While Israeli army incursions of Gaza may have begun, they seem to be limited and described as “hit and run”. They are not on the scale we have been led to believe by Israeli politicians and even military strategists. The odd move into the Strip is being made, here and there, but so far Israeli soldiers are going in for a few kilometers and/or sometimes few meters and quickly retreating.
The first incursion was on Sunday 22 October, 2023 and ended badly for the Israeli army because Hamas operatives were waiting and repelled the attack that resulted in one Israeli soldier killed and three injured. Since then, there had been nightly attacks, always going in the strip and quickly retreating.
For the time being however a full-scale Israeli land invasion of Gaza may have been put on hold because both the Benjamin Netanyahu government and Hamas may be planning for a long war. Israeli may now use a three-pronged approach from the air, sea and now through limited as yet ground force incursions that may widen as the days go by and something that the Israeli prime minister promises.
But while the Israeli bombast – the threats, bloody air and tank firepower – is never far away from our television screen, the idea of a land war for Israel is complex and difficult. It gets more so as the war becomes uglier and more civilians killed by the day.
From now on we are likely to see more skirmishes with Israeli soldiers coming in and out of the Gaza Strip cryptically and late at night – and primarily in its northern borders but with an overall context and were air raids, and sea-fire dominating the scene.
Statistics don’t lie
Statistics don’t lie! Ever since 7 October, when Hamas operatives entered Israel proper, and purportedly killed 1400 Israelis and dragged back to the Gaza tunnels for what we now know more than 200 hostages, Israel has been reigning its bombs and missiles on the civilians of Gaza.
In just 20 days the number of Palestinians killed has topped nearly to 8000, not to say anything about the over-17,000 injured, and the 1500 dead under the wreckage and rubble of homes, blown up by Israeli warplanes. While European countries and the USA were essentially with Israel at first, saying they have a right to defend themselves, opinion seems to be shifting because of the images of devastation they are seeing on their television sets and mass media.
Such a shift is coming more and more from the United States, the White House and US President Joe Biden who maybe in a process of re-evaluation, seeing it as difficult to justify the daily killings, the blood of women and children and the destruction of whole neighborhoods of Gaza. This is also why, many are saying that it is the Americans who initially gave Israel the “green light” to start its devastating onslaught of Gaza. About 70 percent of people being killed are women and children.
While, it has also become an element of trust and confidence, for after all, the Americans are directly “advising” the Israelis through their generals and the 2000 soldiers they sent there, like the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken who is now speaking more about the need for a two-state solution as the only way to end the bloody violence between the Israelis and Palestinians and to calm down the regional situation.
In addition, and on the face of it, it appears US officials are the ones who are holding the Israelis back in launching a full-scale invasion of Gaza, which had been on the lips of Israeli ministers and its military establishment ever since 7 October. The Biden administration, although increasing the military aid to Israel by more the $14 billion has been telling the Israelis – and many of those appear to have come on board like Benjamin Netanyahu himself – not to go for land invasion on Gaza because of three fundamental issues.
First, it would increase the killings on both the Palestinians and Israeli sides because such a war won’t be easy and the bloody cycle of violence would just continue. Deep down inside, the Americans must be feeling also they would be dragged into the war because of the 2000 soldiers they have on the ground in Israel. If Israeli soldiers start dying in a clogged up urban environment like Gaza the Americans would be bound to intervene. After all, they are there as support staff.
Secondly, this would increase the possibility of a localized, ground war, no matter how geographically limited, would ultimately turn into a regional conflict because Israel has already been forced to open a second front with Hezbollah on its northern border with Lebanon, allowing for a slippery-slope escalation.
This might also in turn force Iran to enter on two levels, either directly, through its advanced ballistic missiles that can reach Tel Aviv and other Israel cities and/or through its other Shia proxies who are already striking at American military bases in Iraq and Syria.
Thirdly, as well as Israelis, Hamas continues to hold foreign hostages. Though nobody knows their real number, US nationals, French citizens and British are said to be amongst them. Although Hamas said these will be out in good times but who knows when this will be and whether Hamas would use them as a bargaining chip.
All these developments maybe the reason why Biden is pressuring Netanyahu and Israel against a land invasion of Gaza that would complicate the American role and standing in the region who are becoming embroiled in Israeli domestic politics which many see as beginning to hold the strings of how the war should be conducted on Gaza and vis-à-vis Hamas which has long been regarded by them as a terror organization.
Even so Israel’s war cabinet as well doesn’t seem to be convinced about sending boots on the ground to Gaza and at best confused about what to do next except to drop more deadly bombs on the Strip. As each day the bloody war passes, the appetite and stomach for a full land invasion, becomes less certain. The obvious questions that politicians keep asking themselves is how will Israeli soldiers conduct themselves between people who obviously hate them, do they have a professional plan and how long will they need to be in Gaza, bearing in mind that for all intense and purposes, this is Hamas territory.
As well, there are dissatisfaction among the Israeli establishment with the politicians. Putting aside the fact that government ministers and military officers are blaming each other for what they are calling the surprise 7 October fiasco, there is general dissatisfaction and low morale in the army.
This because, and again for the first time since the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, the high number of Israel soldiers being killed and injured at the hands of Hamas operatives. Today, the Israeli army acknowledges 308 soldiers had been killed not to mention those currently being held hostage by Hamas, including high-ranking officers.
One soldier heard – all over the social media – openly blaming Netanyahu for what is being termed as the Hamas debacle. This is not to say anything about the high-ranking soldiers, some of whom are calling for immediate ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. They are saying hesitation to start a land war is worsening morale for the hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers waiting with their tanks on the lands surrounding Gaza.
Here, there is a problem as well for these reserve soldiers have been siphoned off and taken from their jobs as professionals and workers in the different sectors of the Israeli economy with questions being asked about how much of trained soldiers they are? What is required for a land invasion, do these soldiers know the Gaza terrain. Many of the soldiers who know that are the one belonging to the unit whose soldiers were either captured or killed on 7 October.
The dithering among the Israeli war cabinet and politicians may lie in another fact. They may be asking themselves – and that is just what the Americans want – is why start a land war when the “our planes are cynically bombing Gaza to the ground” with endless bombs and missiles and with western opposition so muted so that Netanyahu can live with.
But he must not wait too long for the tied is turning and western support now can turn into widespread opposition very soon.