Israel wonders what the future of the Gaza war could be

Moments after Israel and its allies shot down a barrage of Iranian missiles and drones this weekend, many began to wonder what the latest exchange between Israel and Iran would mean for the war in the Gaza Strip.

The Iranian attack was retaliation for what was believed to be an Israeli attack this month on an embassy building in Damascus that killed seven Iranian officials, including three senior commanders of the Iranian military. But it came against the backdrop of the war in Gaza, where Israel is fighting Hamas, a militant group financed and armed by Iran.

Israeli military analysts were divided over whether a more direct confrontation with Iran could alter the war in Gaza, now in its sixth month. The next focus of that war could hinge on Israel's decision to pursue Hamas in the southern city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have fled amid a spiraling humanitarian crisis.

Some analysts have argued that the implications for Gaza would depend on whether Israel responds with a strong counterattack against Iran. Others argued that Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip would be unaffected.

Shlomo Brom, a retired brigadier general and former director of the Israeli military's strategic planning division, said that if Israel responded with substantial force to the Iranian attack, it could spark a multifront war that would force the Israeli leadership to divert its attention from Gaza.

In the event of a significant regional conflagration, General Brom said, Israel could choose to delay its plans to invade Rafah, which Israeli officials describe as Hamas' last stronghold.

“It is not comfortable for us to have simultaneous, high-intensity wars in multiple theaters,” General Brom added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to send ground forces to Rafah, despite international pressure to withdraw the operation. An Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said on Sunday that the Iranian attack would have no effect on the military's plan to invade Rafah.

A large-scale direct confrontation with Iran could potentially end the war in Gaza, General Brom said. But for the war to end this way, a broader ceasefire would be needed that includes several parties, including Israel, Iran and the Iranian-backed militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

“There is the idea that to resolve a crisis, the situation must first get worse,” he said, explaining that an escalation followed by a global ceasefire with Iran could lead the country to push its regional proxies to stop fighting with Iran. Israel.

Although members of Israel's war cabinet did not issue a formal statement after Sunday's meeting, another Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the talks, indicated that the country would respond to the Iranian assault – although there was considerable uncertainty about when and how.

Other military experts, however, have rejected the link between the Iranian attack and the war in Gaza.

“There is no connection,” said Amos Gilead, a retired major general who served in Israeli military intelligence.

General Gilead said that the Israeli army has sufficient resources to fight against Iran and continue to wage war against Hamas in Gaza.

Other analysts made a similar point, arguing that the resources needed to fight Iran were different than those needed in Gaza. Israel needs fighter jets and air defense systems to counter Iran, they said. Instead, they added, the army mainly needs ground troops, drones and attack helicopters to fight Hamas in Gaza.

“There is no real tension between those two things,” said Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former head of Israel's National Security Council.

However, General Eiland said the success of the coalition that repelled the Iranian attack, which included the United States, Britain and Jordan, could inspire Israel to use the momentum to overcome its declining status internationally by ending the war in Gaza.

Although the United States, Israel's closest ally, has largely supported Israel's decision to go to war in Gaza, it has increasingly signaled its displeasure at the growing death toll and warned of a major ground assault in Rafah. The support the United States provided Israel on Sunday in shooting down Iranian drones and missiles could give it more leverage over its Israeli counterparts.

Although General Eiland said such an outcome could help Israel develop goodwill in the international community and help reach a solution to end the war in Gaza and fighting with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon, he was dubious that Netanyahu would do the same. pursue a similar path.

“He says he wants to achieve 'total victory' in Gaza and take over Rafah, a process that could last two or three months,” he said, referring to the prime minister. “It is clear that Netanyahu has a different mentality and priorities.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed to the reporting.

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