Should Israel set up a temporary IDF administration in Gaza?

As aid continues to be looted in the Strip and pressure grows, former defense officials debate the merits of the proposal.

By Yaakov Lappin | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Supporters of Palestinian Islamic Jihad participate in a rally in Gaza City marking the 36th anniversary of the movement's foundation, Oct. 6, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Supporters of Palestinian Islamic Jihad participate in a rally in Gaza City marking the 36th anniversary of the movement's foundation, Oct. 6, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.

As Israel faces intense international pressure over aid to Gaza, much of the global criticism misses the main problem, which is the disruption to the distribution of the aid, rather than how much of it enters the Strip.

Hamas terrorists and criminal gangs systematically loot aid supply trucks, and Hamas has every interest in sabotaging distribution that would undermine its efforts to re-establish itself as Gaza’s ruling regime.

Several former Israeli defense officials have called for a quick solution, in the form of a temporary Israel Defense Forces-run administration in Gaza, but other former officials warn that this would be a trap.

 

Fundamental problems that have no current solution

Professor Kobi Michael is a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies and the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem.

Michael, a former deputy director general and head of the Palestinian desk at the Ministry for Strategic Affairs, told JNS, “We have two fundamental problems that have no current solution. The first is, how do we make sure humanitarian aid gets to its intended recipients, without Hamas getting to it, and without the scenes of chaos and theft that we’ve been seeing.

“The second is the need to set up an alternative to Hamas, because as long as the Gazans believe that Hamas is an alternative and support it, we enable Hamas to exist and strengthen itself,” he said

According to a poll released on Wednesday by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 71% of Palestinians in Gaza and 71% of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria think Hamas’s decision to launch its mass murder attack on Oct. 7 was “correct,” while 56% of Gazans and 69% of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria believe Hamas will “emerge victorious” from the war.

See: Palestinians support Oct. 7 terrorist invasion, say Hamas committed no atrocities

In light of these figures, said Michael, it is essential for Israel to “broadcast to Palestinians that Hamas is not an alternative, and this can only be done by setting up an alternative administration.”

The alternatives to an Israeli military administration, he said, are all non-starters, and include letting Hamas resume its regime—contravening all of Israel’s war goals—and handing off Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, an idea Michael said is disconnected from reality due to the PA’s inability and unwillingness to do this.

 

Gazan clan structures

As for the idea of setting up a local administration made up of clans and large Gazan families, Michael said it is “a fantasy, and has no chance of success, both because of the nature of Gazan clan structures, which is different from Judea and Samaria, and because Hamas will continue to kill clan members to make it clear that cooperation with Israel is out of the question.”

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.

Other alternatives include a multi-national regional force taking responsibility for Gaza, a possibility that Michael said “does not even exist theoretically at this time.”

This, he argued, only leaves the Israeli temporary military administration as an alternative.

An Israeli administration would prepare the ground for a future multi-national initiative to administer Gaza, alongside the creation of a local administration that will receive responsibilities over a process of years, said Michael, until it can “independently manage Gaza.”

“We are going to be pushed into an Israeli administration in any case, so why not make it our own initiative?” he said.

The United States initiative of setting up a floating pier for the injection of aid into Gaza comes with an American expectation for Israel to secure the aid flow from the pier to the distribution points, and from the distribution points to Gaza’s civilians, to prevent looting.

“What is that, if not a military administration?” asked Michael.

Such an initiative will require additional IDF personnel, which could work with some local elements in Gaza, he added. “I’m not saying this will have no price, but if we make this temporary, and connect it to the US vision of a regional architecture, normalization with Saudi Arabia, and if we manage Gaza separately from Judea and Samaria, as the PA undergoes significant reform, this will serve Israel’s interests,” he said.

“We are paying a big price right now because of the current situation,” he added.

Such an administration could also prevent Hamas from retaking civilian sites like Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Michael noted.

 

Not under any circumstances

Col. (res.) Moshe Elad, one of the founders of security coordination between the IDF and the PA and a former Israeli military governor in Jenin, Bethlehem, and Tyre in Lebanon, has a different perspective.

“This is not the solution. Israel must not stay there, or it will risk getting sucked into a permanent presence in Gaza,” Elad, a lecturer at Western Galilee College in Acre, told JNS.

Instead, he said, Israel can provide assistance to parts of the aid distribution process while demanding that Arab states and the US “decide among themselves how to administer Gaza and set up a coalition. We must not, under any circumstances, stay there,” he said, though, he added, targeted future IDF raids against security threats should continue.

“If we stay there, it will turn permanent,” Elad argued. “Experience shows that military administrations set up after war become targeted by terrorism monsters. This happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Lebanon. It’s the worst thing for us to enter this trap and start managing it, with a hostile population and facing severe terrorism.

“There will be no upside, and it will be hard to explain to Israelis why we have taken losses after car bomb attacks on our personnel in Gaza—and there will be car bombs. We can expect severe terrorism conducted by locals seeking to preserve Hamas’s power. Even if 5,000 armed terrorists remain in Gaza, this is a problem,” he said.

Many years of experience have shown that Israel is “not built for administrating other peoples. We cannot do it because we have the restrictions of international law and the Supreme Court. These things would block what we’d want to do in Gaza, which would be to logically enforce laws. Our efforts would be construed as inhumane, and as violations of international law,” Elad said.

Instead, he said, Israel’s focus should be primarily on Egypt, which is the one regional actor that has the ability and vested interest in taking control of the Strip, due to its proximity, shared border and the ability of Gulf states to incentivize Cairo with funds that it desperately needs to avoid economic collapse.

“Egypt very much needs funds to rescue its economy, even to maintain food supplies. They have a population of 110 million people that grows every year by two million. They need a cash injection of $70 billion to $80 billion: for Arab Gulf states, that’s not a lot. Israel must press the US and Saudis to tell Egypt to take on this work in Gaza,” Elad argued.

This effort could be joined by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, he added.

“Egypt can do the job. It can set up the military coalition for two to three years,” said Elad, after which, “PA battalions that undergo training can take over. Israel must finish the job and then leave. It must not stay.”

The debate over Gaza’s “day after” has been preoccupying the Israeli War Cabinet and the wider Security Cabinet as well.

On March 17, Israel Hayom reported that a majority of the Security Cabinet is opposed to an outline suggested by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to install Fatah-affiliated local Gazan forces to manage the civilian situation in the Strip.