Why are the Israelis Stalling?

Why are the Israelis Stalling?

The delay in the Gaza invasion underscores the herculean challenges the IDF would face in this operation.


There appears to be hesitation with the Israeli ground operation in Gaza because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, of eradicating Hamas. The same was the case with groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Taliban in Afghanistan. These are multidimensional movements with militias, politburos, intelligence services, media, and international support. In Gaza, Hamas and other militias have probably planned to resist a ground invasion and would welcome it. They possess high commitment and geographic familiarity and are well-armed and entrenched in underground bunkers and tunnels. One disadvantage Hamas and other militias may confront is a reduced ability to blend in with the population after Israel's heavy bombardment and mass evacuation of northern Gaza, depending on how many people remain there.

For Israel, a ground operation comprising close urban and subterranean combat would likely be costly, with high casualties and complications involving over 200 hostages held captive by Hamas and other militias. While conducting intermittent ground operations in Gaza since 2008, Israel has confronted greater casualties, even if those on the other side have been disproportionately higher and largely comprised of civilians. Without speaking about the United States in countries like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Israel experienced a similar scenario in southern Lebanon with Hezbollah, which also possesses an elaborate underground bunker and tunnel system. After approximately twenty years of occupying the territory and being subjected to guerrilla attacks, Israel withdrew after its public grew tired of seeing their sons come home in body bags. The longer the current conflict continues, the worse the humanitarian crisis, the lower the international support for Israel, and the higher the chances of a regional conflagration.


Assuming Israel could hypothetically degrade or dismantle Hamas, an analytical stretch at best and a leap of faith at worst, the longer-term options and outcomes would be suboptimal. Palestinian militias more radical than Hamas could reconstitute themselves, fill the vacuum left by it, and launch a fiercer insurgency. Israel would be reluctant to reoccupy Gaza and become bogged down there, as it had been between 1967 and 2005. The Palestinian Authority could potentially fill the void but confronts a legitimacy crisis with the Palestinians. Neighboring Arab states could step in but would not want to be seen by their citizens and other Arabs and Muslims as ruling over or subjugating the Palestinians and being complicit with Israel, the United States, and other Western countries. International peacekeeping forces like UNIFIL along the Israeli-Lebanese border have a mixed record and are no substitute for local leadership and governance. At the same time, and as previous conflicts between Israel and Hamas have shown, both sides cannot revert to an unsustainable status quo. Finding a feasible or viable political solution will require courage and creativity by local, regional, and international actors—which seem to be in short supply.

Eric Lob is an associate professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University. He is also a non-resident scholar with the Middle East Institute.

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