The Nightmare of a Gaza Land Invasion and its Consequences – Fred Weston 10/25/23


As Israel prepares its forces for a land invasion of Gaza, all the western imperialist leaders, from Biden to Sunak, Scholz and Macron, are getting very nervous. They worry about what their world will look like when this is over.

A former UK ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, writing in the Financial Times (22 October 2023) summed up the situation from the bourgeois point of view: “Intervene in the Middle East, it bites you back. Fail to intervene, it bites you back. Swing between the two, it bites you back.” In other words, whatever the imperialists do will be wrong.

Nonetheless, they are locked into a situation where they are obliged to support Netanyahu, while at the same trying to push him in the direction they want. But in dealing with Netanyahu, they face a problem. He is not basing his thinking solely on the interests of the Israeli ruling class, but also on his own political survival. He has now staked his reputation on “destroying Hamas”.

There are clearly divisions within the Israeli ruling class on account of what this would mean. But if Netanyahu gets his way, the imperialists would end up being dragged along into supporting Israel’s planned land invasion of Gaza, which will prove to be a bloodbath far worse than anything we have seen so far. All of the western leaders will come out of this with blood on their hands, and will be hated and reviled by workers and youth, both in the Middle East and at home.

Articles have been appearing in the press trying to outline what the Israeli army will be facing once they go in. The Financial Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy magazine, The Guardian, and many more, have all been looking into this, calculating the cost in human lives, and the impact for the Middle East and the world in general. They all agree it will be a very tough campaign, will take a lot longer than the Israeli military is presently saying, and will lead to terrible suffering for the Palestinian people in Gaza.

On 19 October, the Financial Times quoted the US general David Petraeus, who led NATO forces both in Iraq and Afghanistan, as saying about Gaza: “It’s going to be fiendishly difficult… I just can’t imagine more difficult circumstances.” And the same article outlines Netanyahu’s war aims: “…topple the Hamas regime and destroy its military capabilities; remove the threat of attacks from Gaza; secure the return of hostages held by Hamas; and defend Israel’s borders and citizens.”

The lessons of Mosul

Some comparisons have been made with how Mosul in Iraq was taken back from ISIS forces in 2016-17 / Image: Mstyslav Chernov, Wikimedia Commons

What we are looking at here is a level of death and destruction of unprecedented proportions in Gaza. Already, the number of Palestinians killed has equalled all those killed between 2008 and 2023 before the Hamas attack on 7 October! In just under three weeks, there have been over half as many civilian casualties as we’ve seen in over a year and a half in the Ukraine conflict.

In order to get an idea of the situation the Israeli army may find itself in – if Netanyahu manages to go the whole way – some comparisons have been made with how Mosul in Iraq was taken back from ISIS forces in 2016-17.

Mosul had a population of around two million, similar to that of Gaza today. ISIS managed to embed around 8,000 of its fighters in the city, who were waiting for the 100,000 strong US-led Iraqi army.

The city was massively bombed in preparation for the troops to go in, but that left a swathe of destroyed buildings and rubble that the ISIS fighters could use as cover.

A western special forces officer who was with the Iraqi army in Mosul explains that: “Cities have thousands of hiding places… If you want to remove an enemy, you have to clear the area house by house. But that puts you in 360 degrees of danger. You can’t just sweep through.” The recapture of Mosul ended up taking nine months, far longer than had been previously calculated.

Estimates as to how many fighters Hamas has in Gaza vary, but there could be anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000, within which there is a core of 10,000 well-trained men. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is also estimated to have a force of around 15,000 fighters. This means that in Gaza there are forces that are around five times as large as those that ISIS had in Mosul.

However, the situation in Gaza is also different, in the sense that Hamas fighters will be operating on home territory and defending their homeland. Hamas can also draw upon big reserves of volunteers who are prepared to join the effort to stop the Israeli army.

Hamas has also had much longer to prepare the ground than ISIS did in Mosul. They have built a sophisticated network of tunnels – close to 500 kilometres according to some reports – into which fighters can escape, or from which they can launch surprise attacks. They will be able to attack Israeli forces from unexpected directions. It will literally be a fight for every corner of the city. Hamas has also accumulated more sophisticated weaponry than in the past, with mines, anti-tank missiles and armed drones.

The way things went back in 2008 and again in 2014 – when Israeli ground forces entered Gaza for just a few weeks – give a foretaste of what is to come. In total, around 3,500 Palestinians were killed, while the Israeli army lost 70 soldiers in the two operations. What they are planning today is on a much larger scale, and will inevitably lead to huge losses on both sides, and the bulk of those killed will be civilians.

Experts have explained that a successful land invasion of Gaza would require a force of five Israeli soldiers to every Hamas fighter. If the figure of 50,000 fighters at the disposal of Hamas quoted earlier is correct, then that would mean 250,000 Israeli soldiers are required to achieve Netanyahu’s stated aims. They have mobilised more than this – although due to the threat from Hezbollah forces, a number have had to be deployed to the northern border. On paper, they do have sufficient forces to completely destroy Gaza if they wish – sustaining such a campaign of course is a completely different story.

But let us return for a moment to the experience of Mosul in Iraq. According to renowned journalist Patrick Cockburn writing for The Independent (19 July 2017): “More than 40,000 civilians were killed in the devastating battle to retake Mosul from Isis, according to intelligence reports…”

Cockburn goes on to explain some of the reasons for this level of civilian casualties:…

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