Israel is proceeding cautiously in its ground invasion of Gaza, with the Israel Defense Forces launching several limited offensives but holding off a full-scale assault. Still, most agree that an IDF invasion is inevitable. How hard will it be for the Israeli military to eliminate Hamas and pacify the Gaza Strip?
Due to Gaza’s dense urban layout, much of the fighting will be close-quarters, house-to-house combat — one of the deadliest forms of modern warfare.
IDF Siege of Gaza
Many of the 360,000 reservists called up by the IDF are currently stationed along the border of Gaza. Israel has called for a full blockade of the Gaza Strip, including power and water. The Israeli government believes this is a necessary step in the fight against Hamas.
Meanwhile, the air wing of the IDF has been carrying out consistent strikes against military targets in Gaza. One of the challenges is that Hamas militants can take refuge within hundreds of miles of tunnels that are not always vulnerable to attacks from the air.
It is difficult to overemphasize just how difficult and deadly combat is in dense, urban environments. The second battle of Fallujah in November 2004 was the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War.
Defenders in this environment can fortify multiple structures on and above street level and move between these buildings while attackers are funneled into narrow streets. The cramped quarters restrict the mobility of tanks and other tracked vehicles, making them highly vulnerable to ambush and denying one of their major strengths.
The nature of firefights where both sides are nearly on top of each other negates any air superiority the attacker might enjoy, as they are too close to their enemies to allow for safe employment of bombs. As attackers try to clear out buildings, they will most likely encounter booby traps, which are incredibly effective in the tight spaces of halls and rooms.
Fighting In Gaza
The IDF will face all these challenges in an assault on Gaza, compounded by Hamas’ sprawling system of tunnels. These facilities are unmapped and unknown, which will make clearing them of insurgents and searching them for hostages an absolute nightmare. Further complicating the situation are the estimated 2 million civilians living in Gaza who may end up in the line of fire, another unfortunate reality of urban combat.
IDF vs Hamas
Ultimately, the IDF will undoubtedly prevail in a major invasion of Gaza. A modern military backed by vehicles, equipment, logistics, and intelligence will not fail to defeat a force of several thousand militants. Israel may unfortunately pay a high price, due to the brutal nature of such fighting, but they will triumph.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
From the Vault