The nightmare of a Gaza land invasion and its consequences

As Israel prepares its forces for a land invasion of Gaza, all the western imperialist leaders, from Biden to Sunak, Scholz and Macron, are getting very nervous. They worry about what their world will look like when this is over.

A former UK ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, writing in the Financial Times (22 October 2023) summed up the situation from the bourgeois point of view: “Intervene in the Middle East, it bites you back. Fail to intervene, it bites you back. Swing between the two, it bites you back.” In other words, whatever the imperialists do will be wrong.

Nonetheless, they are locked into a situation where they are obliged to support Netanyahu, while at the same trying to push him in the direction they want. But in dealing with Netanyahu, they face a problem. He is not basing his thinking solely on the interests of the Israeli ruling class, but also on his own political survival. He has now staked his reputation on “destroying Hamas”.

There are clearly divisions within the Israeli ruling class on account of what this would mean. But if Netanyahu gets his way, the imperialists would end up being dragged along into supporting Israel’s planned land invasion of Gaza, which will prove to be a bloodbath far worse than anything we have seen so far. All of the western leaders will come out of this with blood on their hands, and will be hated and reviled by workers and youth, both in the Middle East and at home.

Articles have been appearing in the press trying to outline what the Israeli army will be facing once they go in. The Financial Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy magazine, The Guardian, and many more, have all been looking into this, calculating the cost in human lives, and the impact for the Middle East and the world in general. They all agree it will be a very tough campaign, will take a lot longer than the Israeli military is presently saying, and will lead to terrible suffering for the Palestinian people in Gaza.

On 19 October, the Financial Times quoted the US general David Petraeus, who led NATO forces both in Iraq and Afghanistan, as saying about Gaza: “It’s going to be fiendishly difficult… I just can’t imagine more difficult circumstances.” And the same article outlines Netanyahu’s war aims: “…topple the Hamas regime and destroy its military capabilities; remove the threat of attacks from Gaza; secure the return of hostages held by Hamas; and defend Israel’s borders and citizens.”

The lessons of Mosul

Fire in Mosul Image Mstyslav Chernov Wikimedia CommonsSome comparisons have been made with how Mosul in Iraq was taken back from ISIS forces in 2016-17 / Image: Mstyslav Chernov, Wikimedia Commons

What we are looking at here is a level of death and destruction of unprecedented proportions in Gaza. Already, the number of Palestinians killed has equalled all those killed between 2008 and 2023 before the Hamas attack on 7 October! In just under three weeks, there have been over half as many civilian casualties as we’ve seen in over a year and a half in the Ukraine conflict.

In order to get an idea of the situation the Israeli army may find itself in – if Netanyahu manages to go the whole way – some comparisons have been made with how Mosul in Iraq was taken back from ISIS forces in 2016-17.

Mosul had a population of around two million, similar to that of Gaza today. ISIS managed to embed around 8,000 of its fighters in the city, who were waiting for the 100,000 strong US-led Iraqi army.

The city was massively bombed in preparation for the troops to go in, but that left a swathe of destroyed buildings and rubble that the ISIS fighters could use as cover.

A western special forces officer who was with the Iraqi army in Mosul explains that: “Cities have thousands of hiding places… If you want to remove an enemy, you have to clear the area house by house. But that puts you in 360 degrees of danger. You can’t just sweep through.” The recapture of Mosul ended up taking nine months, far longer than had been previously calculated.

Estimates as to how many fighters Hamas has in Gaza vary, but there could be anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000, within which there is a core of 10,000 well-trained men. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is also estimated to have a force of around 15,000 fighters. This means that in Gaza there are forces that are around five times as large as those that ISIS had in Mosul.

However, the situation in Gaza is also different, in the sense that Hamas fighters will be operating on home territory and defending their homeland. Hamas can also draw upon big reserves of volunteers who are prepared to join the effort to stop the Israeli army.

Hamas has also had much longer to prepare the ground than ISIS did in Mosul. They have built a sophisticated network of tunnels – close to 500 kilometres according to some reports – into which fighters can escape, or from which they can launch surprise attacks. They will be able to attack Israeli forces from unexpected directions. It will literally be a fight for every corner of the city. Hamas has also accumulated more sophisticated weaponry than in the past, with mines, anti-tank missiles and armed drones.

The way things went back in 2008 and again in 2014 – when Israeli ground forces entered Gaza for just a few weeks – give a foretaste of what is to come. In total, around 3,500 Palestinians were killed, while the Israeli army lost 70 soldiers in the two operations. What they are planning today is on a much larger scale, and will inevitably lead to huge losses on both sides, and the bulk of those killed will be civilians.

