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Humanitarian Bubbles for Gaza: A Strategic Analysis

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant recently proposed the concept of "humanitarian bubbles" as a strategy to resolve the ongoing conflict in Gaza. [1] This approach involves creating secure zones governed by local councils and supported by an international force, excluding Hamas, and fostering local governance. It is a strategy designed to provide stability and security and address the urgent humanitarian needs of civilians amidst ongoing hostilities.


Establishing and maintaining these zones would require oversight by international organizations like the United Nations to ensure neutrality and adherence to international humanitarian laws. Effective implementation also necessitates cooperation with local governing bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to ensure aid reaches those in need efficiently. Both conflicting parties would need to agree to respect the sanctity of these zones and refrain from any form of aggression within their boundaries, which would likely require robust diplomatic efforts and possibly the presence of peacekeeping forces.


Historical Precedent


The “safe zone” strategy has historical precedents, most notably during the Bosnian War in the 1990s. The United Nations established several safe zones, including Srebrenica, Sarajevo, and Gorazde, to protect civilians and provide humanitarian aid amidst the conflict. These zones aimed to create areas free from hostilities where civilians could receive aid and protection. The safe zones in Bosnia did provide some level of protection and humanitarian relief to civilians. They allowed for the delivery of food, medical supplies, and other essential services, which were critical in mitigating the immediate suffering of the population.


However, the safe zones were often inadequately protected despite their intended purpose. The most tragic example is the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, where over 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces despite the presence of UN peacekeepers. This highlighted the severe limitations in the ability of international forces to ensure the safety of these zones. The conflict's complex political and military dynamics also hampered the safe zones' effectiveness. The lack of a robust mandate and sufficient military support for UN peacekeepers often left the zones vulnerable to attacks and sieges.


The Risks


Should Israel adopt the safe zone strategy, the historical lessons learned from their application in Bosnia can help guide the crisis to a successful resolution.  Pulling from these lessons, we can presume Israel will be met with several foundational challenges:


  • Governance: Local councils may lack the legitimacy or cohesion to govern, leading to power struggles and inefficiencies effectively.

  • Security Risks: Excluding hostile elements like Hamas and maintaining order could be difficult, especially if they continue to have the support of the population, or if local forces are insufficiently trained or equipped.

  • International Force Dynamics: The involvement of international troops, particularly from Arab countries, could face political and logistical challenges, including coordination and rules of engagement.

 

Mitigation Strategy

 

Implementation of this strategy will be difficult, even with a cooperative local governing partner. But Israel can develop robust plans to accomplish the following to help mitigate these challenges:

 

  • Strengthening Local Governance: Invest in capacity-building for local councils, ensuring they have the necessary resources and training to govern effectively. This includes providing education on governance, conflict resolution, and community engagement.

  • Robust Security Framework: Establish clear protocols and robust support for local security forces, including continuous training and oversight by international experts. This could involve creating joint training programs and regular assessments to ensure readiness and capability.

  • International Cooperation: Foster strong diplomatic ties and clear agreements with contributing countries to ensure a unified and effective international force. This includes setting up a command structure that allows for seamless coordination and communication among the various international contingents.

 

While humanitarian bubbles offer a strategic approach to stabilizing conflict areas like Gaza, its success hinges on robust local governance, effective security measures, and seamless international cooperation. Historical precedents like the Bosnian safe zones can be used as a reference to inform the application of the concept in Gaza. Regardless, it is clear that the implementation of such a strategy requires careful planning, substantial resources, and unwavering international commitment to overcome the inherent challenges and achieve lasting peace and stability.

 


[1] David Ignatius, “The paradox ahead for Gaza: A postwar where war goes on.” Washington Post, 11 June, 2024. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/06/11/gaza-israel-hamas-ceasefire-security-plans/


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