Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and its 25,000 fighters – can it be done?

World

After the 7 October attacks, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas. Two months later, what progress has the military made?

The air and ground assault in Gaza by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has left more than 15,000 people, mostly civilians, dead, according to Gazan health officials.

An Israeli military officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, estimated about 5,000 Hamas fighters had been killed.

Six battalions, numbering around 1,000 men each, had been significantly degraded, the officer said.

Follow latest: ‘Apocalyptic’ situation unfolds in Gaza

Osama Hamdan, a Lebanon-based Hamas leader, said the casualty figures were false and “Israeli propaganda” to cover its lack of military success.

With Israel believing that the group had some 25,000 or 30,000 armed members at the time of the October attacks, it’s looking uncertain if the IDF will succeed in wiping out Hamas as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed.

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So what will happen next with the Israeli intervention in Gaza?

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Thousands of Hamas fighters remain alive despite weeks of Israeli assaults on Gaza. File picture from July 2023

Military analyst Professor Michael Clarke has told Sky News that when the Israeli military first went into Gaza it wasn’t sure how hard Hamas would fight.

“The answer is: not terribly hard. It wasn’t that they fled, but they engaged and then quite quickly disengaged and disappeared.”

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Smoke rises in Gaza

It’s a reasonable assumption, Professor Clarke said, that there are around 15,000 Hamas fighters in southern Gaza either hidden in tunnels or mixed in with the civilian population.

This leaves Israeli forces with a very difficult task of rooting them out when they move south.

“If Hamas choose to make a big fight of it then they will die. [But] they may well be deciding it’s better to sit it out and figure out where they are at the end of six months.”

Professor Clarke added that eventually Israel’s conventional military operation will end, and things will shift to an “open-ended” counterinsurgent or counterterrorist operation.

“This will leave Israeli tanks, vehicles and troops on the ground occupying the whole of Gaza… and no easy way out.”

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‘Constant sound of attack helicopters’

Professor Clarke said Israeli forces will be able to destroy Hamas’s physical assets – facilities, tunnels, command centres – and kill or capture many of their fighters.

But asked if the mission to eliminate all Hamas fighters is going to fail, he replied: “Probably yes.”

“It was an instinctive reaction to the horror of 7 October, but (Mr Netanyahu) hasn’t elaborated since then on exactly what that means because they don’t know what they are going to do next.”

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