How Israel will carry out the siege of Gaza
How Israel will carry out the siege of Gaza: With ground assault hours away, expert reveals how troops will be faced with deadly street-to-street battles at the risk of high casualties, combined with air power and artillery
- An Israeli ground assault on Hamas positions in Gaza appears to be imminent
Israel is on the cusp of an armed military incursion into the Gaza Strip to battle Hamas militants who slaughtered hundreds of civilians this past weekend in a series of ruthless surprise attacks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel planned to deploy ‘unprecedented force’ that would ‘reverberate for generations’, with 300,000 military reservists mobilised in plans for an overwhelming ground attack.
But the operation will be fraught with danger.
Unlike the last Israeli ground invasion of Gaza in 2014, in which some 2,300 Palestinians were killed, this time Hamas has captured up to 150 Israeli soldiers and civilians, who are now almost certainly dispersed throughout an intricate network of tunnels and hiding spots built in the past decade by the militant force.
Hamas has already declared its intention to execute civilian captives one by one if Israel continues its policy of devastating airstrikes on military and civilian targets in the densely populated Gaza Strip.
Besides, Hamas has consolidated its power since the 2014 incursion and its military wing is thought to be tens of thousands strong – and could be supported by Hezbollah – with access to a serious arsenal of weapons provided over many years by Iran.
This means Israel would need to deploy hundreds of thousands of troops if it is to launch a full-scale invasion to wipe out Hamas – and the operation would likely share stark similarities with the bitter urban warfare seen in Mosul and other areas of Iraq.
With this in mind, MailOnline spoke to leading military and defence analyst and RUSI Associate Fellow Sam Cranny-Evans to find out exactly how an Israeli boots-on-the-ground military operation could unfold.
An Israeli soldier wears a mask as he looks on following an attack by Gazan militants on Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in southern Israel, October 10, 2023
Israeli soldiers ride on an armored personnel carrier in kibbutz Kfar Azza on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023
A missile explodes in Gaza City during an Israeli air strike
Smoke rises following Israeli strikes in Gaza. Israel imposed a total siege on the Gaza Strip on October 9 and cut off the water supply as it kept bombing targets in the crowded Palestinian enclave
Palestinians inspect the damage following an Israeli airstrike on the Sousi mosque in Gaza City on October 9, 2023
Hamas published footage showing for the first time the homemade Mubar 1 short-range air defence system on Monday Oct 9, 2023
‘At present, it seems likely that Israel is seeking the decisive defeat of Hamas and its military wing al-Qassam. That may result in very protracted and violent fighting,’ Cranny-Evans said.
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‘We are already seeing the first phase of any full-scale ground invasion. Israeli airstrikes are most likely aimed at al-Qassam’s leadership, ammunition stockpiles and locations used to house and hide personnel.
‘In this way, the IDF is likely seeking to degrade their ability to put up a coordinated resistance once troops move in on the ground.
He continued: ‘The next phase may include movements to encircle the cities in Gaza and establish greater control over the whole area with troops and drones.
‘All of this will be accompanied by a build-up of supplies, munitions, medical facilities, food etc. Urban warfare consumes a lot of ammunition and leads to a lot of casualties. So, there will be efforts underway to ensure appropriate stocks in appropriate locations.
I think we should also expect to see the IDF taking measures against small drones with electronic warfare, as well as gathering signals intelligence on al-Qassam to improve its targeting capabilities.’
However, Hamas has already shown its willingness to engage in particularly brutal warfare, and is also more technologically advanced than previously thought, having demonstrated an ability to deploy aerial munitions via drone and makeshift anti-aircraft munitions.
This means Israeli forces would be in for a particularly bloody fight, Cranny-Evans said, likening the potential conflict to scenes from the most bitter urban fighting amid the Iraq war.
This satellite photo provided by Planet Labs PBC shows the damage to the Erez border crossing separating the Gaza Strip from southern Israel after a Hamas attack Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023
An Israeli soldier takes positions near the Israeli military base of Har Dov on Mount Hermon, a strategic and fortified outpost at the crossroads between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, on October 10, 2023
Israeli soldiers take positions near the Israeli military base of Har Dov on Mount Hermon, a strategic and fortified outpost at the crossroads between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, on October 10
Israeli army Merkava tanks are positioned near the border with Gaza in southern Israel on October 10, 2023
A Palestinian points to the Ahmed Yassin mosque, which was levelled by Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City early on October 9, 2023
‘The tactics employed by the IDF will depend in part on the tactics used by al-Qassam.
