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Israeli Defense Minister Presents Three-Step War Plan, Confirms Ground Offensive Is Coming

Also: Russia and Iran blast Biden's speech, Aid blocked at Rafah crossing, Explosion at Gaza's oldest church. And more...

Photo of Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant conducts a tour near the Gaza border.

Emma Albright, Jakob Mieszkowski-Lapping and Valeria Berghinz

Updated on October 20, 2023 at 18:00 p.m.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant revealed a three-stage approach Friday for the war against Hamas — the most detailed description of Israeli strategy since the violence erupted October 7. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), according to The Times of Israel, intends to eliminate Hamas completely and set up a new “security regime” in Gaza.

The first stage that Gallant highlighted, during a committee meeting at the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament), is already underway. This phase consists of continued air raids, soon to be combined with a full-scale ground assault — with the aim of “destroying operatives and damaging infrastructure in order to defeat and destroy Hamas.”

The second phase will be less intense, and will focus on clearing out “pockets of resistance.”

The final step, Gallant told Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, will be to install a “new security regime” to remove “Israel’s responsibility for day-to-day life in the Gaza Strip.”

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There are no details yet about what the planned “security regime” will entail, and how much control the IDF will have over this planned authority. It is clear; however, that a ground invasion is imminent absent any major developments.

Speaking on Thursday to IDF troops preparing along the border with Gaza, Gallant declared: “You see Gaza now from a distance, you will soon see it from inside. The command will come.”

Shortly after his statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared a video of himself near the Gaza border with IDF soldiers promising victory.

Not all officials are convinced. Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet tweeted on Friday afternoon that Israel should not rush into a ground assault and instead rely on the IDF’s air power for the time being.

“Crush, crush and crush the Nazi enemy, before bringing in our soldiers, our boys” Bennet wrote. “Let a thousand terrorist mothers on the other side cry and not one more mother on our side.”

In a poll this week by The Lazar Institute for Israeli daily Maariv, 65% of Israelis support a ground assault into Gaza, while 21% oppose it.

Russia and Iran denounce Biden’s speech 

Following a major speech by U.S. President Joe Biden seeking billions in military aid to counter both Russia’s war in Ukraine and Hamas’ attacks against Israel, a senior Moscow official lashed out Friday at Washington trying to link the two conflicts.

In a major speech Thursday night after his return from Israel, Biden asked Congress to authorize $100 billion to counter both Russian President Valdimir Putin and Hamas who “both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.”

"They used to call it ‘fighting for freedom and democracy,’” said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, on her Telegram. “Now it turns out it is just calculations. It has always been that way, they just fooled the world using values for which Washington has never really stood”

Biden categorized his proposed aid package as a “smart investment” that would “pay dividends for American security for generations.” Part of the aid will also go to increased security along U.S.-Mexico border, as well as support to Taiwan. The majority ($60 billion) would go to the war effort of Ukraine, following Russia’s all-out invasion last year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the speech, calling it a “powerful address.”

Andriy Yermak, a Zelensky spokesman, agreed with Biden’s premise: “Hamas and Putin really have a lot in common. They want to destroy democracy, destroy nations through genocide…Hamas are terrorists. Russia is a state that behaves like a terrorist organization.”

The speech sparked other reactions around the world. Iran has warned the U.S. about the consequences of sending weapons to Israel, saying it would only complicate the current situation in Gaza, according to Iran’s state news outlet Tasnim.

“The widespread support of the United States including sending weapons and ammunition to the Zionist regime is considered as participation by the American government in the crimes of the Zionist regime. It further complicates the situation in Gaza,” Iranian Armed Forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri said during a telephone call with Turkey’s defense minister Yasar Guler on Friday.

Le Monde’s U.S. correspondent Arnaud Leparmentier, meanwhile noted that Biden detailed atrocities committed by both Hamas and Russian armies, yet he added that the president's speech “sometimes artificially connected the two conflicts.”

