of postwar Gaza’s governance has been doing the rounds, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has poured cold water on the idea, saying “the Palestinian Authority is not the solution.”

So, what do experts make of Netanyahu’s statement that the Israel Defense Forces will move to demilitarize Gaza, which is still regarded by the UN as occupied territory?

Tobias Borck, a senior research fellow for Middle East security at the Royal United Services Institute, believes the latest remarks represent no change in Israeli policy.

“Those comments were simply meant to justify what the Israeli military was already doing in Gaza. It is little more than a rhetorical switch, a new way of saying ‘destroy Hamas.’ But it is not one offering a clearer, more tangible image of what that looks like,” he told Arab News.

“So, when they say ‘demilitarization,’ this is nothing new, the Israeli argument across almost the entire political spectrum has been that even were there to be an independent Palestinian state, it would have to be demilitarized.”

Israeli soldiers are seen during a ground operation in the Gaza Strip on Nov. 22, 2023. (AP)

On Dec. 6, Netanyahu said the IDF alone would be responsible for demilitarizing Gaza, claiming that international forces would be incapable of achieving success.

Speaking in Hebrew, he said: “Gaza must be demilitarized, only the IDF can take care of this. No international force can. We saw what happened elsewhere when international forces tried this. I am not willing to close my eyes and accept any other arrangement.”

Borck rejected the notion that Netanyahu was warning external actors to stay away, since neighboring Arab states have already called Gaza a mess of Israel’s own making and therefore one it alone would be required to clear up.

As it stands, that “mess” amounts to over 17,700 civilians killed in the two-month assault, a further 7,800 still unaccounted for, more than 46,000 injured, and Gaza’s Hamas-run health authorities alleging that the “war on hospitals and the enclave’s medical facilities is ongoing and does not stop.”

Palestinians crowd together at a food distribution center in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 8, 2023. (AP)

In the midst of such destruction, Palestinian author and journalist Ramzy Baroud said he saw little likelihood of Israeli success in efforts to demilitarize Gaza, noting that for Netanyahu to achieve this would first require him to have control over it.

“To do so, he would have to defeat the resistance. Even if Netanyahu’s army penetrates parts of Gaza, from the north, center or south, subduing Palestinians in one of the most rebellious regions on earth is not only a difficult task but it is virtually impossible,” he told Arab News.

“This isn’t just about firepower, it is about the collective mood among Gazans, in fact, all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.”


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Similarly skeptical about the prospect of Gaza’s complete demilitarization, Osama Al-Sharif, a Jordanian analyst and political columnist, told Arab News such an outcome would only be possible with Gaza’s total destruction.

“To believe that Israel can disarm Gaza means that it will have to level the entire 365 sq. km area to the ground and evacuate all the population, but the window of opportunity for the military operation is closing soon,” he continued.

“So, both goals will not be achieved unless the US allows for a biblical-like catastrophe where millions of people are driven into the desert under unprecedented and relentless bombing, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths.”

Smoke rises among destroyed buildings in northern Gaza on December 8, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Together with the escalating death toll, by the end of November some 98,000 buildings in Gaza had reportedly been destroyed, with estimates suggesting that 40 percent of the entire enclave was now existent only in a state of rubble.

Pointing at this, Borck stressed that what Al-Sharif defined as the only possible means of demilitarization was already playing out.

“All of this revolves around Israel’s understanding of Hamas, which tells Israel that Hamas is a terrorist military. This is an important distinction from simply being a terrorist organization as it means Hamas is capable of a combined arms maneuver,” he said.

“This is exactly what we saw on Oct. 7, with an air and land attack on Israel. So, it is a not an unjustified view, but it does mean that Hamas is the military presence in Gaza. The IDF is trying to destroy all of Hamas’ military capacity and, once that is achieved, Gaza is demilitarized.”

Children stand alongside fighters from the Al-Qassam Brigades in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 29, 2023, on the 6th day of a truce in battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP/File)

Were Israel though to follow through and successfully achieve its aim of demilitarization, Borck said that there was only one outcome for Gaza.

“There is a significant collective of Israelis around Netanyahu that see the future of Gaza as a reflection of the West Bank, which means a Palestinian leadership put in place to run schools, hospitals, and to collect garbage, ideally also running domestic policing,” he said.

