Nobody knows what Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza means

During the night of Sunday, the last Israeli forces left Khan Yunis. The Palestinians who returned found a city largely reduced to ruins. After four months, the Israeli military’s second largest operation since the start of the war has ended. According to the IDF, for tactical reasons “to prepare the next step”.

But what the next step will be, we don’t know. “It’s hard to say what this means,” said John Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which gathers relatives of several of the hostages, reacted cautiously positively to the information: “the exodus (from Khan Yunis) should be the first step for a settlement of the hostages”, was their comment.

But the relatives are not a homogeneous group. The Tikvah Forum, which wants to see the military go even harder in Gaza, immediately demanded that the IDF “return to southern Gaza and finish the task”.

Expert: Suspects some kind of invasion

In the past week, after the attack in which several international aid workers were killed, international demands for Israel to calm down have increased. But IDF sources tell the Jerusalem Post that the withdrawal from Khan Yunis has nothing to do with it at all.

Israel’s Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, said on Sunday that it was about the next step in the war – which includes the dreaded Rafah operation. Anders Ekholm, the ever-equally strict Israel connoisseur and military man, said in Efter fem that he suspects that some form of invasion in Rafah will still come, sooner or later.

Other analysts have interpreted it as a sign that the Israeli troops are needed elsewhere, for example as a deterrent in case Iran gets the hang of it and avenges the attack on an Iranian embassy building in Damascus.

“Israel rejects all our demands”

During Monday morning, there were also reports from Cairo that the talks between the parties had progressed. It was rejected only an hour later by the Hamas leadership. “Israel rejects all our demands,” said a Hamas source, whom Al-Jazeera spoke to. And “right now nothing is happening in the negotiations,” another told Lebanese television.

Already when the war began, representatives of the Israeli military said that a ground invasion of Gaza could take a year. In recent weeks and months, Benjamin Netanyahu has increasingly emphasized the importance of a Rafah operation as a necessary step toward what he calls “a complete victory.”

No one, least of all Netanyahu it seems, has yet a good answer to what that really means.

So to sum up, if you want the IDF’s withdrawal from Khan Yunis to mean that it is moving forward and the slaughter is coming to an end and that a hostage settlement is on the way, then it may very well mean that.

But it can also mean something completely different.