Israel used truce to gain intelligence to be more surgical while 'thumping' Hamas

Week-long truce has been used to gather information on Hamas positions and goal to destroy the group remains, military analysts tell 'The National'

Smoke rises above Gaza following Israeli strikes. AFP
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Israel will attempt to to reduce civilian casualties with “surgical air strikes” in the next phase of its Gaza offensive with the aim to “neutralise” Hamas forcing, the group into concessions, military analysts have told The National.

The Israeli military is understood to have used the last week to gain information on Hamas positions, largely by reconnecting with its human intelligence sources inside Gaza to determine locations.

Two outstanding aims remain for Israel, to destroy Hamas and to have the remaining 137 hostages returned but with inevitable deaths of more women and children while they attempt to impose a stranglehold on Hamas.

“This should be a less gratuitous bombing than perhaps we saw in the first seven weeks, but after an awful lot of intelligence gathering one would expect them to be far more precise,” said Col Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a former British army officer.

“I hope we're not going to see quite so much collateral damage, with more surgical air strikes but there is still some way to go here and it's still going to be pretty horrendous.”

America will also play a key role in restraining Israel’s attacks on civilians with Washington unlikely to tolerate the high death rates already suffered by Palestinians.

“The known unknown is the extent to which the US has influence over Israel in terms of getting them to try and operate in a way that causes less Palestinian civilian casualties,” said Brigadier Ben Barry, of the IISS think tank.

However, the Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy warned on Friday that “Hamas will now take the mother of all thumpings,” after it failed to release all the female hostages.

Big bombs

While its military controls about half of northern part of the enclave there remains unfinished business in Gaza city which may mean Israeli commanders will completely clear it before moving south.

During the first phase Israel used a substantial number of its heavy 2,000lb (900kg) bombs that flattened entire apartment blocks and were likely used to also block Hamas tunnels.

Israel has a large number of 500lb (226kg) bombs that it could use instead of the larger ordnance.

It is unknown how many 2,000lb bombs were dropped in the 15,000 strikes conducted by Israel since the October 7 atrocities, but according to the Hamas-run health ministry 15,000 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 4,100 children.

The horrific nature of the recent bombing’s impact on children was put forward by James Elder of Unicef, speaking from a hospital in southern Gaza.

“Those people who are making decisions that the war can recommence on children need to look into the faces and missing limbs of the children,” he told the BBC.

However, Israel does not appear to be ready to back down on its tactics although its military spokesman did say “we will go out of our way in order to limit civilian casualties”.

Interviewed just a few minutes after Mr Elder, Lt Col Peter Lerner was questioned about the child fatalities. “While the images are heartbreaking, and every civilian casualty weighs very heavily on us, we can't be expected not to defend our civilians,” he said.

Such high civilian casualties in a short period of time puts the Gaza conflict on a par with those suffered in the Vietnam War or even the Second World War, analysts have said.

Southern Gaza

With 1.5 million displaced Palestinians now in southern Gaza, the civilian death toll could increase dramatically if Israel uses the same tactics that include 2,000lb bombs.

There is a suggestion that a safe enclave might be established in south-west Gaza allowing the Israelis to attack the rest of the Strip that harbours senior Hamas commanders and the hostages.

Another alternative would be sending in special forces to take out key Hamas positions although this will likely lead to higher Israeli casualties, something the government is keen to avoid.

“If you're an Israeli, you probably just want to use technology and accept that there are going to be civilian casualties,” said Col de Bretton Gordon.

Brig Barry added: “Israel has hard choices to make about whether it's going to try and fight in a way that minimises hostage casualties, or is it actually just going to press the accelerator on the military bombing campaign.”

Alternatively, Mr Netanyahu might be attempting to create enough pressure on Hamas for them to concede to another ceasefire and hostage release.

Iran, Hezbollah and the bomb

A key element to the conflict has been that the initial fears of a regional escalation have not been realised.

Despite firing some rockets Hezbollah has been largely restrained and there is no sign of substantial meddling from Iran.

Furthermore, Hamas is not popular among many Middle Eastern countries and its atrocities have lessened its appeal.

But a key element to the war being contained, what some analysts suggest is the elephant in the room, is Israel’s stockpile of an estimated 90 nuclear warheads.

“The fact that this war hasn't spread across the Middle East is I expect because of Israeli nuclear weapons,” said Col de Bretton Gordon. “And the fact that the Iranians are not getting into the ring is hugely significant.”

History’s lesson

With Hamas’s destruction the key objective set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his military will continue to pursue the extremists.

The theory could be to bomb them into negotiations or into such a weakened state that they capitulate.

In the Yom Kippur war of 1973 the Israeli army pushed back the Egyptians and surrounded their Third Army forcing the government to concede.

When the Israelis went after the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Lebanon in 1982 the subsequent negotiated ceasefire saw its Fatah force largely relocated to Tunisia.

Furthermore, the objective of “neutralising” Hamas does not mean killing all its estimated 25,000 fighters but rather removing them as a threat to Israel.

Military analysts suggested this could mean that the Israelis are planning to make their military position untenable with a concession that Hamas fighters will leave for another country, possibly Turkey or Iran.

Key to Israel prevailing will be the morale of Hamas fighters in Gaza who are at some distance from their leadership living in Qatar, which could help it achieve a more rapid success in the coming weeks

Updated: December 01, 2023, 4:16 PM