Israeli forces face further challenges from close-quarter fighting in Gaza

Israel has amassed a force 10 times the size of Hamas and its allied militias, but the country's troops have struggled in early fighting

Israeli forces near the coastal region in the Gaza Strip. Photo: Israeli army
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Israeli jets, noticeable by their contrails, were seen high over Gaza on Sunday, part of a force that has struck 12,000 targets in the densely populated coastal enclave, according to the Israeli military.

The human toll has surged by the thousands in the four weeks since the war began on October 7. More than 9,000 people, mostly civilians, including several thousand children, have been killed, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, figures supported by the UN's humanitarian co-ordination affairs office.

Air operations that followed Hamas’s attack into southern Israel that killed 1,400 people – also mostly civilians – are now directly supporting Israeli forces on the ground.

Images on social media show large concentrations of Israeli tanks and infantry in an apparent strategy to saturate the dense urban terrain with forces and overwhelm Hamas and allied militias with numbers.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said last week the soldiers had “completed the encirclement of Gaza city, which is the focal point of the Hamas terror organisation”.

Urban fighting ahead

In a sign that the battle for the strip could take months, Israeli forces have already reported casualties – almost 30 dead and many more injured as of November 5 – even before major urban combat has begun.

According to the Israeli army’s analysis, ground fighting has been with Hamas militias “screening” Gaza city and trying to assess Israeli firepower.

The main Hamas force, based on information the Israelis said came from a captured Hamas document, awaits them in Gaza city.

Last week, Hamas uploaded videos of attacks on Israeli Merkava tanks, bulldozers and armoured troop carriers.

Most of the attacks were filmed in what appears to be scrubland and sand dunes near the main communities in Gaza, but in a series of videos on Sunday, Hamas fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades at Israeli vehicles from close range.

The Merkava IV tank is said by analysts to be one of the most heavily armoured vehicles in the world, but in one instance, a tank was disabled at point-blank range by a Hamas fighter placing a bomb on its hull.

Such high-risk tactics suggest Israeli forces will face an even more complex battle ahead in the labyrinth of Gaza city, facing attacks from tall buildings above them and from basements and tunnel complexes below.

According to analysis by Michael Knights at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank, Gaza city has “around 60 buildings that are six floors or taller”.

In comparison, Mosul, where Iraqi forces fought a bloody nine-month-long battle against ISIS, had almost no multi-storey buildings, Mr Knights said.

Many of the buildings in Gaza – the vital high ground in urban warfare – will either be fought for in room to room battles, or will be completely levelled by air strikes.

Updated: November 05, 2023, 2:01 PM