analysisIsrael at War

Ground offensive will be aimed at destroying Hamas from bottom up

IDF Spokesman repeats calls for Gazans to evacuate southward, and dismisses reports that Israel bombed a convoy of Gaza evacuees as "fake news." 

Israeli soldiers seen at a staging area near the southern Israeli border with Gaza, Oct. 12, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israeli soldiers seen at a staging area near the southern Israeli border with Gaza, Oct. 12, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

As Israel’s security cabinet and the Israel Defense Forces finalize plans on Sunday ahead of the expected Israeli ground offensive into the Gaza Strip, it is becoming clear that Israel’s objective will be to eliminate all Hamas military and political infrastructure in the Strip, from bottom to top.

The IDF has called for residents of northern Gaza and Gaza City to evacuate south, crossing the Wadi Gaza river, to avoid their use as human shields by Hamas’s terrorist army, which is commanded by Mohammed Deif and which has some 30,000 operatives. 

Since Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2007 via a violent coup, it has built, trained and armed a terrorist army and guerilla force, and has entrenched it in high-rise buildings, subterranean bunkers and tunnels, in the midst of Gaza’s civilian population. 

As a result, fighting is likely to take place in and around multi-story residential buildings converted by Hamas into military targets, doubling as command posts, lookouts and firing positions for the terror group. 

The IDF can be expected to send in armored vehicles, infantry, combat engineering, artillery and special forces, backed by close air support and firepower support from the navy as well. 

The mission will be to seek out and destroy all Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets, including senior operatives hiding out in bunkers and combat tunnels, thousands of kilometers of which crisscross Gaza. Repressing rocket fire on the Israeli home front by systematically destroying rocket launchers as the maneuver progresses will also be a key mission.

The forces can expect to come up against terrorists appearing from tunnels and buildings, firing shoulder-fired missiles, sniper rifles, mortar shells and other weaponry that has been mass produced in Gaza with Iranian funding or smuggled into the Strip with Iranian assistance. 

The IDF has been training for years for this type of urban warfare, based on the concept of the 360-degree threat, in which enemies can appear from any direction, including from above and below. 

In 2018, Maj. Guy Madar, a former Givati deputy battalion commander and a key planner of a war exercise held that year to simulate just such an offensive, told JNS, “When they [the IDF] enter the combat arena, they could have [enemies] under their feet. And they need to look up [too]. The enemy is not naïve. It wants to try its own surprises against us.” 

He added, “Those who will win are those who act with cunning and creativity. It will be those who know how to think differently.”

Fighting at night, with armored vehicles, in closed combat areas with a stress on tall buildings and tunnels, and giving smaller units at the platoon and company level independence and flexibility to destroy their assigned targets, will be key to this offensive. 

Such smaller units will likely prove to be the decisive factor in achieving victory, and the more they are decentralized in their freedom to act, the faster they can adapt to the asymmetric and brutal enemy at hand. 

Platoon commanders are expected to be the ones experiencing utmost friction with Hamas’s terror army. 

The IDF will also likely be counting on the Trophy active protection system, installed its Merkava 4 tanks, to provide support for the armor, and on its combat network to detect and share new enemy targets in seconds, enabling rapid fire on those targets. 

Field commanders at the company level will have quadcopters and drones at their disposal for gathering their own aerial intelligence and building their own picture of the battle space, rather than fully depending on the air force to do this. 

Meanwhile, speaking on Sunday, IDF International Spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht repeated calls for Gazans to evacuate southward, describing reports that Israel bombed a convoy of Gaza evacuees as fake news. 

“We showed some aerial pictures of them [Hamas] blocking the convoys, and they’re trying to do everything to block it,” he said. 

 “We’ve opened a new corridor,” he added. 

The Israeli Air Force has continued large-scale strikes against senior operatives and terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, with the assistance of the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet), and has killed the commander of Hamas’s “Nukhba” forces in southern Khan Younis, who was responsible for the Kibbutz Nirim massacre, the IDF announced on Sunday. 

“The IDF also struck over 100 military targets located in Zaytun, Khan Younis, and west Jabaliya. These strikes impacted the capabilities of the Hamas terrorist organization, by targeting its operational command centers, military compounds, dozens of launchers, anti-tank missile launch posts and observation posts. Furthermore, operational command centers belonging to the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization were struck,” the IDF added. 

Hecht said the IDF is still reinforcing the Gaza barrier and border areas. 

He noted that in the north, speaking shortly after a Hezbollah cross-border anti-tank missile killed an Israeli and wounded several others, “There is a certain threshold that people in the region know what it means,” referring to the danger of war breaking out with Hezbollah. 

The United States has meanwhile deployed a second carrier battle group, the USS Gerald R. Ford, which will join the USS Eisenhower carrier strike group already off the Israeli coast, days after a U.S. cargo plane landed at Nevatim Air Force Base in the South with munitions supplies for the IDF. 

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi has maintained regular contact with U.S. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Michael Kurrilla. 

 By Sunday afternoon, the IDF confirmed that over 1,300 people were murdered on Oct. 7 during Hamas’s cross-border attack, 126 IDF soldiers were killed and 126 hostages were being held in the Gaza Strip, including young children and the elderly. Over 6,000 rockets were fired at Israel since Oct. 7. 

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