The risk of getting bogged down in urban warfare and in Hamas’s tunnel systems has forced Israel to repeatedly postpone its ground offensive on Gaza, with fears rising that such a scenario could damage the prestige of the the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
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Over the past week, prominent retired American officials have warned Israel against initiating a big ground offensive in Gaza, including retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, who warned that IDF forces could be going into “a very, very tough fight.” He added that the tunnels might have rooms with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Bradley Bowman, a security analyst based in Washington, said the tunnels could hide enemy forces from soldiers traveling “across the field or into the outskirts of the city.”
IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus conceded that eliminating Hamas would not be easy because Hamas has efficiently “embedded itself inside and underneath the Gaza Strip,” and that the group has previously utilized its maze of tunnels to stop enemy weapons and hide rockets.
John Spencer, a West Point Modern War Institute expert, said the Hamas tunnel systems are a “nightmare” and that there is currently no solution to the obstacle Israeli forces may face if and when Tel Aviv decides to launch a land operation.
Meanwhile, the tunnels can allow Hamas to carry out surprise attacks against advancing enemy forces, with militants infiltrating behind enemy lines and causing havoc on rearward-facing units with snipers, anti-tank guns and RPG-armed troops. The tunnels can also be used by special small hunter-killer teams to target military forces and evade counterattacks when facing against Israeli troops.
Israeli soldiers pursuing Hamas into the tunnels could also face several time-consuming and hazardous challenges since navigation and communications equipment, along with night vision goggles that depend on ambient light, would not function. Spencer added that in the Gaza tunnels, a lone Hamas defender can take his place in a narrow tunnel and face off against a superior force.
Outside of the tunnels, Petraeus warned that soldiers may still have to clear every building, home and basement in Gaza before being able to push deeper into the Strip.
IDF commanders wary of Hamas fighters
IDF commanders are also wary of the challenges they would face in ensuring battlefield superiority against the estimated 30,000 Hamas fighters in Gaza’s dense urban environment, much of which has already been reduced to rubble, which could be used for ambushes and snipers’ nests from Israeli airstrikes. This could also explain Israeli reluctance about a ground-based operation inside Gaza. (Related: 9 UN workers killed as Gaza Strip suffers from unrelenting Israeli airstrikes.)
In an analysis, the Modern War Institute at West Point said that defenders often hold the advantage in urban conflict.
The paper highlighted that “the advantages provided to a weaker force to occupy urban terrain are great.” A weaker enemy can use the physical terrain for concealment and cover both to fight from and to maneuver.
Tunneling has been a common tactic used by Hamas to smuggle supplies and equipment across the heavily guarded border encircling Gaza for decades. Experts believe that their methods have now advanced to the point where they can now build entire underground networks to quickly move and evacuate fighters and equipment, control underground command posts and operate workshops for the manufacture of weapons.
In 2018, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, claimed that the Hamas tunnel network in Gaza was twice as large as the Cu Chi tunnels the Viet Cong excavated beneath Saigon during the U.S. War in Vietnam.
Hamas’ tunneling initiatives through the Gaza Strip have been significantly revealed in detailed maps based on IDF data. Israeli forces reported that there were at least 100 kilometers (62 miles) of underground tunnels during the 2014 Gaza War.
Additionally, Hamas boasted that it had constructed tunnels with a combined length of at least 500 kilometers (310 miles) in 2021.
Go to WWIII.news for more updates about the Israel-Hamas conflict. Watch the video below for a review of Gaza’s place in Jewish history and the present.
This video is from the Gabe Mondragon channel on Brighteon.com.
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- Israeli military gets “green light” to enter Gaza and begin ground offensive.