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All-out or limited? Russian analyst assesses Israel’s Gaza ground offensive options

October 24, 2023 at 3:23 pm

Israeli soldiers patrol near the Gaza border as the clash between Israeli army and Palestinian factions continues in Nir Oz, Israel on October 24, 2023 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Israel launching a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip is a certainty, but what remains to be seen is how the Israeli military goes about it, according to a Russian analyst.

There are different ways that any force could employ a ground military operation, taking into consideration various aspects, Boris Dolgov, a researcher at the Russian Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow, told Anadolu.

Over the past two weeks, Israeli officials have repeatedly hinted at launching a ground offensive in Gaza, all while heavily bombarding the besieged Palestinian Territory.

The relentless Israeli attacks have now killed more than 5,000 Palestinians, among them over 2,000 children and 1,100 women.

The number of people injured in Gaza is now over 15,200, according to official figures.

READ: Israel think tank linked to Netanyahu promotes ‘unique opportunity’ to ethnically cleanse Gaza

Israel has targeted all areas of the Gaza Strip, hitting densely populated residential areas, hospitals and other civilian sites.

It has also cut off basic supplies, such as water, electricity and humanitarian aid, to more than 2.2 million people in the Gaza Strip.

Israel maintains that all of this is a response to the 7 October military operation by Hamas and its subsequent rocket attacks on Israeli areas, which have now claimed more than 1,400 lives.

“One of the options is a ground operation with the use of powerful bombs, which is something that the Israeli leadership has spoken about,” said Dolgov.

He said this would be aimed at destroying “the underground structures of Hamas” before a ground offensive, “which will lead to significant casualties”.

The alternative, according to Dolgov, is to “limit the operation to airstrikes and a local offensive in some areas where there are positions of Hamas militants.”

With this method, the Israeli forces will “not completely destroy the Gaza Strip, not level it to the ground,” he added.

Other analysts and experts around the world have also been talking about two main scenarios for an Israeli ground attack on Gaza.

The first is called the Fallujah model after the Iraqi city of that name, where US forces launched a large-scale ground attack in 2014, while the second is the Mosul model of 2017, when the international coalition against the Daesh terror group focused more on an air assault, engaging ground forces at minimum extent.

However, experts have warned that both versions resulted in significant casualties.

‘Red line’ for Arab, Muslim parties

Dolgov believes that any form of Israeli ground attack on Gaza runs the risk of expanding the conflict.

Many Arab and Muslim sides have stated that such a ground operation is a red line. This was said by Iran, Hezbollah, Shia Iraqi militia units that are allies of Hezbollah, representatives of the Ansar Allah (Houthi) movement in Yemen

he said.

Arab countries have also warned that they consider a ground operation an “unacceptable” option, he added.

Dolgov urged Israel to analyze the consequences of its actions, warning that they could spark another global wave of anti-Israeli protests.

We are seeing a wave of anti-Israeli protests almost all over the world. I’m not even talking about Arab countries; we see it in European countries, in the US, as well as in the countries of the Islamic world

he said.

“How will Israel like to live in a situation where the entire Arab and Muslim world is united against it? And there’s the economic, political and the constant military threat to Israel from Arab neighbours. What will this give Israel, even with the US support?”

Position of Arab countries

In the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, when several Arab countries fought against Israel, the Persian Gulf States helped them by halting oil supplies to Western countries, Dolgov said.

“Now there is no oil embargo to Israeli supporters because the situation is different. There is no direct military confrontation between Arab countries and Israel,” he said.

Hamas is a movement that has authority in the Gaza Strip but it is still not an Arab state, although it enjoys the support of some countries and regional forces, he added.

At this stage, Arab countries, along with other states, are trying to resolve this military situation, to stop hostilities through diplomatic means, he said.

Another important development in the current escalation is Iran, a Shia country, which has become one of the main supporters of Hamas, a Sunni Movement, according to Dolgov.

“Hamas is a Sunni Movement, Iran is a Shia country, but they are united by the goals, since both Iran and the Hamas Movement oppose, as they say, the ‘US hegemony’, they oppose what they put as ‘Israel’s aggressive actions’, Israel’s ‘creeping occupation’ of Palestinian lands,” he said.

He said the escalation in the Gaza Strip has also narrowed the divide between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

The intra-Palestinian split is related to ideological factors, for example, disputes about whether a Palestinian State would be an Islamic or secular one, he said.

“These differences exist and prevent the creation of a unified Palestinian movement. Recently, the two sides have managed to find closer positions, and the current situation is also contributing to this,” said Dolgov.

“However, the differences have not completely disappeared yet.”

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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.