The Gaza Strip risks becoming “a kind of Somalia” unless Israel and the international community can agree a plan to rebuild the Palestinian enclave once Hamas has been removed, a former senior Israeli intelligence official has warned.
Sima Shine, a former top analyst in Israel’s elite Mossad espionage agency, said that while the Israeli government is being presented with scenarios for a post-war “endgame” in Gaza there are “big question marks” over whether there is the international appetite to make any such schemes work.
Underlining the difficulties of reaching a sustainable peace in war-ravaged territory, she said that in the absence of a blueprint for sustained economic support and rebuilding of Gaza, Israel risks having a failed state similar to Somalia on its doorstep. The east African country has been racked by terrorism and lawlessness for decades and is widely held as an example of what happens when political instability and civil war leave a nation or territory effectively ungovernable.
Diplomats and experts in the Middle East and the West have expressed increasing concern at what they say appears to be the absence of a clear plan from Israel for how the territory should be governed in the event that it succeeds in its stated war aim of destroying Hamas and its military capability. The Israeli government has said that it intends to implement a “new security reality” in Gaza by no longer being responsible for daily life in the enclave, suggesting that it will sever all links with the territory.
Ms Shine, who is now an expert at the Institute of National Security Studies, a leading defence think-tank based at Tel Aviv University, said her organisation was providing briefings outlining post-war scenarios which she “hoped” was being read within the Israeli government. She said one option would be for the United Nations to grant a five or ten-year “mandate” to an international coalition consisting of Arab and European countries as well as the Palestinian Authority, which currently runs the West Bank, to oversee the rebuilding of Gaza.
But she said it was difficult to envisage countries such as Jordan and Egypt, which have long-standing diplomatic relations with Israel, and other key regional players such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, joining such a plan for fear of enflaming Islamist groups and anti-Israeli sentiment within their own countries.
She said: “The problem is not the idea, it is a good idea. But I personally think that most of the countries will not be willing to participate in this. The Arab countries have their own problems [with Islamist groupings] and the last thing they want is to be involved in Gaza.”
She added: “The other option is that it will become a kind of Somalia, which is of course very, very dangerous from our point of view. There are ideas but the ability to materialise those ideas is a big question mark.”
Other experts suggested that the absence of a clear blueprint for the aftermath to Operation Swords of Iron – the codename for the ongoing Israeli campaign against Hamas – is one of the reasons why the widely-expected ground invasion of Gaza by the Israel Defence Forces has yet to take place.
Dr Tobias Borck, senior research fellow for Middle East security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said: “One of the factors that is leading to delay in Israel’s ground offensive is what happens next, and there is no neat solution. The only thing everyone can agree on, is that Hamas, the group that has run this territory since 2007, should not play any role whatsoever.”
He said there were serious doubts over whether the Palestinian Authority, which was ejected from Gaza by Hamas in 2006 and is unpopular in the West Bank, could have a significant role in Gaza once hostilities have finished, meaning new leadership is likely to be needed.
Dr Borck said: “There’s an urgent need to rebuild the Palestinian political leadership as Hamas’s attack on 7 October has essentially rendered it illegitimate as a political actor, even among Middle Eastern states that did ever want to deal with it.”
Despite the need for root and branch change, there are also questions over whether Palestinians themselves will want to engage in any process emerging from the current conflict.
Justin Crump, chief executive of security and intelligence group Sibylline, said: “Will the Palestinians forgive and forget this? If Israel continues to bomb Gaza out of existence, they’re not going to move on and enter a harmonious relationship with Israel. Israel can try and impose a solution on the Palestinians, but that’s not going to last.”