BEIRUT — The Israeli army has already reached Gaza’s port, besieged several hospitals, and forced people out, forcing the civilian population to leave northern Gaza and move south.
According to Lebanese military expert Riad Kahwaji, this means the ground invasion has “already begun and in full scale.”
“They are now blowing up infrastructure from within Gaza, claiming that Hamas tunnels lie below, and Israeli soldiers are arriving in Gaza from the sea, land and air,” says Kahwaji, who is the founder of the INEGMA research consultancy in Dubai.
Imad Salamey, an associate professor of Middle Eastern political affairs at the Lebanese American University, concurred. He told L'Orient Today that the “full ground invasion has already begun.”
Israeli forces “are in central Gaza city, coming in from several areas, from the city, and controlling major roads and highways,” said Salamey.
Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday that they now “control the upper part of the northern Gaza Strip and Hamas is no longer in control of this area.”
Israel is currently engaging in confrontations with the Palestinian resistance from inside Gaza.
“It’s not easy; there is a strong Palestinian resistance and the Israelis are literally destroying and demolishing complexes, towers, buildings, just to make way for their armor, tanks, and carriers,” Kahwaji said.
He noted that in order to keep their casualties low, the Israelis are not sending the infantry en masse, as would be expected when invading urban areas. Rather, they are keeping their soldiers largely at bay and “literally destroying every compound in their way,” added Kahwaji.
“They are blowing it up completely, to make sure they won’t be ambushed by Hamas.”
“Only when they are sure that no fire [shooting] will come out of the area from armed fighters, do they let their infantry come out and start combing the area, looking for weapon caches, looking for tunnels,” Kahwaji said.
According to him, the Israeli invasion could take “weeks” before obtaining its objectives – “that is, if they manage to overcome the strong Palestinian resistance.”
Not an ‘official’ ground invasion
Yet Israel still hasn’t officially announced their execution of the ground invasion as the US, Israel’s main ally, is still advising against it.
Imad Salamey told L'Orient Today that it is in the best interest of both Hezbollah and Israel to keep the invasion “lowkey.”
That’s because Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah “promised to enter the war if the invasion happens,” according to Salamey.
Israel’s non-declaration of a ground invasion in Gaza has allowed Hezbollah, which had repeatedly threatened to interfere if Israel invades Gaza, to remain within the “rules of engagement” along Lebanon’s southern border.
The rules of engagement entail relatively limited exchanges of fire on the border and within specified target zones while preventing a major confrontation, and a full-scale war, between Hezbollah and Israel.
“Evidently what Hezbollah has meant is that it will escalate in a gradual way and will maintain these engagements to support in one way or another the Gaza front, by keeping Israel divided and alert on the northern border,” Salamey explained.
Hezbollah engaging on a bigger scale “would only mean more losses and destruction for Lebanon, and it wouldn’t change the picture in Gaza more,” he added.
“Hezbollah also strategically wants the war to remain strictly Palestinian-Israeli; if they were to get involved the war would be seen as Iranian-Israeli, which would be distracting to the public opinion. This is a strategic decision that Hezbollah has had to take,” he explained.
According to Salamey, “international support is massive and global.”
“I believe Hezbollah would not want to distract public opinion globally into a side issue; Hezbollah has been refraining itself from expanding.”