Republished with permission from Lucian K. Truscott IV
Every day this week has been a day of horrors: Saturday, while the Hamas attack on Israel was ongoing; Sunday, when the dust hadn’t cleared, but the outlines of what had happened were just beginning to emerge; Monday, as the number of dead Israelis began to grow; Tuesday, with stories of the enormity of the attack and the losses suffered; today, as examples of personal tales of survival and death emerged to fill in the blanks. One story, as yet unconfirmed, was of 40 decapitated babies and children in Kibbutz Kfar Aza a mile or two north of the Gaza fence. The total count of Israel’s dead and more horrors will be revealed in the days to come.
Since the early hours of Saturday, Israel has been hitting what it calls Hamas targets in Gaza with cruise missiles from the sea and precision guided bombs dropped by Israeli fighter jets. But as stories of the horrific war crimes committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians continue, pressure on the Netanyahu government to launch a ground invasion will grow.
Whether or when Israel will go into Gaza is the top story tonight on MSNBC and CNN, along with reports that a Hamas leader has said that they trained for two years for the attack and that “Russia sympathizes with us.” Retired General Ben Hodges just called the Hamas attack on Israel a “second front for Russia,” clearly referring to Russia’s war on Ukraine as its main front.
The Netanyahu government is coming under intense criticism as stories are now emerging about Hamas building a mock town within Gaza in which to practice its assault tactics and Hamas training videos appear on the internet. Israeli citizens are asking how could Israel’s military and intelligence agencies have missed two years of Hamas supplying itself with rockets and other weapons and training out in the open for its attack?
As General Hodges pointed out, you can’t train on a powered hang glider in a basement. Why Israeli intelligence drones and satellites never picked up evidence of the Hamas preparations is unknown at this time, but responsibility for Israel’s evident unpreparedness is falling on Netanyahu’s shoulders.
Additionally, questions are being asked about how four Israeli military outposts around Gaza could have been overrun early on Saturday morning, with some reports that Hamas militants shot soldiers and military leaders in their beds. The military response to the attacks was slow and disorganized. An Israeli woman who survived in Kibbutz Kfar Aza told a reporter from the New York Times that it took 27 hours for the Israeli army to rescue her and her one-month old baby. “I really don’t know where our state was,” she told the Times, referring to the Israeli government. “They abandoned us. They were on Twitter. That’s where they were.”
As anger against the Netanyahu government grows, so does the pressure to respond savagely to the savage attacks by Hamas on Israeli citizens. Right now, Israel Defense Forces are massing all around Gaza with tanks, infantry, armored personnel carriers and artillery, ready to begin a ground offensive against Hamas. That means going into the 140 square miles of Gaza, literally with guns blazing.
The difference between attacks on Hamas from the air and sea with precision guided missiles and an attack on the ground is stark. As General Hodges on CNN explained, “You can’t shoot a tank in the close environment of a city with precision.”
He is absolutely correct. If Israel launches a ground attack, precision is out the door and massive frontal firepower is in. Gaza consists of a series of small cities and towns with heavily populated and closely packed neighborhoods. Gaza has the third most densely populated square mileage on the earth. Two million Palestinians live there, fully half of them under the age of 18, many of them children and infants. It was only a small percentage of the Palestinian population of Gaza who trained for combat with Hamas. Estimates of the dead Hamas militants who entered Israeli territory and shot and killed Israeli civilians and soldiers run from 1,000 to 1,500. There are said to be two millions Palestinians in Gaza. That leaves one million, nine hundred and ninety-eight thousand or so Palestinians in Gaza who did not cross the border and murder Israeli citizens. Some of them are doubtlessly part of Hamas, but by now, any Hamas militants like those found dead inside Israel wearing fatigue pants and carrying bandoliers of grenades and bullets have shed their uniforms and hidden their weapons and blended into the greater Palestinian population, indistinguishable from ordinary citizens of Gaza.
Within Gaza, who is Hamas and who isn’t? Citizens of Gaza won’t be carrying Hamas flags like those brandished at the fence when Hamas militants broke into Israel on Saturday. They’ll be wearing flip flops and loose pants and t-shirts like any other young Palestinian man in Gaza. So who do you fight? Who do you kill?
Israel’s struggle over the last 50 or more years with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza has been their Vietnam, only Israelis did not have to invade a foreign country to get into the guerrilla war they’re locked into. The Viet Cong didn’t wear uniforms and hid their weapons in daylight hours, just as Palestinian militants of all stripes have done for decades.
If Israel’s military goes into Gaza on the ground this week or next or whenever, Gazans will start being killed by the thousands. Among them will be Hamas militants, but there will be no way to tell which of the dead is an innocent civilian and which is a Hamas militant, because they won’t be wearing uniforms, and they don’t carry Hamas ID cards. Nearly every Palestinian killed in Gaza will be considered a civilian unless they lie dead with weapons in their hands.
It’s a nightmare Israel has faced before, when they invaded Gaza militarily in 2014 seeking to stop rocket and mortar attacks on Israel by Hamas militants. The invasion began on July 17 and ended on August 5. Israel attacked more than five thousand Hamas targets in Gaza and destroyed more than 30 tunnels into Israel. According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2,124 Gazans were killed during the invasion with more than 10,000 wounded. Among them were more than 3,000 children. One thousand of them had wounds serious enough to disable them. U.N. estimates of the civilians among the Gazan dead ran to 65 percent. According to Israel’s Health Ministry, the percentage of civilian dead was 36 percent.
The reason for Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza was to stop Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. About 4,500 rockets and mortars had been fired by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups at Israel by the time of the 2014 invasion of Gaza. I don’t know the number of Israeli citizens who had been killed by Hamas fire into Israel in 2014, but it couldn’t have been anywhere near the 1,200 Israelis who have been killed by Hamas militants since the invasion began on Saturday, 155 of them Israeli soldiers.
The pressure to launch a ground invasion of Gaza may end up causing Netanyahu to give the order to invade sometime soon. Israel will achieve a level of retribution for its civilians Hamas killed, but when all is said and done and the bodies have been buried, it will have come at a high price in both Palestinian and Israeli military dead.
Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better.