The conflict in Gaza could be about to reach a defining moment. After weeks of air strikes, artillery bombardments and drone attacks, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) appear to have the Hamas leadership and those remaining fighters still loyal to the group’s murderous ideals trapped in ever-shrinking pockets of land.
Intense street fighting is now taking place between Israeli troops and Hamas gunmen in the southern city of Khan Yunis, believed to be the last stronghold of the terrorist group. In the north, Hamas’s general headquarters, located within the Jabaliya refugee camp, has been occupied after a three day operation involving a naval commando unit and elements of the Israeli army’s 551st brigade.
But with Israel’s military success comes the ever-increasing chorus of international condemnation over the seemingly endless rise in Palestinian civilian casualties. For both sides in this increasingly bloody war – over 349 Palestinians were killed in a single 24 hour period between Sunday and Monday – time is proving to be a crucial and potentially game changing factor.
IDF commanders are fully aware that their operational room for manoeuvre will be limited by the Israeli government’s ability to ignore the growing clamour for another ceasefire. This may be why the tempo of IDF military operations has increased in recent days. Equally, Hamas’s leadership knows that the longer it can hold out, the greater the chance of Israel agreeing to another ceasefire. As long as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to see the remaining Israeli 137 hostages freed, the greater the chance the organisation will actually escape total annihilation.
The question of time, or the lack of it, was addressed by Israel earlier this week when prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman acknowledged that they were under growing pressure.