Article published in The Daily Express, 13 October 2023. © Richard Kemp
Speaking from the border yesterday IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi made clear that armed terrorist gangs would be totally removed from the Gaza Strip. That is the objective of Israel’s Operation Iron Swords, launched in response to the mass slaughter, rape and abduction of Israeli civilians and soldiers last weekend by Hamas terrorists.
Over the last few days the crash of explosions has been almost incessant and I have watched pillars of smoke rising up from Gaza as Israel launched strike after strike against terrorist targets, using combat planes, guided missiles and artillery. These attacks are not going to end any time soon as Israel progressively works its way through pre-prepared target lists that include terrorist leaders, command posts, communications infrastructure, arms dumps and rocket launchers.
Israel has mobilised more than 300,000 soldiers for this fight and there is every likelihood that in the coming days Halevi will send troops and tanks in on the ground as well to complete the process of eliminating Hamas as a viable terrorist entity. I have spoken to IDF soldiers deployed around Gaza, preparing and training for exactly that.
They will face immense dangers as they advance across ground that Hamas has prepared with remote controlled explosives, ambushes and anti-armour teams. There is an underground city beneath Gaza to enable Hamas fighters to take IDF soldiers by surprise and outflank attacking formations. The IDF has trained for exactly this form of combat and will prevail on the ground, although they could well take heavy casualties. Towns and cities are the most dangerous places and it is likely that where possible IDF troops will remain in open areas from where they can control the main above-ground routes through the Strip.
Hamas terrorists number in the tens of thousands, and it might not be possible for the IDF to kill all of them. They may not need to. Life for ordinary people in Gaza has become extremely difficult since Hamas launched its assault on Israel and is going to get much worse as time goes on and the IDF tightens its stranglehold, even though a humanitarian zone could be set up next to the Egyptian border. It is possible that the citizens themselves might expel the terrorists who survive rather than continue to face intolerable deprivation, and Israel may even now be working out details with the Egyptian government.
As all of this is unfolding, there remains a severe threat from Lebanese Hizballah, which is, like Hamas, an Iranian-sponsored terror group. It has around 150,000 missiles pointing at Israel. The IDF has reinforced its troops in the north and is ready for a two-front war if Hizballah joins the fight. On top of that Israel faces an Iranian-orchestrated threat from Syria, and yesterday its air force launched a pre-emptive strike against airports in Damascus and Aleppo.
Once Israel has achieved its objective of eliminating Hamas and the other terrorist groups in Gaza, the problem does not end. Hamas is the government in the Gaza Strip and after their removal, Israel will not be able to leave a vacuum as the devastated territory emerges from the war. That might mean the IDF has to remain there for the foreseeable future.