Israeli ground invasion will not deter Resistance factions in Gaza

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Palestinian members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, attend the funeral of comrades who died two days ago after an explosion caused the collapse of a tunnel under the Israeli border, on June 21, 2014, in Gaza City. (Photo: AFP-Mohammed Hams)

By: Ahmed Hadi

Published Saturday, July 19, 2014

For a military commander to order his soldiers to fight a war is easy, but for a soldier to wage this war is an altogether different matter. Yesterday, the Israelis tried to enter Gaza from different directions, but they were dealt a painful blow. This, however, does not mean they will not try again with huge reinforcements under the cover of fire. But will they succeed?

Gaza – A land invasion is the true meaning of war, especially if both sides adopt the element of direct engagement. But the Palestinian Resistance factions and the Israeli occupation in Gaza have different goals. The objective of the Resistance, after inflicting losses on the enemy, is to capture Israeli soldiers. Whereas Israel’s preoccupation, militarily, is to destroy the underground tunnels and try to prevent the Resistance from launching rockets, according to the directives of its political and military leadership conducting the war from behind computer screens and a field map.

The Resistance has its own tactics and calculations in dealing with the reality on the ground. It has developed a new system of internal underground tunnels equipped with what is necessary for months-long survival, in addition to a private communication network and another strategic one behind enemy lines, according to sources on the ground.

What happened after declaring the limited land operation can be described as testing the waters and exerting psychological and political pressure on the Resistance and its supporters. On the first night, there were no attempts at a large-scale invasion as was expected with the news of calling up another 18,000 Israeli reservists. What happened was an incursion from three directions in northern Gaza (Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun), the south (the destroyed Rafah Airport) and another one from the central area. The field monitoring units affiliated with the military wings of Palestinian factions said that the movement of military vehicles that night along the border of the Gaza Strip did not change in a way that suggests a large-scale operation, as was common during land invasions in the past few years.

It was observed yesterday that land, sea and air bombardments were intensified during these limited incursions. One cannot imagine that Israel would want to implement its land operation in Gaza without continuous artillery fire and flare bombs at night. It is going to be difficult given the network of underground tunnels prepared by the Resistance forces, that resemble a spider’s web. This prompted some media outlets to describe the war as “a phantom war whereby no one can see who is shooting and from where,” according to the same sources.

The sources, who wanted to remain anonymous, confirmed that for years the Resistance has been preparing itself for this advanced stage of military confrontation “in terms of tactics, the principle of surprise and setting up ambushes.” They pointed out that the nature of Gaza as a densely populated area will make it hard for Israel to shift from a limited operation to entering the center of the city.

Military observers see in Israel’s announcement that its operation is limited and will last anywhere between a week to ten days, “Israeli awareness of the difficulty of the geographical nature of the Gaza Strip and the fact that they can not be dragged into a guerrilla war inside cities and refugee camps.” What complicates things further for the Israelis, according to these observers, is that residents in border areas refused to leave their homes in response to the leaflets that Israeli warplanes dropped days ago. This will make it harder for the Israeli army to apply a scorched earth policy.

The field sources told Al-Akhbar that cohesion on the domestic front in Gaza and the steadfastness of the residents - other than the evacuation of humanitarian cases from some houses - “is an important part of confronting the occupation which aims to destroy the houses and conduct wide-range bulldozing operations in what looks like a scorched earth policy in order to clear the area and locate underground tunnels.”

What these sources have said, coincides with the statement of the Israeli army chief of staff, Benny Gantz, who said that the goal of the operation at the moment is to “take control of the areas where we find smuggling tunnels.” That is why the Resistance stressed the need for people to remain steadfast as much as possible while it strikes at the enemy at advanced fronts, causing casualties among its soldiers.

Retired Brigadier-General Yousef al-Sharqawi says the Israeli army is resorting to a land invasion because its air force failed to achieve its goals, namely, stopping Palestinian rocket fire. He argued, however, that this decision “might exact a higher price than was the case in the first ten days of the war.” Sharqawi expects that “the Israelis will not be able to achieve their stated goals in terms of destroying the underground tunnels or even their hidden goal of destroying the Resistance within an area of 365 square kilometers inhabited by two million people.”

He went on to say: “The Israelis fear the population density which prevents them from achieving results on the ground.” The general acknowledged, however, that Israel will make qualitative advances from the land and the sea “in an attempt to create a victory over the Resistance.”

In terms of the border areas that the Israeli army is supposed to be dealing with, Sharqawi argues that open land does not represent a real battle but he assumed that one of the two ends of the tunnel is the target in the open land, “that is why the Resistance can capture soldiers,” he added. As for the length of the operation, he linked it to the success or failure of Israelis “especially if by land invasion one means the current situation, i.e., relying on artillery and air force from afar to cover the limited incursion (by fire).

Until the writing of this report, it appeared that the Resistance used the method of ambushes (explosives) which killed one soldier and injured four more yesterday during the Israeli incursion into Beit Lahia in the north, according to the Israelis themselves. The Resistance also announced targeting an Israeli soldier in south of the Gaza Strip after he was shot while he was on top of his tank.

Expert in Israeli affairs, Saleh al-Naami, said that the purpose of Israel’s land operation, on the political level, is to push Hamas and the other factions to accept the Egyptian initiative and to “reduce their ability to launch rockets,” on the military level.

Naami told Al-Akhbar the Israeli army wants to put pressure on the Resistance that would distract it from launching rockets. “Israel would then focus on locating the tunnels, some of which appear to be known to Israel while it is searching for the others.” He also said that Israel wants to capture members of the Resistance and subject them to investigations to get information that would benefit it “with the participation of the special units in addition to the navy.”

He also said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chose “the easiest way to deal with Gaza, namely, targeting the tunnels. That is why his army won’t be asked to enter residential areas and subject itself to danger.” He pointed out that the land operation comes after pressure from the Israeli right “to improve Netanyahu’s image which has eroded tremendously.”

Political and security analyst at the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, Ron Ben-Yishai, said that the land operation aims to achieve three things. One, increasing pressure on Hamas so it would agree to the ceasefire agreement. Two, minimize rocket-launching at Israel by putting constant pressure on members of Hamas who will be forced to flee instead of focusing on the launching of rockets. Three, searching for tunnels based on the estimates of the Shabak (the Israeli security apparatus) and the military intelligence.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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