According to CNN, Israel’s “original plan” for the conflict was to “level Gaza and come up with a plot to rebuild Gush Katif and reclaim Gaza.
An Israeli soldier declared in a video recorded from within the blasted and beleaguered enclave, “We will complete the mission we have been assigned,” over three weeks into Israel’s brutal ground invasion of Gaza. Take, drive out, and establish. Bibi, did you hear that?
The ultimate objectives of Tel Aviv’s aerial assault on Gaza remain unclear even after two months. According to CNN, Israel’s “original plan” for the conflict was to “level Gaza.” Furthermore, since the “sea is open to them,” Israeli Minister Ron Dermer suggested a plan to “thin out” the Gaza population by compelling residents to escape by land to Egypt or by boat to other regions of Africa and Europe.
The Washington Post reported that Israel has dropped over 22,000 US-made bombs, including white phosphorus weapons, on Gaza within six weeks.
There is little doubt that this Israeli bombing campaign on Gaza is unlike any previous one. In previous operations, the Israelis approached foreign mediators “right away” in an attempt to mediate a ceasefire that would last a few days or weeks.
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But this time, a ceasefire is something that the Israelis and the Americans who back them most definitely do not want. Even while their ultimate objectives for Gaza have changed during this battle, it’s crucial to remember that Washington and Tel Aviv may have very different intentions for the future. Put plainly, Israel has never had a cabinet assembled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that is as right-wing as the current one, full of religious fanatics and messianic zeal.
Plans to ‘reclaim’ Gaza
The Gush Katif settlement bloc’s evacuation in 2005 served as the impetus for Israel’s present attempt to annex Gaza and ethnically cleanse its 2.3 million Palestinian residents. This campaign has roots spanning over two decades.
The goal of this action, which was planned by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the time, was to maintain Jewish settlement and military occupation in the occupied West Bank. However, Israel’s extreme right-wing religious settler movement saw it as treacherous.
The religious settler movement saw Ariel Sharon, “the father of settlements,” as a traitor for giving up “Jewish land,” just as they saw former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin as a traitor for signing the Oslo Accords to eventually allow Jewish settlement. However, Sharon was the one who designed the Gaza disengagement to ensure continued Jewish settlement and military occupation of the West Bank.
In 1995, Jewish extremist Yigal Amir killed Rabin; Itamar Ben Gvir, a well-known and youthful religious settler activist, openly supported Amir’s murderous crime.
Bezalel Smotrich, a different young religious settler, was detained for questioning Sharon’s disengagement strategy. Smotrich intended to use 700 liters of gasoline to blow up cars on the Ayalon highway during rush hour to halt Gaza’s disengagement.
These two men are now leading ideologues and partners in Netanyahu’s radical coalition administration.
The religious settler movement, headed by people like Ben Gvir and Smotrich, and the Likud Party dreamed of retaking Gaza to rebuild Gush Katif over the next eighteen years. By driving Gazans into exile and prohibiting their return, this project would complete the expulsion that Zionist militias began in 1948, according to Israeli historian Benny Morris.
The settlement of Palestinians in the Sinai Peninsula as part of a land swap associated with a peace agreement was presented to the late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2010 by then-Prime Minister Netanyahu and Knesset member (MK) Gila Gamliel, both Likud members.
As part of the broader “Arab Spring,” which was organized by the US, Mubarak was overthrown in a color revolution after adamantly stating, “I’m not even willing to listen to those kinds of proposals.”
Netanyahu made a comparable offer to Mohammad Morsi, who succeeded Mubarak in 2012, and to Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who succeeded Morsi in 2014, but both proposals had the same result.
Netanyahu attempted to get Sisi to urge US participation in order to suggest putting Palestinians in Sinai during Israel’s horrific 51-day assault on Gaza in 2014, but he was unsuccessful. That military action claimed the lives of almost 2,300 people; it was just another example of Israel’s “mowing the grass” strategy, which aims to weaken the resistance without ever defeating Hamas.
The plan takes shape
A new Israeli army strategy to “create a considerable change in the situation if it is required to launch a major campaign in Gaza” has been reported by June 2018. To do this, offensive missions involving elite soldiers that “will enter Gaza and dissect it in two, and even occupy significant parts of it,” would replace the current stopgap bombing tactics.
Fundamentalist settlers like Ben Gvir, meanwhile, persisted in voicing their passionate wish to destroy Gaza and restore Gush Katif in 2019.
The Religious Zionism Coalition was formed by three extreme right-wing political parties ahead of the 2022 Knesset elections. These included the Ben Gvir-led Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, the Religious Zionism party led by Smotrich, and the tiny ultra-orthodox group Noam.
“It is time to begin to plan a return to Gush Katif,” Religious Zionist candidate Arnon Segal wrote in July 2022, during his announcement of his candidacy.
“Yes,” he replied, “to physically return and rebuild it.”
As the elections approached in September of that year, Netanyahu-affiliated news organization i24 News discussed the Gush Katif problem, referring to it as a “lingering wound” that was still raw and unhealed for Israelis.
An Israeli named Hillel told i24 News, “It’s a trauma.” “The whole country was hurting.”