Bloomberg News reported this week, citing Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, that American officials were working with the PA on a plan to run Gaza after the war is over.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and his cabinet pray for the victims killed during the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. (AFP/File photo)

The preferred outcome of the conflict would be for Hamas to become a junior partner under the Palestinian Liberation Organization, helping to build a new independent state that includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Ramallah-based Shtayyeh said.

However, according to Borck, a replication of the West Bank governance model in Gaza is far from ideal. “It would be replete with the Israeli-run checkpoints that you find all across the West Bank and would be a total reordering of the way Gazans live,” he said. “Yes, in Gaza there was this force keeping them hemmed in, but within that space they could move with greater freedom than Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Stressing that he did not consider it “a good idea in any shape or form” and rather just what he saw as playing out, Borck said this also likely meant Israel would occupy the least populated part of Gaza “so it could move in and out whenever it perceived a threat.”

Concurring, Al-Sharif said Israel appeared to be working to create a buffer zone in the north while pushing the majority of Gaza’s 2.1 million population to the south and along the border with Egypt, adding “even then, this goal will not be easy to sustain.”

The Israeli military offensive has displaced, left, more than 1.7 million Palestinians, most of them women and children. (AP)

Such a move could put it into the path of a direct confrontation with the Biden administration, which has been clear in its desire for the Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza when the fighting ends.

Al-Sharif added: “Ramallah has put its own conditions for this to happen; none of which Netanyahu will accept. The US is against any forced transfer of Gazans, the partition of the enclave, or reducing its pre-war area.”

And, despite its continuing veto usage in UN calls for a ceasefire, there is increasing pushback from within the Democratic administration over the way in which the conflict has been unfolding and a seeming retraction of what had been seen as total and unconditional support for Israel’s response to Oct. 7.

On Thursday night, the administration’s top diplomat was seen to have come his closest yet to an outright criticism of the way the Netanyahu government had been handling the war as he sought to re-emphasize the primacy of civilian safety.

Stood alongside UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “It remains imperative Israel put a premium on civilian protection. And there does remain a gap between ... the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground.”

Baroud said the Israelis would be wise to learn from “one of Israel's great military generals, the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,” who was responsible for the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza after 38 years of occupation.

“Under pressure from the Palestinian resistance that fought the Israeli army, which had occupied Gaza in June 1967, in every neighborhood and every street corner, Israel pulled out,” Baroud said, reiterating his position that demilitarization was an impossible task.

“Back then, the resistance fought with very few tools compared to its current military capabilities, yet Sharon knew he could not win in Gaza, thus ordering his army to retreat, or ‘redeploy,’ under the pressure of relentless resistance, carried out mostly by ordinary people.”


UN experts urge ‘immediate’ stop of arms transfers to Israel

Updated 23 February 2024

UN experts urge ‘immediate’ stop of arms transfers to Israel

  • Transfers are prohibited even if exporting state does not intend arms to be used in violation of law
  • ‘Israel has repeatedly failed to comply with international law,’ say experts

GENEVA: Any transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and must cease immediately, UN experts warned on Friday.
“All states must ‘ensure respect’ for international humanitarian law by parties to an armed conflict, as required by 1949 Geneva Conventions and customary international law,” a media statement quoted the experts as saying.
“States must accordingly refrain from transferring any weapon or ammunition — or parts for them — if it is expected, given the facts or past patterns of behavior, that they would be used to violate international law.”
According to the experts, such transfers are prohibited even if the exporting state does not intend the arms to be used in violation of the law — or does not know with certainty that they would be used in such a way — as long as there is a clear risk.
Meanwhile, the UN experts welcomed the decision of a Dutch appeals court on Feb. 12 ordering the Netherlands to halt the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel.
The court found that there was a “clear risk” that the parts would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law, as “there are many indications that Israel has violated the humanitarian law of war in a not insignificant number of cases.”
Israel has repeatedly failed to comply with international law, said the experts.
They noted that states party to the Arms Trade Treaty have additional treaty obligations to deny arms exports if they “know” that the arms “would” be used to commit international crimes, or if there is an “overriding risk” that the arms transferred “could” be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law.
EU member states are further bound by the bloc’s arms export control laws.
“The need for an arms embargo on Israel is heightened by the International Court of Justice’s ruling on Jan. 26, 2024, that there is a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza and the continuing serious harm to civilians since then,” the experts said.
The Genocide Convention of 1948 requires states parties to employ all means reasonably available to them to prevent genocide in another state as far as possible.
“This necessitates halting arms exports in the present circumstances,” the experts added.
They further welcomed the suspension of arms transfers to Israel by Belgium, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the Japanese company Itochu Corp.
The EU also recently discouraged arms exports to Israel.
Moreover, the experts urged other states to immediately halt arms transfers to Israel, including export licenses and military aid.
The US and Germany are by far the largest arms exporters and shipments have increased since the attack by Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7. Other military exporters include France, the UK, Canada and Australia.
The experts further noted that arms transfers to Hamas and other armed groups are also prohibited by international law, given their grave violations of international humanitarian law during the October attack, including hostage-taking and subsequent indiscriminate rocket fire.
The duty to “ensure respect” for humanitarian law applies “in all circumstances”, including when Israel claims it is countering terrorism.
Military intelligence must also not be shared where there is a clear risk that it would be used to violate international humanitarian law.
“State officials involved in arms exports may be individually criminally liable for aiding and abetting any war crimes, crimes against humanity or acts of genocide,” the experts said.

