The celebration of the New Year in Israel, as we know, is a voluntary thing. It is not a national holiday. But exactly at midnight all Israelis — both those who wanted to celebrate the coming of 2024 with the clinking of glasses and those who went to bed according to their own habits — woke up to the howling of a siren.
The alarm, forgotten in recent days, made it clear that a calm life was not to be expected. That seems to be what Hamas wanted in the first place, launching about 20 rockets from Gaza into the center of the country. This symbolic attack did not cause any damage, but painful questions inevitably rose again before the public: why did one of the strongest armies in the region «sleep through» the Hamas attack? Why, even on the eve of the tragic date of October 7, when the girl sentries reported suspicious movements in Gaza, were their reports given no weight?
And the recent discovery of Hamas’s largest tunnel was completely baffling. It can freely accommodate two jeeps and thousands of militants. It goes underground to a depth of 60 meters. This underground «subway» has been strangely overlooked by the intelligence services, although it has been under construction for years near Israel’s borders.
Politicians from the ruling coalition of Israel, like a mantra, repeat the words that it is too early to ask the question of who is to blame, it is necessary to wait until the end of the war. Although a significant part of the Israeli establishment believes that the answers must be received now, and many are already pointing out that Prime Minister Netanyahu is primarily responsible for what happened. Benjamin Netanyahu himself, while promising to set up a special commission to look into the matter, hopes that although the culprits will be sought, he will be able to stay above the fray.
The only person who predicted a large-scale war with Hamas five years ago was Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Israel Our Home party, supported mainly by Russian-speaking voters.
In his New Year’s Eve interview, the former Israeli defense minister sharply criticized intelligence and shared his views on the outcome of the war. And he linked it to the operation in the north of the country.
«Hezbollah is stepping up strikes every day. A full-scale war is already underway in the north, even if the government doesn’t want to admit it. The 120,000 refugees from the border areas cannot wait for appeasement in Gaza. It is necessary to conduct a ground operation, to deepen into Lebanon by tens of kilometers, and on this line the army must remain until there is a government in Lebanon capable of controlling the power in this territory», Lieberman argues.
As for the Gaza problem, he is sure that Israel cannot cope with it alone. The head of the opposition faction in the Knesset believes that coordination is necessary, first of all, with Egypt, which has a large space in the Sinai Peninsula, where a part of the Palestinian population could flow to. Avigdor Lieberman did not specify whether Egypt would agree to this.
Even more radical ideas are expressed by right-wing politicians about the resettlement of Palestinians in… South America. The impetus for such thoughts was given by the recently elected president of Argentina, Javier Milei, who, along with the announcement of shock therapy in the country, said that for money he would be ready to accept an impressive number of Palestinians from Gaza on the expanses of the still underdeveloped Patagonia.
The government of Papua New Guinea, which decided to open an honorary consulate in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, also gave cause for hope. It is not very clear why Israel deserved such attention, since the two states had not cooperated before in either military or civilian spheres. Nevertheless, the Israeli Foreign Ministry called the move friendly and wondered whether the new partner would be willing to resettle part of the population of Gaza on its territory, 10 times the size of Israel.
This might look like a New Year’s joke if the problems of coexistence of Jews and Arabs on the narrow strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River were not so serious. The contradictions and the level of mutual hatred have become too deep.
Of course, common sense suggests that both military and peaceful transfer of Palestinians from Gaza is impossible for two obvious reasons — no one from Gaza will go to exotic Papua, and the coveted Emirates or the richest Saudi Arabia do not even consider accepting refugees from Gaza.
The dream once nurtured by the romantics of the Middle East of creating a «Mediterranean Singapore» in Gaza, as they call it, has come to an end. Those romantics are no more. Gaza has never become even an acceptable place to live. And the destroyed part of the sector during the war with the IDF is a depressing sight. So far, Israel allows only 190 truckloads of humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip every day. Given that the population of the Strip is now about 2.2 million, and the fact that there is virtually no local production, 190 trucks a day is the minimum that is highly likely to prevent Israel from being accused of «using mass starvation for military purposes».
For Israelis themselves, the year 2024 has not been met with happy realities either. The number of dead soldiers has reached 500, more than a hundred Israelis are still being held hostage by Gaza militants. The war is approaching the 100-day mark. And the government’s military cabinet, while promising an unconditional victory over Hamas, has issued a statement that hostilities in the south will continue for many more months.
The economic situation projected for 2024 is predictably sad. Most Israeli citizens will have to tighten their belts, buy less and make fewer transactions. Everyone understands: there is a war. But how much will it cost? The rating agency Moody’s published data according to which Israel’s GDP per capita in 2024 will be 46,000 dollars. That’s almost 10,000 less than the record high of 2022.
Nevertheless. On New Year’s Eve, Israel’s Finance Ministry said that the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip will likely last until the end of February and will cost $14 billion.
This is exactly the amount that Biden requested from the U.S. Congress to support Israel. But even if the main ally does not give money, Israel’s army will still be financed. Naturally, at the expense of its own taxpayers. People are ready to tolerate, only if the war in the Holy Land would really end in two months. After all, the Ministry of Finance estimates are usually the most accurate.
As for the country’s leadership, all the members of the military cabinet demonstrate steadfastness on the TV screen, but no one takes the liberty to announce the exact dates of stopping hostilities, nor the prospects for the release of hostages, at least women, children and the elderly.
Finally, as it has become known from reliable sources, the military is preparing to show its resolve. The IDF and the general intelligence service Shin Bet will present to the government a plan for the future organization of the Gaza Strip — as they call it, «the day after» the war.
As it became known to correspondents of the broadcasting state corporation «Kan», the Palestinian enclave will be divided into so-called «sub-districts», which will be managed by clans («families») known to Israel, representing a «civil administration» on the ground, rather than a political or military force. At the same time, full security control would remain with the IDF. Consequently, Israel intends to assume responsibility for the fate of Gaza, at least initially.
On January 7, Israeli Defense Ministry officials and former high-ranking intelligence officers said they expect fighting in Gaza to continue for at least a year. This raises the likelihood of hundreds more civilian victims, a deepening humanitarian crisis, and a continued serious threat to regional stability.
At the briefing, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari said that since central and southern Gaza was «densely populated by terrorists» with an «underground city with extensive tunnels», it would take three months to clear the area. Meanwhile, the fighting itself will go on, he estimated, throughout the year.
He also said to expect scattered fighting in northern Gaza, as well as sporadic rocket launches from there toward Israel.
Former head of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, also gave his prediction:
«It will take a year to eliminate Hamas». The general’s logic is as follows: «In 2002, it took two months to infiltrate Palestinian cities and two years to stop terror. So Israel expects nine months to a year [in Gaza]. It depends on how long Hamas will hold out».