Experts have explained that a successful land invasion of Gaza would require a force of five Israeli soldiers to every Hamas fighter. If the figure of 50,000 fighters at the disposal of Hamas quoted earlier is correct, then that would mean 250,000 Israeli soldiers are required to achieve Netanyahu’s stated aims. They have mobilised more than this – although due to the threat from Hezbollah forces, a number have had to be deployed to the northern border. On paper, they do have sufficient forces to completely destroy Gaza if they wish – sustaining such a campaign of course is a completely different story.

But let us return for a moment to the experience of Mosul in Iraq. According to renowned journalist Patrick Cockburn writing for The Independent (19 July 2017): “More than 40,000 civilians were killed in the devastating battle to retake Mosul from Isis, according to intelligence reports...”

Cockburn goes on to explain some of the reasons for this level of civilian casualties:

“Much of the blame for the calamitous level of destruction in west Mosul has been put on air strikes, but it is evident at ground level that a lot of the damage was caused by artillery shells and rockets. This is confirmed by an Amnesty International report issued last week titled ‘At Any Cost: The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul, Iraq’, which points to a greater and more indiscriminate use of its firepower by pro-government forces in the final stages of the attack on east Mosul, starting in January 2017 and continuing over the following six months during the assault on west Mosul.” [My emphasis].

This would indicate that, as the street-fighting involved big losses of military manpower for the Iraqi army, the tendency to resort to greater and greater bombing inevitably increased. We can imagine something similar taking place in Gaza. As the Israeli army will be facing extremely dangerous terrain, they will try to minimise their own losses by resorting more and more to bombing from a distance to facilitate the operations of their ground forces when they go into an area.

Nightmare scenario being prepared

What does this mean for civilians in Gaza? It inevitably means tens of thousands of deaths. The 40,000 dead in Mosul is testimony to the effects of such a ground invasion. The Israeli military has repeatedly ordered Palestinian civilians to leave the north of Gaza and to go south, but the conditions the people have found in the south have led some of them to go back north. Not only is there a shortage of everything, from water to basic medicines, from food to housing, but some have even been bombed after they arrived in the south and even on their way south. This means that, although huge numbers have left Gaza City, there will still be many civilians remaining.

Mosul street Image Mstyslav Chernov Wikimedia CommonsThe 40,000 dead in Mosul is testimony to the effects of such a ground invasion / Image: Mstyslav Chernov, Wikimedia Commons

It will not be a quick operation. The Israeli military are talking of a 50-day war, but Mosul shows that such calculations are worthless. Some are speculating that it could be many months, and perhaps even more drawn out, before the Israeli army achieves its aims. The result would see Gaza City razed to the ground.

As Michael Lynk – a former UN “special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories” – is quoted as saying in Foreign Policy magazine, “There’s going to be a determined effort to try to decapitate Hamas. And the only way to do that is to lay waste to large sections of Gaza and its civilian population.” [My emphasis]

This is the nightmare scenario that is being prepared for the Palestinian people in Gaza. Many Israeli soldiers would also be killed, and many of the 200 hostages being held by Hamas could also perish. This also explains the delay on the part of the Israeli army in commencing its ground offensive. There seems to be a difference of opinion between some of the military leaders and the present government of Israel on how to go about the planned invasion.

The bourgeois leaders of the West have also been applying pressure to delay the invasion, insisting on the question of getting the hostages held by Hamas released before going in.

They have also been making more noise about aid being allowed into Gaza to relieve the horrendous humanitarian disaster into which the strip has been plunged. There is a very strong political element involved here for the imperialists. In an ideal scenario they would prefer to avoid a land invasion. But that scenario does not exist, and they will have no option other than to support Israel as their only reliable ally in the region.

But to maintain some modicum of public support for this course – support they anticipate will evaporate quickly as the horrors pile up in Gaza – they need to be seen to be paying some attention to the present plight of the Palestinian people in Gaza and humanitarian concerns.

UN experts are already warning that, if essential supplies are not allowed into Gaza soon, in sufficient quantities, there is an “inescapable risk of starvation” facing the civilian population of Gaza. There is also a growing danger of deadly water-borne diseases such as cholera spreading due to the deterioration of hygiene conditions and a lack of clean water.

Water supplies have been cut off by Israel, as have fuel and electricity provisions. Without power, what little water there is cannot be pumped, and the sewage plants cannot function. Many people are already being forced to sleep on the streets, or in makeshift accommodation. Others are living crammed into apartments that are hosting 30-40 people, sometimes up to 100. And once the land invasion begins, all this will worsen exponentially.

Once the Israeli army goes in, images on TV screens are going to shock millions of people all over the world, but this will have a particularly dramatic impact on the peoples of the Middle East. Already, we have seen huge protests, mass rallies and demonstrations across the region. This movement is destined to get much bigger.

This explains last Saturday’s ‘Cairo Summit for Peace’, where representatives from Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, South Africa, France, Germany, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, as well as EU and UN officials, and the United States, among others – although no senior US officials were present – discussed ways to “de-escalate” the war.

