Widely circulated information about negotiations between Israeli security officials and intermediaries in Qatar, Egypt and Norway for the next humanitarian pause in conflict with Hamas for the hostage exchange begins to take another turn. Obviously, a week-long truce at the end of November did not solve the problem of an “all for all” hostage-prisoner swap.
The Israeli side wanted to resume hostilities as soon as possible to accelerate the process of the total destruction of Hamas with the complete destruction of residential and administrative buildings in Gaza, thus making the Palestinian enclave unsuitable for the subsequent residence of the Arab people. We cannot say that the IDF has not advanced in solving the tasks set by its political and military leadership.
The Israeli army does not limit itself to the means of fighting or areas of the enemy’s location. If previously the fighting took place in the northern part of Gaza, in December, after the ceasefire, the IDF extended its military operation to the central and southern parts of the Palestinian enclave. Many Hamas facilities have been destroyed, and a special operation is being carried out to squeeze (or flood) the enemy out of underground communications (tunnels).
But despite all this, Israel is unable to fully achieve its objectives due to ongoing resistance. Moreover, the conflict creates new threats for Tel Aviv in the north from the Lebanese Hezbollah and in the south from the Yemeni Houthis in the Red Sea.
Israel is certainly capable of launching military operations to invade southern Lebanon and destroy Hezbollah’s military installations, and suppress Houthi naval forces and drones in the Red Sea basin with considerable support from its U.S.-led allies. The Israeli Army General Staff has already announced the preparation of a corresponding war plan against Lebanon.
In addition, on December 18, Pentagon Chief L. Austin announced the establishment of a multinational naval task force in the Eastern Mediterranean involving ten countries (in particular, the US, UK, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands, Bahrain and the Seychelles). Its main objectives are: establishing control in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, suppressing Houthi attacks and ensuring the safe passage of merchant ships through the Suez Canal.
The strange participation of Bahrain in this coalition, where the headquarters of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet is stationed, whose area of responsibility includes the Persian Gulf – the Pacific Ocean, and a British naval base, is apparently explained by the severe pressure of the Anglo-Saxons on the authorities of Manama. The Kingdom of Bahrain itself began to develop dynamically among the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf thanks to the oil trade, banking and tourism business. In other words, thanks to the West’s favor.
The United States has created more than just a naval task force and is unlikely to limit itself to only defensive functions when convoying the world’s merchant ships (oil tankers and container ships) to the strategically important Suez Canal, through which about 12% of all world trade passes. In the meantime, the CIA is conducting closed-door negotiations through Oman with the Houthi leadership to stop naval attacks and seizures of merchant ships. The Pentagon, with the DIA’s participation, identifies Houthi military installations (command posts, airfields, ammunition depots, missile and UAV launch areas) and considers options for their destruction in Yemen. The Iranian-backed war with the Houthis could further destabilize the situation in the Middle East. This adventure could lead to an escalation of conflict with unknown consequences.
At the same time, the leading Arab countries (Saudi Arabia and the UAE) refused to participate in the aforementioned US naval coalition in the Red Sea against the Yemeni Houthis supporting Gaza. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi do not want to lose their credibility in the Arab world and ally with the American-Israeli coalition. Moreover, KSA and the UAE are tired of the 5-year war with the Houthi group Ansar Allah (banned in Russia organization), which controls Sanaa. The confrontation with the Houthis only ended in 2020 with a fragile truce. The restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran through the mediation of China preserves hope for stability from the unpredictable actions of the Houthis.
At the end of November, the Houthis began seizing commercial ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, not without the approval of Tehran. The Yemenis consider them their targets, since “the ships belong to companies associated with Israel.” As a result, maritime traffic in the Red Sea has virtually stopped: oil tankers are anchored or heading to safe waters, container ships are bypassing Africa and adding 10 days or more to travel times. Major players in the global shipping industry (except, of course, Russian ones, which the Houthis do not attack), such as the Belgian Euronav, the Danish Maersk, the Norwegian Equinor, the Taiwanese Evergreen, the French CMA CGM, the Swiss MSC, have completely stopped the transit of cargo through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which leads to losses worth billions of dollars.
At the same time, the Houthis continue to use combat drones and even ballistic missiles against patrolling American destroyers and merchant ships. Some experts believe that the Houthis are actually testing Iranian ballistic missiles with a view to their subsequent use to destroy American aircraft carriers in combat conditions.
Meanwhile, Israel itself is experiencing growing public dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions in connection with the accidental killing of three Israeli hostages. After the first truce, Bibi forbade Mossad chief David Barney to conduct further negotiations in Qatar for another suspension of hostilities in the war with Hamas in Gaza. However, the accidental killing of Israeli hostages by Israeli troops during a battle in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood and the indignation of the masses in connection with this force Netanyahu to change his approach on this issue.
The Chief of the Israeli General Staff, Herzi Halevi, took responsibility for the incident and promised to prevent such mistakes in the future. But what guarantees can he give during intense battles?
External pressure is increasing on Israel to end hostilities in the Gaza Strip. The resolution initiated by the UAE and adopted by the UN General Assembly with 153 votes in favor indicates increased international pressure on Israel and its allies. The US has to more or less listen to the world. Moreover, the conflict of interests between the administration of President Joe Biden and Congress is escalating in the United States (including over large-scale financing of Ukraine and Israel).
In this regard, the Turkish President has good reason to hope that Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career will soon end, that power will change in Israel and that hostilities in the Gaza Strip will cease. “Those who do not listen to us or do not believe us when we say that Netanyahu will be out will see his exit. But his leaving office will not save him. We will prosecute him legally to make him pay for his oppression. I hope that Israel’s cabinet reshuffle will put an end to this bloodshed,” Erdoğan said after his visit to Hungary.
Such confidence of the Turkish leader can be explained by the results of his negotiations with President Joe Biden regarding the historical responsibility of the United States to ensure a Middle East settlement and curb Israel, which has committed crimes in Gaza. The United States is objectively forced to be interested in stabilizing the situation in the Middle East and Eastern Europe in order not to lose even more.
Aleksandr SVARANTS, Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the internet journal “New Eastern Outlook”