By Altaf Moti
The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has reached a critical juncture, as Israel has amassed tanks and troops near its border with the besieged enclave, signaling its readiness to launch a ground operation after days of intense aerial strikes. Such a move would have dire implications for both parties, as well as for the region and the international community as it would exacerbate the violence, inflict immense human suffering and aggravate the already volatile political and diplomatic situation.
The possibility of a ground operation became more imminent after a clash between Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters inside Gaza last day, which resulted in the death of one Israeli soldier and the injury of three others.
According to the Israeli military, the purpose of the raid was to locate Hamas captives in Gaza’s Khan Younis area and to “thwart terrorist infrastructure, clear the area of terrorists, weapons, and locate missing persons, and bodies.” However, Hamas’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, claimed to have pushed Israeli forces back into Israel during the raid. This was the first publicly announced Israeli military fatality inside Gaza since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.
A ground operation in Gaza would be a perilous and costly endeavor for Israel, as it would encounter stiff resistance from Hamas and other Palestinian factions who have anticipated such a scenario by constructing tunnels, deploying explosives, and blending among civilians. Israel would seek to destroy Hamas’s rocket launchers, weapons depots, and command centers as well as to capture or eliminate senior Hamas figures. However, this would not be straightforward as Hamas has demonstrated its capability to fire long-range rockets at Israel. Israel would also have to refrain from entering the most populous and urbanized areas of Gaza, where it would face more hurdles and hazards.
A ground operation in Gaza would also have catastrophic consequences for the Palestinians, who are already enduring the Israeli blockade and bombardment. According to the latest report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published on 17 October 2023, the number of people killed in Gaza has reached 4,651, including at least 1,235 children, and the number of injured has risen to 14,200. The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) has also increased to more than 338,000, who are sheltering in various locations including UN-run schools. The UN has reiterated its warning of a potential outbreak of COVID-19 and other diseases due to the overcrowding and lack of medical supplies. A ground operation would worsen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as it would cause more casualties, damage, and displacement among civilians and infrastructure.
There would also have regional and international implications to a ground operation in Gaza , as it would elicit reactions from countries and organizations that support or oppose Israel or Hamas, and could trigger further escalation or intervention. Several countries and organizations have denounced Israel’s actions and expressed solidarity with the Palestinians while others have blamed Hamas for the violence. Some of the key actors involved or potentially involved in this issue are:
U.S.: The United States, which is Israel’s closest ally and main source of military aid, has expressed its support for Israel’s right to defend itself. The current conflict in Gaza has exposed the limitations of the US-led approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue, as well as the challenges of finding a common ground among the major powers. The US has faced criticism from some of its allies and adversaries for its perceived bias towards Israel and its reluctance to pressure it to end its offensive. The US has also faced opposition from China and Russia in the UN Security Council, where they have blocked several attempts to issue a joint statement calling for a ceasefire. The US has also faced domestic pressure from some progressive lawmakers and activists who have questioned its unconditional support for Israel and its complicity in its human rights violations.
China: China, which is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a rising global power, has criticized Israel’s actions and called for an immediate ceasefire. China has also offered to mediate between Israel and Hamas and has accused the U.S. of impeding the UN’s efforts to resolve the crisis. China’s involvement in this issue reflects its growing influence and interests in the Middle East, as well as its rivalry with the U.S. over global leadership. China has also sought to present itself as a responsible and impartial actor that can help promote peace and stability in the region.
Russia: Russia, which is another permanent member of the UN Security Council and a key player in the Middle East has also called for an end to the violence and urged both sides to respect international law. Russia has maintained good relations with both Israel and Hamas and has hosted several rounds of talks between them in the past. Russia’s role in this issue reflects its strategic and economic interests in the region as well as its desire to balance the U.S. and other powers. Russia has also tried to leverage its ties with both parties to facilitate dialogue and de-escalation.
Iran: Iran is Israel’s main regional adversary and a major patron of Hizbullah and other groups in the region has condemned Israel’s aggression and called for an end to the siege on Gaza.
Egypt and Qatar: Egypt and Qatar have been trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, using their diplomatic contacts and influence. Egypt shares a border with Gaza and has a peace treaty with Israel, while Qatar has close ties with Hamas and provides financial aid to Gaza. Both countries have sent delegations to Israel and Gaza to convey messages and proposals but so far their efforts have not yielded any results.
Hizbullah: The Lebanese Shia movement, which fought a war with Israel in 2006, has warned that it would join the battle if Israel invades Gaza. Hizbullah has a large arsenal of rockets and missiles that can reach deep into Israel, and has close ties with Iran and Syria, which are also antagonistic to Israel.
A ground operation in Gaza would also worsen the political situation in Israel as we have seen recently the political divide at its climax in this country. Israel has persisted in its military campaign, despite the international condemnation and humanitarian crisis, with the aim of destroying Hamas’s rocket capabilities and restoring deterrence and killing thousands of innocents. Hamas has resisted Israel’s attacks on Gaza and demanded that Israel stop its aggression, lift the siege on Gaza and respect the rights of the Palestinians. The situation has been undermined by the expansion of Israeli settlements and the lack of international pressure on Israel. Israel’s war-provoking actions have destabilized the region and endangered the prospects for a peaceful and just solution to end the cycle of violence and achieve a lasting peace.