Sat Mar 02, 2024
March 02, 2024

Israel’s Military and Political Problems in the Occupation of Gaza

By Otávio Calegari

After Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on October 7, where they killed more than 1,400 Israelis and took more than 200 hostages, Israel began a massive mobilization of troops and a series of bombings of the Gaza Strip. At the time of writing, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, Israel has already killed more than 6500 Palestinians (more than 2700 children), destroyed thousands of homes and buildings, and is keeping more than 2 million Gazans in the most brutal living conditions with almost no access to drinking water, fuel, electricity, medicine, and even food. Israel is undertaking a genocide in full view for all to see.

In addition to the economic blockade and bombings, Israel has announced that it will carry out a large-scale land invasion to “eliminate” Hamas. To this end, the Netanyahu government has mobilized more than 350,000 reservists, in addition to the 150-180,000 members of the armed forces who have already been mobilized.

However, 20 days after the attacks, Israel has not launched its military ground operation. According to Netanyahu, the invasion will take place at any moment, although he has not specified how or when. According to Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, the operation has not yet begun due to “tactical and strategic” issues.[1] What would these “tactical and strategic issues” be?

What are these “tactical and strategic issues” that have prevented Israel from occupying the Gaza Strip militarily? This is what we want to discuss in this short article.

The Military Problems of a Ground Invasion

Senior officials and politicians of the Joe Biden’s administration have expressed great concern in recent days about the possible occupation of Gaza by Israeli troops, expressing doubts about what the precise objectives of the action would be and whether the Israeli army would be able to carry it out successfully [2]. This is due to several characteristics of Gaza and the Palestinian resistance that could result in high costs for the Israeli army.

The first major problem Israel faces has to do with urban areas. Gaza is a small, densely populated strip of land with large cities full of buildings, houses, schools, hospitals, etc. Entering an urban area is in itself a slow and significant challenge. Israel’s recent bombardments, while reducing significant parts of Gaza to rubble, have not lessened problems either, since many Palestinian resistance fighters, who know the terrain much better, can hide in the rubble. Senior American officials and strategists compare a potential battle in Gaza to the biggest battles the U.S. has faced since Vietnam, such as the occupation of Fallujah in 2004 or the capture of Mosul in 2016, both in Iraq. In both cases, the cities were smaller than those in Gaza, and the number of armed militants in the resistance was smaller. To give you an idea, the Islamic State had between 3,000 and 5,000 armed fighters in Mosul. Today, Hamas is estimated to have 30-40,000 armed fighters. While the battle for Mosul cost the lives of more than 10,000 civilians, a possible land invasion of Gaza would surely cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, since it is impossible to distinguish between the armed resistance and the civilian population.

The second major problem facing Israel is the network of tunnels built by Hamas in recent years. It is estimated that this network covers hundreds of kilometers and connects buildings, schools, mosques, etc. One of the hostages released by Hamas a few days ago described having been in these tunnels [4]. All military analysts attach special importance to this issue, as it would certainly be a decisive factor in the confrontation. While Israel has specialized troops that are able to and destroy the underground tunnels, such as the Yahalom unit of the Army Corps of Engineers,[5] these troops are limited and would not be able to cover the entire terrain.

Israel’s third problem has to do with the morale of its troops and those of its opponents. Israeli society was already deeply divided before the Hamas attack, with a high rate of rejection of the Netanyahu government, even within the armed forces, due to its reform of the judicial system. The failures of the Israeli security apparatus that enabled the Hamas attacks further exposed the government’s fragility. Although there is majority support among the Israeli Jewish population for the invasion of the Strip following the Hamas attacks, confidence in the government is even lower than it was before [7]. This factor will be crucial to the morale of the Zionist troops and could cause significant friction within the State of Israel during a possible invasion. On the other hand, the morale of the Palestinian resistance forces is enormous due to the brutal oppression they have suffered in recent decades. A leading military analyst and U.S. Army Reserve colonel, Douglas Macgregor, compared the morale of the Hamas troops to that of the soldiers of the Japanese Empire during World War II [8].

