Talks between Israel and the Hamas militant group in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have broken down, the effort to establish a cease-fire has failed and a ground invasion has begun. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed the army to proceed with a major ground assault after Hamas rejected the Egypt-brokered cease-fire plan, Hamas forces tried to break into Israel through a tunnel and a volley of missiles were launch from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Now, after 10 days of an intense air war, Israel has sent in tens of thousands of soldiers, intent on destroying the tunnels that permeate the area and aimed at creating, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), a ‘significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”
Over the past 10 days, Israel and Hamas have exchanged thousands of missiles. Israel targeted more than 2,000 locations within Gaza and Hamas launched almost 1,500 missiles at Israel. More than 200 people in Gaza have died thus far.
It has been five years since Israel’s last ground invasion into the Gaza Strip. Leaders of Hamas, the Islamic militant group in control of the area, promised to take advantage of any ground assault by seeking to kidnap Israeli soldiers. If successful, the goals of the ground offensive could be at risk as Hamas has already announced plans to use abductees as bargaining chips.
A spokesman for Hamas, Fawzeh Barhoom, said that a ground war only makes it easier “for us to kidnap many soldiers” in order to force the release of Israel-held Hamas detainees. Such a tactic can be powerful: In 2011, Israel exchanged more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees for one Israel soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive in the Gaza Strip for five years.
Hamas member Ihab al-Ghussain pointed out that Israeli troops are “coming to us,” insisting that it was Israel that began the current conflict. He pledged to personally “do whatever I can to stop it, even if it means kidnapping Israelis.”
Although the IDF did not state the total number of troops involved in this latest phase of Operation Protective Edge (OPE), it is known that at least 40,000 reservists had recently amassed on the border while an additional 18,000 reservists were called up today. A statement from the military said the goal of OPE is to “establish a reality” in which residents of Israel live in safety and without indiscriminate terror.
A spokesman for the Israeli military, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said that the new offensive will continue striking at Hamas’ infrastructure. Tactics Israel will use to try to accomplish this include the destruction of Hamas’ munitions stockpile, its missile-launching capabilities and the aforementioned tunnels.
The short-lived cease-fire gave Gaza Strip residents some time to stock up on supplies. Once the Israeli ground invasion was underway, immediate reports were of heavy shelling by Israel in eastern Gaza, near the Israeli border. Journalists and residents in the Gaza Strip spoke of ground troops delivering heavy fire in the north, gunboats stationed near the Port of Gaza, and a continued air assault.
By Gregory Baskin