Israel kills 3 paramedics, Hezbollah official in Lebanon

Updated 23 February 2024

Israel kills 3 paramedics, Hezbollah official in Lebanon

  • The airstrike targeted the top floor of a building in a residential neighborhood on the Kafr Rumman-Marjayoun Highway, killing Saleh and one other person, and wounding three people

BEIRUT: Israel killed a top Hezbollah official and three paramedics affiliated with the group in airstrikes on Thursday.

Hassan Mahmoud Saleh, a missile unit commander, was killed in the town of Kafr Rumman. The paramedics, from the Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Health Authority, were killed in the town of Blida.

The assassination of Saleh was Israel’s third high-profile strike on top officials belonging to the Axis of Resistance in Lebanon. It follows the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Saleh Al-Arouri and seven others in Beirut in January, and the killing of Ali Al-Debs, along with civilians, a week ago in Nabatiyeh.

The airstrike targeted the top floor of a building in a residential neighborhood on the Kafr Rumman-Marjayoun Highway, killing Saleh and one other person, and wounding three people.

The Israeli airstrike on the Civil Defense Center of the Islamic Health Authority in Blida on Thursday night led to the destruction of the building, with debris removal continuing until Friday morning.

Hezbollah mourned the three paramedics killed in the strike: Hussein Mohammed Khalil from the town of Baraachit, and Mohammed Yaacoub Ismail and Mohammed Hassan from Blida.

Social media videos showing the funeral processions revealed the extent of material devastation to local neighborhoods as a result of Israeli bombardment.

The funeral procession was attended by a crowd of Hezbollah supporters.

A security source monitoring field developments in southern Lebanon said: “Both Hezbollah and the Israeli army possess a dangerous information bank, with advanced tracking technology for the Israeli side.

“Hezbollah cadre Wissam Al-Tawil was targeted by a drone over a month ago in his town of Kherbet Selem immediately upon his return, and in return, Hezbollah targeted Israeli military positions.”

Hezbollah said: “In response to the attack on the civil defense center in Blida, it targeted, through an aerial attack with two drones, the headquarters of the Regional Council in Kiryat Shmona and accurately hit them.” ‏

The southern Lebanese border area came under Israeli attack on Friday morning. The town of Wazzani was targeted by gunfire and artillery, leading to the wounding of a Lebanese soldier and damage to homes and livestock farms.

While Blida mourned the three dead paramedics, the Israeli army opened fire on the town’s cemeteries, where residents were digging graves.

Israeli artillery hit the outskirts of Halta Farm, the forests of Kfarchouba, Kfarhamam and Jabal Al-Labouneh, as well as the outskirts of Naqoura on the coast.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Army announced “the conclusion of intensive training for warships equipped with missiles at sea in the north of the country.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz informed the UN Security Council presidency that his country “will enforce security on its northern borders militarily if the Lebanese government does not implement Resolution 1701 and prevent attacks from its borders on Israel.”

Katz’s statement also included unprecedented details about Iran’s transfer of weapons to Hezbollah via Syria, an apparent violation of Resolution 1701.

