Israel’s ‘second phase’ of war is underway as troops push into Gaza — but it seems deliberately ambiguous

The Israeli military is expanding its operation into the Gaza Strip, but has stopped short of calling it a “ground invasion” despite sending tanks into the ground. That’s by design, security analysts say.

Saturday marked the start of the “second stage” of Israel’s war against Hamas, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning that the fight will be “long and difficult”, amid growing risks of a wider conflict in the Middle East.

A key reason for the ambiguity in what appears to be smaller ground operations, rather than a full ground assault, is enemy rejection, analysts say.

“It looks like they want to keep Hamas guessing as to whether this is actually or just a short, sharp attack,” a former British military intelligence officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of professional restrictions, told CNBC.

Another reason is visual. Israeli generals are wary of triggering a major response from Iran’s enemies and Hezbollah, the well-armed Iranian-backed militant group in Lebanon on Israel’s northern border, says Ryan Bohl, senior Middle East and North Africa in Rane.

“The biggest reason they won’t call it an ‘invasion’ is public relations and visibility, as they’re not trying to create a political incentive for Hezbollah and Iran to escalate and they don’t want the negative international attention from such a massive attack,” he said. the ball.

An invasion would also mean the IDF wants to permanently occupy the occupied land, which top Israeli officials have vehemently opposed given the high cost and risk to Israeli troops of a military reoccupation of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces carry out an overnight raid in northern Gaza

The widespread ground attacks follow more than three weeks of heavy aerial bombardment by the Israel Defense Forces of the densely populated Gaza Strip, home to more than 2 million Palestinians living under Israeli blockade since 2007. The IDF says the ground offensive is the only way to ensure the destruction of Hamas’s complex network of underground tunnels, adding that it only targets Hamas positions in its campaign.

The Israeli bombings came in response to an unprecedented terror attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7 in southern Israel, which killed more than 1,300 people in Israel and saw more than 240 civilians and military personnel held hostage in Gaza, the IDF says. Israel’s military response has killed more than 8,500 people in GazaPalestinian authorities say.

CNBC was unable to independently verify either item.

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A view from the area after Israeli airstrikes on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza on October 31, 2023. Palestinians, including children, were killed in a series of Israeli airstrikes on the Jabalia refugee camp, an interior ministry spokesman said on Tuesday. Israeli attacks continue for 25th day in Gaza. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Shortly after the October 7 attack by Hamas, Israel’s government ordered a total siege of Gaza, cutting off all supplies of water, food and electricity to its population, which the United Nations has condemned as illegal under international law, slamming the alarm bells for a catastrophic humanitarian action. crisis. The UN has similarly denounced Hamas for its mass killings and hostage-taking, also illegal under international law.

Attack on ‘all parts’ of Gaza

While the IDF’s focus is on the northern part of the Gaza Strip, which it says is a Hamas stronghold, the army is attacking “all parts” of the territory, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said on Tuesday. He noted that “additional forces” have entered the strip, which is roughly the size of the city of Philadelphia, while stressing that the IDF would not reveal the exact locations of its troops.

On October 13, the Israeli military told the 1.1 million residents of the northern half of the Gaza Strip to move southward in preparation for the offensive, although shelling of the south continues.

“We will focus our operations on the northern part of Gaza, which is the center of gravity of Hamas … but we continue to strike other parts of Gaza,” Konrikus said. “We’re going after their commanders, we’re attacking their infrastructure,” he said, noting that Israel has sent heavily armored vehicles, tanks and bulldozers into the strip.

GAZA — OCTOBER 21, 2023: Maxar satellite imagery from before and after images showing damage in Atatra neighborhood, North Gaza (location: 31.5609, 34.4809). Use: Satellite Image (c) 2023 Maxar Technologies.

Maxar Technologies | Getty Images

The IDF is fighting alongside the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, with whom it has traded fire since the early days of its conflict against Hamas.

“What is important here is for the Lebanese state to understand that it stands to lose almost everything and gain absolutely nothing by allowing Hezbollah to drag it into a war,” Conricus said on Tuesday.

Another big challenge for Israel is fighting an enemy that has likely been expecting and preparing for a heavy ground invasion, says Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the Gulf Arab Institute in Washington.

“Why is Israel so secretive? Because it is fighting an enemy that has outwitted it on October 7 and has undoubtedly prepared a response to Israeli ground incursions into Gaza’s urban centers that will be stunning, unpleasant and difficult to deal with. the Israeli troops,” Ibish said.

“Uncertainty is one reason for privacy. Hostage rescue efforts are another reason. This could be compromised by too much information… There is also probably an effort in trying to manage international and Israeli public opinion, from very different angles.”

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Israel also has tactical reasons: a massive attack would result in heavy military casualties as well as civilian casualties, “none of which serve Israel’s overall strategy,” Bohl said.

The IDF “can use its overwhelming numbers, air control and superior intelligence to deploy force in tactically superior locations to corner Hamas, isolate their groups and eliminate them with less risk to civilians and soldiers” .

The IDF did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

It also reduces the risk of Hamas executing hostages en masse, Ball added, if the fighters believe they can still negotiate a ceasefire or withdrawal. A Hamas official previously said the hostages could only be released if there was a ceasefire, although four hostages have been freed so far.

Calls for a ceasefire were rejected

Gazans described to CNBC their terror of being trapped inside a sealed border as more buildings are leveled and drinking water runs out. The WHO warns that Gaza’s hospitals are collapsing as they run out of fuel and medicine, and aid groups say the several dozen aid trucks that have been able to enter the strip are not enough to meet Gaza’s humanitarian needs.

The UN General Assembly on October 27 adopted a resolution calling for an “immediate, permanent and lasting humanitarian ceasefire” between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in Gaza, with 120 countries voting in favor and 14 against. The latter group included Israel and its long-term ally, the US

Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, called the resolution, which was not binding, “despicable.”

The UN classifies Israel as an occupying state in the Palestinian territories and says occupations and annexations after the 1967 Six-Day War still violate international law. The UN Human Rights Office has urged both Israel and Hamas to respect international law, repeatedly calling for a humanitarian ceasefire.

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