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‘It is likely that drones will be used to drop bombs on Israeli forces, and that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) will be deployed to slow them down. The IDF has experienced these technologies, but they do have the ability to inflict serious casualties.
‘So, if al-Qassam has a lot of fighters who are determined to hold their ground, the Israeli forces may be faced with several Mosul-type operations requiring each urban area to be encircled and gradually cleared street-by-street.
‘The predominant approach will be to use combined arms tactics where the efforts of armoured formations are coordinated with air power, artillery, and electronic warfare – as well as information warfare – to defeat al-Qassam.’
Cranny-Evans added that Israeli forces could attempt a multi-pronged assault, deploying troops amphibiously into Gaza from the Mediterranean sea, but cautioned that such units would only be lightly armoured and supplied, meaning they’d need to be bolstered by other units on the ground or via air support.
‘There is a possibility for an amphibious assault, but it would have to be coordinated with the main thrust of operations and serve a useful purpose,’ he concluded.
‘The forces used for amphibious operations are inherently light – no or little armour available. So, the risk to them when fighting other light infantry is high relative to an armoured formation. Nevertheless, if the IDF feels there are targets worth seizing or engaging on the coast, that are within the capabilities of light and special infantry, it is reasonable to presume that they might try.’
Israel also has advanced technology at its disposal to help its forces fight Hamas.
‘The IDF has a developed and capable communications and battle management infrastructure, which will really be key to this operation. It enables commanders to keep tabs on where their units are and understand what enemy forces they have encountered. It also makes communication between units easier, which is a major challenge in urban settings,’ Cranny-Evans said.
‘The IDF also has other systems like the Fireweaver fire control system, which coordinates sensors and shooters through a central battle management system and uses AI to suggest the best-placed shooter to the commander.
‘They have relatively advanced multi-domain capabilities and are well-versed in coordinating air strikes with ground operations.’
A missile erupts in a fireball as it strikes a building in Gaza
Aerial photos show the scale of destruction in Gaza City.
Missiles streak over the Gaza Strip towards Israel
Hamas militants are seen assaulting Israeli border positions on October 7
As with any urban conflict, the risk for civilians is extremely high.
Israeli airstrikes have already obliterated several civilian buildings in Gaza with the Palestinian death toll set to increase dramatically.
In turn, Israeli hostages taken captive by Hamas militants are likely to face the possibility of execution if their captors feel they are unable to escape, or if they choose to enact revenge if Palestinian casualties begin to mount.
In the aftermath of this weekend’s attack, former UN senior advisor and one of the world’s most experienced hostage negotiators Scott Walker said: ‘It is understandable and reasonable for IDF to be preparing for an armed hostage rescue – but these operations are some of the riskiest.
‘Hostages are likely to be dispersed and moved around and it will be highly unlikely that an Israeli force could just go in and liberate the hostages in one fell swoop without suffering significant losses, either of hostages or their own men,’ he said.
Walker added that the hostages taken by Hamas are likely to be well treated if they are to be used as political prisoners or bargaining chips – but that their fate could be something far more sinister if Hamas has an ulterior motive.
‘Hostages need to be kept alive – fed and watered at a bare minimum. If Hamas’ intention is to use them as bargaining chips or with a view to prisoner swaps, the hostages are likely to be treated reasonably well… if you want to use the hostages as currency in political bartering, you can’t damage the goods.
‘Having said that, Hamas is evidently very capable of being harsh and brutal – so it’s possible – though unlikely – they could subject one or some of the hostages to brutal treatment and potentially execute them to show they mean business by sowing fear and further instability in the region for their own gain.’
Cranny-Evans added: ‘The risk to civilians is being mitigated by urging them to leave their houses. However, some will almost certainly remain, as has been the case in many past wars.
‘Israeli forces might make further efforts to encourage civilian evacuations as the fighting continues but a lot really depends on Israel’s war aims and how much it is willing to risk for them.’
The extent to which Israel will send its military into Gaza remains to be seen. But with the Prime Minister and his right wing cabinet openly declaring their intent to demolish Hamas, it’s likely the coming conflict is going to be extremely brutal.
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