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On day-10, Hamas-Israel war faces a stalemate

Containers carrying humanitarian supplies waiting to cross into Gaza from Egypt's Rafah border crossing

The Hamas-Israel war that began last Saturday is facing a stalemate. 10-days after it began, it is focused on opening humanitarian supplies to 1.2 million residents of embattled Gaza strip.

Following Hamas’ attack which killed nearly 150 Israelis, Tel Aviv had cut off basic supplies to the Palestinian coastal enclave, creating an explosive humanitarian situation.

The faint echo of a dialogue for the release of hundreds of civilians that Hamas had taken hostage continues crackle in the background, but is yet to amplify into a high decibel pitch.

After high-powered diplomacy involving US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who is shuttling between Israel and Egypt among other countries in the Arab world, the gates of the Rafah crossing have been opened on Monday for essential supplies to flow in from Egypt for the distressed residents of Gaza, Hamas’ home base.

But the relief package included only a truncated list of essentials—mainly food, medicines, and water. The Israelis during negotiations have prevented release of fuel supplies, saying that instead of reaching the people, it would be appropriated by Hamas to operate generators to light up its dark tunnels.

So far, three factors are preventing Israel from launching a full-scale land attack targeting Hamas in Gaza, thus causing a stalemate.

First, the global outcry on the dire humanitarian situation is Gaza, which is facing regular aerial attacks, is preventing Tel Aviv from pushing its armoured and other columns into the area.

For instance, the European Union asked Israel to open the borders to Gaza for humanitarian aid to civilians, calling out the “rapidly deteriorating” situation. “Supplies from outside urgently needed,” foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in a post on X. The world is obviously in no mood of mass exodus of Gazans into Egypt across the Rafah border crossing, though Israel may not be averse to such an eventuality.

Egypt, which is already hosting thousands of refugees fleeing conflict in neighbouring Sudan, has also made it plain that it will not allow displaced Palestinians to flow into its Sinai Peninsula. Apart from the unacceptable economic burden, the Egyptians apprehend that these refugees will never return to Gaza—a situation that Israel can use for permanently acquiring the coastal strip, minus a significant Palestinian population.

A meeting of the Egyptian National Security Council on Sunday stressed that the “two-state solution is the only resolution to the Palestinian cause while rejecting and deploring the policy of displacement or attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause at the expense of neighbouring countries,” a statement by the Egyptian Presidency read.

The Vatican, representing Catholics worldwide, has also stood implicitly opposed to an Israeli land offensive on the thickly populated Gaza strip.  A statement by the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem read: “The operation launched from Gaza and the reaction of the Israeli Army are bringing us back to the worst period in our recent history.” It added that too many “casualties and tragedies, which both Palestinians and Israeli families have to deal with, will create more hatred and division, and will destroy more and more any perspective of stability”.

Second, the presence of an estimated 150-plus hostages in Gaza is also holding up Israeli land and naval offensive. The hostages include civilians as well as Israeli combatants—a situation that is making hostage release more difficult and complex. The Hamas has declared that it would trade hostage release with prisoners, affiliated to the group, which are lodged in Israeli jails.

Third, the Iran-affiliated Hezbollah, a highly trained Shiite group is threatening to open a northern front of the war in case Israeli forces push into Gaza. The Hezbollah made it plain that it meant business, when it targeted an Israeli military outpost situated in the settlement of “Shtula,” near the Lebanese border with anti-tank guided missiles.

In a statement, the group asserted that it was using force in response to the Israeli shelling that killed Lebanese reporter working with Reuters. Besides, it was a riposte to Israeli shelling of Shebaa farms, a disputed area between Israel and Lebanon.

Israel takes Hezbollah seriously as it commands 18,000 skilled fighters, expert in waging ground wars, as seen in Syria. Its arsenal also includes tens of thousands of precision missiles that can strike deep inside Israel. Besides, it possesses an excellent intelligence system and backing of Iran. For 17 years it fought Israeli occupation of Lebanon that began in 1982 and ended in 2000. In 2006, it successfully battled Israel, whose US backer was keen to midwife the birth of a new Middle East, with Hezbollah’s defeat in Lebanon.

However, Hezbollah will go to war only if green-signalled by Iran, which has other regional concerns including safeguarding the Syrian government of Bashar Al Assad. Hezbollah has also advanced Iranian regional interests in Yemen as well as Iraq.

With Iran at the pole position, the United States and Tehran have begun a backchannel dialogue. Bloomberg is reporting that Washington has held talks with Iran through back-channels apparently warning Tehran against escalation of the conflict.

As the main protagonists of the war weigh their options ad nauseum, Iran and Qatar, a Hamas ally are emerging at the forefront of addressing the hostage crisis. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian who had visited Doha said he has been informed that Hamas was ready to address the issue of the Israeli civilians that have been taken captive during the Al-Aqsa Storm operation.

Amirabdollahian said on Sunday that he has held talks with high-ranking officials of the Hamas in Beirut and Doha.

The Iranian foreign minister pointing out that the issue of civilian Israeli captives was on top of Hamas’ agenda, implying that the militant group was not yet inclined to negotiate release of military hostages—a dialogue that might begin later to seek the release of hardcore Hamas-affiliated prisoners in Israeli jails.

Also Read: Is Israel’s Gaza war a prelude to regime changes in Iran and Syria?