Everyone is waiting for the ground invasion. After so many strikes and so many civilian casualties, Israel is preparing to conduct a land incursion to reinstate its prestige. However, with more than 5,000 Palestinians already killed, has the Israeli public’s desire for revenge already been quenched? It is important to deliberate before conducting a ground invasion that might unleash a regional war, especially as Israel will most likely not be able to obliterate Hamas. Hamas in Gaza is different to the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut. And a ground operation today would be totally different from the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
There is one key difference between Hamas in Gaza and the PLO in Beirut: the former is indigenous while the latter was not. When Israel tightened its siege on Beirut, the Lebanese turned against their guest, Yasser Arafat, and asked him to leave. He was no longer welcome, nor were his fighters. They left for Tunisia. This is not the case with Hamas.
The fighters of the Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades are the sons, brothers and husbands of Gazan people. They are in their own space. They know the ins and outs of every alley and every corner. They will not be asked to leave. Hamas in Gaza is like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Did the 2006 attack on Lebanon weaken Hezbollah? Not really. Did the group face the same fate as the PLO in 1982? Not really.
However, Israel is today facing a dilemma. The Oct. 7 attack, in which some 1,400 people were killed, was the biggest attack Israel has faced since its inception in 1948. Some compared it to 9/11. It shocked the Israeli people and caused a loss of confidence in their state and in their army. Hence the strong reaction to reinstate their prestige and regain their confidence. How can the average Israeli regain trust in their government’s ability to protect them if Hamas is still alive and kicking? This is why they want to cut the head off the snake, as I heard it from several sources.
Nevertheless, this is not a done deal. Attempting to restore its prestige could result in a further loss of prestige if the Israel Defense Forces were to incur many casualties and fail to eradicate the group. Entering Gaza will not be a walk in the park. The ground operation could be “Mogadishu on steroids,” according to former US Gen. David Petraeus. “You’ll see suicide bombers, you’ll see improvised explosive devices, there will be ambushes, booby traps,” he said.
To minimize its losses, Israel is intensifying its bombing campaign to prepare for a ground incursion. However, bombarding residential buildings, hospitals and churches will not make an invasion any easier or safer for army reservists, who have been called in for the fight. Bombardment will not guarantee the success of the operation.
Firepower will not bring an end to this tragedy. Israel cannot force a military solution to a political problem.
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib
Since Israel left Gaza in 2005 and permanently imposed its blockade in 2007, Hamas has been running the show. Israel does not really know what underground infrastructure the group has built over the years.
When Hamas conducted this month’s attack on Israel, it was probably expecting a violent reaction, including a ground invasion. What was Hamas’ plan? Drag Israel into Gaza and force it into a situation where Tel Aviv has to negotiate? Maybe, but it is hard to tell. Also, unlike the PLO, which was operating on its own, Hamas operates as part of an axis.
The prevailing discourse in Beirut is that Hezbollah will enter the fight if Israel conducts a ground offensive and starts to corner Hamas. This would mean Israel would have to balance its forces between two fronts, let alone the West Bank, which is like a volcano about to erupt.
Even if the IDF goes into Gaza and conducts a successful operation, capturing or killing all of Hamas’ leaders; even if it pacifies the West Bank; and even if the confrontation with Hezbollah remains confined to skirmishes on the borders, Israel will not be safe. It will not be able to cut the head off the snake. Even if Israel eradicates the current Hamas leadership, a new leadership will emerge in 10 years. Even if Gaza is obliterated, another group will emerge from somewhere else; Jenin perhaps.
The Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades recruits orphans, young men who have lost their parents to Israeli fire. They hire embittered young men who know they have no future in Gaza and have nothing to lose. Even if the expected Israeli ground operation is successful, which is highly doubtful, it will create a new generation of embittered children who will grow to seek revenge on their oppressors.
Firepower will not bring an end to this tragedy. Israel cannot force a military solution to a political problem. A political problem needs a political solution. Thomas Friedman, the pro-Israeli columnist, last week wrote an op-ed in The New York Times that was titled “Israel is about to make a terrible mistake.” In it, he acknowledged that Israel cannot go into Gaza without having a clear political vision, otherwise it would be doing what the US did post-9/11 when it invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. He wrote that Israel cannot go into Gaza without expressing a clear commitment to a two-state solution.
It is easy to throw hypotheses around from a distance. The reality is that Israel’s leadership faces tremendous pressure. Right now, it needs to deal with an angry population that wants revenge and reassurance that the country has an army and state capable of protecting its citizens. However, a failed ground offensive might have the opposite effect.