By Hagay Ringel
The ceasefire deal with Hamas, reached last week, provides for the release of abductees at a critical point in the war and only serves to undermine the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in their crucial military campaign. The most controversial part of the deal is the Israeli Government’s agreement to a ceasefire at precisely the juncture when their operation has made significant gains in Gaza.
I believe the ceasefire poses a significant risk to our forces and may not align with our military momentum. On the other hand, the situation sheds light on Hamas’s desperation for time and supplies, a clear indication of the intense pressure imposed by the IDF. While past negotiations with Hamas centered on the release of terrorists, this time the focus is on the ceasefire itself, which underscores the significance of military pressure in Israel’s negotiations with terrorist organizations and highlighting the crucial role ground maneuvers play in such scenarios.
In the initial stages of the conflict, there was a debate about the seemingly conflicting goals of the war, to destroy Hamas and secure the release of our abductees. However, the unfolding events revealed a symbiotic relationship between these two objectives: the more robust the IDF attacks, the more Hamas scrambled to obtain a ceasefire by releasing hostages. As expected, the ceasefire provides Hamas with a window of opportunity to regroup, assess damage, reinforce its manpower, strategize both underground and aboveground forces, plan future attacks, gather intelligence on the IDF, and solidify its control over Southern Gaza. An example of the risks of a ceasefire is when Hamas encouraged civilians to return to their homes in the north where Israeli soldiers are stationed, thus leveraging the knowledge that Israel avoids targeting civilians while adhering to the terms of the ceasefire, a clear attempt to challenge the IDF.
If the temporary ceasefire transforms into a permanent one or if Israel resumes fighting at a lower intensity, they may not realize their primary objective, which is to destroy Hamas. This could lead to a potential loss for Israel. This scenario is not far-fetched, considering the international pressure on Israel to halt their operation. The U.S. could grow increasingly impatient, leading Israel to face legitimacy challenges, especially as women and children are released even though Hamas retains its hold on soldiers and adults. On the other hand, Israel can leverage the ceasefire as an opportunity for strategic gains, particularly if Hamas understands the extent of the damage they have sustained (which includes a significant loss of manpower), and are likely to sustain if Israel resumes full-scale operations after the ceasefire ends.
At the same time, Israel can benefit from the ceasefire by refreshing its forces, enhancing intelligence gathering efforts, and extracting valuable information both from captured terrorists and documents acquired during the ground operation. Additionally, the ceasefire offers a window to track the movements of Hamas leaders, which could lead to their elimination once the ceasefire ends. Another advantage for Israel lies in its ability to redirect IDF resources to other hotspots, such as Hezbollah in the north and terrorists in Judea and Samaria, thus optimizing the use of available resources on multiple fronts.
From the perspective of IDF commanders, the ceasefire presents risks to the forces. Therefore, they should be focused on preparing ground forces for the next battles with Hamas, ensuring their protection and readiness for potential surprises. The ceasefire also serves as a valuable learning period to analyze past battles and facilitate the development of new operational plans to maintain the element of surprise. Some ideas regarding the element of surprise include the possibility of shifting the campaign to the southern part of Gaza or initiating an air strike on Hamas leaders. Another strategic option is to attack first during the ceasefire, in anticipation of a violation by Hamas before the agreed-upon deadline. However, executing such a decision requires careful timing, possibly just before the final phase of the abductee release, a move that may involve tough decision-making, which makes the likelihood of such a scenario taking place uncertain.
If the ceasefire emphasizes the need for robust, resolute military action to eliminate the threat of Hamas, it could become a mere episode in the broader context of the war. We must not forget the significance of the events of October 7 that led to Israel’s defined mission of destroying Hamas. While the dedication of IDF soldiers and commanders is undoubtedly directed towards that goal, the crucial question remains: Will the political leadership grant the green light to continue fighting to achieve their mission?
Hagay Ringel, an IDF veteran and Middle East Analyst, is a data analyst. He holds Master’s Degrees in Data Analytics and Trade Policy and Global Economics Governance.