Israel has launched a “complete siege” of Gaza, as expected, in retaliation to its unprecedented October 7 assault. The airstrikes are even more severe than their usual barrage during clashes with Palestine.
As Hamas threatens to kill hostages and fears are rife of a wider regional war, Tel Aviv’s military tactic doesn’t match its political objective of bringing the Palestinian group to the ground.
Three days into the war, there have been no signs of a ground offensive into Gaza as a part of Israel’s retaliation. But simultaneous skirmishes with Lebanese group Hezbollah in Israel’s north suggest Tel Aviv is in a dilemma whether to venture into Gaza or parallelly face even severe Hezbollah attacks on its northern front.
This suggests both the resistance groups are coordinating their actions to pressure Israel. Hezbollah had already threatened to attack from the north if Israel physically goes into Gaza.
Israel usually conducts heavy and punitive airstrikes while fighting Hamas. This time, the intensity has only increased, which would not be enough to entirely “destroy” Hamas, as Prime Minister Netanyahu had declared. Hamas is accustomed to severe air raids. Therefore, it is unlikely not to have anticipated an even more devastating bombardment in retaliation to its sudden and unprecedented attack on October 7.
But without a classic ground incursion, which is needed to existentially destroy an enemy holed up in a heavily built-up urban area, Israel might not achieve that goal. It, therefore, brings into focus Hezbollah’s mobilization along Israel’s northern border and minor clashes with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
It stands to reason that the Lebanese group is creating a pressure point in strategic coordination with Hamas. The aim seems to be to deter Tel Aviv from a ground incursion into Gaza and risk Hezbollah opening up a second front in the north, stretching Israel’s military resources.
Air Raids By Israel Don’t Surprise Hamas
But it is first necessary to examine whether Israel is considering a ground operation in the first place. According to Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general of the Center for Air Power Studies (CAPS), an overwhelming air campaign to raze an enemy’s land before a ground incursion is not unusual.
“For an operation of this kind, Israel must completely wipe out and soften as many land targets before going physically into Gaza. It is not unusual for land invasions to be first preceded by air raids,” he told the EurAsian Times.
But that also raises the question about Hamas being unsurprised since it is used to operating under permanently hostile skies. Surviving the present bombardment is just an extension of that habit. Is Israel’s air campaign, therefore, disproportionate and seemingly redundant? Air Marshal Chopra doesn’t think so.
“Israel already has blockaded Gaza from the land and the sea. So, nothing can go in or come out without Israel controlling it. Secondly, Israel has also cut off electricity, food, and fuel to Gaza. These elementary resources are a need for everyone, armies particularly, whether it is the defender or attacker.
“Hamas needs it all the more since it is holed up in a piece of land defending against a siege. Thus, the indiscriminate air raids and the blockade suit the socio-politico dynamics here. To destroy Hamas, all supporting infrastructure and means of survival needs to be cut off,” Chopra added.
Tactical Similarities With Russia-Ukraine War
Indeed, retaliating to innocent civilian casualties in war does deserve an angry, unforgiving, and indiscriminate response. Israel’s unrestrained reaction is not diplomatically understandable.
But Russia broke this trend with Ukraine. It did not intensify the tempo of the operations or cause mass Ukrainian civilian casualties following the Ukraine-backed assassinations of Russian citizens Darya Dugina and Vladen Tatarsky or the UAV strikes on the Kremlin.
While that war has an entirely different set of socio-political-geographical dynamics, it does share a similar goal of invading territory and either ousting or destroying the native ruling administration. Here are some drastic strategic differences:
- The pro-Russian political aspirations of the people of Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kherson, compared to the profoundly hostile anti-Israel and anti-Palestine sentiments. This makes any political integration nearly impossible. Thus, the Two-State solution.
- Ukraine’s frontline is spread across a 1,300-kilometer battlefront compared to the 67-km border between Gaza and Israel.
- The terrain for Ukraine and Russia is only plains, steppes, and mainly pre-evacuated villages and towns in cold, temperate regions. But Israel and Gaza are located in desert plains that experience subtropical weather.
The only similarity they share is this: Russia does not wish to control the whole of Ukraine, politically and administratively, except for the pro-Russian regions. Nor does Tel Aviv aim to resume administering Gaza.
In other words, whether to oust a sitting government to assimilate a region (Russia) or eliminate a ruling party without the desire for political integration (Israel) will require the same tactic of controlling the land.