Biden tried to preempt such doubts in the prime-time televised speech: “I know these conflicts can seem far away, and it’s natural to ask: Why does this matter to America? So let me share with you why making sure Israel and Ukraine succeed is vital for America’s national security.” Biden said. He continued, “You know, history has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction.”

Israel says hostages alive

Israel's military says a "majority" of the hostages in Gaza are alive. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had been able to reduce the number of missing, initially thought to be around 3,000 on the first day of the war, to between 100 and 200 on Friday as they have confirmed people’s locations. More than 20 of the hostages are under the age of 18 and between 10 and 20 of those held are over the age of 60, according to the latest update from the IDF on Friday.

What's still blocking aid from entering Gaza?

Hundreds of trucks remain lined up on Friday night near Egypt’s Rafah Crossing.

Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, had agreed to reopen the Rafah crossing to allow trucks with humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. Egypt has cleared the roads and the convoy is awaiting a greenlight, according to French Daily Le Monde.

Yet Israel and the international community remain divided on several key issues, according to The New York Times.

One point of contention is that Israel is demanding direct involvement in scanning the cargo, to prevent weapons from entering Gaza and flowing into the hands of Hamas. Egypt and most other countries involved, on the other hand, would like to see trained United Nations (UN) employees be in control of the task. The international community tends to prefer that neutral parties be in control of aid projects, to prevent them from being politicized, as was done during the Syrian Civil War.

Furthermore, Israel has green lit only 20 aid trucks to pass into Gaza, while the UN aid chief, Martin Griffiths, told the UN security council that the organization sought to bring aid deliveries to Gaza back to 100 trucks a day, the level before the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Fuel is perhaps the most contentious type of aid. Israel does not want it to be delivered, as they fear that it could fall into the hands of Hamas who would use it to power vehicles and weapons. Gaza’s hospital system however, which is on the brink of collapse, desperately needs to fuel to power its generators.

Lastly, the destination of aid is in dispute. Israel only wants to see aid delivered to southern Gaza, where it has directed all Palestinians in the north to flee, while the international community believes that aid should be delivered to all parts of Gaza.

Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people is in danger of death by dehydration, hunger, disease and injuries from bombardment. Humanitarian organizations have stocks of life-saving supplies on the Egyptian side of the border, waiting for the Rafah crossing to open.

A deal had been struck during Joe Biden’s visit to Israel to allow humanitarian assistance into Gaza.After hours of talks with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his war cabinet, Biden said on Thursday that Israel had agreed to allow the opening of the Egypt-Gaza border to deliveries of desperately needed food, water and medical supplies on condition that the humanitarian assistance was not diverted by Hamas for its own use. “The people of Gaza need food, water, medicine and shelter,” Biden said.

Explosion at Gaza’s Oldest Church Strikes Civilians Taking Shelter

An explosion struck Gaza’s oldest active church Thursday night, provoking an unknown number of deaths and injuries among residents who’d been seeking shelter there, the AFP reports. Palestinian religious authorities say that the historic Church of St. Porphyrius was sheltering hundreds of displaced Palestinians.

Israeli Defense Forces released a statement that a strike aimed at a Hamas target had “damaged the wall of a church in the area,” and that it’s “aware of reports on casualties” and reviewing the incident.

The incident comes two days after several hundred people were killed in a Gaza City hospital parking structure that had also been sheltering civilians. Debate continues to rage about the responsibility of that explosion.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem directly blamed Israel for Thursday’s strike.

In footage geolocated by The Washington Post, people searched through rubble after the explosion. Located in a historic quarter of Gaza City, the Church of St. Porphyrius’s original structure dates back to the 5th century, and the current structure was built in the 12th century. The church has long been a place of refuge and community for its members, who are a religious minority in Gaza.

Where's Macron? Why the French President is not going to Israel — yet

hoto of French President Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron on October 10, 2023

Marcus Brandt /ZUMA

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday, and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday. Now all eyes are on French President Emmanuel Macron, who is making it clear that he prefers to wait.

