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Israel and Hamas have resumed hostilities after a brief ceasefire, with the Israelis launching the second phase of the ground operation in the Gaza Strip (and the third phase of the overall military campaign), starting with bombing and military maneuvers in the south. Despite a fairly successful advance with relatively few casualties, Israel, which had not been involved in major wars for a long time, still showed a lack of readiness for this kind of conflict and had to learn quickly from the Russian-Ukrainian war. Fortunately for Israel, Hamas was even less prepared for such a war and was unable to exploit the IDF's vulnerabilities. The operation's most difficult (and deadliest) phase, however, has not yet begun.

Content
  • Here's how hostilities in Gaza have unfolded

  • What has Israel managed to achieve so far?

  • How many casualties are there?

  • Which expectations have been met in terms of combat operations?

  • Which expectations went unfulfilled?

  • Are the parties learning from the war in Ukraine?

  • How could the war unfold further?

Here's how hostilities in Gaza have unfolded

On October 7, Hamas's armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and several allied groups operating in Gaza attacked Israel under cover of a massive rocket barrage (some 5,000 rockets were fired in a short period of time). For hours, several thousand militants terrorized border areas and settlements, killing at least 1,194 people (843 of whom have been identified as civilians) and wounding at least 4,834 others. A further 243 people were taken hostage. Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups named the attack Operation Al-Aqsa Flood (Tufan Al-Aqsa).

In response, the IDF launched Operation Swords of Iron, which began with a call-up of reservists and massive bombardment of the Gaza Strip with JDAM guided bombs. Palestinian militants then fired rockets into Israeli territory, most (but not all) of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.

From the 28th of October, Israel moved on to the ground phase of the operation. IDF forces moved west of Gaza City in the northern part of the Strip and south along the coast, rather than from the east as Hamas had probably expected. By the 6th of November, the Israelis had managed to encircle the city and cut the Strip in two, and then began to advance into the neighborhoods of the city.

IDF

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF, lit. ”The Army of Defense for Israel”), alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal (צה״ל), are the armed forces of the State of Israel.

JDAM

The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is a guidance kit that converts unguided bombs, or so-called 'dumb bombs', into all-weather precision-guided munitions.

Hamas

Hamas (lit. “Islamic Resistance Movement” in Arabic) is an Islamist political-military organisation that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

APC

APC is an abbreviation for 'armored personnel carrier.'

Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip
Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip
The Insider

The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, accompanied by an exchange of hostages for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, had been in force since November 24 and was extended twice, on November 27 and 29. During this period, 80 out of 240 hostages were released in exchange for 150 Palestinians. A further 25 hostages (mostly Thai agricultural workers) were released outside of the deal. Four hostages were released before the ceasefire and one Israeli soldier was freed following a military operation. The IDF also recovered the bodies of two hostages. According to Israeli figures, 121 hostages remain in the hands of the militants.

The ceasefire expired in the morning on December 1. Since the resumption of hostilities, the main fighting has moved to the south of the Strip, around the town of Khan Younis.

What has Israel managed to achieve so far?

The IDF has succeeded in dividing the Gaza Strip into two unequal parts, forcing most of the population to leave the northern part of the Strip. According to Israeli claims, the ability of Hamas and other terrorist groups to control the northern part of the Strip has been broken. Photographs of the mass surrender of Palestinians are indirect evidence of this.

However, Hamas and its allied forces continue firing rockets into Israeli territory and have not yet shown any willingness to cease fighting. Moreover, much of the north and almost all of the south of the Strip remain under militant control. In other words, the ground operation is still in its early stages, and the hard part (which includes clearing the territories occupied by the IDF) is yet to come.

How many casualties are there?

According to official figures as of December 10, Israeli forces have suffered 425 military and 59 police casualties since the beginning of the conflict, but most of them (including four IDF colonels) were killed on October 7. Israel has lost 97 soldiers killed during the ground operation in Gaza.

The Israeli army estimates that 5,000 militants have been killed in Gaza. According to the same estimates, two civilians have died in the war for every militant killed. That means, as per Israeli figures, that the civilian death toll in Gaza is around 10,000 — not far from the 16,000 cited by Hamas. Another 1,000 militants, according to a statement by the IDF, were killed in the October 7 attack, in which 200 were captured.

Equipment losses are more complicated. Pro-Palestinian sources claim that hundreds of Israeli vehicles were destroyed. Some reports claim that the Palestinians damaged or destroyed 79 pieces of Israeli equipment in three days of fighting in early December around Gaza City alone. However, the Palestinian militants have so far provided only one piece of evidence of defeated and completely burnt-out Israeli equipment.

Ukrainian military expert Andriy Tarasenko says it's difficult to assess losses in principle: IDF repair facilities are located close to the combat zone, meaning “what is lost today will be back in service in a week or two.” Tarasenko notes that there are few confirmed videos of irreparable Israeli losses.

