Frontline Gaza

Mohamed Abu Shaar , Wednesday 11 Oct 2023

Mohamed Abu Shaar reports from Gaza on the unfolding of this week’s Palestinian military operations against Israel.

Frontline Gaza

 

On the morning of 7 October, the Palestinian group Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades unleashed a barrage of thousands of missiles against Israeli towns and cities as its ground forces broke through the border barriers and attacked dozens of Israeli villages and military posts in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip.

All branches of the paramilitary force took part in the offensive. In addition to its missile and artillery units, marine commandos also attacked a location in the Zikim military base in northern Gaza while the Al-Qassam’s Special Forces stormed across the border.

For the first time in the history of the Gazan wars, dozens of members of a paratrooper unit called the Sakr Unit staged landing operations in Israeli towns using powered paragliders. In another first, Hamas launched kamikaze drones to strike targets in Israel. The use of diverse military forces and tactics compounded the blow to Israel from the Al-Qassam Brigades’ opening salvos.

Israel reeled from the shock of the unprecedented dawn attack due to its sheer audacity, scale, and the number of human and military losses it inflicted. It was also stunned by the glaring failure at all levels of Israeli intelligence, which had no indication of an impending operation in which thousands of fighters would take part and that had clearly required months of planning and preparation.

Around 1,100 people have been killed and more than 2,000 have been injured on both sides since the fighting began on Saturday, according to Israeli government figures. Over 100 Israelis have been taken hostage.

The Sakr Unit paratroopers were the first to breach the Israeli army’s lines at the border with Gaza, which is entirely hemmed in with a barbed wire security fence and reinforced by cement barrier walls in some areas. The paragliders were equipped with motors that enable them to fly distances of up to 40-60 km.

Although Hamas has possessed drones since 2014, the ones it used in these operations are reported to resemble the Iranian Shahed drone, a version of which Russians have been using in the war in Ukraine.

According to a statement from Hamas’ military arm, 35 Zawari kamikaze drones were deployed in the opening offensive. They are named after Mohamed Al-Zawari, a Tunisian engineer who designed Hamas’ first drone and who was assassinated in 2016 in Sfax in Tunisia. Hamas claims Mossad carried out the assassination.

The drones were either equipped with explosive charges and detonated themselves when they struck their targets, or they were designed to drop bombs on locations where Israeli troops or equipment were stationed.

It is well-known that Hamas’ military arm possesses thousands of rockets and different types of launchers. On this occasion, however, it unveiled the Rajum missile system, a modern short-range system that fires rapid barrages of 114 mm missiles. These were used in the artillery preparation before ground forces stormed Israeli military locations and towns near Gaza.

According to military experts, a massive offensive of this sort is a game-changer in the conflict between the Palestinian factions in Gaza and Israel. It marks a new chapter in the rules of engagement on a front that has already experienced five wars and dozens of rounds of limited engagements.

The armed Palestinian factions staged landing operations behind Israeli positions during the Gaza War of 2014. However, they were limited in scope and more in the nature of strike and retreat blitzes. In the current offensive, the paratroopers took up positions, seized checkpoints and other targets, and took hostages.

Wassef Erekat, an Egyptian military expert, said that an offensive such as that which unfolded over the weekend would have required extensive preparation and training, especially given the large number of fighters that took part in it.

“The attack delivered a lethal blow to the prestige of the Israeli army,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly. “In response, Tel Aviv will unleash all possible force to retaliate and restore its fragile image.”

Israel has already begun the heaviest bombardment in the history of Gaza, after telling residents to evacuate apartment blocks in central Gaza City.

Political analyst Elif Sabbagh predicts that the war between Hamas and Israel will be a long-term one. “The chances of it spreading to areas outside Gaza will increase with every passing day, specifically to the West Bank and the Israeli interior,” he said.

“There is also a possibility that it could spread to Israel’s northern front with Lebanon.”

The Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah has already indicated that it could get involved in the warfare.

Sabbagh believes that Israeli forces will hunt for a high-level Hamas political or military official and assassinate him before considering a de-escalation and a return to calm. They want to offer up a “valuable prize” to the Israeli public to placate the widespread anger at the negligence of the Netanyahu government.

The Palestinians are also fully aware of the disasters that will now rain down on their heads and damage their lives for years. However, having lived under the brutal conditions of the Israeli blockade since 2006, they see Hamas’ military operation as a major victory.

They believe they have several reasons to celebrate it. In addition to its success in throwing Israel into disarray, the operation has taken a large number of hostages, which will force Israel to negotiate a prisoner exchange deal and make concessions in negotiations.

However, above all, the Palestinians see the operation as retribution for the crimes Israel has perpetrated against them for years.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 12 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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