Inside Israel’s Ground Invasion of Gaza

Israel has launched a prolonged ground operation in northern Gaza, accompanied by aerial bombardments and a communications blackout that lasted almost two days. The operation is expected to eliminate Hamas, the Palestinian militant group controlling Gaza, after a brutal terror attack on Israel three weeks ago. The ground incursion appears to be a phased assault, with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) pushing increasing numbers of soldiers into Gaza over time to accomplish different military objectives.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is worsening, with Israeli airstrikes killing more than 7,000 Palestinians so far, and supplies like fuel and clean water running perilously low due to the limited number of aid trucks entering the territory Israel has blockaded for 16 years. Human rights groups say that the bombardment campaign has likely included war crimes.

Israel has declined to call the new operation an invasion, but leaders have described it as a “new phase.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the country to prepare for a “long and difficult” war. Hamas has confirmed that its armed wing is fighting IDF forces in Beit Hanoun and Al-Bureij, and all Palestinian resistance forces are prepared to confront the aggression, following Israel’s controversial evacuation of civilians.

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip will have lasting effects on the relationship between the two nations. Israel has been cautious about the details of the operation, as it is seen as a means to maintain a “second war for independence.” Following Hamas’s attack, which targeted civilians, mutilated dead bodies, and took over 200 hostages, Israeli officials repeatedly vowed to “destroy” Hamas. This rhetoric has raised concerns among human rights groups and US officials who worry that Israel is not adequately planning for a long-term stable future.

In his first press conference since the attack, Netanyahu continued to frame the war in existential terms, calling it Israel’s “second war for independence.” The Israeli government’s goal is to create a new security regime in the Gaza Strip, remove Israel’s responsibility for day-to-day life in the Strip, and create a new security reality for the citizens of Israel and the residents of the area surrounding Gaza.

In the short term, Israeli leaders have publicly stated their goals to destroy Hamas’s capacity to govern Gaza, attack Israel, and release the hostages. The military’s plans to accomplish these objectives are tightly under wraps, but some details are emerging, and analysts can better deduce the military’s activities and short-term goals.

The Israeli military is expanding its ground effort in the Gaza Strip, with analysts predicting that forces are dismantling Hamas’s tunnel network and creating pathways for tanks and other military vehicles to reach Gaza City. The communications blackout and IDF’s circumspection have made it difficult for information not filtered through either the IDF or Hamas to get out, and the Israeli government has announced that it cannot guarantee the safety of journalists in Gaza who are covering the conflict.

Israel’s operation in Gaza, despite the IDF’s circumspection, is not meeting the media threshold of a “new Normandy invasion,” which poses a problem for Iran. The operation has entered Gaza in two areas and central Gaza near Juhor ad Dik. The IDF has struck over 450 terror targets, including operational command centers, observation posts, and anti-tank missile launch posts. Israel sees eliminating Hamas’s military capabilities as an existential requirement, and balancing military success with hostage return, managing civilian casualties, and keeping Arab countries under control is essential for avoiding escalation and preventing a second front in the north or international calls for a ceasefire.

The October 7 attack on Gaza by Hamas has been attributed to Israeli intelligence and defense failures rather than Hamas’ actions. Israeli politicians and officials have raised concerns among Palestinians that the war will lead to permanent displacement, a concept known as a “second Nakba.” Despite the Israeli government’s refusal to label the operation a ground invasion, the situation in Gaza remains dire. The lack of fuel in Gaza, which Israel cut off during the siege, means that hospital generators will soon be unable to power facilities where people are sheltering and the injured and sick need care. Untreated water with high salinity is already being consumed, potentially spreading diseases like cholera. Israel has restored access to some clean water and promised to increase aid truck flow into the territory, but it may not be enough to meet basic needs.

Hamas likely has hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel, weapons, food, medicine, and water hidden in its tunnels. It is likely using these supplies sparingly to sustain three or four months of fighting, and would not consider giving them to civilians or aid organizations. Egyptian strategic analyst Samir Ghattas emphasized that the public of Gaza means nothing to Hamas, and the Hamas movement’s actions are primarily focused on the Hamas movement.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza could impact Israel’s ability to fight the war against Hamas, as public opinion on the humanitarian toll and the safety of over 200 hostages is crucial for Washington. Israel must prioritize civilian casualties and humanitarian issues as a strategic military issue to determine American support. The images and stories from Gaza over the weekend are devastating, with communications blackouts preventing ambulances from reaching injured individuals.

Palestinians have been digging through demolished buildings to search for trapped individuals, and people worldwide mourn the loss of loved ones only after communications were restored. US President Joe Biden has reaffirmed Israel’s right and responsibility to pursue the war against Hamas, emphasizing the need to do so in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law.

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