Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, is often quoted as saying, “the guerrilla must swim in the people as the fish swims in the sea.” This principle is familiar to various groups, including terrorists and revolutionaries like the IRA, the Taliban, and may explain the seemingly low visibility of many Hamas fighters in Gaza.
Despite intense fighting, with documented civilian casualties and losses on both sides, the Israeli military claims to have significantly impacted Hamas. They assert to have diminished the effectiveness of 10 out of the 24 battalions belonging to the terror group, with hundreds of Hamas fighters reportedly killed.
However, the actual impact is unclear. Unlike conventional military units, the size of a Hamas battalion, typical of irregular and terrorist groups, is not expected to be in the low hundreds. Before October 7, Hamas reportedly had around 30,000 fighters in Gaza, organized into five regional brigades and 140 companies armed with rockets, anti-tank missiles, snipers, and engineering teams.
Despite the challenge of launching a military offensive in an urban area, the IDF’s firepower, and Hamas’s preparation time, there is a notable absence of direct military action and verifiable Hamas casualties. This may be due to the unconventional nature of the conflict in Gaza, lacking suicide bombers or truck bombers, unlike recent urban battles against groups like the Islamic State.
Hamas fighters might be adopting a strategy similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan, where they bide their time and possibly retreat into the extensive network of tunnels known as the Gaza Metro. These tunnels, believed to house bunkers, command centers, and stockpiles of weapons and supplies, offer Hamas a strategic advantage.
Israel is attempting to dismantle the tunnels section by section, but it’s challenging to locate and destroy the entire network. Another possibility is that Hamas fighters have used the tunnels to escape to the southern part of the Gaza Strip, along with civilians fleeing Israeli bombardment.
While Israel aims to intercept communications between Hamas leaders and foot soldiers to disrupt coordination, this strategy may be a prolonged effort with uncertain results. Meanwhile, Israeli troops have made significant advances in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, capturing key locations despite limited resistance.
In the face of a potentially prolonged conflict, the outcome remains uncertain, and the strategy employed by Hamas to avoid direct confrontations may pose challenges for Israel’s military objectives.