Israel plans invasion of Gaza to avenge Hamas atrocities | ET REALITY

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The Israeli military is preparing to invade the Gaza Strip in the coming days with tens of thousands of soldiers with orders to capture Gaza City and destroy the enclave’s current leadership, according to three senior Israeli military officials who described unclassified details about the plan.

The military has announced that its ultimate goal is to take down the top political and military hierarchy of Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza and spearheaded last week’s terrorist attacks in Israel that killed 1,300 people.

The attack is expected to be Israel’s largest ground operation since it invaded Lebanon in 2006. It would also be the first in which Israel has attempted to capture land and at least briefly hold it since its 2008 invasion of Gaza, according to the three senior officers.

The operation risks locking Israel into months of bloody urban fighting, both above ground and in a labyrinth of tunnels, a tense offensive that Israel has long avoided because it involves fighting in a narrow, densely populated strip of land. more than 2 million people. . Israeli officials have warned that Hamas may kill Israeli hostages, use Palestinian non-combatants as human shields and have booby-trapped the territory.

It remains uncertain what Israel will do with Gaza City, Hamas’s stronghold and the enclave’s largest urban center, if it captures it, or what exactly Israeli officials mean when they describe the destruction of Hamas’s leadership. Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, is a large social movement and militia deeply rooted in Gaza society.

It is also unclear whether Hezbollah, the largest Lebanese militia, backed by Iran and allied with Hamas and possessing a wide range of precision-guided missiles and ground forces, could respond to an invasion of Gaza by opening a second front alongside Israel. the Lebanese border.

The military has not yet formally announced that it will invade Gaza, although it has confirmed that reconnaissance teams briefly entered the strip on Friday and that Israeli troops were increasing their “preparation” for a ground war.

Tens of thousands of Hamas gunmen are believed to have barricaded themselves within hundreds of kilometers of underground tunnels and bunkers beneath Gaza City and surrounding areas of northern Gaza. Israeli military leaders hope Hamas will try to impede their progress by blowing up some of those tunnels as the Israelis advance on them, and by setting off roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings.

Hamas also plans to ambush Israeli forces from behind by suddenly emerging from hidden tunnel openings scattered throughout northern Gaza, according to a Hamas official who was not authorized to speak to the media.

To facilitate the operation of its soldiers, the Israeli army’s rules of engagement have been relaxed to allow soldiers to make fewer checks before shooting at suspected enemies, the three Israeli officers said, without giving further details.

Due to widespread damage in Gaza City caused by recent Israeli airstrikes, commandos have been given additional training in recent days to help them fight in blighted urban environments, according to a fourth officer, Col. Golan Vach. .

The invasion was initially planned for the weekend but was delayed by a few days, at least in part because of cloudy conditions that would have made it difficult for Israeli pilots and drone operators to provide air cover to ground forces, officials said.

In addition to infantry, the Israeli strike force will include tanks, sappers and commandos, the officials added. Ground troops will be covered by warplanes, helicopter gunships, aerial drones and artillery fired from land and sea.

Their goal will be “the defeat of Hamas and the elimination of its leaders after the massacre they perpetrated,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, chief spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said Saturday.

“This organization will not govern Gaza militarily or politically,” Admiral Hagari added.

A second military spokesman said the army was particularly focused on killing Yahya Sinwar, the senior Hamas official whose offices, like those of the Hamas government, are in Gaza City. Israel holds Mr. Sinwar responsible for the atrocities committed against Israelis last Saturday.

Hamas terrorists and their allies massacred civilians in their homes; hundreds more people were shot dead in the street and at a dance music festival; and kidnapped at least 150 other people.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said the attack was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.

“That man is in our sights,” said Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, another military spokesman, referring to Sinwar.

“He is a dead man and we will get to him,” Colonel Hecht added.

Many Palestinians say they fear the invasion will mean a humanitarian crisis and potentially exile.

The Israeli military has said it is trying to avoid civilian deaths as much as possible. He has warned Palestinians in Gaza City to head to the south of the territory, which is not expected to be the focus of the initial phase of the invasion; Hundreds of thousands have heeded that call, but others, encouraged by Hamas, have remained in their homes.

The complexity of the invasion is increased by the fact that Hamas is believed to be holding many of the Israeli hostages in its underground bunkers and tunnels.

Israeli military analysts say they fear Hamas will use the hostages as human shields, creating a moral and operational dilemma for Israel.

“The only way to get to the hostages is through a ground operation,” said Miri Eisin, a former senior military officer and director of the International Counterterrorism Institute at Reichman University in Israel.

But if such an operation goes ahead, Eisin said, “terrorists will take those booby-trapped babies and Holocaust survivors and blow them up to show us how cruel.”

Both Israel and Hamas are experts in psychological warfare and may be engaging in it with both threats and leaks to gain advantage, especially as the hostage situation remains unresolved.

Israel’s government has not yet decided whether to retake southern Gaza in addition to Gaza City, according to one of the senior military officials.

But if southern Gaza remains outside Israeli control, some Hamas leaders could remain at large.

Some military and political leaders want Israeli soldiers to carry out 18 months of door-to-door arrest operations, said Nimrod Novik, a former senior Israeli diplomat and security adviser to the Israeli government.

“I think others are much more sober and are not talking about demolishing Hamas, but rather depriving Hamas of its ability to threaten us,” Novik added.

That could mean removing its rocket launchers, tunnels and other military equipment, but essentially allowing it to continue as a social movement, Novik added.

The question of who would govern Gaza after Hamas is also complicated, analysts said.

Israel could reassert direct control over the territory, as it did from 1967 to 2005, but that would mean governing a large and hostile population.

A plan now widely discussed by diplomats, officials and analysts involves allowing the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, to retake control of Gaza after Hamas expelled it in 2007.

But that would risk making the authority look like a puppet of Israel, said Ibrahim Dalalsha, a Palestinian analyst based in Ramallah, West Bank.

“They would be arriving in an Israeli tank, after the eradication of Hamas,” Dalalsha said.

The report was contributed by Isabel Kershner at Kibbutz Be’eri, Israel; Jonathan Rosen in Rehovot, Israel; and Carol Sutherland in Moshav Ben Ami, Israel.

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