What’s the military situation in Gaza right now?

There have been active battles since October 7, 2023 in and near Gaza (I wouldn’t call this a new “war” because these battles are still part of the war that Arabs declared on Israel in 1948). The Israeli counterattack seems to have started in earnest on October 28 (Wikipedia), though that was preceded by some bombing. So Israel’s campaign is about a month old.

If this were a battle between two conventional armies, that might be long enough for one side to win a decisive victory (see the 6-week Battle of France during World War II, for example). The continued existence of the Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”), complete with plenty of rockets, ammo, and tunnel ventilation, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, could, in that case, be evidence of failure by the Israel Defense Forces.

Israel, however, seems to be treating these battles as a fight against insurgents. That description seems to fit Hamas to some extent. Hamas mostly attacks civilians, e.g., via launching rockets into cities or the October 7 attack. On the other hand, Hamas also exhibits many of the characteristics of a standard national government with army. Hamas won a free and fair election and should be the legitimate government of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The West Bank was stolen from Hamas, but the majority of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza continue to support Hamas. See a 2021 poll, for example, and a poll taken earlier this month:

A larger percentage of Palestinians support the October 7 attacks, in which civilians were raped, maimed, and killed, than strongly support Hamas. This might be accounted for by the fact that Palestinians overwhelmingly expect their side to “emerge victorious”:

Israel seems to have constructed a fictional world in which only 10 percent of Palestinians are in favor of eradicating Israel, via violent means if necessary. Thus, the IDF has been tasked with going into Gaza and sorting through the 2 million residents to find the 100,000 who either carry guns on behalf of Hamas, Palestinian Jihad, or a similar group, or who provide substantial administrative and logistical support for those who carry the guns. (And maybe it is more like 10,000 people that Israel is seeking, on the assumption that the ordinary soldiers won’t cause trouble once officers are captured and imprisoned.)

A few weeks ago, I asked how this project could possible work. From How can Israel’s encirclement of Gaza City work if Hamas fighters can simply head south via tunnel?:

What stops the Hamas fighters [encircled in the north] from simply evading the IDF by proceeding south via tunnel? Once in the southern zone, the fighters can melt into the population that elected Hamas and continues to support Hamas according to opinion polls

How long has it taken other militaries to accomplish similar goals? I.e., sift through a population to find the 1 in 20 or 1 in 100 who are insurgents when the general population supports the insurgency. We can look at Russia’s Second Chechen War, a decade-long operation. There was the 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka. There is the Syrian civil war, now in its 12th year.

“Military briefing: has Israel achieved its war aims in Gaza?” (Financial Times, November 23):

For all Israel’s military gains in northern Gaza, Israeli officials admit that if they are to achieve the aim of defeating Hamas, the next phase of the fighting will have to involve an advance into the south of the strip.

Israeli forces have already begun to prepare for such a move, and officials have begun warning residents of Khan Younis to flee towards what they have said will be a “safe zone” in Muwasi, a 14 sq km area in the south-west of the territory.

Aid groups have dismissed the idea of cramming hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have already been displaced from the north of the strip, into such a tiny space as unworkable. But Israeli officials insist there is no other way to defeat Hamas, as its top leaders in Gaza, such as Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, are thought to be hiding there, and because Hamas has also redeployed numerous fighters from the north to the south.

“I’m quite sure that hundreds, if not thousands, of Hamas members who are originally from the northern part of Gaza are right now in the south,” said Michael Milstein, a former IDF intelligence official. “And of course, they also transferred their weapons and rockets to the south with them.”

What about the tunnels? I’m hesitant to quote either side in any war as an authoritative source, but here’s what Israel says:

Israel’s military said on Wednesday that its combat engineers had destroyed the shafts of some 400 tunnels. But officials concede this is only a limited dent in a system that is thought to be more than 500km in length.

“Once we [take all of Gaza] it will probably take almost a year to clear the whole Gaza Strip, and to explore all their underground infrastructures, and find all their rockets and missiles . . . The strip is one big bunker,” said [Amir Avivi, former deputy commander of the Gaza Division of Israel’s military]. “It’s full of booby traps, full of IEDs everywhere, bombs, munitions — it’s unbelievable what they built. So there’s going to be a lot of work.”

Is Israel actually on track to succeed in accomplishing what it has promised to accomplish, from a purely military point of view, in Gaza? (Obviously, Israel has already lost in the court of world popular opinion. This post is about the purely military aspects of the conflict, not whether progressives and/or Muslims are right to accuse Israel of war crimes, genocide, etc.)

