An Israeli tank drives near the border as it returns to Israel from Gaza..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Should Hamas resume rocket attacks on Israel when the five-day truce ends at midnight on Monday, the chances of Israel agreeing to conduct a prolonged war of attrition with Gaza, in which Palestinian rocket attacks are met only with Israeli air strikes and artillery fire, are low.
The more likely scenario is that the IDF will initiate the next phase of its operational plans, based on a deep ground offensive into the Gaza Strip.
Military forces remain deployed on the Gazan border in high numbers, and they have completed preparations to go back into Gaza. This time, their objective will not be limited to tunnel destruction near the Israeli border, but rather to send infantry and armored units into Gaza and begin dismantling Hamas’s military wing, Izzadin Kassam.
A broader ground offensive can take multiple forms, and its scope can vary as well. On one end of the spectrum is a smaller operation that can last a few weeks, in which ground forces seize Gaza, deliver a powerful blow to Hamas’s military assets, and withdraw.
On the other end of the spectrum is an operation that would last at least about a year, in which ground units would spread out and go after all of Hamas’s guerrilla cells. Several intermediate options exist, too.
Targets would include the remainder of Hamas’s weapons storage facilities, command and control sites, regional battalions, and its junior and senior leaders from its armed wing.
Hamas has evolved into a well-organized and effective urban combat force. Although it is hierarchical, functioning like an army, it has spread out its centers of gravity across the Gaza Strip, in classic asymmetrical warfare form.
Many of its critical assets remain hidden in defensive tunnels and underground bunkers. These subterranean structures do not cross the border into Israel like the attack tunnels did, but they allow Hamas’s military wing to direct waves of fire at approaching military forces and to launch hit and run attacks.
By any standard, Hamas today represents a formidable foe.
But IDF sources say they are ready to take it on, if ordered to do so. In the limited ground offensive launched last month to destroy offensive tunnels, the IDF sustained the very painful loss of 64 soldiers, but Hamas and other terrorist factions in Gaza lost at least 900 members in combat with Israel, according to army intelligence evaluations.
Hamas would find an expanded IDF ground offensive to be unstoppable. It would risk the future of its regime if it insisted on resuming hostilities.
The entire scenario can be avoided, if Hamas decides to keep the peace after the clock strikes midnight on Monday.