On October 29, 2023, Israeli troops will enter the Gaza Strip to clear it of Hamas remnants after days of targeted air and rocket attacks. Mobilization is almost complete, Israeli citizens return to their military units, and Israeli officials have sent a warning to the UN to evacuate certain areas of the Gaza Strip.
Nevertheless, a pressing question remains: what happens after the assault? It is a given that hundreds, if not thousands, of Gazans will lose their lives, along with a significant number of Israelis and potentially hostages. Despite the Israel Defense Forces' efforts to minimize civilian casualties, the densely populated nature of Gaza and the use of civilians as shields by the enemy, Hamas, make civilian deaths inevitable. It's worth noting that Hamas also disregards the principles of the Geneva Conventions by refusing to adhere to the laws of war.
While Israel is likely to target Hamas leaders and commanders, the fate of the group's rank-and-file members is uncertain. Many claim they joined Hamas out of necessity and might want to disassociate themselves from the organization. This situation bears resemblance to the de-Baathification debate in Iraq, which led to the reintegration of Baathists and reignited insurgency.
Therefore, there may be a need for mass departures of Hamas members. Historically, Arab states have expelled such populations, as seen in the 1970 Black September expulsion of PLO members by Jordan.
So where would Hamas members go? Seeking refuge in Turkey could be destabilizing, given President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's use of Arab terrorists and Islamist radicals for his own purposes. Iran is an option, though the Iranian government might be reluctant to accept them, considering the potential backlash from its own population. Qatar, already home to numerous Afghan refugees, could be a viable destination due to available land and the country's historical support for Hamas. However, Qatari intentions in this regard remain unclear.
The Israeli airstrikes on Gaza continue, and we do not know when they will end. This is a humanitarian catastrophe - United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres
This leaves the fate of the Gaza Strip in question. In theory, Israel could take control of the region, but it has no desire to govern over a hostile population of over a million Palestinians.
The most probable solution is to reinstate the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. The Palestinian elections of 2006, in which Hamas contested and subsequently staged a coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007, established a dynamic where groups seek legitimacy through elections but resort to violence if unsuccessful. However, trust in the Palestinian Authority is lacking, primarily due to allegations of corruption and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is seen by many as a Holocaust denier.
Egypt, which once administered the Gaza Strip, now wishes to avoid involvement in the territory due to its radicalization. The United Nations is not seen as a suitable mediator, as its involvement might involve channeling funds through Iran-based charities and potentially rewarding the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for violence.
One potential solution could involve seeking guarantees from Saudi Arabia. Saudi investment has played a role in stabilizing other conflict-ridden regions, like Lebanon. The question is whether Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman would be willing to intervene and reconstruct Gaza.
However, Lebanon's situation ultimately deteriorated, with Saudi Arabia facing relentless Iranian efforts to undermine the country and dissatisfaction with the Lebanese political class. For the international community, the question is whether the Saudis have learned from their Lebanon experience and are open to giving it another try. As for the White House, they must consider the importance of maintaining a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, especially after a period of strained relations.