His comments appeared to signal the possibility of Israel launching a full-scale war on Lebanon.

Katz called on the Security Council to “demand that the government of Lebanon fully implement Resolution 1701 and ensure that the area up to the Litani River is free from military presence, assets or weapons.”


Artist’s mural in Gaza commemorates ‘buried dreams’ of Palestinian children

Updated 8 min 11 sec ago

Artist’s mural in Gaza commemorates ‘buried dreams’ of Palestinian children

  • Calligrapher and photojournalist Bilal Khaled dedicated his artwork to the children of Gaza

GAZA: A Palestinian calligrapher and photojournalist has left a poignant “message to the world” via a large mural he painted on a building in Rafah, southern Gaza.

Bilal Khaled’s artwork, titled “Buried Dreams,” is dedicated to the children killed in an Israeli strike on the property.

At approximately 2.5 meters tall, the mural adorns the crumbling walls of the leveled building.

Photojournalist and calligrapher Bilal Khaled

He said: “I needed a mental breather from the genocide atmosphere and the smell of human remains, and at the same time, I wanted to leave a message for the world using the art that fascinates me – Arabic calligraphy.”

Khaled pointed out that he had included the word ahlam – Arabic for dreams – in the piece to commemorate the dreams of Gaza’s children.

“At least 13 people died in this building when an explosive barrel was dropped here. Many dreams have been buried under the rubble of this building,” he added.

Since Oct. 7, when Israel launched its bombing campaign in Gaza in retaliation for a deadly Hamas attack, more than 12,400 Palestinian children have been killed in strikes, according to Gaza health officials.

More than 600,000 children are trapped in Rafah on the Egyptian border after having fled with their families from other parts of the embattled Palestinian enclave.

On why he called his mural “Buried Dreams,” Khaled said: “These are the simple dreams of (Gaza’s) children, who want to live, have a home, and wear clean clothes. (The children of Gaza) have even lost the right to life.”

US ‘disappointed’ by Israeli plans to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements, says Blinken

Updated 23 February 2024

US ‘disappointed’ by Israeli plans to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements, says Blinken

  • New settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians

BUENOS AIRES: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday he was “disappointed” by an Israeli announcement that it plans to build 3,000 new housing units in settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Blinken said during a news conference in Buenos Aires that it was long-standing US policy that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Turkiye, Somalia to deepen military bonds after historic deal

Updated 23 February 2024

Turkiye, Somalia to deepen military bonds after historic deal

  • Ankara needs to ratify deal approved by African nation
  • Turkiye expanding military, economic footprint in Africa, say experts

Ankara: With Somalia partnering with Turkiye to help build its sea and naval capabilities, questions have now arisen about the potential regional impact of the tie-up, and why Ankara is expanding its military footprint overseas, including seeking a greater presence in the Red Sea.

Somalia’s cabinet approved on Wednesday the historic defense deal that authorized Turkiye to defend the African nation’s coastline for the next decade, amid tensions with Ethiopia, and mandated it to build a navy for the country.

Turkiye, whose navy has been operating off Somalia’s shores and in the Gulf of Aden under the UN mission since 2009, will not only build the African country’s navy but also train and equip personnel to counter illegal fishing in the latter’s territorial waters.

Turkiye has also been training Somalia’s soldiers for a few years in a bid to help the country develop its army.

Ankara also has its largest overseas military base in Mogadishu, while a Turkish company is operating the airport of the capital city.

“This agreement will put an end to the fear of terrorism, pirates, illegal fishing, poisoning, abuse and threats from abroad,” Somalia’s Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre was quoted by local press as saying during the cabinet meeting.

“Somalia will have a true ally, a friend, and a brother in the international arena,” he added.

Although the details of the agreement have yet to be disclosed, Somalia’s press claimed that the deal would give Turkiye 30 percent of the revenues coming from the Somali exclusive economic zone, which is rich in marine resources.

Considered a gateway to the continent, Somalia’s 3,025-km coastline is the longest in Africa.

The agreement needs to be ratified by Turkiye’s parliament and the president before being finalized.

Hakan Akbas, a senior advisor at Albright Stonebridge Group, said that this pact shows Turkiye’s growing ambition to become a key player in the Horn of Africa, enhancing its ties with Somalia and Ethiopia but excluding some Ethiopian agreements troubling Mogadishu.

