Israel’s military actions in Gaza have imposed significant damage on Hamas. Still, it seems a long way from offering the death blow to the Palestinian militants that Israeli leaders promised when the attack began.
In slow-touching, street-to-street combating backed up by severe bombing raids, Israel says it has achieved battlefield gains against Hamas and started to disassemble its military infrastructure. However, experts and former U.S. military officeholders say that the improvement is temporary and that there is no sign the militants are on the brink of a strategic defeat.
“I wouldn’t call it impossible, but I think the likelihood is becoming increasingly small that they will gain the strategic goal of eliminating Hamas as a threat,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Nagata. He headed special operations forces in the Middle East.
The narrow success against Hamas has come at a high price, in civilian lives and international political anger directed at Israel’s government. The rising casualty toll for Palestinian civilians surpassed a grim milestone of 20,000, according to Gaza health authorities. Israel still needs to accomplish several key goals it set for the campaign.
Hamas’ senior leaders stay alive. The group’s military system has been hit hard but not destroyed. The group continues to control dozens of hostages, and Hamas remains the sole governing regime in the Gaza Strip, despite vows from Israel to perpetually oust the militants from political power.
Meanwhile, Israel’s main enemy, Iran, stands to benefit from the dispute, which it allowed to stimulate through its decades-long support for Hamas. The Israel Defense Forces stated that it had killed thousands of Hamas fighters, “significantly impaired” 10 out of 24 1,000-strong battalions, eliminated hundreds of tunnel shafts, discovered weapons stashes, and that its troops now have reached “operational freedom” in Gaza City in the enclave’s north.
However, Israel now encounters itself caught in a dilemma between contradictory purposes: The more military victory it succeeds in its war with Hamas, the more elevated the Palestinian civilian death toll, and the more Israel threatens to lose support from its most influential ally, the United States.
“Every bit of progress they make towards their strategic goal increasingly damages their reputation internationally and makes it harder for their allies and supporters to continue to support them,” said Nagata. He helped direct the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group militants in Syria and Iraq.
Democrats in Congress and some former U.S. military officers contend Israel should pull back from grave bombing and a full-blown ground attack and instead carry out more calibrated attacks with fewer troops on the ground targeting Hamas leaders, weapons stockpiles, and tunnels. They also discuss whether Israel should integrate its military effort with a major diplomatic push for political discussion with Palestinian delegates in the West Bank and with Arab governments in the region.
“The real question is whether they are making military progress fast enough before the political clock runs out,” stated Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corp. think tank. “The IDF will tell you that they think they need several more months of large-scale combat operations to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities fully.”
According to U.S. intelligence reporting conveyed with lawmakers, even if Israel thrives in taking out the senior leadership of Hamas, the group will stay a threat as it is based on a belief of resistance, congressional aides expressed. A growing number of Democrats in Congress, including military veterans who battled in Iraq and Afghanistan, have noted that experience and challenged Israel’s tactics, claiming that heavy bombardment and steep civilian deaths are counterproductive methods that endanger providing more fuel to extremists.