The fourth problem Israel faces is the hostility of the Arab and Muslim populations in neighboring countries and the existence of major armed enemies of Israel. The most obvious case is that of Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party that has a strong, armed wing and is one of Israel’s most bitter enemies in the region. Since the Hamas attack on October 7, tensions on the Israeli-Lebanese border have increased, with bombings from both sides. Israel has even had to evacuate the towns closest to the border due to Hezbollah attacks. What Hezbollah would do in the face of an Israeli invasion of Gaza is still not entirely clear. A few days ago, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah met with two important leaders of the Palestinian resistance (one from Hamas and the other from the Islamic Jihad group)[9]. Hezbollah has already announced that if Israel invades Gaza by land, it will attack Israel’s northern border. This would open the possibility of a two-front battle for Israel. Another possible front would be a rebellion by Palestinians in the West Bank, which could put the Palestinian Authority in check and demand a more direct intervention by Israeli troops in that territory.

 The support of the Arab peoples of neighboring countries for the Palestinian cause is another fundamental element to be taken into account, since they exert enormous pressure on governments that maintain alliances or diplomatic and commercial relations with Israel, such as the governments of Jordan or Egypt. The mass actions in solidarity with Palestine in neighboring countries show that there is an enormous rejection of Israel’s actions, which could increase exponentially if the land invasion takes place. It is also possible that new popular explosions will be generated in the Arab countries that will end up clashing with the dictatorships of the region. We must remember that until a few years ago, the region was completely shaken by revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, etc. Another fundamental element that will weaken Israel is the enormous solidarity with the Palestinian people that has manifest itself in Western countries, with marches of tens of thousands of people in imperialist countries such as the United Kingdom, France and the United States, which could weaken the support of these governments to Israel.

The Danger of a Regional War

The above four elements create a rather delicate situation for Israel to carry out its military action. Gaza could become Israel’s Stalingrad. In addition, a possible ground invasion of Gaza may not only cost thousands of Palestinian lives and the almost complete destruction of the Strip, but it may also open the door to a regional war, as the neighboring countries may be pressured by the masses to take action against Israel if it advances in its massacre against the Palestinians and starts a new war against Lebanon. The position of Iran will also be decisive in this scenario, as this country is a strong ally of Hezbollah and one of the main war powers in the region.

The possible spillover of the conflict is one of the main concerns of the US imperialism, which has sent warnings to Hezbollah and Iran not to enter the war and has also sent emissaries to different allied Arab countries to avoid possible anti-Israeli reactions [10]. A regional war in the Middle East would also be a second front for the US imperialism and NATO, which are already involved in the war in Ukraine, which would require enormous military expenditures and would have great political costs for their governments.

The position of the United States until now has been one of total support for Israel. US imperialism knows that Israel plays a strategic role as the “gendarme” of the Middle East, a region very rich in oil and necessary for US interests. Without Israel’s existence, US domination of the region would be in jeopardy. The US also knows that its position of unconditional support for Israel could lead to harsh consequences such as attacks on its troops installed in the region (Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) [11] or even attacks within its borders.

The Board is Set

The board is set, and the pieces are moving. Hamas’ heavy blow to Israel has unleashed a huge wave of solidarity with the Palestinian people around the world and has opened a political and military crisis that could have enormous regional and global consequences. In another article [12] we explained how Israel’s current policies can be compared to the Nazi regime’s “final solution” to exterminate the Jewish population. The genocidal state of Israel wants to seize the moment to massacre and expel the population of Gaza in one fell swoop. However, there is no indication that it will be able to do so, as the Palestinian resistance will be fierce. On the other hand, the possible expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza will inevitably create new problems with neighboring countries such as Egypt and Jordan. Israel will have little international support for its policy of sweeping the Palestinians out of Gaza.

This complex scenario is unlikely to have an immediate outcome. It is necessary that we continue to analyze step by step how the events are developing in order to understand the new scenario that is opening up in the struggle against US imperialism and against Israel in the region.



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