What would a ‘full-scale war’ between Israel and Palestine look like?
Israeli military planning for first ground conflict in Gaza since 2014
Israeli forces last night destroyed a Hamas tunnel system in Gaza in the largest single military operation since violence broke out between the old enemies earlier this week.
The midnight assault lasted for 40 minutes and involved 160 Israeli war planes, multiple tanks and three brigades of ground troops, according to a spokesperson for the Israel Defence Force (IDF). An initial statement by the military appeared to confirm that troops had crossed the border into Gaza, but a spokesperson later said that was not the case.
The biggest assault yet in the five-day battle came after the UN’s special envoy for the Middle East peace process, Tor Wennesland, warned that the violence was “escalating towards a full-scale war”. The Times reports that Israeli “plans for a possible invasion” of the Palestinian territory are understood to have been “put before” the general staff of the IDF, “before going to the security cabinet”.
Eyewitness in Gaza told The Washington Post that “intense, almost continuous airstrikes began to pound the northern Gaza Strip” at around midnight on Thursday, with tanks firing “approximately 50 rounds into the enclave”.
Military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said the aim of the operation was “to deliver a severe blow to Hamas’s underground tunnel system, which we refer to as the ‘metro’, which is essentially a city beneath the city of Gaza”.
He added: “It is a strategic asset that Hamas has invested many years of effort and time and significant resources to construct.”
Hamas retaliated by firing around 55 rockets from Gaza overnight, according to the Israeli authorities.
Meanwhile, “a new front has opened in the military showdown”, as “a wave of mob violence” between Jews and Arabs spreads across several Israeli cities, prompting “riots and attacks in the streets”, The New York Times (NYT) reports.
“Rival Jewish and Arab mobs attacked people, cars, shops, offices and hotels,” the paper continues. Israeli television captured “one of the most chilling incidents”, when “dozens of Jewish extremists took turns beating and kicking a man presumed to be an Arab, even as his body lay motionless on the ground”.
In a televised speech last night, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his forces were fighting “a campaign on two fronts”, one of which was Gaza. “The second front - Israel’s cities,” he continued, before vowing to deploy the military to prevent the “anarchy” of mob violence.
Hours later, the sky was lit up by rockets fired from Gaza, most of which the Israeli military said were intercepted by its “Iron Dome” defence system.
On the other side of the conflict, the Hamas Health Ministry said that at least 119 people, including 31 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza this week.
With “neither side showing signs of giving up” despite the growing death toll, fears are mounting that “the current conflict will escalate into one similar to the seven-week 2014 Gaza War”, says Sky News.
Militant Islamist group Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2006, has “called for a full-scale Palestinian intifada”, the broadcaster adds - raising the spectre of the last such uprising, in 2000, which lasted for five years and claimed the lives of around 4,300 people, most of them Palestinian.
Against this backdrop, the IDF has said that its “marching orders” are to intensify operations. Spokesperson Lieutenant Conricus added: “We will continue to operate to attack their military infrastructure and prepare additional activities until they get the message.”
The last time Israel launched a military incursion into Gaza, in July 2014, the conflict was triggered by the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members. What followed was “one of the deadliest conflicts between the two sides in decades, with thousands dying - mostly Gazans”, Sky News reports.
Most of those lives were lost in “Israeli airstrikes and ground bombardments and Palestinian rocket attacks”, the broadcaster continues. And the feared impending war could be even bloodier, with “Hamas rockets going much further into Israel” now.
In February, the International Criminal Court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories, meaning a trial will follow into whether Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during the 2014 conflict. Despite the threat of potential legal consequences, however, “the latest round of fighting between the bitter enemies has already begun to resemble - and even exceed [that] devastating 50-day war”, says Associated Press.
An Israeli military official told the NYT on Wednesday that three infantry brigades were “preparing for a worst-case scenario”, confirming that a ground invasion could follow the bombardment from the air. Meanwhile, Netanyahu “said Israel had rejected requests from Hamas to negotiate a ceasefire and estimated that the Gaza operation would last at least another week”, The Washington Post reports.
As the sudden explosion of violence turns a dispute confined to Jerusalem into a “full-scale aerial war ” over Gaza, “some of the country’s most experienced leaders” have warned that the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict is “heading into new territory”, adds the NYT.
“What was maybe under the surface has now exploded,” said Tzipi Livni, an ex-cabinet minister and former chief negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians.
“I don’t want to use the words ‘civil war’,” she told the paper. “But this is something that is new, this is unbearable, this is horrific, and I’m very worried.”