Hamas will attack any multinational force in Gaza, say observers

As Defense Minister Gallant promotes the idea of a multi-national force playing a role in Gaza, Israeli observers assess the feasibility of such an initiative.

By Yaakov Lappin | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Members of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the "military" wing of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, stand guard in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Dec. 14, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Members of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the "military" wing of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, stand guard in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Dec. 14, 2022. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

While observers in Israel have varying opinions on the realism of Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s concept of a multinational Arab force playing a significant policing role in post-war Gaza, all agree that any such force would be an automatic target for Hamas.

During a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday, Gallant stated that there are only “two options” for who will control Gaza, according to the Israel News Network: Hamas, “which will not happen because we will destroy it, and the second is that in Gaza a moderate Gazan civilian element will rule, and Israel will have full military freedom of action.”

As part of this vision, Gallant has been developing the option of a temporary multinational Arab force, comprising three unnamed Arab states, which in its first phase would help protect the distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

The goal in this stage would be to give such a force specific missions and to ensure there are no clashes with Israel Defense Forces operations in Gaza.

Working in coordination with the Israeli War Cabinet, of which he is a member, and with the IDF chief of staff, Gallant also promoted the idea during a visit to the United States in late March, where he met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Pentagon chiefs.

However, IDF Col. (res.) Michael Milshtein, head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University and a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Reichman University in Herzliya, told JNS on Wednesday that “at least for now, the plan looks quite theoretical.”

Milshtein, who formerly served as head of the Department for Palestinians Affairs in the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, warned that, “So long as Hamas continues to be present on the ground, there is no real ability to implement the idea—and Hamas openly states its aggressive opposition to the idea.”

Milshtein added that such an international force would likely lack the motivation “to enter into an adventure like this.” He assessed that the relevant countries would be Egypt, Jordan and perhaps the United Arab Emirates, with Morocco also being a candidate.

“Of course, there are countries that Israel should very much deny a foothold to, like Qatar and Turkey,” he added.

The question of such a force’s goals and size also remain unclear, he said. “It could be symbolic, a kind of adviser force or trainers, which is more likely, or it could be actual forces deployed on the ground, with enforcement capabilities, which is less likely,” he said.

Israel’s recent experience in trying to promote a local Gazan regime based on Gazan clans was sabotaged rapidly by Hamas, Milshtein noted.

On March 14, Hamas reportedly murdered the leader of the Doghmush clan in northern Gaza, whom it suspected of being in contact with Israeli authorities.

If armed forces deploy to Gaza and try to assist in creating a new order, including the disarmament of militias, “It is very likely that violent friction will develop, led, among others, by Hamas,” said Milshtein. “It won’t be very different from what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan during conflicts between an international coalition and local power elements.”

Milshtein pointed to Israel’s own experience in Lebanon, which he argued strengthened the conclusion “that [multinational forces] are almost always a recipe for problems, and limit the freedom of movement of the IDF or…simply do not contribute a thing.”

He pointed to the example of UNIFIL in Lebanon, which has existed for almost 50 years and “at best does not intervene, and at worst really gets in the way.” A multinational force deployed to Beirut in 1982, made up of the United States, France and Italy, had to withdraw after being badly attacked by Hezbollah.

A multinational force is therefore highly unlikely to “do the difficult work for the IDF or to significantly solve security problems,” he warned, adding that it is far more likely that the IDF will have to continue to act.

In order to set up Palestinian autonomy in Gaza, Hamas first must be taken out of the picture, he said, adding, “and at the moment at least this is not on the horizon.”

Professor Boaz Ganor, president of Reichman University and founder of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, who has published multiple books on terrorism and counter-terrorism, told JNS that the presence of a multinational coalition could enable Israel to “take the decision to end the war and withdraw its forces from the Strip.”

Israel, he said, must ensure that after it withdraws, Hamas does not retake Gaza and rebuild its rocket arsenal or its underground fortifications.

“Demilitarization of Gaza is a fundamental and prior condition for an IDF withdrawal, and preserving the Strip as a demilitarized zone could prevent the deterioration into further war in the Strip in the near and medium-term future,” said Ganor.

“The natural element to implement these enforcement missions in the Strip would be Palestinian Authority police forces, but these forces are too weak and cannot fulfill the missions, even against a weakened Hamas,” he cautioned.

As a result, assistance from a regional multinational force is needed, which will supervise the activities of the PA’s forces, he added.

Such a scenario would also enable the Israeli government to “overcome the inhibitions it has regarding allowing the PA to be the main enforcement mechanism in the Gaza Strip,” he added.

This is conditioned on the regional force acting as a supervising element that assists the PA, rather than conducting all of the enforcement itself, said Ganor. “It seems there are various countries in the region that have an interest in taking part in this, like Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and others,” he assessed.

“Hamas will certainly try to challenge and attack the enforcement missions, but the more that most of the workload is on Palestinian police forces, the more the chance that the relevant states will take part in a multinational force,” he said.

This formula, he said, strengthens the possibility of creating Palestinian autonomy in Gaza without creating a security threat to Israel.

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