Analysis: Will Israel attack Gaza on the ground and if so, when and how?

Nearly two weeks into Israel’s aerial bombardment, this is the question many in Gaza and around the world are asking.

Yoav Gallant speaks with a soldier
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, centre, speaks with a soldier deployed in Israel near Gaza on October 15, 2023 [Israeli Ministry of Defence/Anadolu Agency]

For nearly two weeks following Hamas’s attack, the Israeli response has been to bomb the Gaza Strip relentlessly from the air.

But as time passes, the world is asking: Will Israel attack on the ground and, if so, when and how?

It is almost certain that it will.

Israeli politicians have been talking war so strongly that it is unimaginable that anything could persuade them to pause, stop or step back. Bitter political enemies have set aside their differences to demonstrate one mind, calling for retaliation, retribution and a solution to what they call the Hamas security problem.

Despite their tactical and strategic differences, nearly all Israeli politicians support a ground attack by Israeli forces on the Gaza Strip. They see that public opinion, in near-unison, calls for the humiliation of October 7 to be avenged in blood. So far, the payback has mostly been the blood of Palestinian civilians, but there is a desire to go into Gaza and kill as many fighters as possible.

So how does Israel plan to carry out a ground invasion – and what is it waiting for?

An attack takes time

It is difficult for an army that has suffered a tactical defeat and had its plans compromised to act immediately. To be ready to attack, the Israeli military needs to plan, equip, deploy and supply, and this takes some time.

Palestinians, who fled their houses amid Israeli strikes, take shelter in a tent camp at a United Nations-run centre
A woman and two children by a tent at a United Nations centre housing Palestinians who fled their homes amid Israeli raids, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 19, 2023 [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Several reliable open sources indicate that Israel is straining to secure crucial military supplies to sustain a campaign that could last weeks or months, like its stocks of aerial bombs that need to be replenished before any new attack.

Well-informed rumours – and without independent confirmation we must call them that – claim that although Israel manufactures most of the ammunition and bombs it uses, the warehouses are not as full as logistics commanders would want. This lull is thus useful for the hurried acquisition of vital military hardware.

Generals know that the situation with reserves and supplies will never be ideal, and they are trained to recognise the moment when they have enough to go with without delaying the action too much. The Israeli military is probably close to a state of operational readiness that would allow it to launch a full Gaza offensive. That could be a matter of days at the most.

Israeli politicians must be already biting their nails and cursing soldiers for not having gone in already. They know – especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who many Israelis blame for leading the country in the wrong direction for years and disgracing their famed security and armed forces – that time is not on their side.

On October 7, and for days after, terrible scenes of civilians and disarmed soldiers being killed and hostages being taken galvanised support for Israel, including that of world leaders. Had it been capable of launching the ground offensive within 24 hours, Israel may have enjoyed worldwide support or at least a lack of strong opposition.

But very soon, the Israeli air attacks on Gaza, killing civilians and shattering neighbourhoods under unprecedented volumes of bombs, eroded much of that support.

Every day, more voices say that this has to stop, that this much killing is enough. At least 3,785 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombardment; one-third of those were children.

Children sit in the back of an ambulance at Shifa Hospital after an Israeli air strike hit the nearby Al-Ahli Hospital
Children in the back of an ambulance at Shifa Hospital after an attack hit the al-Ahli Arab Hospital, in the Gaza Strip, October 17, 2023 [Mohammed Al-Masri/Reuters]

After international outrage over the October 17 explosion at the al-Ahli Arab Hospital, which killed at least 471 people, Israeli decision-makers see their window of opportunity to act with international support rapidly closing and will probably attack soon, even if the military are not 100 percent ready.

A weekend ground invasion?

A possibly major factor influencing the decision when to attack is intelligence-gathering on the locations where captives are held.

Secret services want to scrutinise as many operational leads as possible and gather as much information as possible, but they know they cannot have all the time they want.

I don’t know when G-day will be and, taking an enormous gamble, I believe the main preparations are nearly complete and the attack may happen as early as the weekend.

History has shown that cunning decision-makers, who know how world politics tick, try to launch military campaigns that will trigger a strong response in the international community, on Fridays or Saturdays.

Why then? For a banal and simple reason: if the attacked side or its supporters and allies demand that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) convene urgently, it is usually impossible to get the quorum before Monday morning New York time.

That gives the attackers more than two days before they may be cautioned or sanctioned by the UNSC, even though it usually does not act strongly in its first session.

The nature of the invasion is also predictable: It is likely to be a massive, coordinated land, air and sea attack from multiple directions, probably launched in the middle of the night.

After all, Israel will try to put its advantages to best use while countering the strengths of the Palestinian defenders.

Source: Al Jazeera