The truce is over. Nerve-racking negotiations had continued in Qatar on Thursday, after a meagre extension of the humanitarian pause, a mere 24 hours, was secured minutes before the expiry of the previously agreed term.
But on Friday morning, fighting resumed, as the deadline for the pause expired. The Israeli military issued a statement saying that it had resumed fighting against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, accusing the armed Palestinian group of breaching the terms of the truce by firing into Israeli territory. There were reports of explosions and gunfire in the northern Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military has long been advocating for the continuation of war. On Wednesday I explained the thinking of the army’s general staff: unless they are told that the war is over, they assume it is not. Thus, they prefer to continue it as soon as possible, to get it over with as soon as possible, preferably without any stoppages that create indecision and weaken morale.
From the very decision to follow the attacks of October 7 with a hard armed response, the military approach was advocated most aggressively by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained a hawkish posture throughout the crisis, but he preferred to appear as the overall leader, leaving the strictly military affairs in the hands of the former career soldier.
Gallant, until recently an active general who started his career as a naval commando and led the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2010, is not known to mince words. Earlier this year he warned Hezbollah that Israel would “return Lebanon to the Stone Age” if attacked.
At the beginning of operations against Gaza, he referred to Israel’s enemies as “human animals”. Members of the military, from top generals down to the last reservist, have little doubt that what Gallant says reflects official policy.
On Monday, the last day of the original four-day pause and before the announcement of its first extension, by two days, he made his desires and intentions clear, telling a group of officers and soldiers that the truce would not last much longer: “You have a few days. When we return to fighting, we will apply the same force and more, and we will fight across the whole of the Strip.”
It can be assumed that Gallant represents and voices the policy of the Israeli cabinet towards Gaza much more accurately and precisely than his troubled and embattled prime minister, who is increasingly merely trying to secure his political survival.
Gallant wants to continue the war because he believes the military can be more successful the sooner the fighting resumes. But he might have other things on his mind: Despite the Israeli political tradition of not questioning national leadership during an ongoing war, Netanyahu is increasingly being grilled by his former associates, not just political opponents.
It is now clear that despite his notorious political wiliness, Netanyahu will have to face responsibility not just for the failure to prevent the intelligence humiliation and security calamity of October 7, but also for his stubborn insistence on politically divisive judicial reforms at all costs, despite warnings that it would harm the country. The writing on the wall is that Israel will finally rid itself of Netanyahu as soon as the war is over.
As a top-ranked member of the Likud party that heads the current coalition, Gallant must be aware that after the political demise of Netanyahu, the party will need a new leader. Israelis often favour former officers, especially if they have a record of success, so he might want to position himself in a pole position for that race, better sooner than later.
Although he was not personally involved in negotiations, as a member of the inner circle of decision-makers, he was certainly aware of all the difficulties in negotiating additional respite from fighting.
The defence minister seemed so certain on Monday that the truce would not last much longer, that he even specified how the renewed attacks would unfold: “They will first meet the bombs of the air force, and after that the shells of the tanks and the artillery and the paws of the D9 [armoured bulldozers], and finally the shooting of the infantry fighters.”
He also announced a further stage in fighting, saying that Israel would fight “in the whole Strip”.
Extending the ground invasion south of the current line of encirclement of Gaza City would signify a dangerous escalation. At least 1.8 million people of Gaza’s 2.3 million-strong population have been displaced by Israeli bombing, a majority of them having moved to the south.
That means the south is now so overcrowded that there is a danger that an all-out ground assault from Israel might leave the people of Gaza with no option but to try to force their way across the border fence into Egypt.
From the beginning of the conflict, Egypt has been warning that it would not accept any refugees, fearful of political destabilisation and security risks. If it is confronted with that reality, it might find itself in the worst-case scenario of having to use force.
Such an intensification would almost certainly draw into the war many armed groups and states that have hitherto shown patience, hoping for a rational way out.