Israel’s Military Strategy and Biden’s Visit
Current Assessment of Israel Hamas Conflict
Intelligence cut-off time 11:00 GMT 17th of October 2023
Whilst it remains almost certain that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) will commit to a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, this is unlikely to occur within the next 24-48 hours.
The main factor contributing to the postponement is the recent revelation of President Biden’s visit to Israel for discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday 18 October. It is highly unlikely that the US will sponsor an IDF invasion while President Biden is within Israel due to the threat associated with Hezbollah retaliation from Lebanon, which will almost certainly be backed by the Iranian regime, or from one of the other militant groups operating out of the West Bank. It is estimated that Hezbollah alone has amassed a stock of over 150,000 rockets. While most of these rockets are crude and unguided munitions that range out only to 10-40km, Hezbollah also maintain a stock of more sophisticated Iranian-derived rocket and missile systems such as the Fateh-110 (250-300km), SCUD-B/C/D (300-550km) and the Zelzal 1/2 ballistic missiles (125-250km). Such weapon systems enable Hezbollah to target high-value targets such as Ben Gurion airport with a high degree of accuracy. While it is expected that Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system will detect and intercept the majority of rockets, there is a realistic possibility that Hezbollah could launch missile and rocket salvos large enough to overwhelm the air defence system.
Given the missile and rocket threat posed by Hezbollah and the fact Hamas have now likely fired the majority of their rockets, there is a realistic possibility that the IDF will be forced to reposition mobile elements of its Iron Dome system to counter the emerging threat in the north.
Iran’s Involvement with Israel Hamas Conflict
Iran has warned that its proxy forces will conduct “pre-emptive action” in response to Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza, which will invariably include the use of Hezbollah forces. However, it is unlikely that Hezbollah will conduct any major attacks with President Biden in Israel for fear of a major US retaliation.
Moreover, it is more likely that Hezbollah and Iran will wait until Israel commits forces to Gaza as the IDF will have a considerable amount of its forces fixed in the south, offering a tactically advantageous position to open up a northern front that will almost certainly stretch IDF forces and complicate Israeli re-supply and sustainment. To counter Iran and its proxies’ threats, the US has moved its USS Gerald Ford led Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 into the Eastern Mediterranean and has deployed a second CSG led by the USS Eisenhower to the Mediterranean which is currently in the eastern Atlantic and is expected to enter the eastern Mediterranean in the next couple of days. The combined combat power of two US CSGs will provide Israel with overwhelming air superiority should the US enter into a conflict with Israel, with warnings already issued to Iran that the US will engage Iranian proxy forces. It is highly likely that Israel will delay a ground offensive until the USS Eisenhower is positioned in the eastern Mediterranean.
Expectations for Biden’s Visit to Israel
It is expected that Biden will discuss with Netanyahu the evacuation of civilians from the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing with Egypt. It is likely that Biden will demand that a humanitarian corridor is established before IDF forces enter Gaza, with Biden also forecasted to visit Egypt where he will likely use diplomatic pressure to demand the same from Egypt. It is likely that the IDF will want to commit forces sooner rather than later as any delay will afford Hamas and other militants to prepare defensive positions and mobilise forces. However, Israel is hugely dependent on US military aid which currently stands at approximately USD 4 billion per annum. It is unlikely that Israel has weapon stocks high enough to sustain military operations whilst maintaining enough weaponry to counter Hezbollah or deal with a wider conflict. Therefore, it is likely that Israel will have to submit to US requests in order to guarantee the delivery of future military aid and will not commit to a ground offensive until Biden has some reassurances from Tel Aviv.
Hezbollah, under orders from Iran will launch a pre-emptive attack on Israel prior to the arrival of President Biden. Such a move will provoke Israel into retaliating and committing to a ground offensive in Gaza before the Rafah crossing is opened and civilians are evacuated, causing an acute humanitarian crisis. This will undoubtedly provoke much international condemnation, resulting in anti-Israeli protests and rhetoric and potentially force the West to temper its support of Israel.
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