Which expectations have been met in terms of combat operations?

Of course, the main challenge for the IDF, including legal and ethical challenges, is to operate among the large civilian population in the Gaza Strip. The military is constantly having to consider and respond to public pressure, including from its main ally, the United States. For example, an interactive map has been set up to inform the population of impending air strikes.

At the same time, almost all of the known videos of Palestinian militants show them dressed in civilian clothes, and they often try to use objects such as schools to carry out attacks.

Palestinian militant groups have released a large number of videos (1, 2, 3) of fighting in urban areas, showing lightly armed fighters in civilian clothes ambushing individual vehicles and groups of IDF soldiers in the rubble. RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launchers with tandem rounds are typically used.

The vulnerability of heavy equipment in dense urban areas has to some extent been confirmed. In particular, questions remain about the operation of the Trophy active protection system (APS), as well as the interaction between infantry and armored vehicles. Palestinian militants have posted several videos (1, 2) of an explosive device being attached directly to a Merkava Mk.4 tank fitted with a Trophy APS.

In a comment for The Insider, Ukrainian military expert Andriy Tarasenko notes that in many of the videos, the explosive detonators on IDF tanks do not work or are in an inoperable state. Among the probable reasons for this, he mentions the fact that the tanks are often fired at from a distance that is too close for the protection to be triggered (50-70 meters), and also suggests a technical lack of readiness for use due to sub-optimal storage conditions (directly on the tank).

Israeli military expert David Gendelman, on the contrary, says that “active protection systems are performing well,” having provided “hundreds of successful interceptions”:

“Of course, nothing is 100%, but the incident in which the Namer APC of the Givati Brigade was hit and the ammunition inside detonated, killing a large number of people at once, is so far an isolated incident, and overall the protection is considered high and the use of armoured vehicles effective.”

Gendelman also does not see a systemic problem with the vehicles operating without infantry cover:

“The footage of Palestinian fighters firing at armored vehicles in the absence of infantry is a sampling distortion. Tanks and infantry operate together as part of battalion and brigade tactical groups, but there is not always an infantryman next to every tank, and certainly not next to every APC, which is what is needed to keep infantry from being everywhere and always open. One of the most popular techniques for infantrymen is to run up to a tank or APC, set a charge, and when it detonates, try to hit the point of detonation with an RPG. This technique is possible when there is no infantry around, so we see footage of these attempts more often.”

As the IDF’s forces advance and airstrikes continue, rocket attacks on Israel are decreasing. As The Insider has previously reported, rocket launchers are being placed in residential areas in Gaza and stored in tunnels.

Which expectations went unfulfilled?

Israel's image as a state on constant alert was somewhat undermined by the mobilization of reservists and subsequent reports of supply problems. The lack of basic equipment, and even food, was the subject of much public debate in the first days of the operation (we touched on this topic in our last review).

Civilian volunteers, many of whom had recently taken part in protests against the Netanyahu government, were active in supplying the army, which they felt the state had failed to do. Now the volunteers continue to supply Israeli soldiers with food and basic necessities. They also provide them with body armor imported from abroad — not always without incident.

At the same time, it should be noted that the current call-up of reservists has been the largest since the 1973 Yom Kippur war — 400,000 reservists were called up then (about 8% of Israel's total population at the time), compared to 360,000 reservists now (just under 4% of the population). By comparison, Russia's mobilization in the fall of 2022 called up about 0.2% of the population, and a year later many of its equipment problems remain unresolved.

So far there have been no major urban battles, and no tunnel battles. At the start of the ground operation, Palestinian militants released a controversial video of fighting using underground tunnels, but judging by the fact that nothing similar has surfaced, the IDF has learned from its mistakes.

There have, however, been isolated cases of deaths from booby traps in tunnel shafts. One of these traps killed IDF soldier Gal Eisenkot, the son of the minister and former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot.

The resistance of Hamas and its allies in general appears to be much less tenacious and organized than expected. David Gendelman agrees:

“On the whole, until the ceasefire, the IDF operation went according to plan. The pace of advance was planned, the casualties were lower than estimated. At the tactical level, there were the inevitable cases of friendly fire, non-compliance with the rules of cover and security, etc., but at the operational level there were no particular problems. In individual clashes, Hamas fighters sometimes held their own, but overall, as a military organization, Hamas proved weaker than expected, made little progress, its defenses at the systemic level were overwhelmed by heavy Israeli attacks and were ineffective as a unit.”

Palestinian militants were expected to draw the Israeli army into prolonged and grueling urban warfare, but instead the IDF chose to destroy almost entire neighborhoods with bombing and artillery fire. As a result, Hamas fighting has degenerated into small group guerrilla “hit and run” attacks, with no systematic resistance, at least at the company and battalion level. However, the situation may change as Israeli troops advance into southern Gaza.