Why? Asked earlier this week, Macron said that a trip to Israel may be possible “in the coming days or possibly the next weeks.” Speaking during a visit to Albania, he told reporters: "My desire is to be able to travel [to Israel] when we can obtain a concrete agreement either on non-escalation, or on humanitarian issues and, more broadly, on everything.”

Though its interests broadly align with its Western allies, France has historically pursued its own diplomacy in the Middle East, with its separate channels and contacts. Macron no doubt hopes to be able to play a key intermediary role that is isn’t possible for Washington and London — each seen as more firmly in Israel’s camp.

France also has a direct stake in the conflict. After the 30 reported American citizens killed in the Hamas attack in southern Israel, the French toll of 28 dead was the second most foreign victims. Seven others are reportedly still missing, with several presumed held hostage. After a video of a French-Israeli hostage was posted Tuesday, Macron told reporters France has contacts with Hamas allies to try to win the release of captives.

Macron also facing other related challenges at home. On Thursday, he attended the funeral of the teacher murdered in France’s Arras by a 20-year-old Chechen-born Islamist terrorist. It is unclear if the attack is related to the war in Gaza.

French government spokesman Olivier Véran insisted that France is in a time of “national unity”, reports Europe1 radio station. Véran added that Macron needs to stay close to his people “especially in the midst of an attack alert on national territory”

Above all, Macron appears to not want to follow the script of his Western allies, who have visited Israel over the past three days with the virtually sole objective to show solidarity after the Oct. 7 attack. Instead, the French president wants his visit to be "useful" according to sources at the Elysée Palace, and a trip can only take place if he is sure of achieving humanitarian or political progress in exchange.

While he is unwavering in his support of "Israel's right to defend itself", Macron is positioning himself as a more neutral mediator, aiming to earn credibility in the Arab world.

His repeated calls on Israel to respect international humanitarian law demonstrates a position of “balance,” according to the sources close to Macron, who used a televised address on October 12 to recall France’s historic commitment to the “creation of a Palestinian state.”

Still, some French critics on the political right have been urging Macron to visit Israel “as soon as possible” in order to show support for the Jewish state. "I would have liked him to go first,” said Senator Bruno Retailleau, of the conservative Republicain party.

Still, even before a visit, Macron is in regular touch with all the region’s leaders, focused on preventing escalation in the region and securing the release of the hostages.

Meanwhile, demonstrators gathered again on Wednesday in front of the French embassy in Tunis to express their anger vis-à-vis the attack on the hospital in Gaza, killing hundreds of people. They were denouncing "French and American allies of the Zionists."

Who’s To Blame For Hospital Bombing? The 8 Key Points To Consider 

The bombing of the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City has dramatically escalated tensions between Israel and the Arab world. Both Israeli and Palestinian officials quickly accused the other of causing the explosion, which was inevitably followed by a kind of “social media war” of supporters of each side making the case for who is responsible. Israel has blamed a failed rocket launched by Palestinian militants, while Palestinians say the explosion was part of what’s been an ongoing air campaign on civilian targets in Gaza. Endless streams of information are circulating online, but here are 7 points to consider when weighing these conflicting claims and making your own assessment of the tragic explosion.

1. Analyzing the damage: There has been much preliminary investigation into the damage done to the hospital, but so far findings are inconclusive. One analysis done by Italian publication Il Giornale finds that the laser-point bombs typically used by Israel do not produce the type of damage seen at the hospital. Other Israeli bombs that have hit Gazan buildings are generally designed to make the lower infrastructure of the building implode, destroying the foundations and thereby making the structure collapse inwards. This does not match imagery of the hospital rubble. Other investigations have been conducted by journalists at the BBC, who spoke to several experts about the situation. Two experts support the possibility that the large explosion could have been caused by a smaller impact in the car-park which then triggered a fuel reaction from the vehicles. However, the BBC stresses that there is still insufficient evidence to make certain conclusions for any theory.

