Israeli officials have promised that Hamas will be destroyed and that Gaza will never be the same.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “Every Hamas member is a dead man,” after militants from the organisation slaughtered 1,300 Israelis in a bloody attack.
The objectives of Operation Swords of Iron seem much more exquisite than previous military plans for Gaza. But is that a feasible military objective, and how can its leaders accomplish it?
There would be great danger for the civilian population if the Gaza Strip were invaded on the ground. More than 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes, and airstrikes have already killed hundreds.
At least 150 hostages are being held at several sites in Gaza, and the military has been tasked with retrieving them.
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has declared his intention to “dismantle” Hamas and has specifically targeted the organization’s senior leader in Gaza. Is there a long-term plan for how Gaza will look after Hamas’s brutal reign for 16 years?
“I don’t think Israel can dismantle every member of Hamas because it’s an idea of extremist Islam,” says Amir Bar Shalom, a military analyst for Israel’s Army Radio. “But you can weaken it as much as possible so it has no operational capabilities.”
That may be the more attainable goal. Israel has engaged Hamas in four conflicts, all of which have resulted in the group continuing its rocket attacks.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, the IDF’s spokesman, stated that by the end of the conflict, Hamas will no longer be able to “threaten or kill Israeli civilians” with its military.
Dangerous ground incursion
There are several things that could go wrong with the military mission.
The Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, will be ready for any Israeli attack. Ambushes will have been planned and explosives placed. It has the capability of attacking Israeli forces using its enormous tunnel system.
Israeli infantry battalions lost many men in 2014 due to anti-tank mines, snipers, and ambushes in a northern Gaza City neighborhood, and hundreds of civilians were killed in the conflict.
This is one reason why Israel has insisted that all 1,150,000 Palestinians in the northern half of the Gaza Strip leave the territory.
War might last months, Israelis have been told, and a record number of reservists (360,000) have already registered for duty.
How long Israel can keep up its assault without facing international pressure to stop is an open question.
The United Nations refugee agency has expressed concern that Gaza is deteriorating into a “hell hole.” Water, power, and fuel have been cut off, and now half the population is being told to evacuate major areas as the death toll rapidly rises.
Government and military officials believe they have support from Western world leaders. Israeli security expert and journalist Yossi Melman puts it thus way: “let’s mobilize, we have plenty of time.”
But he is confident that Israel’s supporters will act if they see footage of famished Palestinians.
Is there a point to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza?
The question is what organization would emerge if Hamas were considerably diminished.
In 2005, Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip, taking with it thousands of settlers and its soldiers. It has no plans to return as an occupying force.
Ofir Winter thinks a change in power could lead to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) gradual return to Gaza after being expelled by Hamas in 2007. Parts of the West Bank are currently under PA authority. The PA is not a militant organization.
He says Egypt would also benefit from having a more reasonable neighbor.
Eventually, war-ravaged Gaza will have to rebuild its infrastructure the way it did after previous conflicts.
Tight limits on “dual-use goods” entering Gaza, which could have a military and a civilian role, were in place even before Hamas’ atrocities in Israel. Israel will likely push for even stricter regulations.
Some Israelis have advocated for a large buffer zone to be established alongside the border with Gaza. Yoram Cohen, a former Israeli Shin Bet security organization chief, thinks a new “shoot-on-sight” zone of 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) is necessary.
Israel will want to ensure an attack like this never happens again no matter the outcome of the conflict.