Israeli tanks gathered near the Gaza Strip on October 22. Photo: Reuters

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a longstanding and deeply complex issue that has seen numerous escalations, including the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. To better understand how Israel conducts its operations in Gaza and the challenges it faces, let’s delve into the recent developments and the strategies employed.

1. The New Phase of the Conflict:

On October 28, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced a significant shift in the campaign against Hamas forces. Instead of conducting short-lived advances and retreating, Israeli infantry remained in the Gaza Strip, launching what was referred to as an “expanded attack.” This change marked a departure from previous tactics and indicated a more prolonged engagement.

2. Aerial Assaults and Artillery Shelling:

One of Israel’s signature approaches to entering the Gaza Strip involves heavy airstrikes to soften the battlefield for ground troops. These airstrikes are often followed by artillery shelling aimed at troop landing locations. The objective is to minimize casualties for Israeli forces. In the past two weeks alone, the Israeli air force, navy, and artillery have targeted over 10,000 locations in Gaza. These strikes focus on eliminating threats to infantry, including sniper nests and anti-tank missile sites.

3. Adaptation and Resistance by Hamas:

Hamas, the Palestinian militant group governing the Gaza Strip, has evolved over the years. It has become adept at exploiting the urban terrain to counter Israel’s technological and military superiority. The densely populated and complex geography of Gaza poses significant challenges for Israel’s military operations.

4. Terrain Limitations:

Gaza’s geographical layout significantly constrains Israel’s attack options. The landscape has forced the Israeli army to use specific routes to reach its targets. These main directions of advance include areas near the Erez border crossing in northern Gaza, the Bureji area in the south of Gaza City, and the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern part of the strip. In these locations, Hamas can effectively employ armored vehicles and establish strategic positions to maximize their firepower.

5. Urban Warfare and Defensive Positions:

Once Israeli forces advance beyond open areas, they face the complexities of urban warfare. High-rise apartment complexes in places like Jabaliya and Beit Lahia can obstruct advances from the north. Additionally, the north-south route is flanked by industrial zones, which Hamas can use as defensive positions.

In more open areas of central Gaza and east of Khan Yunis, Hamas can still leverage villages and high-rise buildings along roads to ambush Israeli forces. Urban combat in this densely populated region presents a considerable challenge to Israeli troops.

6. Anti-Tank Threats and Ambushes:

Hamas and its allies employ a range of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and mortars, combined with minefields, to counter Israeli tanks and armor. In the past, these tactics have resulted in casualties among Israeli forces, illustrating the formidable defensive capabilities of Hamas.

7. Technology and Tactics:

Hamas is not limited to traditional warfare. They have introduced modern tactics, including the use of suicide drones (UAVs) and flycams carrying armor-piercing explosives. These innovations have demonstrated their ability to disable advanced Israeli tanks, such as the Merkava Mark 4M, as seen on the opening day of the conflict.

8. Experience in Urban Warfare:

Hamas has become highly proficient in urban combat, with commanders who understand Israeli military tactics, some of whom even speak Hebrew. This in-depth knowledge allows them to anticipate Israeli strategies and respond effectively.

9. The Challenge of Tunnels:

One of the key issues for Israel is dealing with Hamas’ extensive tunnel network. Initially rudimentary, these tunnels have evolved into well-constructed, well-camouflaged underground battlefields that serve as command posts and gathering points for Hamas fighters.

10. Surveillance and Reconnaissance:

Israel benefits from an extensive surveillance and reconnaissance network in the Gaza Strip, including watchtowers and surveillance cameras along the border fence. However, Hamas has started using inexpensive UAVs to monitor Israeli forces, narrowing the surveillance advantage.

11. The Human Cost:

While Israel possesses the capability and determination to gain control of the Gaza Strip potentially, the conflict takes a heavy toll on both sides. Palestinian civilians and hostages held in the Gaza Strip face significant risks due to the ongoing violence.

In summary, Israel’s approach to attacking the Gaza Strip involves a combination of heavy airstrikes, artillery shelling, and ground operations. However, these strategies are challenged due to the complex and urban terrain of Gaza, Hamas’ adaptability, and the organization’s formidable defensive capabilities. The ongoing conflict underscores the enduring complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with human suffering on both sides.