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The Troubles with "Shuttle Diplomacy" around Gaza

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Photo: Israeli Defence Forces in the Gaza Strip near the city of Rafah. Source: Twitter IDF
Photo: Israeli Defence Forces in the Gaza Strip near the city of Rafah. Source: Twitter IDF

Israel is compelled to escalate its military efforts in the Gaza Strip to take control of the city of Rafah. CIA Director William Burns visited Cairo on 3 May for hostage negotiations and ceasefire talks. He then traveled to Qatar and subsequently to Israel on 6 May. Meanwhile, Hamas claimed responsibility for the 5 May attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing point in the Gaza Strip, during which, according to Israel, three of its soldiers were killed.


The situation appears to be at an impasse following the horrific events of 7 October, when Hamas militants attacked peaceful Israeli settlements around the Gaza Strip. More than 1,139 people were killed, including 36 children. Approximately 250 Israelis were taken hostage, including 30 children.


As of May 2024, according to Israel, Hamas holds 95 hostages who are considered alive. It is also believed that over 30 hostages have been killed, but their bodies have not been returned. The events of October 2023 are considered the most horrific episode of mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust.


Immediately after the Hamas attack, demands were made for the release of several thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange for those taken hostage in October, but this exchange process did not last long. Qatar acted as a mediator between Israel and Hamas at its own initiative. Some Israeli hostages were exchanged in the autumn of 2023 during the ceasefire, but as we can see, only slightly more than half.


"The IDF will continue to pursue Hamas throughout Gaza until all the hostages they hold are returned home," declared the Israel Defense Forces on 6 May.


Perhaps the most significant consequence of the 7 October attack was the onset of active hostilities in various places in the Middle East, albeit not continuous. From shelling in northern Israel from Lebanese territory to attacks on US military bases in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. From Iran's massive rocket attacks on Israel to Houthi attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea. And this tension has escalated in recent weeks, diverting the attention of European countries and the US from the largest war in Europe in 79 years – Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


It is worth considering that terrorist attacks in the Middle East are clearly orchestrated by Russia's ally, Iran. Russia and Iran actively cooperate in supplying weapons to each other. Moreover, Russia is the official owner of nuclear weapons, while Iran seeks to acquire an atomic bomb at any cost. When all these circumstances are placed on one table and viewed in totality, it becomes unequivocally clear: the situation is globally threatening to the entire world.


Iron Swords and Other Events

Following the horrific events of 7 October, the Israeli government initiated military operations in and around Gaza under the banner of "Operation Iron Swords." The civilian population of this territory was urged to evacuate, but this call went unheard. Moreover, neighbouring Arab countries expressed no willingness to accept evacuees.


Subsequently, there were several temporary ceasefires and hostage-prisoner exchanges. However, since late November 2023, progress has slowed. The Israeli military continued operations to locate terrorists in Gaza, including within the complex network of underground tunnels previously constructed using industrial equipment and techniques.


In early January 2024, Israel announced the elimination of Hamas bases in northern Gaza. However, shortly thereafter, it was compelled to partially withdraw troops from Gaza under pressure from the United States to transition to a more surgical phase of the war against Hamas. The decision was made despite concerns among some Israeli officials that the withdrawal could make the country vulnerable to a new surge in militant activity. 

Later more thin operations to locate and eliminate Hamas bases continued in northern Gaza, while more intense combat shifted southward to Rafah. This shift occurred because militants had moved there and continued rocket attacks on Israeli settlements. Additionally, Egypt blocked the possibility of evacuating civilians from the Gaza Strip through its southern border, although this practically did not restrict terrorists' ability to receive necessary supplies through these territories.


On 9 February, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the IDF to plan the "evacuation of the population" from Rafah, as it remained the last major populated area in Gaza not controlled by the Israeli military.


Indeed, since October 2023, Rafah's role has significantly intensified during Gaza operations. According to various sources, nearly one million people have relocated there from northern Gaza. This allows Hamas to use the peaceful Palestinian population as a shield to cover its brigades, posing a challenge for both Israel and its partners. In the modern world, even if the population consciously supports the actions of terrorists, it should not be plunged into the abyss of a humanitarian catastrophe.


