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Strategic Shift: Israel's 'Second Stage' Ground Operation Signals Evolving Priorities

Wednesday, 01 November 2023 07:46 Opinion

"Strategic Shift: Decoding Israel's 'Second Stage' Ground Operation Amid Evolving Priorities"

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent declaration of the "second stage" in the conflict with Hamas in Gaza has sparked questions about the nature of this phase and whether Israel is moving closer to its goal of eliminating Hamas. While the desire to eradicate Hamas persists, it appears that the Israeli government is adjusting its objectives, possibly in response to US pressure and a recognition of the challenges associated with a full-scale ground invasion.

Rather than attempting to uproot Hamas from its extensive network of tunnels and hiding spots, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) seem to be adopting a more targeted approach. The primary focus will shift towards significantly degrading Hamas's military capabilities, particularly its capacity to produce and launch missiles, rockets, and armed drones. Rather than a massive ground incursion, the IDF aims to encircle and weaken Hamas until the threat to Israeli population centers becomes negligible or manageable.

The strategy involves Israeli special forces conducting raids to gather intelligence on the enemy, which will then be utilized to target Hamas leadership and command and control centers. This sustained pressure campaign is designed to progressively weaken the leadership. This approach is logical for several reasons. Firstly, it poses less risk to IDF soldiers compared to a comprehensive ground invasion. While the IDF is trained for both urban and subterranean warfare and possesses specialized units and equipment, entering Hamas's extensive tunnel infrastructure with large numbers of troops could put them on the defensive, given that tunnel warfare typically favors the defender.

"Mitigating Risks: The IDF's Calculated Approach in Dealing with Hamas"

The decision to adopt a more targeted strategy against Hamas rather than a comprehensive ground invasion comes with a set of considerations. Firstly, the specialized subterranean equipment used by the IDF carries inherent risks of malfunctioning in the complex tunnel environment. Hamas likely has countermeasures in place, such as booby traps and explosive devices, turning the underground battleground into a potential trap for Israeli forces.

Secondly, a more limited approach aligns with Washington's primary concern – minimizing collateral damage. President Joe Biden has urged Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to exercise restraint, emphasizing the importance of avoiding civilian casualties and preventing regional escalation. Israel's reliance on the U.S. for military assistance and diplomatic support underscores the need to consider American preferences in its strategic decisions.

Thirdly, a surgical approach allows for diplomatic possibilities, including the potential for a prisoner swap, whether partial or full. This approach also holds the promise of sparing the lives of international hostages currently held by Hamas. By avoiding a full-scale entry into the tunnels, there remains room for negotiation, consistent with U.S. objectives.

Lastly, gradually weakening Hamas instead of relentless pounding may reduce the likelihood of opening another front involving Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon or Syria. This approach is seen as less escalatory, considering the formidable nature of Hezbollah compared to Hamas. The IDF, recalling the lessons from the 2006 war with Hezbollah, maintains a cautious stance, acknowledging the potential challenges of engaging a more formidable adversary."

"Navigating Uncertainties: Challenges and Considerations in IDF's Approach to Hamas"

While opting for a less forceful approach against Hamas, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) face potential challenges. This strategy gives Hamas the opportunity to regroup and adjust, allowing its backers, Iran and Hezbollah, to devise more effective ways to support the Palestinian faction and counter Israel's gradual method. The risk of escalation remains, particularly with the ongoing exchange of fire between the IDF and Hezbollah along the Israel-Lebanon border, which poses an uncertain containment.

Despite public statements, there are indications that Netanyahu's government is reassessing its options against Hamas. Political pressure from President Biden has likely influenced Israel's current strategy, preventing a more aggressive stance. However, the situation is dynamic, and a single errant or deliberate missile, whether from Hamas or Hezbollah, resulting in significant Israeli casualties, could alter the course of events. The potential for a more robust Israeli response against Hamas still looms.

Bilal Y Saab, Associate Fellow with Chatham House and Senior Fellow/Director of the Defence and Security Programme at the Middle East Institute, offers insights into the complex landscape. As the situation unfolds, the IDF faces uncertainties, and the outcomes hinge on various geopolitical factors.

"In conclusion, the IDF's strategic shift in adopting a less forceful approach against Hamas unfolds against a backdrop of complexity and uncertainty. While this nuanced strategy aims to mitigate risks and align with international concerns, challenges loom on the horizon. The breathing space afforded to Hamas raises questions about potential regrouping and adjustments, with the backing of Iran and Hezbollah adding a layer of geopolitical intricacy.

The ongoing exchange of fire with Hezbollah along the Israel-Lebanon border adds a volatile element, and the containment of this conflict remains uncertain. Despite public statements, the Israeli government, under Prime Minister Netanyahu, is likely reassessing its options, with President Biden's political pressure playing a role in shaping the current approach. However, the fluid nature of the situation means that a single significant incident, such as a missile causing Israeli casualties, could swiftly alter the trajectory, potentially leading to a more robust Israeli response.

Bilal Y Saab's insights underscore the multifaceted challenges at play. As events continue to unfold, the IDF navigates a complex landscape where geopolitical factors, regional dynamics, and the potential for unforeseen escalations shape the course of this evolving conflict."

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