In the aftermath of Hamas’ incursion deep into Israel, slaughtering over 1,400 Israelis and taking more than 240 hostages, one can only imagine the gargantuan pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to send in the tanks. Never has Israel felt so vulnerable.
But through a purely military lens, Israel’s mighty kinetic response looks like pure vengeance — an exhibition of unadulterated strength without consideration for the long term. Standing with Israel, as we rightly do in its darkest of hours, doesn’t mean standing by upon witnessing this unwise utility of force. And we should have the courage to say so.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken's call for a humanitarian pause last week — despite knowing Israel would publicly disagree — hints at the back-channel conversations warning Israel of the dangers its present approach poses. The country has zero chance of defeating Hamas ideology no matter how many terrorists are killed. But it does risk stoking the further radicalization of ordinary Palestinians, given the absence of any post-Hamas governance or security plan they could be persuaded to buy into.
To compound matters, the scale of collateral damage and the growing humanitarian crisis is fueling international criticism. As miscalculation or escalation could trigger wider geopolitical consequences across the Middle East and beyond at a time when the West’s bandwidth is already being sorely tested, how this unfolds should concern us all.
After a month of conflict, we should also acknowledge some uncomfortable truths for all sides.
Sadly, Netanyahu's pledge to gain "overall security responsibility" of the entire Gaza Strip “for an indefinite period” demonstrates how he continues to ignore U.S. President Joe Biden’s warning to not repeat America’s own tactical and strategic errors after 9/11. This isn’t just a reckless use of Israel’s superior military might, it also still offers no clear strategy of what “success” looks like. And with no such strategy, the enemy ideology will remain, regardless of the destructive power at Israel’s disposal.
If Israel is intent on a land invasion to destroy Hamas, then this isn’t the way to do it.
Indeed, it would be a dereliction of duty for Western powers to limit our foreign policy engagement to general platitudes supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and calling for more aid to enter Gaza. A true friend of Israel would speak out when mistakes are being made — given the stakes are so high — and offer thought leadership, soft power and, if necessary, hard power in advocating solutions.
Iran’s proxy influence in the region, funding not just Hamas and Hezbollah but other extremist non-state actors as well, demands the design of a far more comprehensive grand strategy. This strategy must include the collaboration and participation of the international community, including the signatories of the Abraham Accords. However, it may still see Israel doing some of the immediate heavy lifting, as a future without Hamas is only possible if new governance and security responsibilities come with local Arab support. Otherwise, history will repeat itself. Again.
Though calls for a full cease-fire are misguided, as this would simply leave Hamas in power, a formal pause in the fighting is overdue. And if secured, this shouldn’t just be an opportunity to deliver urgent humanitarian aid but for Israel to rethink and collaborate on how to pursue a more viable, inclusive and sustainable plan — a plan to destroy and temporarily replace Hamas and lay the foundations for a new Gaza.
Along these lines, I propose an immediate summit to consider options that is hosted by the United Kingdom and the U.S. to be held at Chequers, inviting representatives from Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the United Nations. Given there’s no safe place for 2 million Gazans to escape to and Israel is intent on invading, I believe it should consider a progressive, zoned approach to liberating Gaza from Hamas, occupying one section of the strip at a time, before moving on to the next.
Once Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are content that a zone is secure, having removed Hamas operatives and destroyed tunnel systems, bomb factories and armament caches, they could then depart and hand over responsibility to a third-party international peacekeeping force — ideally the U.N. but more likely a coalition of the willing.
Next, a technocratic council, made up of experts from Abraham Accords nations, could temporarily take over local governance and municipal responsibilities of the designated zone, with U.N. agencies running emergency humanitarian aid support — including building new refugee camps.
With one zone up and running and the IDF advancing on to the next, the secured zones could then act as temporary safe havens for any civilians told to evacuate. The sequence of these liberated zones would progress in a logical order, starting at the Rafah Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt — thus easing logistics — and ending with Gaza City.
Such a structured approach would repeat the tactics of the Battle for Mosul against the Islamic State (ISIS) from 2016 to 2017, where the Iraqi Army and allied militias divided the city into sectors. As each sector was liberated from ISIS control, forces would then move on to adjacent ones.
This approach would offer clarity to the Palestinian people about what follows after the removal of Hamas — something that presently remains unclear. It would also discourage further escalation of the conflict, the wider consequences of which would be far greater than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As with the defeat of al-Qaida and ISIS, this strategy should also include international arrest warrants for Hamas senior leadership and close down international funding streams.
This proposal is far from simple. It has a lot of moving parts, and support from the wider Arab community would clearly be conditional on a return to serious two-state solution talks. However, it offers a method to purge Hamas from Gaza, and reduces the prospect of Hamas 2.0 emerging from the ashes. It’s also a far less destructive and more efficient method.
And if it does nothing more than prompt international discussion, it will have served a purpose.
In the meantime, Britain should recognize the pivotal role it could play in helping implement such a plan. America should co-host an emergency summit, but when it comes to implementation, it is seen as being too close to Israel. On the other hand, Israel doesn’t trust the U.N., and the European Union has little experience convening peace conferences.
However, the U.K.’s historic ties to the Gulf nations and Egypt remain strong. It was the application of our soft and hard power that justified a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. And while the U.N. might be paralyzed, this shouldn’t prevent us from stepping forward once again. If we don’t — who will? And we should lean into this, starting by appointing a senior Middle East Envoy.
Israel cannot, and should not, do this alone. But we need a new plan. As the Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu said: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” And the noise from Gaza is getting ever louder.
You can find my article here: We need a Gaza plan – POLITICO