After Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, many people, especially military experts, have closely monitored how much resources the Israeli army has left. This is important because the Israeli authorities announced a significant ground operation. The situation is serious, with 1,400 casualties on the Israeli side and 2,670 on the Palestinian side.
As per the French news source Le Monde, the Israeli army’s major strength is its air force, which includes many American F-16s (nine squadrons, approximately 180 aircraft) and F-35s (two squadrons). These are among the most technologically advanced planes globally. Because of their proximity to Gaza, Israel has consistently had a significant military advantage over the Palestinian enclave. In recent years, this capability has allowed Israel to conduct several retaliatory actions against Hamas without exposing itself to significant risks.
Their aerial assets also comprise attack helicopters (two squadrons of Apaches) and a variety of drones. These drones serve various purposes, from basic surveillance to guiding artillery fire and even armed drones that can gather intelligence and carry out strikes.
The Israeli army also possesses a supply of suicide drones, like the “Harop and Harpy models”, also called “loitering munitions.” These drones can automatically follow a moving target and descend to eliminate it.
For over twenty years, Israel has planned to fight from a distance, mostly using air operations, to reduce the danger to its soldiers.
However, this approach doesn’t work well in a complex urban environment. It can cause some harm, but it rarely leads to clear-cut results because those being targeted can hide in Gaza’s numerous underground tunnels. This, most importantly, harms civilians,” explained Colonel Michel Goya, who has written several books about the Middle East.
Precision Bombs, Israel’s Weak Spot
The Israeli Defense Forces conducted three significant ground offensives. The first was in 2006, a response to the abduction of soldier Gilad Shalit. The second occurred in 2008-2009, Operation Cast Lead. The third was in 2014, called Operation Protective Edge.
In these operations, Hamas was not defeated; each time, both sides suffered greater losses. In 2006, there were five Israeli deaths and 277 Palestinian fighters killed. In 2008, ten Israelis and 700 Palestinians lost their lives. In 2014, 66 Israelis and 2,200 Palestinians, including civilians and fighters, died.
In each of these operations, there were bombing campaigns similar to what’s happening now. However, the one that started the day after October 7, called Swords of Iron, is much larger than anything we’ve seen before.
According to Goya, the main vulnerability of the Israeli army today is the limited supply of guided bombs and missiles. This presents challenges for both attacking and defending. Specifically, the Iron Dome, a high-tech system meant to shield Israeli land from air threats, needs adequate interceptors to stay functional.
The Previous Mosul Liberation in 2016-2017
If the Israeli army starts a ground operation, it can count on its strong infantry forces, consisting of seven brigades, each with about 3,000 soldiers.
Groups of heavily armoured vehicles, accompanied by lighter vehicles carrying infantry, might be able to enter Gaza. This approach has been successfully used in various situations, like when the Iraqi army recaptured Mosul from the Islamic State group in 2016-2017.
The approach involves moving forward without using regular roads, which are too vulnerable, and clearing all the buildings along the way. This leads to a sluggish pace of about 20 meters per hour, or 300 to 400 meters daily.
Carrying out this kind of operation requires well-trained soldiers. The Israeli army has about 26,000 active combat personnel, with the majority being conscripts, around 100,000 people. If they don’t call in reserve units right from the start, it may be challenging for Israel to deploy more than 30,000 soldiers on the ground. In contrast, Hamas can assemble 7,000 to 10,000 fighters and militia members on well-prepared terrain filled with explosives. A military source estimates that Israeli casualties could reach into the hundreds. The decision ultimately rests with the political authorities.
“Conscript” refers to a person drafted or required to serve in the military, typically as part of a mandatory military service program.
The Israeli government has called back around 360,000 reservists out of 460,000. These reservists are men and women aged between 18 and 40 who receive training each year. The big question is whether all these reservists, who will be assigned to different areas like Gaza, the Lebanese and Syrian borders, and the West Bank, can handle the possibility of multiple battlefronts. This was explained by Héloïse Fayet, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations specialising in the Middle East armed forces.
A Significant War Endeavor
There have been ongoing worries regarding these reservists’ readiness, enthusiasm, and equipment in Israel. This concern was again emphasised in August by Major General Yitzhak Brick, the former Israeli army ombudsman. At that time, he forecasted, “We haven’t readied ourselves for the tough war that might arrive in a few months or years.” He believed the military should be ready for severe situations where all areas face conflict, even as serious as the second Intifada (2000-2005).
It’s not entirely clear what Israel’s goals are in this conflict. Some military experts think it might be driven by the desire to restore the Israeli army’s reputation after it couldn’t prevent the Hamas attack. Once the Israeli army reaches Gaza’s shores after crossing into Gaza, there’s uncertainty about their next steps. Mobilising reservists is a significant military effort that could strain the country’s economy. Additionally, the cost of the war might exceed $6 billion (€5.7 billion), according to projections from the Israeli bank Hapoalim.