IDF believes it’s ready for Gaza ground offensive — and that it should start soon

Army wants to carry out incursion even at cost of heavy losses, fears political echelon may never give the order despite high level of readiness

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israeli troops and tanks gather in a field near Kibbutz Be'eri in southern Israel on October 14, 2023. (Thomas COEX / AFP)
Israeli troops and tanks gather in a field near Kibbutz Be'eri in southern Israel on October 14, 2023. (Thomas COEX / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces believes that in order to attain the government’s stated objectives in the war against the Hamas terror group, the military must begin its ground offensive in the Gaza Strip sooner rather than later, The Times of Israel learned Monday.

Israel says its war against Hamas is aimed at destroying the Iran-backed terror group’s infrastructure and has vowed to dismantle the organization after the October 7 massacres.

Led by Hamas and carried out with other terror groups, the assault saw some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air, and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing at least 222 hostages of all ages, under the cover of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

The Times of Israel learned that, after 16 days of airstrikes, the IDF has told the government that it is fully prepared for a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, and believes it can achieve the goals set out for it, even at the risk of heavy casualties to soldiers, and amid ongoing attacks by Hezbollah in the north.

But the military fears that the government may not ever give the order to begin the ground offensive, or postpone it for a lengthy period.

Should the army need to move its focus to the northern front instead of Gaza, it is confident that it could pivot within just a few days. The IDF has already heavily bolstered the Lebanon border, but most forces remain near Gaza, ahead of the expected ground offensive.

Regarding the 222 confirmed hostages held by Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip, the military has been preparing for the possibility of rescue operations amid the ground offensive, according to information seen by The Times of Israel.

Smoke rises after Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, October 22, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The army is concerned that further hostage releases by Hamas could lead the political leadership to delay a ground incursion or even halt it midway. On Friday night, Hamas released an American mother and daughter. According to some reports, this contributed to a postponement of the ground offensive, in light of hopes that more could be freed.

Still, the IDF believes that an offensive may actually pressure Hamas to release further hostages.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that the White House wants Israel to delay its ground operation to allow more time for negotiations to release the hostages held by terrorists there, as well as for humanitarian aid to enter the Palestinian enclave.

The report, which cited several unnamed US officials, said the Biden administration also wants to increase preparedness for any potential attacks on US targets in the region from Iran-based groups, which it believes are likely to increase as the war goes on.

Officials said that the US is not asking Israel to abort the ground invasion, but is advising it to wait, and that Washington still fully supports Israel’s aim to destroy Hamas in the wake of the deadly onslaught.

The military was looking to the government to make a decision soon regarding the ground offensive, as forces stationed by the border can only remain in a heightened state of readiness for so long. But the military understands that there may be additional considerations — such as the issue of the hostages — which may lead to delays, The Times of Israel learned.

A Merkava tank drives past a fence near Kibbutz Be’eri, close to Israel’s border with Gaza, on October 20, 2023, in the aftermath of an unprecedented onslaught by Palestinian terrorists on October 7. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

The Israeli Air Force has so far carried out strikes against more than 10,000 targets in Gaza belonging to Hamas and other terror groups, according to the information.

Strikes in recent days have focused on removing potential threats to ground forces, including sniper and missile positions.

Israel has meanwhile repeated its calls for people to leave northern Gaza, including by dropping leaflets from the air. It estimates that 700,000 have already fled. But hundreds of thousands remain and Hamas has urged them to stay.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has said that more than 4,600 people in Gaza have been killed since the start of the war. The numbers cannot be verified and include those killed in a blast at a hospital, which Hamas blamed on Israel, but which Israel, several Western governments, and The Associated Press said appeared to have been caused by an Islamic Jihad rocket falling on the hospital parking lot.

Israel says more than 550 rockets fired by terror groups at Israel have landed inside the Strip.

Additionally, Israel says it killed some 1,500 of the terrorists who infiltrated Israel on October 7.

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