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Peace and Conflict

Biden speaks to regional leaders as Israel’s Gaza ground operation continues | Update 30th October 2023

Biden speaks to regional leaders as Israel’s Gaza ground operation continues via BICom

What happened: US President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian President el-Sissi yesterday.

  • National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had previously said on CNN that Biden would reiterate to Netanyahu that Israel had a responsibility to protect the civilian population of Gaza and "should be taking every possible means available to them" to distinguish between Hamas and civilians.
  • Later, on ABC’s This Week programme, he said Hamas “is hiding behind the civilian population, which puts an added burden on Israel to differentiate between the terrorists and innocent civilians, but it doesn't lessen their responsibility under international humanitarian law and the laws of war to do all in their power to protect the civilian population."
  • The official US readout of the Biden-el-Sissi conversation says Biden “expressed his appreciation for Egypt’s leading role in efforts to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population of Gaza… The two leaders committed to the significant acceleration and increase of assistance flowing into Gaza beginning today and then continuously.”
  • “They also discussed the importance of protecting civilian lives, respect for international humanitarian law and ensuring that Palestinians in Gaza are not displaced to Egypt or any other nation.”
  • Britain Prime Minister Sunak and France President Macron spoke by telephone and “agreed to work together on efforts both to get crucial food, fuel, water and medicine to those who need it, and to get foreign nationals out,” a Downing Street spokesperson said. They also stressed “the importance of getting urgent humanitarian support.”
  • The two also “agreed that it was important not to lose sight of the long-term future of the region and, in particular, the need for a two-state solution.”
  • Britain’s Ambassador to Israel Simon Walters said that the UK needs Israel to win the war with Hamas in Gaza. In an interview with Israeli Army Radio he said “Hamas must not remain in control in the Gaza Strip,” adding that “Israel must adhere to the laws of war.” Simon also expressed extreme concern about the rise in antisemitism in the UK. “It’s worrying that during the protests we’ve seen some antisemitic slogans and some calls for jihad. The government is responding to that — it takes the safety of Jewry in the UK very seriously.”
  • The IDF says that over the last day it has conducted strikes against some 600 Hamas sites, including weapons storage sites, hideouts, and staging grounds.
  • IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said "dozens of terrorists" from “tactical command” were killed during bombing in Gaza. "They were those who command the people and direct them in the field," Hagari said, accusing Hamas of "using schools, hospitals, and others. They do not want anything other than to use them as a human shield."
  • Hagari also updated the number of hostages believed to be in Gaza. The military has notified the families of 239 hostages. “It’s an unfathomable number. There are foreign workers among the hostages, it takes us time to reach everyone’s families,” he says.
  • At the request of the US Administration, humanitarian aid is entering the Gaza Strip. The aid includes only water, food, and medical supplies. A total of 108 trucks have entered during the past eight days, including 33 yesterday and 24 today.
  • With rocket fire from Gaza continuing, homes were hit this morning when 30 rockets were fired on the southern Israeli city of Netivot.
  • In the north, the IDF carried out airstrikes against several Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon in response to rocket and missile fire on northern Israel. The IDF said targets included “infrastructure for directing terror, and military infrastructure.” Troops also struck another anti-tank guided missile squad in southern Lebanon and carried out a drone strike on a terror operative flying a drone over the border.
  • An IDF reserve soldier was killed, and three soldiers injured in a tank accident on the northern border.
  • Elsewhere, Channel 12 reports a warning by Shin Bet head Ronen Bar to the war cabinet and the wider cabinet of “fears about an eruption” of violence in the West Bank. “The specific warning notes a rise in violence by settlers [and] incidents between settlers and Palestinians that result in the deaths of Palestinians.”
  • According to the report, Israeli sources said that “these incidents are likely to set the area alight” and harm the war effort against Hamas. Palestinians said on Saturday that a Palestinian man was shot dead as he harvested olives near the West Bank village of As-Sawiya.
  • Last night IDF troops conducted an operation in Jenin to arrest wanted men. Palestinian media reported that three Palestinians were killed and nine injured. One of the dead has been identified by Palestinian media as Wiam Hanoun, suggested to be a founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad offshoot Jenin Brigade.

Context: As world leaders emphasise the importance of preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) claimed yesterday that Hamas possesses fuel reserves, and is continuing to take control of private fuel reserves. Essential facilities in Gaza depend on the fuel depots of Hamas, which supplies a limited quantity every few days.

