What happens if Israel invades Gaza? Enormous costs, devastation, and a possible stalemate

What happens if Israel invades Gaza? Enormous costs, devastation, and a possible stalemate

Context- Israel appears to be preparing for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. The country’s military on Friday (October 13) told 1.1 million people living in the north of the tiny Palestinian enclave to evacuate within 24 hours. It has deployed tens of thousands of troops, tanks, and artillery on the edge of the territory.

The goal: An invasion to ‘crush’ Hamas

  • The goal of the invasion is quite clear: to wipe out the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “destroy and crush” Hamas in a televised address on Wednesday (October 11).

  • The invasion could go beyond previous Israeli operations inside Gaza, which were “mainly about containment”. Israel has conducted ground invasions into Gaza twice since it withdrew from the territory in 2005 — the first one took place in 2008 and the second in 2014.

The preparation: Thousands of troops ready, supplies to Gaza cut off

  • Since the day (October 7) Hamas attacked, Israel has been incessantly bombarding Gaza, striking the militant group’s hideouts and other infrastructure. Till Friday, it had dropped more than 6,000 bombs on the enclave. As a comparison, NATO allies released 7,700 during the entire war in Libya in 2011
  • So far, at least 2,215 Palestinians have been killed and 8,714 wounded due to the air strikes.
  • Apart from the bombardment, Israel has also mobilised 360,000 troops — more than 3 per cent of its population — and its navy has enforced a complete naval blockade to ensure Hamas is not resupplied with weapons and supplies by sea.
  • Additionally, Israel has cut off power, fuel, and water supply to the enclave in order to make it harder for the militant group to operate.

The execution: Divide Gaza in two

  • If a large-scale invasion is ordered, one or two armoured brigades with tanks would likely push 6 km “west to the coast either north or south of Deir al-Balah, a central city, to cut Gaza in two”, according to Shashank Joshi, deputy editor with The Economist.
  • The top priority would be to target Hamas leaders and infrastructure that can’t be destroyed by air or where doing so would cause huge civilian casualties. Another focus would be the network of tunnels that Hamas has built over the years in Gaza and helps the fighters melt away.

The challenge: Perilous urban warfare

  • Undoubtedly, the might of Israel’s defence forces overshadows the capabilities of Hamas or any other Palestinian militant group. But an invasion of Gaza would be no cakewalk. The biggest challenge for Israeli troops would be urban warfare.
  • Gaza is densely populated, and Hamas fighters are expected to hide in booby-trapped alleys, tunnels, homes and buildings, ready to attack IDF’s soldiers. Besides this, the fighters will be difficult to distinguish from civilians.
  • A large number of civilian deaths, in turn, could weaken international support for the Jewish state.
  • It could take months for Israel’s forces to eliminate Hamas’ military capabilities. There is also a fear that the invasion will reach a stalemate — just like when the US went into Iraq and Afghanistan, and more recently when Russia invaded Ukraine.
  • To make matters worse, there are around 150 Israeli and foreign hostages in Gaza. Hamas has threatened to kill one each time Israel strikes civilian homes “without advanced warning”. Israeli officials will also have to chalk out a plan to rescue them without posing too much of a threat to their lives.

The implications: Uncertainty for Israel; disaster for Gaza

  • It would probably be an impossible task to wipe out Hamas completely, anyway.
  • Even if Hamas is removed from Gaza, there isn’t any potential alternative that can replace the group and govern the territory.
  • Hamas came to power in Gaza after the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections, defeating its rival Fateh — the political party that currently heads the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs 40% of the occupied West Bank. PA is unlikely to get control of Gaza as it is widely unpopular and seen as a corrupt entity.
  • The other option for Israel is to re-occupy the territory, but that too would be implausible — the Jewish state left Gaza in 2005 partly because it was too costly to hold.
  • Therefore, what would constitute a victory for Israel remains uncertain.
  • For Gaza, the invasion would be a catastrophe. The 2 million people in the strip don’t have anywhere to go. Reports said roads and highways have been destroyed, infrastructure has turned into rubble and there is little to no electricity in the territory.

Conclusion- Although Israel has asked inhabitants of northern Gaza to move to the southern part, the country’s military has been bombing Rafah, a city located in south Gaza. One way is to escape to Egypt — the only country, except Israel, that shares its border with the territory. However, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi hasn’t opened the border yet and has shown few signs of offering a friendly refuge.

Syllabus- GS-2; International Relations

Source- Indian Express