Military analyst: Israel ground attack delayed by logistics, politics and the 'Gaza Metro'

Ever since a surprise Hamas attack caused hundreds of Israeli deaths, the widespread expectation has been that Israel will launch a ground assault on Gaza – but two weeks later, it still hasn't happened. 

The reasons for the delay are complex, military analyst Sean Bell told CGTN, but largely come down to the logistical difficulties in both planning for, and carrying out, a complicated offensive.

Bell acknowledged the recent outreach to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from senior U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, whom he says were "pushing very hard to Netanyahu to try to moderate his actions, to try to make clear that all civilian lives matter and give some time for the Palestinians to move south."

However, as a former military man – he is a retired Air Vice-Marshal from the RAF, the UK's air force – Bell said the main reason for the delay is the logistical complexity of preparing for a mixed offensive.

"If you wind the clock back two weeks, Israel was as near to peace as it has been over the last few years," Bell told CGTN. "And then all of a sudden it's looking to wage its biggest military campaign for decades and it mobilized 350,000 people. 

"They planned a joint military operation – air, land and maritime together – and I know first-hand those are incredibly difficult operations to pull together. Training the people, getting the logistics right, preparing to do the job properly rather than fudging it, which would be extremely dangerous – I think those are the main reasons why we've seen a delay to date."


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Bell also warned that even careful preparation does not make Israel's aims any easier to achieve. Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel said Israel wants to "destroy Hamas," while Netanyahu has said he wants to "crush" Hamas – but, wondered Bell, what does that actually mean?

"With my military hat on, you always want clear objectives," he said. "Hamas is an organization, but it's also a belief system, an ideology. And therefore, how do you actually do that? We're seeing the first stages of that – the bombing campaign, which is designed to take out the infrastructure, Hamas's leadership, probably some weapons supplies, communications nodes. 

"But if you actually want to take out individuals, you have to end up going in on foot. And that will be an infantry operation, it won't be tanks. Tanks may well encircle Gaza City, but urban warfare, it's no place for a tank and therefore it becomes extremely dangerous, extremely difficult."

While the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) owns some of the world's most sophisticated weaponry, Bell warned that technology can be of relatively little use in urban conflict, which can therefore cause huge loss of life among even well-equipped soldiers.

"The last time we saw that in recent times was the Russians going into Bakhmut and you'll recall that 30,000 Russian soldiers died in street-to-street fighting," he said. "Every corner, every window, every door offers a threat. And that will be very, very difficult for the IDF."


The 'Gaza Metro'

Furthermore, Bell noted that on its own turf, Hamas could go to ground – quite literally. 

"Hamas has got a network of tunnels under Gaza City known as the Gaza Metro – some reports suggest that there are hundreds of kilometers of tunnels – and the Israelis will have no idea where they are," he explained. 

"Hamas will have spent literally decades investing in these tunnels. By all accounts they've got power, they've got communications, they've got weapons, they've got headquarters underground, rest areas, the like. And that means Hamas could pop up almost anywhere in the city and cause absolute carnage on the IDF.

"So if the Israelis do decide to go in – and I think the jury's still out about whether they will actually go right into the center of Gaza City – the real question is it's very difficult to see how they will be able to extinguish Hamas, and it could be an extremely costly battle for them."

Even if Israel were to declare a successful purge of its opponents, Bell predicted that Hamas would pop back up.

"You can just imagine Israel walking away believing the job's done and the very next day, a rocket barrage firing across the border from a petulant Hamas," he said. "It's very difficult to see what good success looks like from a military operation into Gaza."

Military analyst: Israel ground attack delayed by logistics, politics and the 'Gaza Metro'

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