By Girish Linganna
Israel confronts significant dangers while gearing up for an extensive ground incursion into Gaza.
A far-reaching mission by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) within the coastal territory is very likely to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis and lead to more civilian casualties. It also jeopardizes the lives of Israeli soldiers, potentially swaying global and domestic opinions against Israel, while adding another battleground to the conflict.
The Israeli leaders have committed to carrying out Operation Swords of Iron to eliminate the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which they hold responsible for a deadly attack on Israel on October 7th, resulting in the loss of 1,400 lives.
Israel’s Southern Command officer, Yaron Finkelman, has stated that the operation will be taking the conflict into the territory controlled by Hamas, intending to defeat them on their turf.
A ground operation, if initiated, might become an extended and intense conflict characterized by urban warfare, potentially leading to significant dangers for the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.
As per the statement, it’s reported by Hamas, that over 3,000 Palestinian civilians, with over 1,500 of them being children, have tragically lost their lives due to airstrikes. Furthermore, there are over one million people who have been displaced from their homes and are currently trapped in southern Gaza without any means of escape.
David Cortright, a retired professor from the University of Notre Dame’s global affairs school, has suggested that engaging in conflict in Gaza poses a substantial risk to Israel’s reputation. Instead, he recommends that they consider convening an international tribunal to hold those responsible in Hamas for attacking Israel accountable. Simultaneously, he suggests seeking a political resolution with the Palestinian people.
“It’s understandable that Israelis feel anger and a desire for retribution after the heinous terrorist attacks by Hamas. However, the ongoing blockade of Gaza is likely to result in more casualties and devastation, potentially escalating the conflict and inadvertently strengthening Hamas,” Cortright stated in an email.
“Currently, global sympathy and attention appear to be shifting from the innocent Israelis who fell victim to Hamas attacks to the children of Gaza who are suffering due to Israeli airstrikes,” he further commented. “This situation is precarious, and Israel should strive to navigate away from it.”
During the Gaza War in 2014, Israeli infantry battalions engaged in combat in a northern neighbourhood of Gaza City, resulting in the tragic loss of over 1,600 innocent people and leaving more than 10,000 wounded in just over a month. Despite the extended conflict, Israel ultimately withdrew without achieving any substantial strategic successes.
The impending military operation is poised to be even more lethal, as Israeli leaders are determined to completely eradicate Hamas. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that ‘Every Hamas member is a dead man’ following the attack in Israel. However, in a meeting with President Biden, he expressed Israel’s commitment to ‘minimize civilian casualties’ and pledged to ‘do everything it can to keep civilians out of harm’s way.'”
In 2014, Israel faced the loss of 66 soldiers during the conflict with Hamas. During that time, Israeli troops encountered significant challenges while fighting in urban areas, dealing with tunnels, booby traps, and facing threats from mines, ambushes, and snipers. This conflict lasted only a few weeks, and Israeli forces entered only certain parts of the territory controlled by Hamas.
In the current situation, Israel is committing to a comprehensive operation aimed at the complete destruction of Hamas. They have called up a record 360,000 reservists for duty. This larger-scale operation is expected to require more time and resources, which does carry the risk of more lives being affected. Hamas possesses an extensive underground tunnel network, which they could use to target Israeli troops.
Alp Sevimlisoy, a millennium fellow at the Atlantic Council, has suggested that Israeli forces should establish “small success parameters” on a district-by-district basis to overcome the numerous traps and obstacles within Gaza. He emphasizes that the initial stage should focus on gaining control of districts one by one, aiming to achieve at least 75 to 80 percent of geographical control. He predicts that this process could take several months.
In stage two, the objective is to ensure the complete elimination of the top leadership of Hamas, as stated by Sevimlisoy. The Israeli public is deeply angered by the loss of nearly 1,400 lives due to actions by Hamas and the abduction of approximately 200 hostages by the. group. This has led to broad support for initiatives aimed at defeating the militants in Gaza. However, if the Israeli military were to experience significant losses in an extended conflict with no clear resolution, public sentiment could shift.
According to a survey conducted by the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv and published on Friday, 65 percent of the population is in favor of a ground invasion, while 21 percent are against it. Bilal Saab, an associate fellow specializing in the Middle East and North Africa at Chatham House, also warned that U.S. support might evolve with time.
According to Saab’s analysis, Saab believes that Israel is fully capable of destroying Hamas. However, it is important to consider the opinions of allies, threats from enemies, and the uncertain nature of public opinion at home before launching an offensive.
Israel has engaged in four wars with Hamas in the past, none of which have successfully eradicated the group. Despite this, Israeli military spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus expressed confidence that by the end of the current conflict, Hamas will no longer possess the ability to harm Israeli civilians.
Israel has been engaged in daily confrontations with Hezbollah, a militant group in Lebanon along the northern border, following the deadly Hamas attacks. These clashes on the Lebanon-Israel border have been the most lethal in years and could have escalated into a full-scale war if not for the Israeli military’s focus on Hamas.
Amid the ongoing conflict, Hezbollah leaders have recently held meetings with Iran, which provides military support to both Hezbollah and Hamas. Iranian officials have issued repeated warnings that they may need to take action if the attacks on Gaza persist, as Tehran views Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people as a form of genocide.
According to state-run media, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has conveyed that time is running out, and those who seek to eliminate the resistance and Hamas from Gaza are mistaken.
Imad Harb, the director of research and analysis at the Arab Center in Washington, D.C., expressed skepticism about Hezbollah invading Israel during a time of economic turmoil in Lebanon. However, he also noted that such a decision would depend on Iran’s intentions and how the situation in Gaza develops.
If Hamas is defeated,” he stated, “it poses a threat to Hezbollah because Hamas would no longer exist.” The crisis in Gaza has ignited anger across the Arab world, leading to a display of solidarity with the Palestinian population in the face of an intense Israeli bombing campaign along the coastal strip.
This collective Arab frustration grew even stronger following a tragic explosion near a hospital in Gaza City this week, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, though U.S. officials assert that the evidence indicates a misfired rocket from Palestinian Islamic Jihad as the cause.
However, an extended military operation in Gaza carries a significant danger of generating heightened anger in the Middle East and North Africa, where longstanding sympathies lie with the Palestinian cause. This, in turn, could undermine diplomatic initiatives aimed at normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, potentially leading to further isolation of Israel in the region.
Imad Harb of the Arab Center emphasized that Israel has already eroded its political support among the Arab populace and was taking the risk of provoking a surge of anger by entering Gaza.
“It will undoubtedly result in significant casualties for both Hamas and the civilian population,” he commented. “People across the Arab world will exert pressure on their governments in response to this.” (IPA Service)
(The author is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru.)