The IDF Faces an Enormous Challenge in Gaza | Opinion

Combat leaders live by a mantra: Mission, troops, equipment. This priority of effort—first, accomplish the mission; second, protect your troops; third, protect your equipment—may be simplistic, but it will frame what the world observes if and when the Israel Defense Forces initiate ground operations in Gaza.

IDF leaders at every level are preparing to engage in close-combat operations to destroy Hamas. What is more subtle is that the mission is not only to “close with and destroy the enemy,” but to do so consistent with the values reflected in the laws of armed conflict, or laws of war. This means that these leaders are taught and expected to achieve decisive effects against the enemy, but to also take constant care to mitigate civilian risk. This obligation to reduce civilian suffering is a constant of any professional military, even when confronting enemies like Hamas that has no respect for the law and seeks to exacerbate that risk to gain human fodder for their international misinformation campaign.

This is the reality facing the IDF as it prepares for its mission, which will almost certainly be defined as “destroy” Hamas combat capability. Destroy is a doctrinal task. At the operational level this will mean to completely disable enemy capability through the synchronized use of combined arms fire and maneuver—military code words for close combat using the full spectrum of combat capability. And while that capability in the IDF is impressive, it will be no easy task.

Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza have had years to prepare for this fight. They learned from the limited IDF ground incursion in 2014 two transcendent lessons: first, they cannot prevail in a tactical fight against the IDF; second, strategic victory is to still be standing when the dust settles. The key to strategic success is therefore clear: do whatever is necessary to compel Israel to terminate combat operations before their “destroy” mission is accomplished.

This means that Hamas will have two operational objectives to achieve its strategic goal: inflict maximum casualties on the IDF to generate pressure from within Israel to terminate or scale down operations and compel the IDF to inflict civilian casualties and destruction that can be leveraged in the international information domain to create external pressure on Israel to “stop the carnage.” That external pressure, as Hamas knows full-well and as is already on display, will not focus on who is truly responsible for the civilian suffering in Gaza; it will instead focus on the more simplistic and often erroneous assumption that the side that dropped the bomb is the side to blame.

Originally Published in Newsweek.