Gaza War: Day 21

Israel’s ground offensive into Gaza has yet to start. Many are asking why

The ground offensive will be coming, however, sooner rather than later, analysts tell Jewish Insider

JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli army soldiers walk at a position along the border with the Gaza Strip near Sderot in southern Israel on October 27, 2023 amid ongoing battles between Israel and Palestinian Hamas movement.

Israelis, and much of the rest of the world, have been waiting anxiously for the IDF to launch an all-out ground offensive into the Gaza Strip following Hamas’ mass terrorist attacks on Oct. 7. Yet, nearly three weeks later, despite intense Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave and a continued barrage of rocket fire against Israel from Palestinian terrorists within, a sweeping operation to remove the Hamas threat has still not materialized.

In Israeli television studios, talking heads – former prime ministers, retired generals and military analysts – are scratching their heads over what some say is another example of a dysfunctional system led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Others point to the myriad challenges Israel faces in marching into the enemy territory, among them the fact that some 229 hostages, including women and children, are being held captive there, but also the precarious war environment – a warren of subterranean tunnels sprawling more than 300 miles beneath major urban centers.

There has also been diplomatic pressure from the White House for Israel to hold back from an all-out ground invasion out of concern for the humanitarian situation faced by millions of Gaza civilians, and also amid diplomatic efforts to release the hostages, among whom are dozens of U.S. and other foreign citizens. 

In addition, the U.S. has been working to shore up its own forces in the region over fears that the conflict in Gaza could ignite additional fronts – the Iranian-backed Shiite militia Hezbollah in Lebanon is already threatening to join the fray – and beyond, as Israel’s arch-nemesis Iran closely watches events unfold.

“The reasons for the delay are multifaceted,” Neri Zilber, a Tel Aviv-based journalist and adviser to Israel Policy Forum told Jewish Insider. “But make no mistake, a ground offensive will be coming, and it won’t be delayed for weeks, like some people saying, that is just unsustainable.”

As well as the U.S. aspects, Zilber said that for internal Israeli reasons ramping up the military campaign in Gaza would also take a little longer.

“Yes, the IDF has said it is ready, but it’s also softening up the battlespace inside Gaza via the air to make it easier for the ground forces to go in,” he said. “They also need time to prepare and better train the reserve army and the standing army for what’s to come.”

Zilber said that despite the public pressure, including the pressure from hundreds of families to see their relatives returned from Gaza, “the war cabinet and even the IDF is being patient – and that’s a good thing.”

Even as the ground incursion appears stalled for now, the army said on Friday that its forces had continued to conduct raids inside Gaza, moving deeper into the territory than previously with a larger deployment of forces, including UAVs and tanks to destroy tunnels, anti-tank missile launching positions and terrorists, according to media reports.

“I don’t think that the small raids are instead of the ground invasion,” said Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He explained that the missions are aimed at engaging with Hamas terrorists on the ground, gaining a better sense of what is going on inside Gaza and to put pressure on Hamas.

“Every day that passes is in Israel’s favor,” Michael continued. “Hamas prepared in advance for life in the tunnels but being 30 or 40 meters under the ground for three weeks is not an easy experience.”

He also highlighted that Hamas is most likely running low on the fuel it needs to operate the tunnel system and ensure that oxygen is provided for the estimated 20-25,000 fighters now sheltered inside.

“Without the supply of oxygen, they will die,” Michael said. “Now they are trying to play with the hostages and use them as a negotiating tool in exchange for fuel.”

The United Nations and other international aid agencies ramped up their warnings this week that the dwindling fuel supplies needed to power hospitals and essential institutions for civilians in the Strip is set to run out completely, hampering aid efforts.

The Hamas-run Ministry of Health said the death toll in Gaza had passed 7,000, with nearly 500 people killed in the past 24 hours. Aid agencies estimate that 1.4 million people are now internally displaced inside Gaza.

However, on Wednesday, COGAT, the Israeli military agency that oversees the transfer of goods into Gaza shared a photograph on X of what it said was Hamas’ fuel tanks, saying “Hamas owns fuel tanks, containing hundreds of thousands of liters of fuel.”

Israel’s political echelons have also expressed concern that power-generating materials that are allowed into Gaza will be repurposed for Hamas’ war efforts.

“Hamas is getting nervous and unfocused, which makes them weaker and will make things easier with regard to the ground invasion,” Michael surmised, adding, “Israel will not be able to avoid a land invasion they need to demolish Hamas’ center of gravity.”

He also said that in Israel the expectation of war is so high that not moving forward with a full-scale ground invasion will increase tension between the public and the government, the public and military, and between the military and the country’s already flailing leadership.

“It will be a huge mess internally and will send a negative message to our enemies in the region,” Michael pointed out.

However, a poll published Friday carried out by the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv found that almost half of Israelis want to hold off on a ground invasion into Gaza while hostages are still being held there.

Asked if the military should immediately escalate to a large-scale ground offensive, 29% of Israelis agreed while 49% said “it would be better to wait,” and 22% were undecided, the poll found.

Hamas has released four of the hostages so far, but the families of those still being held have been running a relentless campaign — that has included meetings with officials in the U.S. and around the world — that has touched the heart of Israeli society. 

Images of the more than 20 children and babies, as well as others being held, are plastered all over the country, with demonstrations and interviews by the relatives of those who were taken, posing a serious dilemma for Israel not only militarily, but diplomatically as well.

On Wednesday, Israel’s National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi drew sharp criticism for his post on X thanking Qatar as “an essential party and stakeholder in the facilitation of humanitarian solutions.”

Reportedly, the Gulf country was involved in securing Hamas’ release of some of the hostages, but, as many critics pointed out, is simultaneously a chief sponsor of the terrorist group, allowing its top leaders – Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal – to live in the tiny country full-time.

“Israel is stuck between a hard place and Qatar,” Yaakov Katz, senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute and the author of three books on Israeli military affairs, told JI. “On the one hand, it knows how Qatar harbors terrorists and funds Hamas but on the other hand, Qatar is the one line of communication to Hamas so if it wants to advance hostage negotiations it needs to talk to the Qataris.”

But the INSS’ Michael was more critical.

“Qatar is the largest supporter of Hamas, and we are in an era where we need moral clarity,” he said. “Qatar is an enemy of Israel, an enemy of the U.S., and an enemy of the pragmatic Sunni world, the idea that it supports Hamas and hosts the head of the snake, news channel Al Jazeera, which calls on the entire Arab and Muslim world to slaughter Jews, should not be tolerated.”

“The U.S. should have given Qatar an ultimatum two weeks ago to throw Hamas terrorists out of the country and to shut down Al Jazeera,” Michael added. “Qatar wouldn’t survive in the region for more than two hours without support from America.”

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