The Israeli call for civilians to evacuate the northern half of the Gaza Strip does not seem to have produced the desired results as of yet.
Nobody knows what the primary intention of the announcement made on Friday was, but whatever it was, it fell short of anything that could be called full Israeli success.
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Israel has been in near-constant armed conflict with Palestinians since that state was proclaimed in 1948. For three-quarters of a century, the two sides have been trying to outsmart and outgun each other. The first step in that is to know one’s enemy.
The conventional belief was that Israel was so successful in penetrating Arab political and military structures that everybody discounted the possibility of a strategic surprise like the one it suffered in the October War of 1973 when Egyptian and Syrian armed forces launched a surprise coordinated attack against it.
Totally shocked Israel was on the brink of defeat but managed to recover, with significant aid from the United States, which sent over 8,000 tonnes of military supplies by air in less than a week. Israel vowed not to get caught unaware ever again and invested heavily in agents, informants, moles, analysts, and sophisticated surveillance and spying techniques.
Then came Saturday, October 7, 2023, which brutally sent to the scrapheap Israeli reputation of omnipotence and the notion that it would know in advance every move Palestinians would make. The Israeli defence and security establishment will study that failure for years, and all Israelis know a huge mistake was made and everyone hopes it will be the last one.
They may be wrong. The evacuation directive may be a sign that Israel has not fully consolidated and that the order was not preceded by deep scrutiny.
In most conventional military situations, sowing panic among a civilian population will unavoidably reflect on the military. Soldiers seeing their relatives, friends and neighbours flee in panic inevitably ask themselves: “Who am I then to fight for?”
Once civilians leave, the military wonders if it is worth dying for empty land. Thus, one aim of the evacuation order could have been the desire to produce that trigger effect.
When civilians flee in panic they block communication lines, making it difficult for the fighting units to manoeuvre, bring reinforcements from the rear and keep the front line supplied with ammunition.
Gaza Strip is what its name says – a thin sliver of land less than 10km (6 miles) wide in the northern part, with an extremely dense network of unplanned and unregulated housing and traffic that is chaotic traffic even without war.
Israel dropped leaflets telling civilians to use the two main north-south roads, the coastal road and Salah al-Din Road further inland. Crowds on those thoroughfares would deny the Palestinian fighters the ability to move towards the north, against the human flow.
Either aim, creating demoralisation or denying military movement, follows classic military logic, so whichever Israel intended as the main purpose would be a good military move in a fight with a regular army that operates on standard military practices. In the case of Hamas, they are almost worthless militarily and indicate a deep and worrying planning failure.
The armed wing of Hamas operates like a guerrilla unit, not a regular army. Its soldiers are not stationed in classical barracks from where they would deploy as needed through public infrastructure. There is no rear in the military sense, a safe territory well behind front lines with warehouses full of military hardware. Hamas shares almost nothing with regular armies, and Israel should know it.
The Palestinian fighters are of the people. They only wear uniforms when they want to send a propaganda message, like during the incursion into Israel. In Gaza, they move around unnoticed when they are walking around. But they don’t need to do that very often – they enjoy an enormous network of tunnels that offers solid protection from explosions and is invisible to surveillance aircraft and drones.
Even when they run away, worried for their lives due to indiscriminate bombing by the Israeli air force, the civilians of Gaza do not appear to fall into the ultimate stage of fear, a collective panic that defies any reasoning.
If Israel wanted to create that uncontrollable fright as a primer to defeat and surrender, it failed. If the rationale of the order was to impede Hamas and make it militarily ineffective, it also failed.
Source: Al Jazeera