Israel’s formidable military might is primed for the order to advance into Gaza with the stated goal of crushing the Islamist group Hamas, which launched a deadly attack on its neighbour on October 7, leaving 1,400 dead.
Visiting frontline troops massing on the border with Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heard telling soldiers on Saturday that “the next stage is coming.”
The mission is shaping up to be one of the most difficult yet faced by the Israeli Defence Force with generals said to be “preparing to implement a wide range of offensive operative plans which include, among other things, an integrated and coordinated attack from the air, sea and land”.
Hamas commanders know the Israeli military holds the advantage in numbers and firepower so will likely look to make the operation as costly as possible, drawing the IDF into brutal house-to-house fighting.
Gaza’s densely populated urban areas pose a nightmare for Israeli infantry and special forces with a warren of buildings separated by narrow alleys sprawling in all directions.
Below the ground, Hamas is believed to have constructed an elaborate system of tunnels and bunkers nicknamed the Gaza Metro.
Any assault to topple Hamas will be made more complex by the presence of hundreds of Israeli hostages grabbed during the terrorist group’s cross-border raids earlier this month.
With an invasion appearing imminent, the families of hostages have been left fearing time is running out to locate their loved ones and get them out alive before any ground offensive begins.
After a meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu the father of one hostage told Sky News the Israeli leader had reassured him that the government will be doing their utmost to free the captives.
As in 2014, Hamas will likely plan to use tunnels to launch surprise hit-and-run attacks on Israeli convoys moving through the enclave’s narrow streets.
Believed to stretch as far as 311miles in length, the tunnels are far from primitive with bunkers lined with concrete, lighting and cables for communication.
Hamas are understood to stockpile rockets and weapons in the underground network from which fighters can easily rearm and refit.
Should the IDF manage to locate the entrance to a tunnel and enter there is the risk that Hamas will leave boobytraps or simply prime the tunnel to collapse, burying the soldiers underground.
A ground assault into Gaza will mean Israeli soldiers will be vulnerable to Palestinian snipers once outside the relative protection of armoured vehicles.
Modern sniper rifles have been seen in the hands of Hamas fighters including Iranian-mode clones of ones used by Western special forces.
Israeli squads will need to maintain high vigilance as they will be constantly overlooked by windows and rooftops where hidden snipers could fire from.
The battles of Mosul, during the Western intervention against ISIS, and Fallujah, during the Iraq war, both saw widespread use of snipers by ISIS and Iraqi insurgents to delay and harass Western coalition forces.
Hamas will likely litter any approaches the Israeli military may take with roadside bombs.
Experienced bombmakers are able to craft deadly-shaped charges for attacking Israeli tanks.
Known as explosively formed projectiles (EFP) the bombs can be triggered by a sensor or command wire.
Once detonated the blast sends a molten jet of metal into the target cutting through all but the thickest armour.
Israel will look to deploy aerial strikes in the event Israeli forces become pinned down but Hamas fighters armed with portable anti-air rockets will be a constant menace.
Hamas is believed to possess a number of SA7s which are able to target both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
The MANPADS will also pose a risk to low-flying helicopters coming in to evacuate injured soldiers.
Hamas is known to have built up a formidable fleet of drones which can be unleashed on advancing Israeli troops.
Learning from the war in Ukraine, Hamas drone operators can use the UAVs to drop explosives on vulnerable vehicles or soldiers out in the open.
Fast-moving Kamikaze drones may also be used to seek out and destroy thickly armoured Israel tanks and military bulldozers.
The drones can also be used to survey the battlefield from above meaning Israel forces will have a hard time sneaking up on Hamas positions undetected.
Before beginning any ground offensive, top IDF generals will be looking to learn from the military’s last massive incursion into Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
The heaviest fighting took place in the neighbourhood of Shuja’iyya where Hamas militants let Israeli soldiers advance before emerging from hideouts and opening fire from all sides.
Heavy resistance and mounting casualities forced the Israeli Army to resort to using massive artillery and air strikes causing heavy civilian casualties.
Hamas is likely to have also learned their own lessons from the battle making the challenge that much greater for Tel Aviv.
With Israeli hostages on the ground and the eyes of the world on them, Israeli commanders will be looking to avoid a repeat of this scenario.
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