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Human Shields And Tunnels – Why Israel May Be Delaying Gaza Ground Assault

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Israel has subjected Gaza to the heaviest bombardment in its history.

New Delhi:

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) geared up for a ground attack on the Hamas-held Gaza Strip today, in retaliation for the unprecedented land-sea-air assault on its territories that left over 1,300 Israelis dead. As Israel continued its airstrike on Hamas-linked locations in Gaza, Iran warned of “grave consequences” if the bombardment did not stop.

Israel is poised for its most ambitious ground offensive since the 2006 invasion of Lebanon. This will also be the first time since the 2008 invasion of Gaza that Israel has attempted to capture and retain territory. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to eliminate Hamas after its deadly attack on civilians, the deadliest in the country’s history.

Israel has subjected Gaza to the heaviest bombardment in its history. This placed the region, home to 2.3 million people, under a complete lockdown and destroyed much of its infrastructure. 

To counter Hamas’s multi-pronged attack, Israel, along with the combined might of its military and air force, has mobilised 300,000 reservists to fulfill Netanyahu’s avowed quest to reduce Gaza to rubble. The planned ground offensive had not begun by the early hours of Sunday.

But Why The Delay?

According to The New York Times, the Israeli forces’ weekend invasion plans were thwarted by cloudy weather, which would have made it difficult for pilots and drone operators to provide air cover for ground troops.

Thousands of Gazans flooded into southern Gaza on Saturday after Israel warned them to leave before the possible ground assault. UN officials in Gaza said the Israeli military, which is massing troops at the border, had given them a 24-hour deadline to complete the evacuation. 

The Israeli army carried out localised raids in Gaza over the past 24 hours to clear the area of terrorists and weapons, and to locate missing persons. 

A potential full-scale invasion is complex, compounded by the fact that Hamas is believed to be holding many Israeli hostages in their underground bunkers and tunnels.

READ | Hamas’ Secret Tunnels: Israel’s Tall Challenge In Ground Offensive Plan

Hamas’s labyrinthine tunnels under Gaza pose a major challenge for Israeli forces. Experts caution that Israel will lose its firepower superiority and be forced to engage the enemy in close combat if a ground offensive is launched. gaza, the densely populated area with its intricate network of tunnels is a key factor in israel’s daunting security situation. An Israeli military spokesperson stated recently that they are attacking portions of the tunnel network, but it will be a grueling battle.

Israeli military analysts say they fear that Hamas will use the hostages as human shields, creating a moral and operational dilemma for Israel.

There are also concerns that Hamas will use the Israeli hostages as human shields to deter an offensive by creating a massive operational dilemma for Israeli authorities. 

Yesterday. the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a dire warning, stating that evacuating thousands of hospital patients to already overflowing hospitals in southern Gaza could be “catastrophic” and lead to a significant loss of life.

The WHO emphasised that the healthcare system in Gaza is already on the verge of collapse and that the additional influx of patients could overwhelm it completely. The organisation also cautioned that the evacuation process itself could be dangerous for patients, many of whom are in critical condition after relentless Israeli airstrikes in the region.

A New War Front?

Israel also faces the possibility of a separate war in the other side of the country in its northern border with Lebanon after artillery fire exchange with the Iran-backed Hezbollah group. 

Hezbollah’s second-in-command Naim Qassem said the group was “fully prepared” to join its Palestinian ally Hamas in the war against Israel.

READ | String Reveals Exclusive: How Hamas “Galvanised” Palestinian Cause, But Lost Support

“We, as Hezbollah, are contributing to the confrontation and will (continue) to contribute to it within our vision and plan,” Qassem said at a pro-Palestinian rally in Beirut, as quoted by news agency AFP.

A Reuters journalist was killed and six other reporters from AFP, Reuters, and Al-Jazeera were wounded in shelling that Lebanon blamed on Israeli forces. Additionally, two Lebanese civilians were killed in shelling in a southern village. Hezbollah claimed that one of its members was killed by an Israeli strike. 

“Whoever reaches the fence to infiltrate Israel, will die,” Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari on Saturday night.