  • According to new intelligence received and exposed by the IDF, Hamas has a fuel depot of approximately one million litres, and is controlling the supply of fuel to hospitals and other essential facilities, according to its own interests. It does so to add pressure to the international discourse by creating the public perception of a fuel shortage in the Gaza Strip.
  • Gaza has local energy production based on solar farms and on generators powered by private fuel reserves, COGAT says.  All the essential facilities — hospitals, desalination plants, wells, and the like — have alternative energy sources. For example, 70 percent of the energy needs of the European Hospital are met by solar energy.
  • COGAT also says there is no shortage of food for the near term, and food reserves in the Strip are sufficient for at least a month. Medical supplies are sufficient for the near term, both by Hamas and by the international organisations.
  • According to COGAT, there is also currently no water shortage in Gaza. The Birket Sa'id water line, which was damaged by Hamas mortar fire, has been repaired and is once more supplying water to the residents of the central Gaza Strip. The reopening of the Birket Sa'id water line has improved the water accessibility and quality.
  • In the northern Gaza Strip, the municipalities distribute water from tanks. They also pump water from the ground and into the water system. In the southern Gaza Strip, and particularly in the Khan Younis area which is served by the Bani Suheila water line, there is a constant supply of water.

Looking ahead: The UN Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting this afternoon at the request of the United Arab Emirates. The council has already rejected four draft resolutions – one vetoed by the US, one vetoed by Russia and China, and two that failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes.

  • Amid concerns of regional escalation, Jordan has asked the US to deploy its Patriot missile defence system to bolster its border defences

BICOM Background Briefing: Operation Swords of Iron

BICOM published a comprehensive background briefing on Operation Swords of Iron, including background on Hamas, Israeli policy on Gaza, and Israel's obligations under international law. Read the full briefing here.

2. Top stories from the UK and Israeli media

The Standard reports US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warning that Hamas is preventing UK nationals from leaving Gaza. “The challenge right now is that the Egyptians are prepared to let Americans and other foreign nationals out of Gaza,” Sullivan said. “The Israelis have no issue with that. But Hamas is preventing their departure and making a series of demands.”
With the families of the Israeli hostages demanding an “all for all” exchange, The Times reports a member of the hostage task force warning that Israel must heed the lessons of the Gilad Shalit deal in 2011, in which the kidnapped soldier was exchanged for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. “The Shalit deal exposed a vulnerability in Israel’s security posture, where it released 1,000 terrorists in exchange for one Israeli soldier.
This experience highlighted a perceived lack of proportionality in such exchanges,” he said. “Many prisoners held by Israel are linked to acts of violence and terrorism. Releasing them could potentially put Israel at risk as they may be involved in [more] attacks.”

An article in The Times argues that West Bank settler violence has the potential to erode global support for Israel’s battle against Hamas.

Also in The Times, Michael Evans compares the Israeli mission to the US war in Iraq. “This is not a shock-and-awe, full-scale invasion, ending in regime change like the US-led coalition’s high-intensity offensive against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003,” he writes. “What instead we are seeing with Israel’s Operation Swords of Iron... is a phased, focused, tactical battle to remove an enemy skilled, experienced and armed for urban warfare.”

Sky News features an interview yesterday with former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

The Standard reports UK Skills Minister Robert Halfon backing Israel’s right to defend itself. "What happened on October 7 was the worst ever attack against Jews since the Holocaust. We always say never again yet it has happened again. So, Israel has to do everything possible to ensure that Hamas is obliterated, not just for Israel but for the wellbeing of the Palestinian people as well."

The Telegraph features Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and a former head of UK counter-terrorism policing saying that recent events have increased the UK’s domestic terror threat. The BBC also reports Sir Mark promising tougher policing of protests, but warning that existing laws are inadequate. "There is scope to be much sharper in how we deal with extremism within this country,” he said. “The law was never designed to deal with extremism, there's a lot to do with terrorism and hate crime but we don't have a body of law that deals with extremism, and that is creating a gap… We've got these big protests and some of what goes on there, people do find it upsetting and distasteful and sometimes people give an instinctive view that must not be legal. But there's no point arresting hundreds of people if it's not prosecutable, that's just inflaming things. We will robustly enforce up to the line of the law. We're going to be absolutely ruthless, and we have been, and you'll see many more arrests over the next week or so."
The BBC reports a large mob storming an airport in the Russian Republic of Dagestan yesterday. (For more, see Israeli media summary below.)

The BBC also reports thousands of people in Gaza have broken into aid depots to take supplies in what the UN called a "worrying sign of civil order starting to break down".
In the wake of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s quickly deleted tweet appearing to deny culpability for the intelligence failures on October 7th, and casting blame on the security and intelligence establishments instead, Israel Hayom’s military affairs correspondent, Yoav Limor, writes: “Netanyahu is making a mistake. Hamas hasn’t operated in a vacuum, and this attack did not emerge out of thin air. Since coming to power in 2009, Netanyahu has built up Hamas as an alternative to the Palestinian Authority. He was warned countless times that this was a dangerous plan: instead of bolstering the pragmatic elements, he strengthened those that will never recognize Israel’s existence.”

