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Explained: Why IDF is not inside Gaza yet and how Hezbollah could reshape Israel-Hamas war

Certainly, there is a possibility of the conflict escalating, and there are indications that it may potentially evolve into a regional war, possibly involving Hezbollah. Escalation of hostilities in the Middle East could set the stage for a broader conflict with international ramifications, says Girish Linganna

Explained Why IDF is not inside Gaza yet and how Hezbollah could reshape Israel-Hamas war
First Published Oct 24, 2023, 1:13 PM IST

Since October 7, when Hamas militants attacked southern Israel, Israel has made it obvious that its huge troops are ready to enter Gaza and eliminate Hamas once and for all. The Israel Defence Force (IDF) has called up more than 300,000 reserve soldiers. Thousands of heavily armed infantrymen in full war gear were amassed in the fields, farms, and kibbutzim around the Gaza border, accompanied by Merkava tanks and self-propelled artillery groups.

The Israeli air force and navy are bombing every potential hiding place and weapons cache held by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Numerous civilians and even some high-ranking Hamas officials were killed or injured in this conflict. But the IDF aren't inside Gaza yet. Why is that?

Hezbollah militants may help Hamas if a land operation is launched in the Gaza region, putting Israel in the position of fighting on two fronts. The Israeli government has already decided on the operation in Gaza, but there is no information about when it will begin or whether people of the enclave can be safely evacuated. 

Israel battles Hezbollah

As Israel devises a strategy to engage Hamas militants in a ground operation, the international community deliberates on potential scenarios and repercussions. The IDF and Hezbollah, a Shiite extremist organisation headquartered in southern Lebanon or Northern Gaza, are engaged in an intensifying number of exchanges of assaults in the northern region of the country.

The fierceness of the fighting has already prompted the IDF to order the evacuation of Kiryat Shmona residents on October 20. Three residents were injured the day prior when the settlement was shelled. Israel has set up a four-kilometre security fence along Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

There were numerous reports of IDF attacks on Hezbollah targets in neighbouring Lebanon throughout the day. The Israeli military stated that these actions were taken in retaliation for the militants' shelling. A strike was also initiated against three individuals affiliated with the movement.

On October 8, the day following Hamas's attack on Israel and the initial military responses by the IDF in the Gaza sector, Hezbollah fired upon Israeli positions in the Golan Heights. This territory was occupied by Israel following the Six-Day War in 1967, and UN Security Council Resolution 242 calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.

The Shiite movement representatives expressed their lack of enthusiasm for a military escalation with Israel. Nonetheless, this group has red lines, including an IDF direct assault on Lebanese territory.

Alleged collaboration between Hamas and Hezbollah to establish a secondary front against Israel is gaining increasing credibility, notwithstanding the absence of direct evidence. The possibility of the conflict escalating arises under such circumstances, given the commitment of the United States to assist Israel in the event of a Hezbollah assault, as The New York Times has reported. Such a development might present Israel with formidable obstacles.

Israel is vulnerable to a total defeat in the event of a northern assault, as most of its military is presently oriented towards a possible southern ground invasion.

The active participation of the United States in the formulation of military strategies and scenarios for Israel is demonstrated by the visits of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, and President Joe Biden to Tel Aviv over a week. All three have given reasonably clear indications that they are willing to participate in the conflict should it escalate to include additional entities.

In addition, deploying military resources to support Israel demonstrates the United States' resolve to intervene in the conflict. Ships such as the USS Mount Whitney and USS Gerald R. Ford have established their presence in the eastern Mediterranean. The destroyer of the USS Carney traversed the Suez Canal in the direction of Israel on October 18th. The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower redeployment is among the objectives. 

The Washington Post reported that the amphibious group of the USS Bataan, comprising over 4,000 Marines, could potentially augment the expanding American fleet. Preparing 2,000 soldiers to offer operational assistance to Israel in the event of an escalation, the United States has already taken the necessary measures.

Northern Gaza Strip

Undoubtedly, the situation in Gaza is extraordinarily complex. Israel advocates for a southward migration of inhabitants from the northern Gaza Strip to mitigate civilian casualties. Nevertheless, Gaza occupies a comparatively modest area of 365 square kilometres. In terms of size, it is marginally larger than Malta (316 square kilometres). Hence, the mere relocation of Gaza's estimated 2 to 2.5 million inhabitants to the southern region does not ensure that these territories remain unaffected by a ground operation.

Additional complications arise due to the refusal of Jordan and Egypt to grant entry to refugees onto their respective territories. One potential drawback of this action is that it could introduce fresh security concerns and stability threats, including the possibility that fundamentalists affiliated with Hamas could be among the displaced individuals. 

Furthermore, allowing refugees to enter signifies agreement with Israel's ground operation, whereas Jordan and Egypt advocate for a cessation of hostilities and a diplomatic resolution to the ongoing escalation.

Hezbollah's Involvement 

The Hezbollah movement has clarified that it is ready to help Hamas. It is seen as a major player in the war. What level of involvement Hezbollah might have is closely linked to how big of an operation Israel might carry out. An increase in random bombing, a bloody military operation with heavy weapons, a lot of deaths, and a lot of coverage of these images in the media will all make it more likely that Hezbollah will get even more involved in the war. 

Indeed, there is a chance that the conflict could get worse, and there are signs that it might become at least a regional war, which could include Hezbollah.

Widespread fighting in the Middle East would start the next stage, a world war with different fronts. There are still a lot of unknowns about how the situation will develop, but diplomatic attempts are underway to stop it from getting worse and start peace talks and a ceasefire.

It is important to note that Hezbollah does not work with the Lebanese government. So, if a front were opened in the north, Beirut would not suddenly join the war. The situation is still not under control, and the situation will not get better any time soon. There is a chance that the war will last at least a few months.

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