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Any full-scale ground invasion into Gaza would be self-defeating for the Israeli army because a new generation of Palestinian armed groups would eventually form, experts told The National as Israel vows to “destroy and eradicate” Hamas through an invasion “within days”.
The Israeli military confirmed to The National that it had received orders from the government’s war cabinet to mount a full invasion into north Gaza “any day now” and that it has massed thousands of its troops and reservists at its border.
“We are readying ourselves to invade Gaza using our ground forces. There is no doubt that this could be any day at this point, so the Hamas terrorists need to prepare themselves to face us,” Avichay Adraee, the head of the Arab media division of the Israeli army, told The National.
However, military experts who spoke to The National said that any full-scale invasion would do Israel more harm in the long run. They said that even the best-case scenario for the invasion force could result in a spike in militancy in the occupied West Bank, effectively shifting the epicentre of the violence, or could lead to new armed movements.
Israel made a ground attack into Gaza in 2014, a 50 day operation during which over 2,000 Palestinians were killed. The offensive then, Operation Protective Edge, began after just six days of aerial bombardment.
But analysts say the current delay, after three weeks of the heaviest bombing of Gaza in the history of the conflict, is partly due to US pressure on the Israelis to prepare contingencies for what will happen after the battle.
“When it comes to urban warfare, the Israelis do not possess a kind of strong point here, which is why Hamas has been inviting Israel to a ground invasion since the start of this conflict, because they know that is Israel's weak point,” Tahani Mustafa, Palestine analyst at the International Crisis Group, told The National.
While the Israeli army has threatening to invade for more than a week, it briefly sent troops and tanks into northern Gaza overnight into Thursday, striking several Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant targets to “prepare the battlefield" ahead of a widely expected ground invasion after three weeks of devastating air raids.
The raid came after the UN warned it is on the verge of running out of fuel in the Gaza Strip, forcing it to sharply curtail relief efforts in the territory. Gaza has been under a complete siege since Hamas's bloody rampage across southern Israel ignited the war earlier this month.
US President Joe Biden confirmed he has asked Israel to delay a full ground invasion to help secure the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. That came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that such an operation is being prepared.
Mr Netanyahu and other Israeli government and military officials have repeatedly emphasised that the goal of this war is to “eliminate and eradicate” Hamas, but have stopped short of articulating an endgame or how ground operations might play out in one of the world's most densely populated areas.
Israel’s possible goals for this operation, according to US Gen Mark Kimmitt, would be threefold: getting its hostages back; getting retribution for the Hamas attacks on October 7; and removing Hamas as a force in Gaza so that it would never be a threat to Israel again.
Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since it ousted the Palestinian Authority in 2007, but repeated military operations by Israel have failed to weaken the movement either politically or militarily.
“In general, this is not a practical goal but it is also a general statement from the Israeli military. Eliminating Hamas leadership is something Israel has been doing for a very long time and all the strikes in Gaza over the last 20 years, this is nothing new,” Mohammed Baharoon, Director General of the Dubai Public Policy Research Centre, (b’huth) told The National.
Newly-founded militant groups are an emerging trend in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including in Nablus with the emergence of the Lions’ Den group, made up of young members who are linked to, or have splintered from, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Fatah.
“This is the only outcome. The idea that the people of Gaza after the bombardment will become closer to Israel than the Japanese to Americans after Hiroshima is a dangerous one. We now have a new generation of kids that have been fed violence and revenge, which will only perpetuate the cycle of violence,” Mr Baharoon added.
In the context of the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza, the eventual fate of Hamas's military future in the Strip will play a significant role in the future of Palestinian resistance, both in the enclave and in the occupied Palestinian territories.
However, according to Ms Mustafa of the International Crisis Group, this war would be Hamas’s ultimate test of its survival.
“For Hamas, ultimately, this is a make-or-break moment. The group has for a long time been trying to relinquish its governing authorities over the Strip, it's been looking to refocus its logistics and capacity on broader Palestinian politics. For Hamas, this is more about trying to exert worthwhile concessions from the international community and Israel and shaking up the status quo,” she said.