Postwar Gaza Planning: An Initial Checklist

by October 2023
Aftermath of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, October 2023. Photo credit: Ahmed Zakot / SOPA Images/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

Postwar planning for Gaza needs to start now. Prior to October 7, nobody in Israel was planning for this war. Thus, planning now for what happens if Hamas is defeated may be way behind. It will take many weeks to marshal the necessary resources, equipment, people, and authorizations to meet the basic requirements of Gaza’s residents. Israelis will have their own requirements to ensure that Hamas and other terrorist groups do not again launch terrorist attacks against Israel. Poor planning and scant resources are now everyone’s enemy. 

This checklist is far from an actual plan. Actual plans could run hundreds of pages long with a team of authors. This checklist is intended to give a sense of the scale of what will be required for postwar Gaza planning. 

This paper assumes an Israeli ground victory over Hamas in which areas within Gaza, in succession, are cleared of Hamas fighters. The succession of clearing operations presents an additional challenge, because humanitarian assistance, postwar efforts, and military operations may be going on in adjacent districts. Israel cannot afford to wait until all fighting in Gaza ceases before undertaking humanitarian and other efforts in areas that are relatively secure.

This paper does not address the vital issue of humanitarian assistance for Gaza’s over two  million people. The world has considerable capability to deliver humanitarian assistance in times of war and disaster—with the enormous caveats of resources and access. Diplomats and aid officials are already working these issues intensively. 

A young Iraqi girl prepares to dump trash in a pile of garbage on a Baghdad street, as basic needs like water and electricity are still scarce, May 2003. Photo credit: Reuters.
An Iraqi girl prepares to dump trash on a Baghdad street, May 2003. Photo credit: Reuters.

However, one lesson from US planning efforts for Iraq and Afghanistan is that postwar planning cannot wait until humanitarian assistance is in place. That is a recipe for disaster. The lead time for postwar planning is too long—weeks and months—and the needs are immediate once the shooting stops. Humanitarian assistance and postwar planning efforts need to proceed in parallel. Both will need millions of dollars in the short term and, likely, billions of dollars over the next several years. Both will need thousands of additional people of multiple nationalities working down to the local level until all-local services can be restored. However, while the global infrastructure to coordinate humanitarian assistance to Gaza exists, the infrastructure for postwar planning and operations does not. It will have to be built—and quickly.

This paper also does not address the political issue of Israel handing off civilian authority over Gaza to someone else. That decision is a matter of extreme urgency and deserves a separate checklist.

An initial checklist of ten points:

  1. Restore SWET: sewer, water, electricity, and trash removal. Israeli officials know full well that restoring these will not be as simple as flipping a switch. In Gaza, these are interconnected: water and sewer both need electricity. Electricity needs fuel, even if just to power local generators, especially in hospitals.

    The US assumption for Iraq was that the Iraqis responsible for these essential services would go back to work on the day after. That may not happen in Gaza because the staff may have evacuated to safer areas in the south, or may refuse to work as long as Israel is in charge. Even so, Israel or some emergency administrative authority will need to restore electricity, water, and sewer service.
  2. Prevent looting. This includes small-scale, petty looting, but the real danger here is large-scale, strategic looting. Someone needs to be assigned the duty of basic policing. If this is not to be the IDF and Israeli security forces, and the local Gazan police are unwilling or have fled, then someone must be found to do this, and they need to be in place within a day or two after the shooting stops.

    An even greater danger, as the United States learned in both Bosnia and Iraq, is the destruction of basic infrastructure that renders restoration of services impossible. The Bosnian Serbs in 1995 tore out the plumbing of apartment buildings in Sarajevo that they were required by the Dayton accords to turn over to the Bosnian government. 

    In Iraq in 2003, Baath Party operatives destroyed the electricity grid’s infrastructure, creating an economic and humanitarian nightmare that still holds Iraq back more than twenty years later. The destruction of Iraqi government records was also an intentional effort to make Iraq ungovernable. Hamas is already using human shields—both captured Israelis and others, and the civilians of Gaza. The idea that Hamas would engage in strategic looting of Gaza has to be a core part of Israel’s planning.

  3. Even when the fighting stops, Israel can be expected to continue to carry out security measures against Hamas remnants. Israel will need additional large-scale detention facilities for those captured that do not become terrorist training camps like Camp Bucca was for the United States in Iraq. These need to be adequately resourced—overcrowding and a lack of resources to handle prisoners is a time-honored way to make things worse.

  4. Identify the Gazan businesses needed for ordinary life, and provide them the ability to re-open quickly. Be ready to help with rebuilding inventories of necessities. This will likely require purchasing supplies in Israel or elsewhere for delivery into the parts of Gaza where the shooting has stopped.

  5. Bring in field hospitals to let Palestinian doctors and staff treat patients. Israel, the United States, or someone needs to make calls now to arrange for field hospitals to be set up in the parts of Gaza where the shooting has stopped.

  6. Seize Hamas’s cash while not interfering with local Gazans. Israel will no doubt seize any Hamas military equipment, rocket manufacturing facilities, and stores of currency. However, wholesale seizures of noncombatants’ currency is neither legal nor wise.

Damage to Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel, October 2023. Photo credit: Israel’s Ministry of Defense Press Office.

  1. Survey damage. Someone needs to be tasked with comprehensive damage surveys to help in rebuilding.

  2. Set up a cell phone network you trust, but restore civilian cell phone networks also. Everyone will assume cell phones and social media are monitored for security, but the civilian population needs some way to communicate.

  3. Begin to set up the mechanisms to end Hamas’s culture of corruption. Corruption is at the heart of what Hamas uses to keep the Gazan people in line. This needs to end. Dismantling Hamas’s network of corruption will require once-in-a-generation root-and-branch reforms in public integrity in government contracting, civil service hiring, and business practices in Gaza. Some of the preliminary steps will need to be taken within hours of the end of organized fighting.

  4. Set up more efficient capabilities to inspect people and goods moving in and out of areas where the fighting has ended. This will require inspectors, metal detectors, and X-ray machines such as are used at airports and border crossings. Much of Israel’s checkpoint infrastructure was destroyed on October 7. Replacement equipment for the checkpoints should be ordered immediately, if it hasn’t already been ordered.

This gives a sense of scale of what will be needed at the outset of postwar planning for Gaza.

Thomas Warrick

Thomas Warrick is a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative. He served as the deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism policy at the US Department of Homeland Security (2008-2019) and as a senior State Department official working on Middle East and international justice issues (1997-2007), including as the lead on the “Future of Iraq” initiative from 2002-2003.

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