Netanyahu says Gaza bombing is ‘the beginning’ before expected ground invasion
Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza is “imminent,” Israeli officials told Politico, with the country’s military forces already carrying out localized raids inside the strip and thousands of troops gathering near the frontier. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that the relentless bombing of Gaza in retaliation to Hamas’s brutal assault was “just the beginning” of Israel’s response.
“Our enemies have only just started paying the price. I cannot reveal what will happen, but I am telling you this is just the beginning,” Netanyahu said.
The United Nations and other human rights groups have urged Israel to reconsider its plans for fear of more civilian deaths. Israel asked all of northern Gaza’s residents — around 1.1 million people — to evacuate to the south, while Hamas told people to stay put.
There is more political momentum for a full-scale invasion now compared to the 2014 Gaza war. Netanyahu then dismissed calls from rightwing members of his coalition to gain total control of the strip, largely because his military personnel warned such an invasion would lead to extreme bloodshed, The Economist’s Gregg Carlstrom tells NPR. But the government has shifted more to the right, and even the estimated 150 Israeli hostages in Gaza “can’t let them dictate [Israel’s] war plan” to “crush” Hamas, Carlstrom says the government now believes. “Effectively, these hostages end up becoming collateral damage," he says.
Given Gaza’s density, the Israeli combat tactic will likely be a months-long, house-to-house, block-to-block urban warfare aimed at destroying weapons stocks and communication gear, according to experts at the Atlantic Council. The challenge will be reducing civilian casualties ”because there are few places to go." Most homes in Gaza do not have shelters, and a total land and sea blockade of the strip means residents have practically nowhere to escape as the military operation progresses.
“Separating Hamas from Gaza is an almost impossible task,” notes Georgetown academic Daniel Byman. Unlike the Western Bank, there is no political rival like the Palestinian Authority that Israel can use as an auxiliary force to dismantle Hamas, Byman writes. Moreover, Israel is neither financially nor militarily prepared for a total occupation: It ultimately disengaged from Gaza in 2005 because of mounting debt, and despite mass mobilization over the last several days, most Israeli reservists are not combat soldiers trained in urban warfare. This will incentivize Israel to ”to inflict a lot of casualties,” both as deterrence and to protect its forces, Byman argues.
Experts are conflicted on the legality of the invasion. David French of The New York Times notes that “Israel’s military mission is inseparable from its legal obligations,” and that international war law Israel upholds would mean soldiers are prohibited from attacking or destroying buildings unless there is credible intelligence of a target.
University of Geneva professor Marco Sassòli argues that a ground offensive in Gaza will not violate humanitarian law because it “is neutral regarding why you may invade the place.” However, he says that both sides have seriously breached international law: Hamas by using civilian hostages as bargaining chips and human shields, and Israel by imposing a siege on Gaza and leaving people to die from hunger and the lack of fuel and power in hospitals. “In humanitarian law, there’s no reciprocity and reprisal,” Sassòli says. “The fact that Hamas violated humanitarian law does not justify Israel violating humanitarian law”.