Posted in War

21 thoughts on “What’s the military situation in Gaza right now?

  1. Israile Air force 100 percent attacks conducted on Gaza civilians Weman children infants elderly people.
    Those bombardments are blind on residential buildings and refugees camps.
    Why Israil Air force is not capable to attack on specific targets.
    For this reason 15000 civilians are killed.
    May be this is due to Israiles are suffering uncertainty and fear.

    • Anwar: If civilians were being attacked by Israel’s modern military, wouldn’t you expect to see a much higher death toll? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Tokyo_(10_March_1945) describes an attack by the U.S. military on the civilians of Tokyo. With relatively primitive equipment compared to what todays’ air forces have, 100,000 civilians were killed in one night.

      https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-67327079 describes one method that the IDF uses to get civilians out of the way of bombs. I’m not sure that the leaflets and phone calls are militarily effective, though. It seems that 100 percent of Hamas fighters and officials evacuate when warned by Israel, but at least some civilians stay around.

      News reports of Gazans gathering in large numbers, e.g., in schools or on hospital grounds, aren’t consistent with Israel targeting civilians. If that were Israel’s tactic, wouldn’t Gazans disperse and try to stay under cover rather than gathering in the open or at well-known UN facilities?

    • Curtis LeMay, who directed U.S. bombing operations during World War II, said, “If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curtis_LeMay says “Precise figures are not available, but the strategic bombing campaign against Japan, directed by LeMay between March 1945 and the Japanese surrender in August 1945, may have killed more than 500,000 Japanese civilians and left five million homeless.” He noted “I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.”

      Although Israel is accused by progressives and Muslims worldwide of having taken this approach, as noted above, the numbers put forward by Hamas don’t support that theory. In fact, Israel seems never to have tried this approach, which may be one reason that Palestinians have, for 75 years, supported continued war against Israel. Palestinians have never suffered what from their point of view is an intolerable number of deaths (and, indeed, the population of Arabs who consider themselves Palestinian and expect to move into a liberated Palestine after Israel is eradicated has grown at a prodigious rate; the Palestinians are among the most successful humans on Planet Earth from a demographic point of view).

      https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2017/december/cant-kill-enough-win-think-again is a 2017 U.S. Naval Institute article on the ineffectiveness of the U.S. when we try to do what Israel is currently trying to do. We failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example. By contrast, “While brutal by 2017 standards, [LeMay’s] approach yielded lasting results—a productive peace with Japan that has lasted since 1945. … Had the United States not killed Japanese soldiers, sailors, and airmen in the hundreds of thousands, it is likely they would have fought on… While the United States’ current enemies are so-called non-state actors, they have no trouble with their identity and moral agency. Yet U.S. military leadership still has not told its young men and women, “It’s okay to kill the enemy.””

      That’s part of the original post. According to election results and polls, the average Palestinian wants to achieve a military victory over Israel, killing up to 100 percent of the Jews if necessary to achieve the “river to the sea” liberation goal. In other words, the average Palestinian sees him/her/zir/theirself as an enemy of Israel. But Israel says that the average Palestinian is not an enemy and that it needs to sort through all 2 million Gazans to try to find the handful that are enemies. There is no precedent for rapid success in this kind of effort and there is also no precedent for success in an effort of this kind that doesn’t kill 5-10X more civilians than insurgents.

    • > In other words, the average Palestinian sees him/her/zir/theirself as an enemy of Israel. But Israel says that the average Palestinian is not an enemy and that it needs to sort through all 2 million Gazans to try to find the handful that are enemies.

      It seems that the IDF’s actual strategy is to level as much of Gaza as possible in order to punish the Gazans, take part of their territory to punish them, and/or squeeze them like toothpaste into Egypt through the Rafah Border Crossing. Israel’s in the unenviable position of having to simultaneously communicate to the Middle East that they are capable of playing by the local rules and should not be messed with, and to the West that they are a liberal democracy that respects human rights.

    • “level as much of Gaza as possible”? I don’t see how this could be Israel’s strategy. We have videos of controlled demolitions of individual buildings, leaving adjacent buildings untouched. The IDF now controls Gaza City. Why would they blow up just one building in a block, leaving 19 others, rather than use the same precision demolition technique on all 20 buildings?

      The media, which likes to show the most dramatically damaged areas, displays photos suggesting that the majority of buildings in Gaza City were not “leveled”. See the top photos in


      for example.

