“get down!” The paramedic sitting in the front seat hissed as the ambulance approached the Israeli checkpoint.
I could see through the front window the tanks on the side of the road, and the nervous Israeli soldiers raising their weapons as we approached.
It was January 2009, and a CNN crew was riding in a convoy of ambulances coming from Rafah in the south. Gaza strip Towards Gaza City on the coastal road. The paramedics allowed us to come on the condition that we hide on their stretchers.
This is what Israel called it “Operation Cast Lead” The first in a series of confrontations for different periods between Israel and Gaza in the years 2012, 2014, 2021 and 2022. The ongoing operation in Gaza was preceded by another operation last May.
After a short conversation with the paramedics in the ambulance, the soldiers waved us through without inspecting the ambulances.
It was the deepest Israeli ground operation in Gaza since the withdrawal from the Strip in 2005. At the time, Israeli forces largely avoided the busiest and most congested areas, especially Gaza’s eight overcrowded refugee camps. They were well aware that entering the narrow alleys of camps like Beach Camp, one of the busiest camps, would be fraught with danger. Their focus was on controlling the urban perimeter.
Israeli tactics have always been to move quickly, controlling as much territory as possible, while avoiding street-to-street, house-to-house fighting, where the weaker opponent can take full advantage of the terrain. However, entering urban areas in Gaza would add an entirely new element to the fighting.
At this moment, Israeli forces are engaged in battle agitation. But Gaza is home to countless Palestinian armed groups, including Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to name a few. They do not have the manpower or weapons that Hamas has, but they are numerous enough to provide serious resistance.
In March 2008, I went to Gaza to cover the Israeli incursion into the north, this time called “Hot Winter,” another attempt to stop rocket fire from Gaza. At the time, Hamas was in full control of the Gaza Strip, having expelled the rival Fatah movement the previous year. But when it reached the area where Israeli forces were trying to advance, it was not Hamas fighters but gunmen from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who were engaging in street battles with Israeli forces. They entered and exited alleys and ran through the streets carrying rocket launchers and Kalashnikov assault rifles. The young men were almost giddy with excitement. They finally had the opportunity to fight Israeli forces on their own soil. Ultimately, the Israelis withdrew. The missile launches continued.
Going back to the summer of 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon to pursue the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israeli forces arrived in Beirut and then stopped on its outskirts, imposing a siege along the lines announced by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant on Monday. It was clear even at that time that entering Beirut, especially the Palestinian refugee camps, would be a deadly task for everyone.
During the ensuing siege, Israeli warplanes and artillery bombed West Beirut, but ground forces remained outside Beirut.
Eventually, under American pressure, an agreement was reached under which Palestinian fighters would evacuate Beirut and Lebanon to Yemen, Tunisia, and elsewhere. The Israeli forces were not able to control the western part of the city until after they left. Shortly thereafter, in September 1982, with Israel in control of West Beirut, the Israeli army, led by then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, allowed its right-wing Christian Lebanese allies, the Phalange, to enter the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp and slaughter them. One thousand civilians were no longer able to defend themselves because the men of fighting age and their weapons had left as part of the deal the United States brokered with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
the The Israeli army has now moved 300,000 reserve troops for what is now widely believed to be an unprecedented incursion into Gaza — and perhaps, some speculate, a reoccupation of the Strip — following a surprise attack by Hamas on Saturday, which killed more than a thousand people in Israel.
What awaits it is Hamas, which, despite the brutality it clearly demonstrated in its attack on Saturday, has demonstrated a level of military capability that far exceeds what was previously thought. It may be well prepared for the next stage in this war.
Since the weekend, Israel has launched hundreds of punitive raids on Gaza, turning some areas into wastelands of shattered concrete and twisted metal. In the process, hundreds of Palestinians were killed, including many civilians. This is just the first stage of this war.
If that happens, the ground operation will be bloodier and more destructive. Israeli forces must also bear in mind that there are more than a hundred Israelis spread across Gaza – soldiers and civilians, including women and children – who are being held by Hamas. Although no one outside Hamas knows where they are being held, they are likely in the most difficult areas for Israeli forces to reach, perhaps in crowded refugee camps.
Although Israel’s leaders are keen to deal a fatal blow to Hamas, the price of this blow will be very high. For everyone.
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