Russia’s land war supports that goal and has produced results, with 20 percent of Ukrainian territory under its control. There are no signs of Kyiv being able to fully take back Donetsk, Lugansk, and Crimea that Moscow annexed.
Moscow attained that goal with a creeping land invasion over nearly one-and-a-half years, with simultaneous air support.
To destroy Hamas, Israel will need the land and the air campaigns working jointly to overwhelm the defender, who doesn’t even pose a contest in air warfare. Israel’s air force can operate with impunity except for low-flying helicopters or gunships that can be brought down by Man-Portable Air Defense (MANPAD).
A well-coordinated, simultaneous air-land battle against a non-state actor operating in a small urban area, deliberately executed without haste, is not inconceivable.
Hezbollah Is The X-Factor
For one, “Hezbollah has warned about an intervention from its end if Israel goes into Gaza,” points out Dr. Syed Mohammed Murtaza, an expert in Iranian and Central Asian affairs.
Murtaza, therefore, pointed out the Lebanese group’s deterrent value and military formidability. Murtaza agreed that Israel would not commit to that scale in the north if Hezbollah were incapable.
Reports about Israel’s military movements and statements point towards this. By the evening of October 8, the IDF was reportedly pushing more armored units to the north in Galilee, more than the deployments to the south-facing Gaza. Merkava-3 MBTs could be seen in a large squadron in one picture.
The following night, on October 9, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered the army to prepare to evacuate settlements near the Lebanese border in anticipation of “deteriorating security conditions.” At roughly the same time, reports of an Israeli raid on the village of Marwahin, south of Lebanon, came out.
According to Murtaza, Hezbollah’s minor skirmishes with the IDF in the north suggest that even the Shia group “needs time to prepare and mobilize” following Hamas’s surprise strike. It also points to the belief that Hamas acted alone without intimating or receiving material support from sympathetic allies Iran and Hezbollah. Their statements reflected that they were surprised, albeit pleasantly.
Any prior mobilization by Hezbollah and coordination with Hamas would have reflected how the former postured along its southern (Israel’s northern) border immediately after Hamas’s stunning, wide-ranging, multifront attack.
Ali Barakeh, a Hamas leader based in Lebanon, shed light on how only half a dozen top Hamas commanders were aware of the operation and that not “even the group’s closest allies were not informed in advance about the timing,” according to a report in the Times of Israel. “He denied Iranian security officials helped plan the attack or gave the go-ahead at a meeting in Beirut,” added the report.
While admitting that Iran and Hezbollah have helped Hamas, he clarified that since the 2014 Gaza war, “Hamas has been producing rockets and training its fighters.” Iran’s role, meanwhile, has been ruled out by Washington itself, with National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Kirby noting “a degree of complicity” from Iran due to its years of support for Hamas.
But in this case, the US hasn’t “seen hard, tangible evidence that Iran was directly involved in participating in or resourcing, planning these sets of complex attacks that Hamas pulled off over the weekend.”
Destroying Gaza Is Not Destroying Hamas
Murtaza also pointed to the interplay between Israel’s political objectives and supporting military means, where both are largely mutually independent. “Israel might succeed in totally razing Gaza and make the human toll for the Palestinians unbearable. But it has still lost if the Hamas leadership is intact. Eliminating Hamas permanently, as per their own stated goal, will need the commanders to be killed.”
Like Chopra, Murtaza believes Israel has not ruled out a ground operation but will launch it only after calling all reservists and generating enough ammunition stock. “The military aid coming in from the US needs to be seen in this light,” he said.
But again, there are theories about Israel seeking support from the US. “US arms support and sailing its navy in waters close to Iran is Israel’s way of somehow wanting to draw Washington into a war with Tehran,” Murtaza added. Israel mobilizing 360,000 reservists, despite its attendant consequences on Israeli society, cannot be for nothing.
The regional ramifications of an Israeli ground incursion in Gaza also come into the picture. The Arab world and other anti-Israel groups will respond diplomatically if Israel takes that option. The US response and its relations with Israel and Arab countries reveal even more variables.
The war has overlapped across Europe and Asia, too. If the conflict continues, the US might have to switch its arms donations from Ukraine to Israel, benefiting Russia. A US Navy flotilla in the Persian Gulf would leave only the Seventh Fleet facing China in the Indo-Pacific.