In a shocking turn of events, the conflict between Palestine and Israel escalated dramatically with a surprise attack by the Palestinian group Hamas on Israel on the 7th of October 2023. This multifaceted attack involved gunmen breaching security barriers and a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza.
The attack followed a series of provocations, including Israeli settlers storming the Al- Aqsa Mosque compound and a number of Palestinian casualties in recent months. In response to the attack:
• Israel declared a state of war.
• Israel has imposed a total blockade on Gaza.
• Israel is mobilising 300,000 reservists in largest ever call-up.
• Israel continues to carry out an aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the current bombardment of Gaza was just the beginning, he did not elaborate on whether a ground invasion would follow.
Several factors could motivate Israel to launch a ground invasion of Gaza:
Territorial Leverage in Negotiations: Historically, Israel has employed territorial concessions as a diplomatic tool, as seen with the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel captured in 1967 and later returned to Egypt in exchange for normalised relations through the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979. This historical example underscores Israel’s use of territorial control as a bargaining chip. Israel’s normalisation talks with countries like Saudi Arabia may involve discussions regarding territorial matters, mirroring previous diplomatic strategy involving territorial concessions. However, in a surprising turn of events, Saudi Arabia has announced the end of all negotiations regarding the normalisation of relations with Israel.
Hamas Threat: Hamas’s recent successful attack on Israeli territory has heightened Israel’s concerns about the continuous improvement of Hamas’s military capabilities. This attack, which occurred on October 7, 2023, demonstrated Hamas’s growing ability to coordinate ground and rocket-based assaults effectively, catching Israeli defences off- guard. This development has raised alarms within the Israeli government and military circles, reflecting a significant enhancement in Hamas’s tactics and technology. Hamas has invested heavily in its military infrastructure, including rockets and tunnels, often with external support, and recent rocket attacks reached deeper into Israeli territory, revealing increased range and accuracy.
Domestic Political Considerations: A ground invasion into Gaza may help unite Israel politically, particularly within a fragmented government. Netanyahu’s opposition from the left may be more inclined to align with his policies in the face of a military operation.
Display of Strength: Amid the recent escalation of the conflict, Israel faces the imperative of projecting its military power and dominance in a region marked by complex geopolitical dynamics. The surprise attack launched by Hamas, exposed vulnerabilities within the Israeli military and prompted discussions about the need to reaffirm its capabilities. A potential ground invasion into Gaza emerges as a means for Israel to reassert its strength, not only as a demonstration of its ability to defend its interests but also as a step towards enhancing overall preparedness and resilience against future threats. Importantly, this aligns with the broader interests of the United States, which considers a stable and secure Israel as crucial for regional stability, even as it refrains from committing ground troops to the conflict.
The Role of the U.S. Aircraft Carrier: The deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier to the Middle East by President Biden indicates American involvement in the conflict. While the U.S. has ruled out putting boots on the ground, the presence of the aircraft carrier could serve to deter neighbouring countries from intervening in the conflict.
As of now, there is no definitive evidence of a ground invasion. In previous conflicts, such as the 2021 clash, Israeli troops were reportedly positioned at the border, suggesting an imminent ground invasion. Simultaneously, the Israeli Air Force conducted a significant bombardment of Hamas’ underground tunnel network, known as “the metro,” and above- ground positions.
Suspicions arose that the reports of a ground invasion were a strategic ploy to draw Hamas fighters into vulnerable positions. Hamas reported that they were aware of this tactical move.
Several factors can discourage a ground invasion:
Potential Regional Escalation: A ground invasion of Gaza could prompt intervention from Lebanon, Hezbollah, or Palestinian groups within Lebanon, creating another front and potentially distracting Israel from its primary objectives.
Guerrilla Warfare: Hamas has demonstrated strong training in guerrilla warfare tactics. Any ground invasion would likely require a significant Israeli sacrifice and could result in high casualties. The current conflict has seen the highest number of Israeli casualties since the 1973 conflict, with 900 reported deaths. This underscores the challenging nature of the situation for Israel.
Maintaining control of Gaza: Gaza’s population of 2.3 million presents a governance challenge, with historical withdrawals as a potential outcome. Settling Israelis in Gaza is less feasible than in the West Bank due to its size and security risks, and such actions might provoke unrest, given Gaza’s history of conflict.
In conclusion therefore, the recent escalation in the Israel-Palestine conflict has put Israel in a precarious position, with no clear solution in sight. It is evident that Israel cannot deal with the West Bank, Gaza, and the Arab population of 1948 in isolation.
While Netanyahu has vowed an “unprecedented” response, Israel’s history of military assaults on Gaza and its complex geopolitical landscape make any action by Israel precedented. The world watches with apprehension as the situation unfolds, hoping for a peaceful resolution to this long-standing and deeply entrenched conflict.