      “take part of their territory” is Israel’s strategy? What is your evidence for that? I would say the opposite is more likely. If Israel could unload all of Gaza onto the Egyptians and have it become part of Egypt, I think the Israelis would be delighted. (Hamas would likely be illegal in Egypt, just as the Muslim Brotherhood is illegal (members are arrested and then imprisoned or killed).) If you do a Google search, you’ll find suggestions that Israel actually did try to give Gaza to Egypt along with the Sinai during the late 1970s peace negotiations, but the Egyptians refused (maybe they would have wanted the land, but they didn’t want the Palestinians). https://www.asmeascholars.org/unprotected–palestinians-in-egypt-since-1948 has some history on this:

      El-Abed notes that prior to Israel’s independence in 1948 there were approximately 75,000 Palestinians living in Egypt. Most had settled in Cairo and Alexandria and lived close to other Palestinians, and were from the middle and upper classes, and some had acquired Egyptian citizenship. Their residency was considered temporary, and many believed, with the encouragement from Arab governments, that they would return to Israel. However, after the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948, Egypt became responsible for the welfare of two separate Palestinian communities; the Palestinians living in Egypt proper, which numbered approximately 87,000 and the 200,000 Palestinians living in the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip, a small, densely populated territory seized by Egypt during the war. Palestinian living conditions in the Gaza Strip were harsh. They remained stateless, their travel was restricted, and an Egyptian governor ruled the territory with an iron fist.

  2. I would assume the need not to kill hostages as collateral damage is a consideration, but Hamas claims 50 out of 220 were already killed due to the bombings so I don’t know if it’s a big impediment to operations.

  3. > “level as much of Gaza as possible”? I don’t see how this could be Israel’s strategy. We have videos of controlled demolitions of individual buildings, leaving adjacent buildings untouched. The IDF now controls Gaza City.

    Strictly speaking I guess they don’t need to level the place, just bomb it enough to convince the Gazans to relocate south. Using targeted munitions (that nonetheless destroy entire buildings) lets the IDF say they were targeting Hamas members rather than indiscriminately targeting civilians. They did this already; if the Gazans move back north during the ceasefire, they’ll probably bomb it some more.

    > If Israel could unload all of Gaza onto the Egyptians and have it become part of Egypt, I think the Israelis would be delighted.

    Yeah but Egypt doesn’t want Gaza. The only way to pawn off the Gazans on the Egyptians would be to physically relocate them inside Egypt. Even then I’m not sure what it would solve. Hamas could still attack Israel from the other side of the Egyptian border (although I guess they’d have to shoot their rockets slightly farther) and then if Egypt couldn’t control the situation, Israel would end up bombing Egypt in response to Hamas’s rocket launches.

    The argument for annexing part of Gaza is something like, “the Palestinians don’t care about lives. Land is what they value, so we have to take some of their land to punish them and discourage future attacks.” But it also might make them feel like they have less to lose in the future, if they’re all living in tents on an even smaller piece of land.

    • Israel says that it is at war with Hamas, not with Gazans (though, as noted above, most Gazans support Hamas and any killing of Israelis that can be achieved). I don’t see how it would make sense to abandon that political position in order to get a few more acres of land (the land belongs to Gazans, not to Hamas specifically). What does seem to be the case is that Israel is going to insist on a DMZ to make it tougher for Palestinians to do a repeat of the October 7 attack. So that could be seen as a taking of land since the Palestinians wouldn’t be allowed to build on it or even enter it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaza%E2%80%93Israel_barrier says that, contrary to what we are told by American Democrats, walls keep people out most of the time (the US even helped Egypt build a similar wall, says https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egypt%E2%80%93Gaza_barrier ). When the dust settles, maybe this will become a wall plus a 1/2-mile-wide DMZ plus a second interior wall on the west side of the DMZ. That would be a taking of about 10 square miles given that some land along the 25-mile border is already a DMZ?

  4. Probably part of Israel’s strategy is to create a buffer zone in the northern Gaza which is closer to larger Israeli cities than in the south so it will be more difficult in the future for terrorists to attack places like Sderot and the kibbutz’m adjacent to north Gaza. The south borders desert so Israel can create a buffer in its own territory. Unlikely that the Israelis do not understand the level of Hamas support among the populace that you do since they can read the same survey evidence. As for the propaganda war and who won, I think the jury is still out on that one — survey evidence seems to show that around 2/3 of the US electorate supports Israel though that is not the impression one gets from the theater on college campuses and in blue cities. In Europe you see a tension between support for traditional antisemitism and growing fear of migrants. Judging by the recent election in the Netherlands and riots in Dublin, my guess is that the fear of the migrants will win out & traditional Jew hatred will be moved to the back burner. I think a lot of the western world realizes that it has been sold a bill of goods on open borders and that diversity does not equal strength. This cuts against support for the Arab cause, such as it is.