The ‘legality’ of the settlers’ return
When Netanyahu was elected prime minister for a sixth time following the elections in December 2022, the endeavor to reconstruct Gush Katif coincided with a dramatic change in the circumstances in Gaza. After losing an election for a year, Netanyahu brought his Likud party and the Religious Zionism government together to create a government.
Ben Gvir was appointed minister of national security as a result of the agreement with Netanyahu, while Smotrich was appointed minister of finance and a minister in Israel’s Defense Ministry, with responsibility for civil administration in the occupied West Bank.
They soon ordered the occupation state to intensify military operations against Palestinian resistance organizations, hasten the construction of Jewish settlements, and make demands for the annexation of the West Bank.
A key component of the 2005 Gaza Disengagement was covertly undone by the Likud-Religious Zionism government in March 2023, as the conflict escalated. Due to security concerns, Sharon’s initial disengagement plan called for the evacuation of four little communities in the northern West Bank.
On March 21, however, the Knesset amended the disengagement laws, allowing Jewish settlers to return to the evacuated settlements and opening the door for their restoration.
“We must not rest on our laurels or the euphoria of the moment,” Jewish Power party MK Limor Son Har-Melech said after the vote. “Return home to the land of Gush Katif, which was abandoned [in 2005] in an act of tremendous folly,” is another goal for which we must rally.”
A similar appeal was made by Religious Zionism party Minister of National Missions Orit Strock, who told Israel’s Channel 7:
“I believe that, at the end of the day, the sin of the disengagement will be reversed.”
She said that “sadly, a return to the Gaza Strip will involve many casualties” and that “going to war” would be necessary to accomplish this. The left-wing Peace Now NGO issued a warning in response, stating:
“A messianic revolution is taking place. This government will inevitably destroy our country. They will also deepen the occupation, ignite the region, and establish a Jewish supremacist regime from the river to the sea.”
The Gazan Nakba
Following the October 7th Palestinian resistance operation Al-Aqsa Flood, a barrage of disinformation and false information generated the public outcry required to legitimize the use of lethal force against Hamas and all Gazans, as well as to carry out the return to Gush Katif plans.
Prominent Israeli officials, journalists, and entertainers began making open appeals for the genocide against the Gazan people.
Seizing the chance, Israel launched a heavy bombardment of Gaza and ordered the evacuation of the northern half of the beleaguered enclave, which was home to 1.1 million people, or over half of the territory’s total population, within 24 hours.
Senior diplomat and former Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon stated on social media that Gazans need to escape to Egypt as well as south of Gaza:
“We don’t tell Gazans to go to the beaches or drown themselves … No God forbid … Go to the Sinai Desert … the international community will build them cities and give them food … Egypt ought to play ball with it.”
Alongside Israeli requests that Palestinians evacuate to Egypt, Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence, headed by Likud MK Gamliel, released a report on October 13.
The study, which was written before the events of October 7, called for the takeover of Gaza and the complete relocation of its 2.3 million people to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, with the stipulation that they be permitted to never return.
The strategy also recommended that the government initiate a public relations campaign aimed at the West to support the ethnic cleansing in a way that doesn’t exacerbate international animosity toward Israel or worsen its already damaged standing.
As per the paper, to get international backing, the mass expulsion of Gaza’s residents must be portrayed as an essential humanitarian measure. If the deportation results in “fewer casualties among the civilian population compared to the expected number of casualties if they remain,” then the deportation may be justifiable.
Israel’s horrifying bombing campaign persisted, guaranteeing that there would be a significant number of victims.
Following the deaths of 7,028 Palestinians, including 2,913 children, Israel began its eagerly awaited ground assault on Gaza on October 27.
A week later, the Israeli army unit’s rabbi addressed the soldiers with a stirring speech that began, “This country is ours. the whole land, Gaza included, Lebanon included, the whole promised land! Gush Katif pales in comparison to what we shall accomplish with divine assistance!
According to the military leadership’s 2018 plan, Israeli forces invaded from the north along the coast and swiftly divided the Gaza strip in two.
“We returned, we were expelled from here almost 20 years ago,” an Israeli commander informed his forces after placing an Israeli flag in the sand on Gaza’s shore. This is our territory! To return to our homelands is the win, in that regard.
On November 8, MKs from the Likud party introduced a measure to change the 2005 Disengagement statute once more, this time with the goal of “repealing the law that bars Jews from entering the Gaza Strip,” while Israeli soldiers were celebrating in Gaza.
Three days later, under the pretext of humanitarian reasons outlined in the Ministry of Intelligence plan, former Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon and former deputy director of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency Mossad Ram Ben Barak wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal supporting the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza.
Feeling that his vision of reconstructing Gush Katif on the remains of murdered Palestinian children and ethnically purging Gaza was about to come true, Bezalel Smotrich applauded the idea, declaring that “this is the humanitarian solution.”
Ayelet Shaked, the former minister of justice, praised the action as well, albeit she was less tactful, declaring on Israeli TV:
“After we turn Khan Yunis into a soccer field … we need to take advantage of the destruction [to tell] the countries that each of them should take a quota, it can be 20,000 or 50,000 … We need 2 million to leave. That’s the solution for Gaza.”
It is up to Hamas and the other Palestinian resistance groups to obstruct Israel’s “messianic revolution” in Gaza, given the enormous job of resistance against US-backed occupation forces.