Are the parties learning from the war in Ukraine?

Surprisingly, in contrast to the Russian-Ukrainian war, there are literally only a few publicly available episodes (1, 2) of Palestinian militants dropping munitions from light UAVs. Moreover, there is virtually no reconnaissance footage of drones. This would seem to indicate either successful countermeasures against the drones themselves using electronic warfare, or the destruction of operator teams and the ability to launch drones in the combat zone.

Despite the enemy rarely using drones, the Israeli military at various levels seems to have been quick to install protective canopies (also known as “cope cages”) on armored vehicles against drone drops familiar to many from the Russian-Ukrainian war. These “cages” were first spotted on Merkava tanks (1, 2), then on Namer and M113 APCs. Volunteers are also involved in installing these canopies, according to Israeli Telegram channels.

The IDF is taking into account methods developed during the Russian-Ukrainian war to protect its armored vehicles, according to David Gendelman:

“Recommendations to install canopies on armored vehicles against munitions drops from drones were issued before the Gaza war began, but the practical installation began after October 7. We saw footage of such drops in the October 7 attack, and these attempts have continued during the war itself, but there are fewer successful hits because of the measures taken. They are no longer surprise attacks due to electronic warfare, surveillance, attacks on operators, cover, etc.»

Russian and Ukrainian commentators have criticized a video of IDF tanks and self-propelled howitzers standing close to each other. In the Russian-Ukrainian war, any unit that positioned its equipment in such a way would almost immediately pay the price.

Yuri Lyamin, a Middle East expert and researcher at the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), notes that the Palestinian militants may have been unable to hit the cluster of Israeli equipment for fairly simple reasons: in seeking “volume and secrecy” while placing their launchers, they had to dig them into the ground or otherwise fix them at a strict angle, making it impossible to use them to hit random targets.

How could the war unfold further?

The Israeli government's initial position has been that this is a short-term ceasefire rather than a full-scale truce. fter that, the operation would continue until the previously stated objectives were achieved, namely the complete destruction of Hamas and other radical groups, the return of all hostages and the elimination of the possibility of such an attack happening again. None of these appear to be easily achievable goals. RAND estimates that only 7% of terrorist groups have ever been militarily destroyed. Even if the destruction of the entire military leadership and the disorganization of its structure were possible, there would be no guarantee of the destruction of the Hamas ideology, which could be resurrected in the form of another movement.

As for future of the military operation itself, it's important to bear in mind that only a fraction (about a third) of Israel's land and air forces is engaged in Gaza. Much of the force is focused on the threat from Lebanon — firefights and skirmishes between the Israeli military and Hezbollah along the border are a common occurrence. This is part of a potentially broader regional conflict, the prospects for which The Insider analyzed in a separate piece.

IDF

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF, lit. ”The Army of Defense for Israel”), alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal (צה״ל), are the armed forces of the State of Israel.

JDAM

The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is a guidance kit that converts unguided bombs, or so-called 'dumb bombs', into all-weather precision-guided munitions.

Hamas

Hamas (lit. “Islamic Resistance Movement” in Arabic) is an Islamist political-military organisation that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

APC

APC is an abbreviation for 'armored personnel carrier.'

Damage to physical infrastructure in the Gaza Strip
Damage to physical infrastructure in the Gaza Strip
The Insider

Moreover, it's still unclear what will happen to southern Gaza, where most civilians moved after fighting began in the north and Israel demanded they evacuate to the south. The IDF is now calling on civilians to evacuate the southern town of Khan Younis. The Israeli military has announced the creation of an interactive map dividing Gaza into small areas that may require evacuation. But even Israel's allies, including U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, are warning of possible mass civilian deaths in the southern part of the Strip.

But neither the destruction of Hamas nor the release of all the hostages can be achieved without control of the southern part of Gaza. This is proven by Israel's own experience, which, after its withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, found itself grappling with Hezbollah and Hamas for decades.

Israeli politicians are unlikely to agree to leave Gaza without ironclad security guarantees and will not give Hamas and other radical groups a second chance to carry out an operation like the one on October 7 (For more on the future of Gaza after the end of the Israeli operation and the challenges Israel will face, see The Insider's piece titled The Third Coming of Israel.) This means that peace talks are politically unacceptable and the military operation will have to continue. However, this new phase of the war will be much more difficult for Israel and will inevitably result in higher casualties, both on the Israeli side and among civilians.

IDF

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF, lit. ”The Army of Defense for Israel”), alternatively referred to by the Hebrew-language acronym Tzahal (צה״ל), are the armed forces of the State of Israel.

JDAM

The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is a guidance kit that converts unguided bombs, or so-called 'dumb bombs', into all-weather precision-guided munitions.

Hamas

Hamas (lit. “Islamic Resistance Movement” in Arabic) is an Islamist political-military organisation that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

APC

APC is an abbreviation for 'armored personnel carrier.'

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