    • jdc: Yes, I’m sure that you’re right that Israel knows that the typical Palestinian supports Hamas and wants to see Israel eradicated, via the killing of all Jews if necessary. Presumably they have some grand strategy in which it makes sense to say that the typical Palestinian loves peace and wants to accept Israel as a neighbor. I just can’t figure out what that grand strategy might be! And, as noted in the original post, that grand strategy turns what could be a simple US-style military operation (kill as many people as possible until the survivors surrender) into a complicated one (sift through 2 million hostile foreigners in an urban environment permeated by tunnels).

  5. In theory, the anti-Hamas plan looks not so bad: move “mostly peaceful” population south, destroy Hamas in the north, rinse and repeat in the south.

    There’s one hitch, though: 97% of Palestinian Arabs do not want their governments (whatever that may be) to recognize Israel, which is a euphemism for “from the river to the sea”. So, it’s not just 10-20K “militants” that need to be taken care of, it’s 2 million minus 60K, optimistically, who want to erase Israel from the map.

    Long term occupation of Gaza and West Bank by Israel in order to eradicate the “from the river to the sea” idea from the collective Palestinian Arabs’ mind, similar to what was done in the post WWII Germany with Nazi ideology, does not appear realistic either, given the World Community opinions on the matter.

    • There are so many who hate Israel and wish it did not exist, but very few of them are willing to take up arms and fight themselves. Recall Arab palestinian exchange student with previous military training in former USSR. He was about to leave to fight Israel in Lebanon in 1982, but after talking with his comrades in the field there he changed his mind and remained put.
      I doubt that even 1% of those who demonstrate for destruction of Israel in the west are willing to take up arms themselves.
      But I agree, Israel targeting Hamas officers who planned the operation and that is it guarantees new war in a year or two, when command chain is rebuilt. No deterrent when for Hamas members (not bosses though) martyrdom is the goal

    • Ivan/Perplexed: I think that the big enabler of keeping the Palestinian dream of defeating Israel alive is UNRWA. Palestinians are guaranteed food, health care, education, etc., even if they have 8 children, all funded by US and EU taxpayers (ironically, many of them childless; those with zero reproductive success want to feel sorry for and work extra hours to fund the lifestyles of those with tremendous reproductive success!). Because of this guarantee, Palestinians never have to accept peace so that they can return to work to feed their families, buy health care for sick family members, etc. As long as Palestinians are wards of the US/EU taxpayer via UNRWA they can put 100 percent of their efforts, if desired, into military activities.

    • Perplexed: I think that this is just a human nature and not something specific of Israel haters. How many of those who proclaim Ukraine support want to die in mud as cannon fodder?
      Phil: You might be right with your opinion about UNRWA (even if it sounds quite cynical), but what do you want to do? Let them die? Give them so little food that they have no energy for sex? Egypt, Jordan or Lebanon are not going to give home to those refugees, if for no other reason, then because it would heavily destabilize their own countries (as it has already happened in Lebanon and Jordan). I do not want to see single one of them in Europe (and I hope we do not get another Angela Merkel who does so, I am afraid we will). Maybe you want to invite them to USA?

    • mata: That’s a good (and old) question. Does a childless person in the US or Europe have to work extra hours every week and/or reduce his/her/zir/their personal consumption in order to fund someone with 6 kids on the other side of the planet? Most people seem to think that the answer is “no”. https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/poorest-countries-in-the-world lists a whole bunch of places where people are on the verge of starvation, I don’t know anyone who lives in a modest house and forgoes vacations in order to fund food, schools, health care, etc. in Burundi or the Central African Republic. The UN doesn’t guarantee people in those desperately poor countries anything and certainly hasn’t set up anything like UNRWA to provision everyone with food, health care, education, etc.

      A lot of people do seem more interested in the suffering of a Palestinian than in the suffering of someone in Burundi or the Central African Republic.

