It has now been three full days since the Israel Defense Forces were due to begin a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. While the reasons for the delay are not clear, it has left observers with time to speculate on what this invasion will look like, and whether indeed it is the most effective way to destroy Hamas. The capabilities of the IDF, the dispositions of Hamas, and the unique geography of the Gaza Strip are all factors in whether a ground invasion is the most functional solution to the problem.
Israel fields one of the most powerful and advanced militaries in the world, and it is especially powerful relative to the country’s size. Israel called up 300,000 reservists, which represents 3% of the population. By comparison, all of the active duty and reserve personnel in the United States make up only 0.6% of the population. The IDF is clearly prepared for a major operation.
Looking beyond this buildup of troops — about 10 times the total number of Hamas fighters, according to Israeli sources — the IDF fields the Merkava Mk 4 Main Battle Tank, one of the best tanks in the world. The Israeli Air Force flies F-15s, F-16s, and the F-35I, a licensed variant of the highly advanced Lightning II. Furthermore, as with any modern military capable of engaging in combined arms operations, the IDF operates several models of artillery.
All of this adds up to what should be a major advantage over the Hamas militants in Gaza, but that advantage will be significantly blunted, if not fully negated, in a full invasion.
Hamas in Gaza
Unlike a conventional battle in which the IDF would face a military force with bases, staging areas, and front lines, it will do battle with Hamas, a much more loosely organized terrorist organization. Hamas lacks heavy equipment such as tanks and artillery. Instead it relies primarily on small arms and improvised rockets, often made out of water pipes, and improvised infrastructure. Hamas fighters are highly dug in throughout the Gaza Strip, with an extensive network of tunnels and hidden strong points. Critical to note is the geography and terrain of the Gaza Strip itself. The Strip is densely urbanized. This, coupled with the small, flat nature of the territory, compounds the difficulty of the invasion.
The final complicating factor in a ground invasion of Gaza is the sheer number of hostages currently hidden in the city’s underground tunnel systems. Hamas brutally kidnapped approximately 200 civilians and soldiers during its Oct. 7 attack, and these hostages include babies, the elderly, and injured. The terrorist organization has released vile footage showing some of its militants holding several of the kidnapped infants and toddlers, images that have been shared widely on social media. Considering the brutality, torture, and sexual violence waged on many innocent Israelis during the surprise attack, hope for the safety of the hostages is dwindling as the days pass.
Is a Ground Invasion the Best Way to Destroy Hamas?
Given these factors, a ground invasion will certainly be costly, destructive, and deadly for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Urban warfare against an entrenched enemy is one of the most difficult types of conflict, as the U.S. military experienced during the two Battles of Fallujah.
That being said, a full invasion is likely the only way to ensure the complete destruction of the Hamas structure in Gaza. Targeted airstrikes can effectively reduce staging points and deter Hamas aggression, but with their vast network of tunnels, the militants are fairly well insulated from a pure air campaign. Furthermore, these strikes often cause collateral damage, which may decrease international support for Israel’s operation.
This conflict will not end soon. Israel faces hard days ahead as they seek to pacify the Gaza Strip and root out the Hamas terror organization. The situation is further complicated by Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has threatened to get involved should Israel invade.
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.
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