“Turkiye’s recent strategic moves aim to bolster Somalia’s military, promote stability, and protect its interests through security, economic, and humanitarian efforts,” he added.

According to Akbas, this agreement reflects Turkiye’s bold foreign policy and strategy to establish key military and economic partnerships aimed at securing its interests in the region.

“This gives Somalia a very essential partner in matters of national security, counter-piracy, anti-terrorism, and border protection, including against illegal fishing. It is a win-win for both nations,” he said.

Earlier this month, Somalia’s Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur signed the framework agreement in Ankara that mandated Turkiye to protect Somalia’s territorial waters.

For Rashid Abdi, chief analyst at Sahan Research, a Nairobi-based think tank, the deal gives Turkiye huge leverage to reshape Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

“Turkish navy will help rebuild Somali navy and will deploy ships to patrol its maritime Economic Protection Zone. Turkiye is now positioned to become Somalia’s top strategic partner,” he told Arab News.

However tensions still remain high in the region especially after Ethiopia and the breakaway Somaliland reached an agreement granting landlocked Addis Ababa access to the Red Sea and ensuring the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state.

Somaliland is still recognized internationally as part of Somalia although it controversially declared its independence in 1991. The deal had infuriated Somalia which considered it a breach of its territorial sovereignty.

As Ankara also has close ties with Ethiopia and provided it with military drones in 2022, how Turkiye will find a balance between the national interests of both countries remains to be seen especially regarding maritime violations.

Abdi thinks that the agreement will put Turkiye in a tight spot if Ankara seeks to enforce Somali sovereignty in breakaway Somaliland.

“It will also be viewed as provocative by Ethiopia which wants a military base on the Somaliland coast close to Bab Al-Mandeb,” he said.

“Turkiye has huge commercial interest in Ethiopia. Turkiye helped Ethiopian premier end the conflict in Tigray. For the time being, Turkiye will be walking a tightrope. It is therefore uncertain how Ankara will balance the competing demands of its two Horn allies — Ethiopia and Somalia. Ethiopia is a big market, home of the African Union and a regional hegemon. Upsetting Ethiopia and countering its regional interests in Somaliland will put Addis Ababa on a confrontation course with Ankara,” he added.

In December, the UN Security Council lifted its three-decade arms embargo on Somalia’s government.

“The latest defense deal with Somalia is anchored in a meticulously crafted intellectual framework spanning a decade,” said international relations professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

“Ankara recently announced the provision of a second batch of MILGEM corvettes to the Ukrainian navy. Turkiye’s forthcoming endeavor to assist Somalia in bolstering its naval forces will mark the country’s second significant contribution to a foreign navy,” he added.

According to Guvenc, Turkiye’s strategy in Africa began with bolstering trade and economic ties before seeking to provide military training and high-end Turkish weapons systems.

“Turkiye recently constructed Istanbul-class frigates for its naval forces exemplifying the country’s expanding maritime prowess extending from Istanbul to the Gulf of Aden without requiring refueling stops,” he said.

Turkiye also took part in the multinational Combined Task Force 151 to prevent piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia. Turkiye took command of the task force six times.

“Turkish Naval Forces have shown a high effectiveness and even in instances where Turkiye didn’t commit ships, its commanders were preferred due to their intimate understanding of regional challenges,” said Guvenc.

Despite acknowledging the strategic significance of the deal, experts caution that its implementation demands substantial investment and logistical capabilities from Turkiye.

“In 2014, Turkish Naval Forces started its circumnavigation of Africa and toured the continent twice. But this time, Turkiye needs to double and maybe triple its naval forces for effective outreach across the vast region,” Guvenc said.

“Overseas bases give countries a significant prestige and put them among countries which have outreach to the remote regions of the world. It is a key indicator for the power hierarchies because it means that the country is able to project strategic power from its naval influence,” he added.

However, Guvenc sees some “political” risks with the deal.

“Turkiye has traditionally refrained from taking part in intra-African conflicts. It has always taken a standing that was above conflicts. But it remains to be seen to what extent it could safeguard Somali interests by force or whether it would have to be involved in local conflicts. It is also technically difficult to protect the exclusive economic zone of Somalia which intersects with issues like illegal fishing activities and potential clashes with other nations in the region,” he said.