      I think the answer is that US and EU taxpayers should provide to the Palestinians whatever is provided to people in Burundi and the Central African Republic by US/EU taxpayers. As Kanye West points out, All Lives Matter. There is no rational reason why a Palestinian life is more valuable than the life of someone who lives in a poor country in Africa.

    • Except that the situation of the Palestinians was arguably caused by the UN. To the (very large) extent that US and EU taxpayers fund the UN, we should contribute to the resolution of that situation. Plainly unlimited poverty relief is and was not the way to do so and may actually have incentivised the Palestinians not to progress the Oslo accords.

    • /df: the United Nations has caused a lot of problems in various countries over the past 78 years. Except in the case of the Palestinians, there has never been a program to pay for an unlimited population of descendants of the people who were originally affected. The UN doesn’t guarantee to feed, teach, and cure every person in Korea, for example, though the UN was an active military force in a war in which 2 million civilians died. The UN had a huge operation in Africa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Operation_in_the_Congo ) and doesn’t bother to provide for people in the Congo today. We could also say the same about Somalia, Rwanda, and Sudan.

      (This is not to say that I think the UN is the sole or even primary cause of the things about which Palestinians today complain. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, formed an alliance with Nazi Germany, which proved to be the losing side in WWII. The Palestinians later allied themselves with Saddam Hussein, resulting in about 350,000 being forced to leave Kuwait after Iraq lost the 1990-91 war (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_exodus_from_Kuwait_(1990%E2%80%9391) ). It is tough to say exactly what has prevented Palestinians from achieving their “river to the sea” goal of eliminating Israel, but I don’t think that all of the blame can be placed on the UN.)

    • Here’s an interesting take on the conflict:

      “Israel Must Crush Palestinian Hopes

      Eventually, I think that we can get to a place where emptying Gaza becomes seen as a realistic option both within and outside the region. But it will require Israel to extinguish all hopes of Palestinian statehood first. The US can be useful here by continuing to provide support to Israel, refraining from putting pressure on it on humanitarian grounds, and trying to incentivize other nations to accept Palestinians as refugees. ”

      It is interesting for at least three reasons: the author dares to mention the word “transfer”; he uses some rudimentary modeling; and the author is of Palestinian descent.

    • mata: wrong analogy on Ukraine. There are tenths of thousands foreign fighters in Ukraine, and it is not easy to get qualified for front-line position there.

      Philip: West financing of Palestinians is a given and thus I do not mention it. The whole situation was created by 1949 UN creating UNRWA thus appropriating historic mislabeling that was applied by British to Jews solely to mostly voluntary Arab refugees of one forth of region British mandate mislabeled as ‘Palestine’. This is unique, there is no committee for forcibly expelled East European Germans or refugees from conflicts in China or Iraq with its genocide of Christians or Syria or any other world conflict. UNRWA schools teach hate of Jews and consider 3rd and 4th generation refugees, unheard of. Without it conflicts could not be lasting for so long. Palestinian “Liberation” Organization, PLO, arch – terrorist organization that killed many thousands of Israelis, Jordanians and Lebanese was established in 1964 from UNRWA camps, years before Israel took control over Gaza and Judea and Samaria in 1967 defensive war. What was it going to liberate in 1964, when Israel was in its 1948 borders? Not Judea and Samaria from Jordan rule for sure, since it started to attack Jordan in early 1970th, after it lost Judea and Samaria.

    • mata, also and I do not see Ukrainian supporters displaying blood-thirsty signs or burning Russian flags or demanding free Ukraine from sea to shining sea. But I see way more Ukrainian supporters participating in fighting for Ukraine.
      And I do not seek transferring rapefugees states-side. Of course I believe that US or any other place would benefit from 1% of those displaced Arabs who want peace with Israel, do not see problem there. Arab nations should assimilated them. Arabs in Palestine hale from different Arab lands, mostly Arabia but also Egypt and others. In 17th – 18th centuries, pre – larger Jewish migration and economic development, ancient land of Israel was a sparsely populated Turkish province with majority of urbanized population being Jewish. I am OK if Arab states force peace on so-called Palestinian Arabs; if not I see how Iran could use this conflict to create greater upheaval in Arab world, aka Syria now. Saudi Arabia too became Saudi quite recently. I think that children of the refugees could incorporate into Arab countries, assuming US and Europe stop paying them not to.

    • And except that Palestinian leaders (and Arab leaders) want to keep the status quo. This way, Palestinian and Arab leaders don’t have to worry about being toppled or hated by their own people. They have an enemy to fight, the Infidels and the West.

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