On Thursday, October 26, Israel released footage of a nighttime incursion into Gaza Strip. The Israeli military accompanied the heavily edited video with a statement claiming that “in preparation for the next stages of combat, the [Israeli military] operated in northern Gaza. [Israeli army] tanks & infantry struck numerous terrorist cells, infrastructure and anti-tank missile launch posts. The soldiers have since exited the area and returned to Israeli territory.”
The video is obviously intended as propaganda, to send a message both to Israeli society and to the outside world.
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It attempts to tell Israel and the Israelis “we are not just sitting and waiting, we are doing something”. That is very important, as the Israeli military tries to counter doubts and uncertainties among the country’s population about why Israel hasn’t launched a full-fledged ground invasion of Gaza yet — despite saying it will go in soon — almost three weeks after the October 7 Hamas attacks that killed 1,400 people in Israel.
Rather than openly confirm or deny hints that the civilian leadership and the military command may not exactly be seeing eye to eye, the Israeli military counters the doubts by the video. The Israeli army hopes that it will be read as “our military is preparing, doing something, trying and testing in real conditions”. If that message is well received and accepted, as Israeli propaganda masters intended, it would ease internal tensions. No citizen – no society – wants to be in a position where he or she asks whether their leadership is lying to them or concealing something?
Unlike in most other countries, majority of Israelis serve in the armed forces and undergo regular refresher training where they are introduced to the latest tactics and technologies.
They are well prepared to judge military matters themselves. Most will immediately recognise that the force filmed consists of a tank company, with 12-15 formidable Merkava tanks, reinforced by armoured bulldozers and supported by long-range artillery from the rear. There are just glimpses of heavy armoured personnel carriers, but it is to be assumed that they would carry a company of infantry. Forces on the ground are assisted and monitored by aerial assets, from drones filming the action to successive layers of unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that are not shown but are certainly deployed.
Israelis will see the video as well produced and timely. It surely eases tension and doubt, and tells them that their military forces can go in, and out, at will.
Palestinian fighters in Gaza, and the rest of the world are looking at it with different eyes and for different reasons. Hamas armed wing is undoubtedly reading into the release from a tactical point of view, to judge what it can expect from its enemy and prepare for it.
While I cannot rule out the possibility that the video is a total deception, intended to mislead the enemy into believing that Israel will attack in a way different from the one it demonstrates in its own propaganda, I believe that, at this stage, of preparations that would be too far-fetched. It would be confusing for units to fight in one way for the cameras and then radically change operational methods in a matter of days for the real battle.
Despite its primary intention to convey a targeted message, it reveals much more – possibly even what the Israeli military never intended to divulge at this stage.
Firstly, it confirms what I predicted almost a week ago: Israelis will breech their own concrete barriers using the ubiquitous armed bulldozers that will lead the armoured column through the gap. The video shows one bulldozer digging up the mines with its powerful shovel, the second sweeping them to the sides, widening the advance lane, allowing the follow-on vehicles to bypass any tank or armoured personnel carrier that is unable to advance. A recovery tank is, expectedly, included in the force, to tow back any armour incapacitated either by landmines or Hamas ground teams, rockets from multiple launchers or anti-tank missiles.
The most revealing details from the video concern the tactics of deployment of tanks and accompanying infantry. Usually, tanks in contact with the enemy extend and advance in parallel over a wide front, with tanks side-by-side, spaced 20-50 metres (66-164 feet) apart.
They are accompanied and closely followed by dismounted infantry whose task is to deal with hidden opposing forces. Defenders who have had plenty of time to prepare could be lying in wait to hit the advancing armour from the close range of 100 metres (328 feet) or less. Only dismounted infantry offers a field of vision over a wide front to engage such opposition quickly and efficiently.
But the Israeli military forces are shown advancing in a line — a riskier way to approach determined defences. When tanks, and accompanying infantry, are spread wide, defenders have to cover very wide angles to re-aim from one target to another. The attacker has the advantage that several tanks can concentrate fire on any point in front of them. An attacker advancing in a column can engage enemy bunkers straight ahead of it with one gun only. If it is taken out of action the next in line must bypass it, risking uncleared minefields or non-discovered resistance points.
The video also shows infantry staying inside armoured vehicles during the advance. So, the Israeli military does not think it would encounter significant resistance in the first two to three kilometres (1.2-1.9 miles) of open desert and fields. A clear sign that Israel expects significant resistance only when forces reach the first buildings at the outskirts of Gaza City.
Finally, the video suggests that the units will be commanded from the ground, at battalion level, covering the three or four companies involved in each line of advance. It also confirms that Israeli commanders will have a clear tactical overview of the battlefield from numerous drones like the one that filmed the video. Higher commands might only monitor and coordinate but crucial real-time decisions on the ground will be made by experienced operational lieutenant colonels.
The video does not help answer the biggest question: Will there be a ground offensive? But the world — and Hamas, no doubt — will have taken note.