October 18, 2023 | Policy Brief
Enia Krivine | Senior Director, Israel Program & Senior Director, National Security Network
A senior Israeli official reportedly said on Tuesday that the Jewish state has struck more than 5,000 targets in Gaza with the goal of eliminating Hamas, even if it takes “months or years.” The objective will therefore require long-term support and forbearance from its greatest ally, the United States.
On October 7, Palestinian terrorists invaded several communities in southern Israel, massacring 1,400 Israelis, including children, the elderly, and the disabled. Israel has identified 199 additional people taken hostage by Hamas, though the terrorist group claims that up to 250 hostages are being held in Gaza.
While Israel has conducted several operations against Hamas in the past, prior campaigns sought only to degrade and deter the terrorist group, leaving it intact to preserve the functions of governance in the coastal enclave. This time, Jerusalem’s objective is to remove Hamas from power.
Accordingly, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it is preparing a Gaza offensive by “air, land and sea.” An IDF land incursion into Gaza could produce heavy casualties for the IDF and inevitably involve significant collateral damage. Moreover, Hamas has likely planned for a ground invasion.
With Hamas’ large arsenal, extensive network of terror tunnels, and track record of setting cunning traps for IDF soldiers, there is understandable concern for the safety of Israel’s men and women in uniform. However, a ground incursion may be Israel’s best chance of eliminating Hamas and bringing the hostages home alive.
While many Israelis understand the need for a ground invasion, they also know that the longer they can bombard Gaza from the air, destroying terror infrastructure and degrading Hamas’ capabilities before sending their soldiers into Gaza, the better chance that more of them will come home to their families at the end of the war.
On Monday, the IDF released images of weapons seized from Hamas fighters in recent days. FDD’s Long War Journal analyzed the images, identifying an array of deadly munitions in the terror group’s possession, including armor piercing explosively formed penetrators (EFP), shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets, and various types of powerful explosives.
Another complicating factor for an IDF ground invasion is the high number of civilians that remain on the battlefield. Israel has urged Gazans to move to safer territory in southern Gaza, away from the center of Hamas infrastructure in the north. However, Hamas has called on Palestinians to stay put, apparently seeking to use them as human shields for its fighters.
Hamas is reportedly even putting up roadblocks to prevent Gazans from evacuating to safer areas. On Sunday, the IDF shared an audio recording of a Palestinian in Gaza stating how Hamas was prohibiting civilians from fleeing south.
On Monday, President Joe Biden said that while Israel should eliminate Hamas, an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza would be a “big mistake.” This statement suggests that Washington might oppose an operation that involves a prolonged IDF presence in Gaza. The president should make clear that he will stand with Israel for as long as it takes to ensure the safety and security of all Israelis, particularly the communities of Israel’s south.
Enia Krivine is the senior director of the Israel Program and the National Security Network at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) For more analysis from Enia and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow Enia on X @EKrivine. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.