US Rushes Defences, Advisers to Middle East as Israel’s Ground Assault in Gaza Looms
Written by Adeola Ibrahim on October 25, 2023
The Pentagon has sent military advisers, including a Marine Corps general versed in urban warfare, to Israel to aid in its war planning and is speeding multiple sophisticated air defence systems to the Middle East days ahead of an anticipated ground assault into Gaza.
As the Israeli army gathered tanks at the Gaza Strip border for a threatened invasion aimed at crushing Hamas, experts are warning that the country’s troops could face some of the fiercest street-to-street combat since World War II in Gaza City and other densely packed areas.
Israeli military are expected to confront heavy fire from rooftops and booby-trapped apartments. And armour-piercing projectiles blowing up troop carriers.
They could also come against fighters blending in with civilians, launching drone ambushes or surging from tunnels full of enough ammunition, food and water to sustain a long war.
One of the officers leading the assistance is Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Glynn, who previously helped lead special operations forces against the Islamic State and served in Fallujah, Iraq, during some of the most heated urban combat there, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss Glynn’s role and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Urban warfare studies and American officials offer dire comparisons to Fallujah in Iraq in 2004, the most intense battles that U.S. troops had faced since Vietnam; or the nine-month fight to defeat the Islamic State group in Mosul, Iraq, in 2016, which led to 10,000 civilian deaths. Then multiply the destructive toll, possibly exponentially.
It is believed that Hamas has three to five times as many fighters, perhaps 40,000 in all, as the Islamic State had in Mosul. It can draw reserves from a young, restive population and has international support from countries like Iran. Even on its own, Hamas’ leadership has had years to prepare for battle across Gaza, including in city streets, where the superiority of tanks and precise munitions can be stymied by guerrilla tactics.
“It’s going to be ugly,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Arnold, a U.S. Army strategist who has published studies on urban operations in the Middle East. “Cities are the devil’s playground; they make everything infinitely more difficult.”
But Gaza, heavily urbanised, with Hamas deeply entrenched, is an especially complex battlefield. Concerned about the challenges ahead, the Biden administration has sent senior military officers to provide advice to the Israelis, based on their own experiences in Iraq, while pressing Israel to delay the invasion to leave more time to negotiate the release of hostages taken by Hamas and to deliver more humanitarian aid. American officials worry that Israel lacks a plan with clear, achievable objectives that would prevent an enormous loss of life among Gaza’s more than 2 million Palestinian civilians.
Sunday. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said “I’ve encouraged them to conduct their operations in accordance with the law of war,”
With history as a guide, three factors would most likely shape a ground war in Gaza’s cities: the urban environment, the interaction between fighters and civilians, and political pressures.
The Gaza Strip is about 140 square miles, a narrow band slightly larger in area than Las Vegas, with a cluster of urban population centres. Gaza City, the capital, has around 700,000 people packed into around 20 square miles, with more tall buildings than U.S.-led forces faced in the battle for Mosul in Iraq creating a more dangerous three-dimensional front.