Israel says it killed 1,500 Hamas terrorists, pointing to brutal fighting ahead in Gaza – News21USA

Israel Palestine War (News21USA) – The bodies of Hamas fighters lay in the streets of this kibbutz near the Gaza border on Tuesday, as Israeli soldiers went door to door to secure it days after it was overrun.

The bodies were among 1,500 dead militants Israel says it found within its border after Hamas’ surprise attack from Gaza.

Among the grim and extraordinary figures that tell the story of the militants’ attack on Israel, that one in particular has stunned experts. It raises the question of how large Hamas’s total fighting force is and what a bloody close-range ground offensive in the Gaza Strip would look like if Israel launches one in the coming days.

“I don’t think there’s any way to overstate how extraordinarily difficult it will be,” Tobias Borck, a Middle East expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank, told NBC News. “It won’t just be street by street, but house by house and tunnel by tunnel.”

Most analysts agree that some type of ground offensive is inevitable.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose right-wing government is under pressure to react quickly and decisively after being blindsided by Saturday’s attack, made clear that this was different from other conflicts with Palestinian militants: Israel would fight this war with a ” powerful revenge,” he said, as he and other Israeli officials vowed to destroy Hamas’s military capabilities.

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That would be difficult, if not impossible, using only airstrikes, which are already hitting the small, blockaded Gaza Strip. And apparently to this end, Israel has called up 360,000 reservists, adding to its standing army of some 170,000.

“I can tell you that we are weighing the situation very carefully,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Maj. Doron Spielman said Monday when asked if the army was preparing a ground offensive. “This is a completely new paradigm from how we have weighed other conflicts in recent years.”

He told NBC News on Tuesday that he did not have any additional information about a possible ground offensive or Israel’s assessment of Hamas’ strength.

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In 2021, The Times of Israel quoted an unnamed senior Israeli commander as saying that Hamas had an army of 30,000 men, replenished since its 2014 war with Israel. NBC News cannot confirm those figures and Hamas does not disclose that information.

One problem with these estimates is that it is not exactly clear what constitutes a Hamas fighter.

“Is it counting people who have held a gun or only those who have received some degree of training?” Borck said. “Israel’s goal now is to destroy Hamas’s military capacity. The problem with that statement is that we don’t know what Hamas’s military capacity is.”

To carry out Saturday’s attack, the militant group used some of its most elite forces, namely the Nakba unit, which has between 3,000 and 5,000 fighters, according to geopolitical and security analyst Michael A. Horowitz, chief of intelligence at Le Beck. consultancy.

“This means that between half and about a third of the members of the elite Hamas commando have been killed,” he said.

The 1,500 reported dead could also include fighters from a smaller Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad, according to Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

Any ground invasion could resemble the last large-scale Israeli offensive in Gaza in 2014, which lasted 50 days. It took a toll on both the Israeli army, which lost 66 soldiers, and the Palestinians, as some 1,400 of the 2,300 dead are believed to have been civilians, according to UNRWA, the United Nations aid agency for Palestinian refugees.

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With more than 2 million people crammed into an area twice the size of Washington, D.C., Gaza remains one of the most densely populated and impoverished places in the world. It has been blocked by Israel and Egypt for 16 years, with the movement of goods and people strictly controlled, something Israel says is necessary to thwart militants residing there.

But unlike nine years ago, dozens of hostages captured by militants over the weekend are now also being held in Gaza.

In a conflict that strikes deep emotional chords in the region and around the world, the uncertain fate of these captives has added another layer of unrest that only intensified after Hamas threatened to execute them if Israel bombed civilians in Gaza.

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These hostages “have likely already been dispersed throughout the Gaza Strip,” which “is divided by tunnels, bunkers and other hidden locations that will make it difficult to locate, much less rescue, the hostages,” said Bruce Hoffman, a member of the Advice. of Foreign Affairs, he wrote in a briefing.

“These places and perhaps even the hostages themselves are likely to be full of traps,” he said. “This is a challenge of a magnitude that has never been faced before.”

Israel’s military is known for its high technology and its Merkava tanks could take up positions in fields near the Gaza-Israel border. But analysts agree that they would become extremely vulnerable to ambushes once inside the enclave’s densely populated streets.

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Even then, defeating Hamas may not be the end of the conflict.

Hoffman said a large-scale ground offensive could draw involvement from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, or even Iran, which backs both Hezbollah and Hamas.

And some experts fear that any ground offensive could lead to a long-term Israeli military presence inside Gaza for the first time since 2005, when it withdrew 38 years after capturing it.

“Whatever the tactics, I see no way for Israel to gain effective military control without a dense presence on the ground that will have to last at least months, which will create its own multiple problems,” said the Carnegie Center’s Sayigh.

“Obviously, Palestinian civilian casualties will be horrendous.”

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