What happens next in Gaza? The terrible toll of suffering is only likely to get worse

18 October 2023, 13:28 | Updated: 18 October 2023, 13:29

The terrible loss of life in Israel and Gaza is only likely to get worse
The terrible loss of life in Israel and Gaza is only likely to get worse. Picture: Getty

By StephenRigley

It is less than a fortnight since Hamas shattered the Middle East's fragile peace.

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The murderous moment Hamas paragliders unleashed their massacre on hundreds of Israeli men, women and children has already entered history.

Clearly as we have seen through the harrowing pictures and videos taken from the Supernova festival and the remnants of the obliterated Kibbutz communities nothing is now beyond the unprincipled savagery of Hamas.

But what happens now? And where does this leave the world?

As I write this 350,000 Israeli soldiers are laying siege to the Gaza Strip. Since the attacks Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu - under pressure due to his security services failure to prevent the attacks - has repeatedly vowed to destroy Hamas.

Read more: 'It wasn't us': Israel releases new audio of militants 'admitting to hospital blast' that killed hundreds in Gaza

But as one veteran war reporter puts it 'Israel cannot defeat Hamas ; Israel cannot lose to Hamas.'

In which case, why has so much blood been spilt? Not just over the last week but over the generations since Israel was formed after World War Two.

The monsters who drew up the plans to butcher Israeli babies surely didn’t expect Israel to react by jumping into the sea. That was never going to happen.

Hamas must have known a massive counterpunch was guaranteed. They know that they cannot out kill Israel but they can provoke Israel into killing so many Palestinians that the world damns it.

Only today we are seeing both sides rush to distance themselves from the rocket that struck the al-Ahli hospital which has left more than 500 people dead.

It is clear that at some point Israel will go in and destroy much of Gaza. We can only hope it does so with the minimal civilian loss of life that is humanly and humanly possible.

But whatever Israel does will be punitive. It will not bring the dead children back and the images and footage of women and children snatched from the arms of loved ones will live long in the memory of every Israeli.

Then there is the rest of the world to consider. President Biden pledged US support on a visit to Tel Aviv and the western nations are standing firmly alongside Israel.

Will Iran launch a retaliation attack on Israel and will that then compel Russia and China to become involved?

Could Iran and its Hezbollah associates in Lebanon provide a second front?

So far, the US military presence in the region and messaging appears to have successfully reassured Israel and kept Iran and Hezbollah at bay.

But if Iran becomes involved Vladimir Putin will feel under pressure to support them because of Tehran's backing for Russia in Ukraine.

Air strikes alone cannot provide Israeli policy makers with the level of Hamas destruction that the Israeli public understandably demands following the mass atrocities committed against civilians during the initial attack.

The only way to do that is to clear territory throughout Northern Gaza, including Gaza City using ground troops and find and destroy the extensive subterranean tunnels and facilities that Hamas uses.

However, the dense buildings and tunnel systems provide Hamas with ideal defensive cover with which to set ambushes, lay booby-traps and conduct urban skirmishes against advancing Israeli troops.

The IDF will - like almost every army that has tried to clear urban areas in modern times- be forced to use artillery and even more airstrikes to make progress against dug-in enemy troops.

Only last year we saw how a few brave outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainians were able to hold the besieged city of Mariupol from vastly superiors Russian forces.

There is no clean or simple military option for the objective that Israel is now understandably committed to – the elimination of Hamas in Gaza.

The scale and savage nature of the Hamas assault against Israeli civilians was calculated to provoke a massive Israeli reaction, and Hamas has deliberately postured itself to be impossible to effectively attack in Gaza without causing massive casualties among its imprisoned civilian population.

However, the military reality of the challenge facing the IDF in Gaza means that it has no good options, and its most likely course of action in the shape of a ground invasion will result in loss and suffering on an even greater scale than that already endured by thousands of ordinary people on both sides.