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Experts say weigh in on what's next as the war in Gaza shows no signs of slowing down

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

When Israel launched its military response to the October 7 attack by Hamas, few would have predicted the war would still be going on nearly seven months later. But it is, and as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, observers don't really see an end to the conflict anytime soon.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The general consensus among analysts interviewed for this story is that as long as Israeli hostages remain in captivity and/or the stated goal of neutralizing Hamas remains unrealized, Israel will likely be involved in the Gaza strip for some time to come. Former senior Israeli adviser Nimrod Novik is the Israel fellow at the Israel Policy Forum. He says at the moment, his answer to the question, where is this conflict heading, is far from positive.

NIMROD NOVIK: I'm afraid that the conflict is heading in the worst direction possible, which means an open-ended bleeding war of attrition, open-ended occupation.

KENYON: Novik says the failure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to spell out a clear political objective, something Novik says was supposed to inform the military operation from the beginning, was a mistake.

NOVIK: To this very day, the only thing the government has done is rule out logical alternatives to an open-ended military presence. And without announcing that that's the objective or the likely outcome, we are sliding in that direction.

KENYON: That also seems likely to professor Daniel Byman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He says, unless something changes, it will likely be up to the Israeli military to make sure Hamas cannot repeat the deadly October 7 attack.

DANIEL BYMAN: And that may be what we see for much of the future is not an end to war, not an all-out war, but something in between where Israel is regularly doing attacks to go after Hamas commanders to keep Hamas weak and prevent it from consolidating but not doing the same pace of operations we saw in the first few months of war.

KENYON: Byman also says Israel's greatest failing was not planning for the day after the war. He says the best way to stop Hamas from reconsolidating and planning its next attack is to keep it out of power by installing a new governing body in the Gaza strip. Byman says the PA, the Palestinian authority which nominally governs a portion of the West Bank, could be a candidate, although he describes it as the least bad of several bad options and says it may not want the job anyway.

BYMAN: The PA is corrupt. Its political legitimacy was limited before October 7, and it's even weaker. And in general, it doesn't want to politically be seen as going into Gaza on the back of an Israeli tank. But even this limited option was not supported by the Israeli government.

KENYON: Political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin says the government's lack of planning for the day after the war makes it tricky to envision where things are heading. But she says Netanyahu's original prewar coalition included parties that she describes as extreme ultranationalist territorial expansionists.

DAHLIA SCHEINDLIN: They didn't know about this war, of course. But the moment the war began, the most extreme parties began talking about conquering Gaza, permanent military government over Gaza, and re establishing settlements. Nobody can predict with any certainty that that's where things will go. But if you told us half a year ago that anybody would be talking about it, we would have thought you're from another planet.

KENYON: Scheindlin says it's hard to completely rule out the possibility that this government, if it stays in power, may continue to occupy Gaza in some form for years to come. She says history provides a precedent.

SCHEINDLIN: And I just would remind you that Israel did occupy the - Southern Lebanon in the buffer zone for 18 years following 1982 First Lebanon War.

KENYON: The Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon was marked by what became known as the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut and the emergence of Hezbollah. Steven Cook, senior fellow at the Council on Feign Relations, says Netanyahu is now under pressure to attack Hamas' last stronghold, Rafah. But it's not really all about Netanyahu.

STEVEN COOK: There doesn't seem to be a huge difference between Netanyahu and his closest rival Benny Gantz on the - a Rafah operation. Gantz, in fact, has run to the right of Netanyahu on Gaza in previous elections, and the Israeli public is firmly behind the idea of a Rafah operation.

KENYON: Cook says Israel has been impervious to international advice on almost every aspect of this operation, and he doesn't expect that to change. He also says the Israelis are basically stuck, nowhere close, he says, to releasing the remaining hostages and not certain about how much damage it did to Hamas. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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