These leaders are clearly extremely worried that, once Israeli forces go into Gaza, this will have a destabilising effect in their own countries. The problem, of course, is that there was no one from Israel at the summit, and it is Israeli generals and the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, together with his war cabinet, who are the only ones with power to “de-escalate”. All the words and fancy speeches last Saturday amount to so much hot air and nothing else.

At this point, the Israeli army is continuing its preparations for going in. Once this begins, we will see a bloodletting of immense proportions. It will heighten tensions even further across the region. We already saw rockets fired from Yemen being downed by a US warship last week. US soldiers stationed in Iraq and Syria have been attacked, and Iran, directly and also through its ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, has been stressing the danger to US units in the whole region.

Growing solidarity with Palestine

On Saturday, we saw a demonstration of around 300,000 people in London in solidarity with the Palestinian people. In France, authorities had banned any such demonstrations from taking place, but under immense pressure they were forced to lift that ban last Thursday. The result was that at least 30,000 marched through Paris on Sunday waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Gaza, Paris is with you”. This was the biggest such rally in France so far. Many more rallies have been seen all over the world.

This movement is destined to grow as the butchery unfolds in Gaza. The media are desperately trying to mould public opinion in favour of Israel. But this is proving very difficult, and once the full effects of an invasion become clear to all, it will become even more so.

Many people can already see through the propaganda, through all the lies and slander. They understand clearly that the present bombing and a future invasion are not about responding to the Hamas attack on 7 October. They are merely a continuation, on a much higher level, of decades of oppression of the Palestinian people, who have been without a homeland for 75 years.

Palestinians inspect the damage following an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. Israel continued to battle Hamas fighters on October 10 and massed tens of thousands of troops and heavy armour around the Gaza Strip after vowing a massive blow over the Palestinian militants' surprise attack. Photo by Naaman Omar\ apaimagesThe present bombing and a future invasion are not about responding to the Hamas attack on 7 October / Image: Wafa, Wikimedia Commons

In order to push back on the groundswell of support for the Palestinian people, the media have launched accusations of antisemitism or of support for terrorism against anyone who publicly expresses opposition to Israel’s war against Gaza. This explains why the mainstream media – the BBC is one of the worst culprits – have ratcheted up the reporting of the events that took place on 7 October in southern Israel, emphasising the lurid details of Hamas’ actions.

Normally, such scenes are not shown, as they are considered too sensitive, but now the videos are being broadcast and highlighted. The aim is clear. It is to prepare ‘public opinion’ and to justify the butchery of innocent civilians in Gaza. It is self-evident that any normal person does not condone the indiscriminate killing of civilians, on either side of this conflict. But people can see what is being prepared and they are adamantly opposed to it.

Any western politician who dirties his or her hands in supporting the barbarism we are witnessing is, sooner or later, going to feel the wrath of their people at home. Sunak, when he recently met Netanyahu in Israel and shook his hand, said: “We also want you to win.” That means he supports Netanyahu’s plans, as described in this article. That means he supports the indiscriminate killing of women and children.

According to the Gazan Ministry of Health, the overall number of people killed in Gaza so far (Tuesday, 24 October) stands at 5,791. This includes 2,360 children, 1,421 women, and 295 elderly people; and there are also 16,297 injured and a further 1,550 reported as missing, of which 870 are children.

This is what Sunak is supporting. Just as he is no friend of working people in Britain, he is no friend of the suffering Palestinian people. The same applies to Macron, Scholz, Meloni and all the other leaders of Europe, including the likes of Starmer and co., who, like obedient lapdogs, do everything their own ruling classes tell them to do.

It is in moments like this that true communists, true revolutionary Marxists, stand out clearly with their support for the oppressed, and opposition to all those who rule in favour of a system that allows such butchery to take place. We tell the truth to workers and youth, no matter what lies the propaganda machine of the rich and powerful insists on spreading.

Just a few days ago, Petraeus, together with the British historian, Andrew Roberts, published a book: Conflict – The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine, in which they explain that, after the Second World War, “a dream arose that there might be peace on earth”, based on “the birth of the United Nations, whose founding Charter stated that it hoped to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’.”

But they coldly explain the following:

“The Prussian military philosopher and theorist Carl von Clausewitz described warfare as politics by other means, and just as politics did not end in 1945, neither has warfare. Indeed, conflict has continued at least somewhere on the globe every year since the end of the Second World War.”

The “politics” Petraeus is referring to – and which he clearly defends – is the politics of class exploitation, of plundering the peoples of the world by a minority of blood-sucking parasites: the capitalist class and all their hangers-on. The events in Gaza are clearly highlighting this. And this is what is beginning to penetrate into the consciousness of billions of people who live on this planet, starting with the youth.

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