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How do you wipe out a ghost army?

October 19, 2023 at 8:00 am

Members of Izz ad-Din al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian group Hamas, parade on the Hamas’ 35th anniversary at Al-Qatiba Square in Gaza City, Gaza on December 14, 2022. [Ali Jadallah – Anadolu Agency]

First it was Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, who announced to the world that Israel will “wipe out” Hamas off the face of the earth. The General went on to say “this thing called Hamas, ISIS-Gaza, will cease to exist.” He made the announcement after a war cabinet was formed to manage the war against the Palestinians.

Then the Prime Minister, Netanyahu, signed up to the same pledge following the first cabinet meeting of the newly formed coalition tasked with only one job: finish Hamas, once and for all. Of course, the entire cabinet agreed with the ambiguous threat/objective. So, militarily, wiping out Hamas is the ultimate war objective, since no other has been stated.

Few people stopped to ask the logical question: what does “wiping out” Hamas mean in practical and military terms?

General Gallant further explained the “wiping” process and said that Israel is fighting “human animals” in Gaza, without specifying if such “animals” exclude “animals” as young as a few days old or as old as eighty years of age.  But he needed no explaining as the self-explaining statement is very clear, conclusive and inclusive to mean all Gazans, regardless of age.

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To prove the point, Mr. Gallant’s army did murder, so far, over 1000 children, including the newly born, a few days’ old, and a few weeks of age. Some 47 families, made up of 500 members, have been completely erased from Gaza’s civil register.

Israel’s usually soft spoken President was enraged when asked about the killing of the Gazans. He quickly signed up to the idea of “wiping out” of civilians because, he believes, they are complicit with Hamas, so they deserve what they are getting.

Now, back to our earlier question: what does wiping out Hamas mean in reality?

This is a Movement more like a ghost army than an actual one. Waging war against a ghost army is like a nightmare in which ghosts roam freely, depriving you of sleep.

Hamas does not have military barracks, no air conditioned headquarters for top commanders to direct the battle, no air bases, no radar systems to knock out, no electronic surveillance equipment to hack, no military bases to take over, no air bases, no naval installations, no railway networks to destroy to hamper supplies and no headquarters to bomb. Hamas is not an army by any measure and certainly lacks the firepower and the numbers when compared to Israeli’s army—one of the best in the world.

Hamas and other Resistance groups do not have reservists to mobilise and hardly have between 15 and 20 thousands fighters, at a maximum, loosely connected to each other and, mostly, work independently, when they have to. It does not have any easy way of procuring arms, let alone any other warfare technologies which Israel possesses and keeps getting easily from its many suppliers, including the Empire of the United States, the former Empire of Great Britain and the rising Empire of the European Union. Even Hamas’ rockets, showering Israel, are crude-home-made blind projectiles that use no radar systems to reach their target. Hamas does not even man any check points in Gaza. It might be, more accurately, described as a virtual movement or  guerrilla group that employs old guerrilla war tactics to resist a persisting and brutal Occupation that was the primary cause for its very existence—if there is no Occupation, there would be no Hamas.

This is not glorifying of Hamas, who many designate as a terror organisation, but rather a statement of facts as they are in the real world.

In a military sense, wiping out Hamas means that this war lacks any clear and measurable military objective against which to measure its success or failure. It also lacks any political objective, as usually wars are for a political goal.

Perhaps, the only measure of the success or failure is the extent of the destruction it is already causing in Gaza and the number of innocent civilians slaughtered. If this is the case, then Israel is victorious already, as much of Gaza has been levelled and over 12,000 Gazans injured and more than 3000 killed.

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As the Israeli bombardment enters its second week, we are getting glimpses of the overall Israeli objective behind this war: turning Gaza into a mass grave after being an open prison for decades, with the potential of transferring survivors out to Egypt next door.

Israel is now preparing a massive ground invasion of Gaza, where some 2.2 million people are trapped with nowhere to go; with no water, no electricity, no medicine and no food. This could be a costly adventure for Israel’s formidable army which is tech-dependent and not used to fighting in urban and densely populated areas, even where every structure and building has been bombed to the ground.

Israel will target the network of underground tunnels Hamas has been digging for years as alternative routes to move fighters, supplies and munitions, away from Israeli surveillances and informants.  Most tunnels, according to different sources, are found in and around Beit Hanoun in Northern Gaza and around Gaza city itself, a little to the south. The other sophisticated network of underground tunnels is found in the southern tip of the Gaza Strip. Both locations are strategically located on the edge of the line of “unofficial” borders with Israel, which still does not have any clearly demarcated borders.

Israeli military planners know all such details, but finding the well-hidden entry and exit points of such tunnels remains a difficult challenge for a regular army, too reliant on air force and advanced war technologies.

The Israeli army is likely to suffer huge losses in personnel and equipment, even when its supplies are being immediately replenished by the US and others. Hamas fighters are benefitting from their knowledge of the geography around them and their experience in urban warfare where they know each alley and every narrow street in the Gaza Strip.

Even if Israel prevails militarily at any cost, as it appears determined to do so, the question then is: what to do with Gaza when Hamas is “wiped out”?

Re-occupying the narrow strip of land is not an option. Even Israeli parrot, Joe Biden, advised Israel against it. Leaving the Gaza Strip without any sort of internal government, should Hamas be destroyed, is a disastrous idea. Handing it over to the discredited, corrupt and hated Palestinian Authority is also a terrible alternative.

Even the best scenario in which Israel will destroy Hamas’ military capabilities is not a long term solution to Israel’s chronic problem: security. In such a scenario, it will only be a matter of time before another “Hamas” will be born, as long as Occupation continues.

The best option to end the war is a political process, ending the longest running Occupation in modern history. However, that is off the table for the hawkish Israeli war cabinet and impossible for Netanyahu to accept.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.