2. Geo-localizers: An organization working with OSINT(Open-source intelligence) used its geo-localization tools to determine where the hospital blast came from. GeoConfirmed posted their findings on twitter, stating that after analyzing footage from media network Al-Jazeera, which shows a rocket’s malfunction after being launched from within Gaza. The geo-locators look at the details of the rocket’s direction and fall to estimate a location of landing, which they conclude to be the hospital.

3. Audio of two Hamas militants: A video was released by the IDF showing audio of two Hamas militants discussing the possibility that the rocket was fired from a cemetery from behind the hospital. They claimed that the rocket “misfired and fell” on them, destroying the hospital. The video cannot be independently verified.

4. Israeli influencer’s deleted tweet: Just after the explosion was reported Tuesday night, Hananya Naftali, a pro-Israel influencer, tweeted that the Israeli air force struck a “terrorist base inside a hospital in Gaza.” Following the tweet’s wide circulation on social media as proof that Israel is responsible for the hospital explosion, the influencer apologized for his “error” and claimed that he got his information from a Reuters report that “falsely” blamed Israel. While Naftali’s tweet can certainly be a piece of the puzzle, and is used to back the pro-Palestinian claim that Israel is responsible, it is unclear what access the influencer has to direct information related to military operations.

5. Time stamp on Israeli video: Posted Tuesday night by the official state of Israel account on Twitter, a video was presented as evidence that the rocket came from Hamas. It showed outgoing rocket fire from militants, but the video was later deleted as people pointed out that the time stamp did not match with the time that the explosion took place. the tweet which has been edited for the video to be removed.

6. Israel’s prior warnings: The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which runs the hospital, said it had already been a target of Israel. The hospital administration said it had received warnings from the IDF to evacuate the hospital on Saturday, Sunday and Monday before the explosion on Tuesday. It also claimed that two Israeli projectiles hit the hospital on Saturday, damaging the fourth floor. An IDF spokesperson acknowledged that the hospital had been called in recent days, but as part of a wider evacuation effort to convince Gaza’s civilians to flee south, and was “not in any way a target.”

7. Death count: The number of victims is disputed by Israeli and Palestinian officials. Late Wednesday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said that there were 471 deaths as a result of the explosion, while the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) says this number has been “deliberately inflated,” according to the BBC. The IDF has not provided its own assessment of the death count, but the truthfulness and accuracy on such a question speaks to the question of overall credibility.

8. Past record: Both Hamas and the IDF have long been known for providing “their truth” following violent incidents in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most recent high-profile example was the May 2022 IDF raid in the occupied-West Bank, where Palestinian-American Al Jazeera Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead. Both Palestinian authorities and IDF officials immediately blamed each other. Several months later, following an independent investigation, the IDF was forced to admit that it was ultimately responsible.

It remains to be seen if there will ever be a similar independent probe on the question of responsibility for the hospital explosion. Yet as noted by French political commentator Pierre Haski, a former Middle East correspondent, it’s unlikely that the final narrative can ever work in Israel’s favor.

“Israel is trapped by its blockade of Gaza. There are no independent sources on the ground, not one foreign journalist, not one outside observer, to check the facts — whether it was an Israeli bombardment, as the Palestinians accuse, or a rocket fired by Hamas' ally Islamic Jihad that caused the explosion, as Israel claims.

This lack of an independent source ultimately backfires on Israel: the hospital strike comes after several days of relentless bombardment in urban areas. Even if Israel succeeds in proving that it did not cause the explosion, the damage has been done, and calls to stop their war will continue to multiply.”

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With the end of the Hollywood writers and actors strikes, the creator economy is the next frontier for organized labor.

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Smartphone on a selfie stick

Steve Gale/Unsplash
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✉️ You can receive our Bon Vivant selection of fresh reads on international culture, food & travel directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

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