Photo: Against the backdrop of military operations in Gaza, Israel delivers tens of thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to a population skeptical of evacuation calls. Source: Twitter COGAT



Humanitarian Leverage

To avoid being accused of a humanitarian catastrophe and to enable surgical military operations, Israel had to construct special logistical routes for delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza, including the Rafah area.


East of Rafah, the IDF announced the expansion of a humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi. Field hospitals, tents, and supplies of food, water, medicines, and additional provisions are located there. Gradual relocation of civilians to the designated areas in eastern Rafah is also planned. Calls to temporarily relocate to the humanitarian zone have been issued since early May through leaflets, SMS messages, phone calls, and broadcasts in Arabic media, but they are unlikely to receive the expected response.


At least, previous evacuation calls were ignored – particularly in northern Gaza.


The US is funding the construction of a floating pier near the Mediterranean coast, 11 km northwest of the northern city of Gaza. Satellite images published by Planet Labs confirm this, with the USNS Benavidez, a US Military Sealift Command ship, participating in the construction. Why? To deliver humanitarian aid via Cyprus with large maritime transport ships to this pier, and then by trucks to distribution bases in the Gaza Strip.


It is already known that the project will cost nearly a third of a billion dollars and involve approximately 1,000 personnel from the US, who, however, will not set foot in the Gaza Strip. Israeli engineering units are also involved in the construction of this terminal. According to preliminary data, this transport corridor, when fully operational, will have the capacity to handle only up to 150 trucks per day. Therefore, land-based humanitarian supply will remain dominant. So why such a costly project? Perhaps because it will not be entirely under IDF control? Will it?


Photo: The US is funding the construction of a floating pier to deliver humanitarian aid to the northern Gaza Strip. Source: Twitter U.S. Central Command




Head of Intelligence - on a Shuttle

The current Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) advance on Rafah comes against the backdrop of growing concern among Israel's partners about humanitarian issues in Gaza and the shuttle diplomacy of CIA Director William Burns.


It is expected that Washington resorted to it against the backdrop of increasing global instability. Because the US has a very successful case of such steps by Henry Kissinger in the same Middle East, but 50 years ago.


Unfortunately, contemporary cases of shuttle diplomacy are not inspiring. For example, the efforts of French President Emmanuel Macron proved unsuccessful when he attempted to prevent Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.


Photo: Against the backdrop of CIA Director William Burns' visits (pictured) first to Cairo (Egypt), then to Doha (Qatar), and to Israel, a decision was made to ban further activities of the Al Jazeera television company (Qatar) in Israel. Source: Getty Images


How does Israel perceive attempts at shuttle diplomacy? As always: they appreciate help with arms and money (as in the recent law on aid to Israel, which was finally approved two weeks ago). But they are skeptical about advice. Against the backdrop of CIA Director William Burns' visits first to Cairo (Egypt), then to Doha (Qatar), and to Israel, a decision was made to ban further activities of the Al Jazeera television company (Qatar) in Israel.


On 5 May, the Israeli government unanimously approved the closure of local activity of the international media company Al Jazeera, headquartered in Doha (Qatar), at the proposal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Communications Shlomo Karhi.

Prime Minister Netanyahu announced on his X (former Twitter): "After discussion by the Security Cabinet and in accordance with my directive, today the government discussed the closure of Al Jazeera broadcasting in Israel... Al Jazeera correspondents have harmed Israel's security and incited against IDF soldiers. It's time to kick Hamas's mouthpiece out of our country."


So far, Israel rejects Hamas's demands, which it conveys through intermediaries. In particular, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has already stated that Hamas is not serious about the agreement and warned of "a powerful operation in Rafah and other places throughout Gaza in the near future" after Hamas attacked Israel's main crossing point for delivering much-needed humanitarian aid, killing three soldiers. The rocket attack occurred on 5 May precisely from the territory of Rafah, during William Burns' visits.

In the night from 6 to 7 May, this powerful operation began, despite ongoing shuttle diplomacy.

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