"Urban terrain presents unique challenges," explained Liam Collins, a retired U.S. Army colonel with Special Forces. "Most militaries despise urban warfare so much that their doctrine emphasizes avoiding it."
On Thursday, Oct. 19, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with soldiers who are amassing near the Gaza Strip border, informing them that he would soon give the order to launch a ground offensive.
This prospective invasion would pit one of the world's most formidable militaries against a highly motivated and resilient adversary.
Hamas fighters, emboldened by their successful surprise assault on October 7, in which they killed over 1,400 individuals and took more than 200 hostages, are now preparing to face an Israeli counteroffensive.
These attacks deeply embarrassed Israel's security establishment, which has long prided itself on its flawless intelligence and constant readiness. Israel's determination to strike back will test its military's ability to achieve victory in a chaotic and confined urban battlefield.
For nearly two weeks, Israel has relentlessly bombed the Gaza Strip, launching thousands of airstrikes targeting numerous locations. Entire neighborhoods have been razed, high-rise apartment buildings toppled and senior Hamas figures eliminated. The objective is to diminish the defensive capabilities of Hamas fighters, preparing the ground for an Israeli invasion.
The Israeli government has vowed to pursue and neutralize all those involved in the attack, from top Hamas leaders to lower-ranking members.
Over 4,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom are women and children, have lost their lives according to the Gaza Health Ministry. This is before any Israeli ground forces enter the territory. (Related: Israeli military gets "green light" to enter Gaza and begin ground offensive.)
In the upcoming phase, the Israeli military will confront a battlefield that soldiers generally dread.
Hamas fighters have significantly upgraded their network of tunnels, known as the "Gaza Metro," providing them with a tactical edge as insurgents. This extensive subterranean labyrinth stretches for roughly 25 miles in length and eight miles in width, covering an estimated 500 miles of tunnels.
Some of these tunnels are over 200 feet underground, making them impervious to bombardment from above. Many are equipped with lighting, storage facilities, provisions and weaponry, allowing Hamas fighters to remain concealed underground for days if not weeks.
Tunnel warfare and urban warfare pose inherent challenges, noted Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior adviser at the Rand Corporation and an expert on terrorism. "The advantages that a modern military enjoys are often eroded in an urban environment."
The tunnels also present Israel with a new dilemma – they are likely being used by Hamas to conceal many of the hostages taken during the October 7 attack. Families of these hostages are imploring the Israeli government to take all possible actions to secure their release.
While Israeli leaders are actively negotiating, they are not inclined to postpone an offensive for an extended duration if talks reach an impasse, as is anticipated. Hamas claims that some hostages have already perished in Israeli airstrikes.
Despite Israeli military leadership acknowledging they were caught off guard by the surprise Hamas attack, they will bring overwhelming firepower to the Gaza conflict.
The most advanced weapon in the Hamas arsenal is its stockpile of up to 15,000 rockets that are currently being fired at Israel daily. The Israeli Iron Dome air-defense system has thus far effectively intercepted the majority of these rockets. However, a prolonged conflict could deplete Israel's missile inventory.
In a ground offensive, Israel will deploy artillery units, tanks, armored personnel carriers, snipers, drones, remote-controlled equipment, bulldozers, helicopters and jet fighters. Hamas fighters are primarily armed with antitank-guided missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs.
To prepare for urban warfare, many Israeli soldiers undergo training at a military base located approximately 12 miles from the Gaza Strip. At this facility, the Israeli army constructed a simulated Middle Eastern city, known as "Baladia," in 2005, designed to challenge troops with narrow alleyways, mosques, towering apartment buildings and booby-trapped homes.
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