Yediot Ahronot’s Sima Kadmon also focusses on the prime minister’s tweet. “Despite the small amount of time that it was online and the late hour,” she writes, it “spread like wildfire and was seen by hundreds of thousands of people, including IDF soldiers, who heard what their prime minister thinks of their commanders, and the traumatised Israeli public that saw in sheer terror the behaviour of their prime minister and Israel’s enemies—who see the depth of the rift between the public and his leadership. Even Netanyahu ought to have some sort of boundaries. A red line. A glimmer of understanding about the enormity of the damage that he has caused the country… Ultimately, however, Netanyahu scored an own-goal. He has provided legitimacy for the other side to begin to discuss Netanyahu’s responsibility before the war is over. This is the war within the war.”

Maariv’s Ben Caspit calls for Netanyahu to step down, “the sooner the better”, and encourages Likud MKs to take steps to encourage this. “That might appear to be impossible, but it isn’t,” he writes. “That might appear to be complicated, but it isn’t. Five brave people from within the Likud need to stand up in unison and to summon Netanyahu. The moment there are five, there will also be ten and then 20. They need to say to him: Bibi, it’s over. There’s a country here. You’re a millstone around its neck. Let the Likud appoint a temporary replacement, and resign. We’ll take it from here.”

In Yediot Ahronot, former Likud MK and minister Limor Livnat also calls on Netanyahu to resign, while Maariv features polling showing 76 percent of the public “dissatisfied” with the performance of the government since October 7th, including 57 percent of voters who supported the coalition at the last elections.

Israel Hayom’s Yoav Zitun focusses on divergent US and Israeli assessments of the war. “The American media, which is not subject to the Israeli Military Censors Office,” he says, “reported yesterday that the United States recommended Israel carry out a small ground operation that is limited in scope amid the scant chances of an agreement being reached with Hamas to free some of the hostages. The position taken by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and by the top IDF brass is different. Thousands of Hamas fighters are deployed beneath Gaza City, and the top command of Hamas’s military wing is presumed to be based beneath Shifa Hospital, which is the central hospital in the Gaza Strip. Military officials believe the ground manoeuvre will help free the hostages. Without killing the top Hamas leadership that is holed up in the dozens of kilometres of tunnels that run beneath Gaza City, the IDF won’t be able to achieve the war objective—Hamas’s destruction.”

In Haaretz, former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer cautions Israel to avoid the mistakes made by the US in Iraq. “Israeli leaders would be wise to ponder the lessons that Israeli analysts shared with the United States back in 2002-2003,” he writes. “First, do not occupy Gaza militarily for an extended period, and certainly do not entertain any notion of permanently reoccupying and resettling Gaza… Second, do not assume that decapitating Hamas will lead to a flowering of democracy in Gaza, especially if the social and economic conditions there remain as dire as they are now and likely to get worse. Israel will need to allow the regional and international community to try to get Gaza back on its feet, without the kind of restrictions that Israel has imposed on Gaza for decades. And, third, Gaza’s underlying problems are tied directly to the underlying Israel-Palestine dispute. When the war ends, Israelis will turn to a reckoning of what went wrong and will want to resume normal life as soon as possible. This is natural. However, burying one’s head in the sand and claiming that the time is not right to talk seriously about the need for separation and the creation of an independent Palestinian state is a surefire guarantee that this Gaza war will not be the last.”

Ynet reports yesterday’s scenes at the airport in Makhachkala, the capital of Russia’s Republic of Dagestan. With a plane from Israel due to arrive, a mob descended on the airport, apparently looking to harm the 15 Israeli and Jewish passengers. “Members of the crowd were also reportedly stopping and inspecting each car in an attempt to locate Israelis.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that it "expects the Russian law enforcement authorities to safeguard all Israeli citizens and Jews, whoever they may be, and to take robust action against the rioters and against the unbridled incitement being directed at Jews and Israelis.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said "this is not an isolated incident in Makhachkala, but rather a part of Russia's broader culture of hostility toward other countries, propagated by state television, critics and authorities. The Russian foreign minister has made a series of antisemitic remarks in the past year. The Russian president, too, has used antisemitic slurs.

3. Recommended Reading  

To smash Hamas's headquarters, Israelis must go underground, Richard Pater, The Daily Mail

  • "Street-to-street fighting, concealed explosives and Hamas terrorists hidden underground. This is the prospect awaiting Israeli forces as their tanks and infantry move into Gaza. The limited nature of their incursions over the past few days suggests this is a far more carefully calibrated ground offensive than Hamas perhaps anticipated." Read more

The Decolonisation Narrative Is Dangerous and False, Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Atlantic

  • "The Hamas attack resembled a medieval Mongol raid for slaughter and human trophies—except it was recorded in real time and published to social media. Yet since October 7, Western academics, students, artists, and activists have denied, excused, or even celebrated the murders by a terrorist sect that proclaims an anti-Jewish genocidal programme." Read more

Tensions Simmer Across All of Israel's Fronts, Including the US, Amos Harel, Haaretz

"Senior Israeli officials say the American move is primarily defensive and is meant to help Israel. But if Iran were to try to attack Israel directly, they think America would also become involved in offensive action." Read more