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.)