Researcher: Gaza’s bloodiest battles may yet lie ahead

Researcher Gazas bloodiest battles may yet lie ahead

Israel’s military plans to continue advancing deeper into Gaza once it completes the destruction of the Hamas “military regime” in the northern part of the territory, the military’s information chief said Daniel Hagari Thursday evening.

Since Thursday, Israel has been dropping leaflets in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. Flyers advise people to evacuate:

“Anyone who is close to terrorists or their facilities is putting their lives at risk. Every house used by terrorists is a target,” read leaflets dropped from airplanes.

Israel acted in a similar way before its ground attack on northern Gaza. So is the Israeli operation to the south known?

– That is to be expected, says the professor of Middle Eastern studies Hannu Juusola from the University of Helsinki.

Whether it would be a ground operation or increased airstrikes is not yet known, says Juusola.

However, according to Juusola, a possible ground operation would probably not be as large as in Northern Gaza. According to Juusola, it is not possible for political reasons.

– A large-scale attack in the south will probably be more limited than in the north, because there are so many people there.

In any case, it is likely that the attacks will increase, at least in the Khan Younis area.

South Gaza full of people

The already densely populated Gaza Strip is now even more crowded as people have fled from north to south. The population of southern Gaza has doubled in a short time.

The biggest question is, where can people move to if Israel invades the south?

– The chances of escaping are decreasing. Of course, Israel would hope that people would go to Egypt, but that is not likely, Professor Juusola says.

According to Israel, Hamas forces and leadership have moved south. According to Juusola, that may well be true.

– It is even assumed. Israel is actively trying to track them down. It makes military sense.

Israel’s clear goal is to destroy Hamas. However, its chances of continuing the ground attack on southern Gaza may be more limited than in the previous attack on northern Gaza.

Global pressure on Israel is increasing day by day, and close ally the United States has also urged Israel to exercise restraint.

– The pressure of the international community is an aspect that Israel must take into account when attacking the south, says Juusola.

The hospital operation raises questions

Israel’s operation at al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza has drawn much criticism in recent days. The hospital should not be a military target, but Israel claims that the hospital area is even the “nerve center” of Hamas.

As evidence, Israel has released videos showing weapons and tunnels found in the hospital area. Israel has been under heavy international pressure to justify its attack on the hospital. According to Juusola, however, the small number of weapons in the videos leaves a lot to be guessed at.

Israel has presented, among other things, the following video as proof of Hamas activities in the hospital.

According to the professor, Hamas has probably had military activity in the hospital area, but at the moment it is completely unclear how significant the base is.

– The presented evidence that the hospital was a central command center is devoid of any basis. The evidence presented by Israel has been even embarrassing.

By this Juusola means that Israel has had to withdraw some the claims they presented as evidence.

– Information has not played well. Israel has hurriedly tried to present evidence, says Juusola.

Juusola says that the tunnels built by Hamas have a very long history in Gaza. Because of that, it is likely that the tunnel networks also extend to the hospital area.

Will the destruction of Hamas succeed?

Israel’s ground offensive in the north has progressed quickly and Israel’s losses have been moderate.

However, the conflict has claimed a huge number of victims in a short time. According to the Ministry of Health under Hamas, at least 11,500 Palestinians have died in Gaza.

In addition, more than 1,200 Israelis were killed in a terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7. According to Israel, 1,500 Hamas fighters were also killed in it.

If Israel attacks the overcrowded southern Gaza, the casualty figures may rise significantly.

Is it possible that the fiercest fighting would only take place in southern Gaza?

– It is very possible, says Juusola.

– It may be that only there will be the bloodiest battles, when Hamas has its back against the wall. Also for Israel, says Juusola.

According to Juusola, it is likely that Israel will try to establish a military presence in the south as well – if only they have time before the international pressure grows too much.

However, according to Juusola, the complete eradication of Hamas is not likely, even if Israel also takes over southern Gaza.

– Hamas is an ideology that works in different parts of the Middle East. As a political movement and ideology, its destruction is not possible. It may be that the military destruction will also be left unfinished.

Juusola emphasizes that a purely military solution in Gaza is not possible.

Israel launched an attack on Gaza after Hamas launched a terrorist attack on Israel.

However, according to Juusola, the extent of the destruction in Gaza and the large number of civilian casualties raise doubts as to whether the “principle of proportionality” has been realized in Israel’s counterattack.

Because Juusola means that military objectives should be proportionate to the use of force.

– If there is one fighter in the city and the whole city is destroyed, is that reasonable? These are of course principles open to interpretation, says Juusola.