20231010 israel
Israeli army soldiers are positioned with their Merkava tanks near the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel. Image Credit: AFP

Israel appears on the precipice of a potential ground offensive in Gaza, and an extraordinary mobilisation of troops is currently unfolding.

With 300,000 military reservists rallying, a staggering number in a nation of 9 million, the signs point unmistakably towards a massive incursion into Gaza, possibly accompanied by a new front against the Lebanese Hezbollah in the north.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised address, has spoken about a protracted war and vowed to obliterate Hamas.

Israel’s strategic objective: to dismantle Hamas’ military infrastructure and cripple their capacity for future assaults.

The looming Israeli ground offensive carries the weight of ominous consequences. The invasion against Gaza-based Hamas, follows the militant group’s audacious attack on Israel on October 7.

Close to 900 Israelis were killed in that operation. Hamas took more than 100 hostages in what is being described as one of the most daring militant ops during recent years.

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Why is there an impending doom?

A palpable sense of impending doom has gripped Gaza. The prospect of an Israeli ground invasion looms large over the 365 sq km Strip with the spectre of a refugee crisis being a real possibility.

With the stage set for a harrowing infantry-led urban assault, Israel’s tanks, formidable as they are, can prove vulnerable in the labyrinthine streets of Gaza. Drones, thousands of them, would play a pivotal role, navigating the perilous maze.

opn gaza-israel map
Image Credit: Gulf News

Israel’s elite special forces are presently waiting in the wings. However the unprecedented scale of the Gaza hostage crisis presents a challenge like no other. With over 100 hostages scattered throughout the territory, rescue operations could prove too hazardous.

The IDF’s “Momentum” programme, emphasising technology and intelligence, aims to fast-track military decisions. Yet, recent events have demonstrated the vulnerability of even the most sophisticated networks. The reliance on technology is a double-edged sword.

What was the last major ground offensive like?

The previous significant Israeli ground incursion into Gaza commenced on July 17, 2014, during a 50-day conflict with Hamas.

That ground op was an extension of Operation Protective Edge, which had commenced on July 7 as a response to Hamas rocket attacks, following earlier skirmishes and increased tensions.

Israeli soldiers take up position in Kfar Aza, in the south of Israel, bordering Gaza Strip. Image Credit: AFP

A multitude of Israeli infantry and artillery units, backed by air and naval support, entered the Gaza Strip nearly a decade ago with the primary objectives of disabling Hamas’ ability to launch rockets at Israel and eliminating the numerous tunnels used for infiltration into Israel.

A subsequent UN report on the tragic conflict described the profound impact of the events of the summer of 2014 on both Palestinians and Israelis, highlighting the unprecedented scale of devastation in Gaza.

What will Gaza’s future be?

The looming question lingers — what may come after an Israeli victory this time, should it come to pass? With an invasion fraught with risks, the conflict between Israel and Hamas follows a familiar script — heavy bombardments, targeted strikes and ground incursions.

Israel’s military has always held an advantage, but Hamas has learnt to adapt, making Gaza’s urban terrain their ally.

Palestinians walk amid the rubble of destroyed and damaged building
Palestinians walk amid the rubble of destroyed and damaged building in the heavily bombarded city center of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip following overnight Israeli shelling, on October 10, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

The geography of Gaza will also play a pivotal role. Limited operational routes frame Israel’s approach. From the rural north to the urban south, the terrain offers both challenges and opportunities. 

Hamas, armed with anti-tank weaponry and a stockpile of Kornet missiles, have honed its tactics. Drones have levelled the playing field.

As Israel’s forces get set to venture into the heart of Gaza, they are faced with not just an adversary but a formidable battleground.

A question looms large — could Israel reclaim Gaza? The cost, both in military might and civilian lives, hangs heavily on the balance.

The fate of Israeli hostages too is a constant shadow. A full reoccupation of Gaza may be a Herculean task, raising doubts about its long-term viability.

The final battle is yet to begin, but with storm clouds gathered, the horizon over Gaza appears sombre.