The final leg of Israel’s assault aimed at complete annihilation of Hamas began on the night of October 27-28, as a three-star US Marine Corps officer involved in the operations against ISIS in Iraq was advising the Israel Defense Forces. Hamas has vowed not to hold back any punches.
Palestinians reported a total communication blackout in Gaza as the Israeli military announced it was “expanding” its ground operations in the besieged enclave. It was announced by IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari on October 27 as intense airstrikes rocked Gaza. The IDF is “operating forcefully” on all fronts and will “continue striking Gaza City,” Hagari said, repeating previous warnings that civilians should evacuate.
The Biden administration’s move to send a three-star general and several other US military officers to Israel to advise Israel’s military leadership is seen as the US’s deep involvement in the war in Gaza. The Marine Corps officers sent include Lt Gen James Glynn. Glynn previously headed the Marines’ special operations and was involved in the operations against ISIS in Iraq.
Glynn and the other US military officers are not directing operations, but they do provide military advice to the IDF about its plans in Gaza. This has been primarily focused on Israel’s expected ground invasion. The American officers have shared lessons the US has learned from fighting ISIS in Mosul.
Israel’s largest armored offensive in Gaza is setting an environment conducive for future ground operations whose sole aim would be the destruction of Hamas, from its top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, to the last member standing.
Lt. Col (res) Peter Lerner, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson for international media, said during a press briefing arranged by the Israel Embassy in India that the political leadership had given the IDF the goal to decimate Hamas completely. This Palestinian group blindsided Israel with its most ambitious attack ever launched from Gaza.
“This is how the previous conflicts with Hamas differ from this one. We are fighting for the end now,” Lerner said.
So far, the Israel Air Force has been bombing the Gaza Strip relentlessly. The questions are being raised about when ground operations will be launched.
The Israeli government intends to launch a full-scale military incursion to end Hamas’ military capability. Many analysts have questioned whether this is achievable and at what cost.
Lt. Col. Lerner said that the military offensives against Hamas are meant to shape the battleground to help the ground forces achieve their goals.
Towards this end, during the night of October 26-27, Israel’s Merkava Mark IV tanks and infantry and armored engineering units broke through the border wall and rolled into the Gaza Strip for a mile. The overnight armored raid was one of the biggest since the attack of October 7.
Called “shaping operation,” the raid aimed to provide Israeli planners with intelligence and the tanks firing unidentified targets. The tanks did not venture into the residential areas of Gaza City.
“Through the raid, we eliminated terrorists, neutralized threats, dismantled explosives, and neutralized ambushes,” said Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari.
This has been described as “a tactical operation,” meaning it was limited in scope, lasting only a few hours, with all Israeli forces returning unharmed into Israel, according to their spokesman. The vehicles included Merkava Mark lV main battle tanks, Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozers, and Puma armored engineering vehicles.
“In preparation for the next stages of combat, the IDF operated in northern Gaza. IDF tanks & infantry struck numerous terrorist cells, infrastructure, and anti-tank missile launch posts. The soldiers have since exited the area and returned to Israeli territory,” the IDF handle on social media X said.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) amassed many troops and military hardware along the border almost immediately after Hamas launched the deadliest-ever terror attack on Israeli soil on October 7. On top of its regular force, the IDF has called up 300,000 reservists who reported to their bases within hours.
Getting Boots On The Ground
The Hamas’ underground tunnel network and urban warfare in densely packed residential areas are seen as the major impediment to Israeli ground forces. Experts have expressed apprehension that the excessive time taken by Israel to launch ground operations will give Hamas more time to prepare.
Retired Indian officer Major General Mandip Singh said: “The battle of the “Gaza Metro” – the 100s of km of underground tunnels – will be long, slow and costly for both the IDF and Hamas. In the end, Hamas will be decimated, and the IDF will suffer casualties.”
As reported by the EurAsian Times earlier, the Israeli military knows two Gazas — one over the ground and one underneath it. The underground Gaza is not accessible to Israel’s bombs, drones, and satellites.
The tunnels in Gaza had begun for economic reasons to smuggle in consumer goods from Egypt following the Israeli blockade. The blockade was implemented following Hamas’s victory in the 2007 elections. Now, the tunnels are used for launching attacks and hiding hostages.
“There is talk of using “sponge bombs” which is a combination of two chemicals that, when in contact, rapidly expands to seal off tunnels. Versus Hezbollah, the IDF had earlier used concrete to seal tunnels. Other means include flooding with water, lighting fire, and smoking out Hamas,” Singh suggested.
He added: “The challenge is hostages. They are likely to be dispersed and kept as shields in these tunnels. That will be a major limiting factor in sealing or flooding the tunnels.”
The intelligence gathered by the IDF following the 2021 Operation Guardian of the Wall, during which Israel reportedly destroyed sixty miles of tunnels in Gaza, shows that there are hundreds of tunnels in Gaza.
There is an entire city beneath the ground. Hamas will likely use tunnels offensively to maneuver attackers underground, keeping them both hidden and protected, to conduct surprise attacks, as it did in 2014.
The group will also use them defensively to move between fighting positions to avoid IDF firepower and ground forces.
Aside from the tunnels, the Indian Army veteran said that the other urban warfare challenge is sniping, the use of Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (Hamas has a fair arsenal of Konkurs/RPGs 7V) against tanks at close range, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) liked Molotovs, crude containers filled with nails, pellets and explosives, mines and booby traps.
“Time will not be a constraint in this operation. I would give it 3-6 months at least. And then the pain-staking process of handing back Gaza to the Palestinians under international supervision,” Singh added.
The Hamas’ Firepower
The weapons and ammunition seized by the Israeli forces from the invading Hamas operatives after the October 7 attack revealed the firepower that the Palestinian group packs.
Commander of the Israel Defense Weapons Research Institute revealed: “We were surprised by their ability to bring such a huge amount of munitions into Israeli territory. They planned a long stay.”
Dozens of RPG launchers, IEDs of various types, and for multiple purposes, mines, grenades, and even anti-helicopter rockets were recovered from the Hamas operatives.
“Hamas,” which translates literally as “zeal,” is an Arabic acronym for the “Islamic resistance movement”. The group was founded in 1987 in Gaza as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, a prominent Sunni group based in Egypt.
Opposed to the peace process, Hamas’s armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, established itself as the primary force of armed resistance against Israel. It launched a series of suicide bomb attacks that continued through the early years of the second intifada (2000-2005) before shifting to rockets as a primary tactic.
In 2021, it was revealed that the most critical weapon in Hamas’ arsenal is its wide array of ground-to-ground missiles. While the names and designations of specific missiles can be confusing, Hamas has a vast inventory of shorter-range systems.
These are the Qassam (up to 10km or 6 miles) and the Quds 101 (up to about 16km), bolstered by the Grad system (up to 55km), and the Sejil 55 (up to 55km). These probably make up the bulk of its inventory and, for the shortest ranges, can be bolstered by mortar fire.
But Hamas also operates a variety of longer-range systems like the M-75 (up to 75km); the Fajr (up to 100km), the R-160 (up to 120km), and some M-302s which have a range of up to 200km.
So it is clear that Hamas has weapons that can target both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and threaten the whole coastal strip that contains the large density of Israel’s population and critical infrastructure.
And while Israel has its formidable Iron Dome air defense system, Hamas has been able to overwhelm it with sheer numbers of rockets like it did in recent days. Hamas also has anti-tank missiles similar to the US’ Stinger.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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