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Hamas ‘Traps’ Israel Into Two Futile Choices; Tel Aviv Braces For Political Or Military Defeat: OPED

Israel is fighting a losing war and has very little it can do militarily, whether or not it decides to launch a ground invasion of Gaza, according to Indian military experts.

Israel has been baited into conducting punitive air strikes, and the civilian toll is turning international opinion against it. At the same time, Israel’s military is not prepared for classic urban warfare — the only means to “destroy” Hamas, according to the experts.

The Palestinian group, meanwhile, silently prepared for years to fight Israel inside Gaza, again in an urban warfare setup by building a network of deep underground tunnels that would be immune to any devastating air raids.

Ground troops invading Gaza would be even more embarrassing for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he would look weak before his electorate. 

Hamas appears to have planned its actions sequentially, beginning from its October 7 raid into Israel and the expected backlash, anticipating what Israel would do — or forced to do — at each step. Hamas’s underground network’s core military element is to withstand unforgiving air raids and brutal urban warfare overground with an invading force. This has become the cornerstone of this entire strategy.     

‘Hamas Planned It For Years, Set A Trap for Israel’

Retired Indian Army infantryman Colonel S. Dinny, who served in the Rajput Regiment, explained how Hamas had successfully “trapped” Tel Aviv between two futile choices. Taking either route invites severe political or military defeats. 

“Hamas prepared for the severe Israeli backlash as they had prepared for their raid on October 7. They knew Israel would be even more painful and indiscriminate with their aerial strikes on Gaza.

“But most importantly, they also knew Israel would aim to destroy the Hamas leadership as the end political objective for any retaliation to be successful. This would require coming into Gaza in a ground invasion. So they also prepared for the ground invasion by quickly hiding in their tunnels,” Dinny said. 

Damned If It Does, Damned If It Doesn’t

But a ground invasion in a heavily built-up, dense urban area has not been easy for even the most powerful militaries. The non-state actor defender has always emerged victorious on his home turf.

Hamas has already “set traps, prepared improvised explosive devices (IED),” and planned diversions and ambushes, where heavy armor, fighting vehicles, and ground troops would be massacred to send the IDF in complete disarray. 

“Israel does not fully know where and how the Hamas tunnels are since Hamas built them for years secretly for this very war. It is simply biding its time, waiting for the IDF to come in, while Israel destroys Gaza city overground,” Dinny says. 

In other words, Israel loses by not going into Gaza physically since Hamas is virtually unharmed — as they have prepared to survive the devastating air raids. This is because PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal of “destroying Hamas” ultimately needs its leadership to be eliminated, which cannot be attained solely from the air.

A previous EurAsian Times analysis had shown how Israel would still lose if it destroyed Gaza or its civilian support infrastructure but with the leadership intact. 

But it also loses if it does launch a ground war since it entails “thousands of military casualties and war material, setting off an uncontrollable dynamic in Israeli society for Netanyahu’s government,” said a Major General-rank Indian Army officer, currently serving in the Integrated Defense Staff (IDS) headquarters.

The officer also has experience with Information Warfare. “There are already severe problems with its military personnel management since a huge number of units have not been found ready for combat,” the officer added. 

“Images of Israeli Merkava tanks burning at the hands of Hamas fighters with rocket launchers would be impactful Public Relations,” Dinny added. This boosts the morale of the Palestinian resistance while demoralizing Israeli soldiers. But Israel sustains a humiliating blow to its image as the Middle East’s most advanced military, more than it has already endured after Hamas’s stunning, wide-ranging attack on October 7. 

Israeli Military Casualties Would Be Horrific

There is another consequence of launching a ground war in Gaza. Hezbollah, the Lebanese-armed militia, has promised full-scale operations from its end at Israel’s northern front if Tel Aviv physically enters Gaza.

The military casualties from a ground war in Gaza alone would be immensely painful, horrific, and politically costly for Netanyahu’s government. Combined with the losses from the northern front, Israel would be staring at a massive military rout and human toll on its young working population drafted in the mobilization. 

Depending upon the prevalent political situation within Israel, Palestine, regional Arab states, and internationally, Hezbollah and Hamas might also try to assert the advantage and achieve their ultimate goal of taking back lands. 

But this has to follow a two-front war with Hamas and Hezbollah where Tel Aviv is staring at a specific military defeat and is not in a position to thwart an offensive. Moreover, this cannot happen without direct Iranian intervention since Hezbollah and Hamas lack the conventional military capability to hold territory.  

Israel’s Options

This quandary before Israel leaves it with very few military options. According to Dinny, the farthest it can go is to undertake a limited ground incursion, without the heavy armor and large infantry columns to avoid a massacre, and rely on special operations forces to destroy some of the tunnels and underground infrastructure. 

“They cannot possibly know the full breadth of Hamas’s subterranean network owing to shortcomings in human intelligence (HUMINT). After destroying some of the tunnels and deep bunkers, they can show they carried out their promise of hitting Hamas on their home turf and declaring an end to its operations,” Dinny said.

File Image: Israeli troops and a Merkava IV tank

He also theorizes another possibility where Israel might try and physically push back the border fence, creating a larger buffer zone. However, Hamas would survive and declare its unharmed existence at an opportune time to embarrass the Israeli government, threatening Netanyahu’s political position.

Netanyahu’s attempt to galvanize Israeli society by portraying himself as the only one capable of fighting an existential threat from Hamas will be exploited by opposing political parties like the Yamina (of former PM Naftali Bennet), Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) or Blue and White (former defense minister Benny Gantz). 

Internationally, Arab states have been sharply critical of Israel and are consolidating despite their regional differences. This was seen in the unprecedented coordination between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the crisis following their China-brokered normalization and Jordan’s King Abdullah canceling a summit with President Joe Biden, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas.

The shocking spurn by these close allies and near vassal states came after the Gaza hospital bombing, initially thought to be Israel’s handiwork, but now evidences emerging that it was one of the Palestinian group’s failed rocket that hit the compound. 

Therefore, the only viable military strategy before Israel would be the destruction of Gaza, which could result in massive civilian casualties among the 2.3 million residents. This could even force Israel-friendly nations to change their neutral or supportive positions. This is not to mention that such an offensive would create even more Hamas fighters over the next decade, fresh with memories and flush with vengeance over the death of their families. 

Hamas Leaders Are Consummate Politicians & Military Strategists

The collective history from the late 1940s alone has driven Palestinian consciousness for decades, besides the casualties for 70 years in their resistance against what they perceive as illegal Israeli occupation of their native lands. A new, sweeping war would be enough fuel and fodder for the next century for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).     

Hamas has proven that sometimes war plans can survive the first contact with the enemy — if you anticipate his actions and prepare for all military and diplomatic fallouts. If war is “politics by other means,” as Clausewitz said, Hamas is ready for those “other means” too. 

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