Major Israeli Blitz May Signal Start of Gaza Ground Invasion

Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty
Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty

Israel said Friday it is “expanding” its ground operation in Gaza—as the night sky over the enclave lit up with a sustained bombardment and phone and cellular communications were blacked out.

It was not immediately clear if a promised large-scale invasion by land was imminent, and Israel wasn’t saying.

Hamas said it was fighting with Israeli troops in northern Gaza, and the Israeli military confirmed troops and tanks were in the enclave.

“They’re shooting and they’re operating,” Maj. Nir Dinar, a military spokesman, told The New York Times. “But our troops and tanks were inside Gaza yesterday, as well.”

The incursion coincided with a near-complete collapse of phone and internet services that made it difficult for the outside world to get an accurate picture of what was happening inside Gaza.

But footage showed airstrike after airstrike—an intense bombardment that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said was part of an attack on “underground targets” in Gaza.

The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas after the latest round of bombardment, with 120 member nations voting in favor of the resolution, 14 voting against, and 45 abstentions.

“I repeat my call for a humanitarian ceasefire in the Middle East, the unconditional release of all hostages, and the delivery of life-saving supplies at the scale needed,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement on Friday. “Everyone must assume their responsibilities. This is a moment of truth. History will judge us all.”

Earlier on Friday, the IDF alleged that they had evidence proving that Hamas was operating a headquarters under Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, the largest hospital in the enclave. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video mock-up purporting to show where the alleged headquarters was located under the hospital. (Hamas denied the allegation.)

The Israeli government had approved plans to expand Israel’s operations in Gaza in recent days, amassing troops and tanks near Gaza and calling up 300,000 reservists, according to the IDF.

The Israeli army had already been launching several ground raids in recent days to kill Hamas militants and prepare for the “next phases of war,” Hagari has said, but recent events indicate that a fuller ground invasion may be underway.

Israel had also been launching airstrikes in Gaza since Hamas attacked on Oct. 7, stepping up operations this week in order to decrease the risk to its troops in the next phase of the war. Gaza’s Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, have reported 7,028 Palestinians killed since the war began, including 2,913 children.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said last week that the ground invasion could take several months. It “may take a month, two or three, but at the end there will be no more Hamas,” Gallant said at a briefing at the Israeli Air Force Operations Command and Control Center.

Caught in the crosshairs

The ground expansion comes as Israel has vowed repeatedly to eliminate Hamas in Gaza after terrorists killed some 1,400 Israelis—including women, children, and the elderly—in an attack in Israel earlier this month. At least 200 hostages abducted in the attack are believed to be inside Gaza.

But the looming operation has raised fears around the globe that Israel may make Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire pay the ultimate price for Hamas’ terrorist attacks.

The Biden administration has said that it supports Israel’s right to defend itself, while also urging Israeli officials publicly and privately to avoid causing civilian fatalities in the process. U.S. officials had warned Israeli officials that if they were to delay the ground invasion, the U.S. and other countries’ efforts to provide humanitarian aid in Gaza and to rescue hundreds of hostages could continue.

Hamas Claims 50 Hostages Killed by Israeli Strikes in Gaza

But already with Israel’s strikes and ground raids—even before the full ground invasion—the number of civilian deaths in Gaza indicates that the human toll may only grow.

Israel has urged civilians to leave northern Gaza to move to safety and to avoid falling as collateral damage in the war, but the areas Israel has encouraged residents to evacuate have come under fire in recent days, even as they are considered to be safe zones. In some cases, some of those that evacuated the north on Israel’s recommendation have been killed in southern Gaza.

Tinder box

With tensions in the Middle East soaring, the ongoing war has raised concerns among officials that the region could explode into wider conflict. Hamas has warned that Iran-backed Hezbollah—a terrorist group Hamas has said it has been coordinating with—will decide whether to escalate attacks into Israel from the north based on whether Israel kicks off a ground invasion in Gaza. Hezbollah and Israeli forces have already been facing off in a series of clashes along the Israeli-Lebanese border, threatening to spillover into escalation.

Attacks on U.S. forces in the region have increased since the Israel-Hamas war has broken out as well. Drone attacks have targeted American military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent days.

The Wild Card in Israel’s War That Threatens a Global Crisis

A U.S. warship intercepted Iran-backed Houthi missiles that were potentially headed towards Israel last week.

The Pentagon has taken steps to bolster U.S. military presence in the region in an effort to deter further attacks, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said in recent days. The U.S. will be sending a deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and Patriot missile systems to the Middle East to increase protection for U.S. troops in the region. Austin has also placed more troops on “prepare to deploy orders.”

The Biden administration has also warned Iran and other non-state actors to not escalate or join in the war in an effort to simmer tensions. The U.S. has paired the warnings with military signals: Biden has placed two large aircraft carriers in the region.

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