Israel launches expanded ground offensive in Gaza as war enters 4th month
Israel has launched an expanded ground offensive into Gaza, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to intensify attacks in order to “demilitarize” Hamas amid a rising death toll after nearly 4 months of conflict.
The Israeli military has been bombarding Gaza for days, moving to take control of the territory in what Netanyahu said would be a prolonged campaign to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities.
“The instructions are to intensify strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip,” an Israeli military official told reporters. Ground troops have taken control of Beit Hanun in northern Gaza and were advancing southward early Tuesday.
Netanyahu outlines “prerequisites for peace”
In an op-ed published Monday in the Wall Street Journal, Netanyahu laid out “three prerequisites for peace” with Palestinians in Gaza:
- “The removal of Hamas’ military infrastructure”
- “The demilitarization of the Gaza Strip”
- “A takeover by elements that do not call for Israel’s destruction”
“The first two conditions could be implemented rapidly, but the third will clearly take much longer,” Netanyahu wrote. “Still, there are examples of places that were once hotbeds of radicalism and violence that underwent a process of deradicalization over time, such as Germany and Japan after World War II.”
Netanyahu reaffirmed that Israel’s military campaign was “nowhere near its end,” despite growing international pressure for a ceasefire. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed in the last week alone.
|Last 7 Days
|Total in 2022 Conflict
“Israel is paying a heavy price, with the loss of many soldiers and civilians. But Hamas is paying an even heavier price,” Netanyahu said over the weekend.
Iran accuses Israel of strike that killed a top general
Tensions escalated further Tuesday when Iran accused Israel of conducting an airstrike near Damascus that killed a high-ranking Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer.
Iranian Brig. Gen. Davoud Jafari, who oversaw Iranian military operations in Syria, was killed along with at least three others late Monday, according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
While Israel did not claim responsibility, it has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria over the years. The killing of such a high-level Iranian general brings the risk of retaliation from Tehran.
Experts warn the Gaza war combined with growing Iran-Israel hostilities could spark a wider regional conflagration.
“This dangerous dynamic of escalation brings the possibility of a multi-front war between Israel and Iran closer to reality,” said Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Ceasefire talks go nowhere
Egyptian-led ceasefire negotiations have so far failed to take hold amid defiant rhetoric from both Netanyahu and Hamas leaders in Gaza.
“The enemy’s leaders think we will get tired; we will not get tired or withdraw,” Hamas military spokesman Abu Ubaida said in a televised address Monday night. “Our rockets are ready to fire at Tel Aviv, beyond Tel Aviv and beyond beyond Tel Aviv.”
Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel since fighting erupted in August 2022, the worst cross-border violence since the 2014 Gaza war.
While the Iron Dome defense system has intercepted many of the rockets, normal civilian life in southern Israel has been severely disrupted by incessant rocket fire. Several Israeli cities have also come under intense aerial bombardment from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“Both sides are still convinced they can change the rules of the game in their favor,” analysis from the International Crisis Group concluded last week. “The result promises more bloodshed.”
Israel warns Gaza war could last “many more months”
With peace talks stalled and the Israeli offensive expanding, the head of the Israeli military warned the Gaza war could drag on.
“This operation will expand as needed, whether that will take a week or two weeks or more,” Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said in a speech Tuesday. He later added: “We are preparing for the campaign to last many more months.”
Halevi said Israel is prepared to strike Hamas leaders “whether it takes a week or months,” vowing that the militant group governing Gaza “will never feel safe.”
His comments indicate the Israeli military is girding for protracted urban warfare amid a rising death toll and growing international criticism over civilian casualties.
Israel argues its offensive is needed to degrade Hamas’ capabilities and prevent rocket fire, while critics say the assault will only breed more violence and civilian suffering.
“The current cycle of violence must end,” U.N. envoy Tor Wennesland said over the weekend. “The responsibility is with the parties to walk back from the brink.”
So far, there are few signs of the warring parties heeding those warnings.