Part 1 of analysis
The ground operation that got underway Saturday is meant to complement and boost the achievements of the eight-day aerial assault. Hamas indeed sustained grave blows from the air, yet its leadership has not yet shown willingness to reach a long-term and stable ceasefire agreement on terms acceptable to Israel. Therefore, Israel needed to utilize another major military pressure lever in the Strip.
Just like the aerial assault, the next phase in this campaign – should everything go according to plan – depends on the progress of ceasefire efforts. The IDF will continue the ground maneuver until a truce is secured via a Security Council resolution or an agreement facilitated by a mediator.
Meanwhile, the IDF on Saturday boosted its preparations and readiness for the possibility of expanding the confrontation to the northern front. A top Iranian official announced that he agreed with Hizbullah on rocket fire to be directed at Israel from Lebanon should the IDF launch a ground incursion. It is unclear whether this declaration was credible and whether Hizbullah would be willing to follow through on it. Should northern Israel be targeted, we would need to see the extent of such attack before deciding on a full-blown operation on both fronts. However, we must emphasize that the IDF is capable of addressing two fronts; the ground and air forces designated for operations in the north have already been put on alert.
And back to Gaza now: Hamas’ leadership is pinning its hopes to emerge out of this conflict victorious, or at least as though it did not lose the war, on the group’s military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. This arm is still capable of firing dozens of rockets at southern Israel every day and it also hopes to cause IDF casualties on the ground.
More importantly, this arm is meant to maintain Hamas’ ability to rule the Strip and provoke Israel even after the current campaign ends. Through its military wing, Hamas would be able to showcase its survivability at the end of the war. Such display would imply a public relations victory that would enable Hamas to gain sympathy and strength on the Palestinian and Muslim street, thereby renewing the fire in the near future.
Therefore, in the next stage of the fighting the IDF will focus on causing casualties among Izz al-Din al-Qassam’s fighting force. Many members of this force, which is organized within four regional combat divisions, went into hiding during the aerial assault. Yet an IDF ground maneuver will force them to come out and fight. Yet another objective is to deliver a serious blow to the rocket-launching infrastructure located in major launching sites threatening southern residents. Experience shows that an IDF presence at launch areas prevents rocket attacks from these sites or at least greatly minimizing them.
Yet another target is the fortified defensive system built by Hamas in order to protect its launching infrastructure both below and above ground. In order to raze these targets, the IDF needs to gather additional intelligence information – mostly via human sources – and this can only be done through direct contact and friction with the Palestinian population. And so, these are the objectives of the incursion involving ground, air, and naval forces launched by the IDF on Saturday.