Hamas Strength Depleted: Embracing Guerrilla Tactics in Gaza

Hamas fighters now largely avoid sustained clashes with Israeli forces closing in on the southernmost town of Rafah and instead launch ambushes

by Sededin Dedovic
Hamas Strength Depleted: Embracing Guerrilla Tactics in Gaza
© Alert / Youtube channel

Hamas has lost about half of its forces over eight months of war and relies on guerrilla tactics to thwart Israel's attempts to take control of Gaza, American and Israeli officials told Reuters. The Hamas fighting force in the enclave has been reduced to between 9,000 and 12,000 fighters, according to three senior U.S.

officials familiar with the matter. The U.S. estimate before the conflict was that Hamas had 20,000-25,000 fighters. In contrast, Israel says it has lost only 300 soldiers in the Gaza campaign. Hamas fighters now mostly avoid direct clashes with Israeli forces approaching the southernmost city of Rafah and instead ambush from hiding and use improvised explosive devices to hit targets often behind enemy lines, one official said.

This is also stated by Gaza residents, one of whom described how "in previous months, Hamas fighters intercepted, engaged, and fired at Israeli troops as soon as they entered their territory, but now it is noticeable that they wait for the Israelis to deploy and then Hamas begins with ambushes and attacks." Anonymous American officials said the new tactic could sustain Hamas insurgency in the coming months with the help of weapons smuggled into Gaza through tunnels, and other weapons made from unexploded ordnance or captured from Israeli forces.

The expected prolonged duration of the fighting was also announced by the national security advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week said the war could last at least until the end of 2024. Peter Lerner, spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), told Reuters that they are far from destroying Hamas, which he also said has lost about half of its combat forces.

Lerner said the Army is adapting to the change in Hamas tactics and acknowledged that Israel cannot eliminate all Hamas fighters or destroy every Hamas tunnel. "It was never the goal to kill every last terrorist on the ground.

That is not a realistic goal," he added. "But, destroying Hamas as the ruling power in Gaza is an achievable military goal," he added.

Hamas military parade© Alert / Youtube channel

According to Israeli and American officials, 7,000-8,000 Hamas fighters are allegedly entrenched in Rafah, the group's last significant stronghold of resistance.

The top leaders of Hamas - Yahya Sinwar, his brother Muhammad, and Sinwar's deputy Mohamed Deif - are alive and believed to be hiding in tunnels with Israeli hostages, they said. This Palestinian group has shown the ability to quickly withdraw after attacks, find cover, regroup, and reappear in areas believed to be "cleared" by Israel, said one U.S.

administration official. Lerner, IDF spokesperson, agreed that Israel is facing a protracted battle to defeat Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2006. "There is no quick solution after 17 years during which they have built their capabilities," he added.

Over the years, Hamas has built 500 kilometers of tunnels - an entire "underground city." This labyrinth, which the Israeli army calls the "Gaza Metro," is equipped with water, electricity, and ventilation, providing shelter for Hamas leaders, command and control centers, and weapons and ammunition depots.

Last week, the Israeli army announced that it had taken control of the entire land border between Gaza and Egypt to prevent weapons smuggling. In that zone, 20 tunnels used by Hamas to bring weapons into Gaza were found. Egyptian officials had previously denied that such secret trade was taking place, saying they had destroyed tunnel networks leading to Gaza many years ago.

The Gaza incursion is Israel's longest and most intense conflict since it invaded Lebanon to oust the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1982.

Hamas military parade before war© Aler / Youtube channel

Officials from an Arab government, all speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel could face similar threats to the U.S.

in the city of Fallujah from 2004-2006 after the invasion of Iraq: there, a mass uprising swelled the ranks of first Al Qaeda, and then the Islamic State, plunging Iraq into conflict and chaos from which it did not emerge even two decades later.

Washington and its Arab allies said they are working on a post-conflict plan for Gaza that includes a time-limited, irreversible path to Palestinian statehood, but it is unclear how the United States intends to overcome Netanyahu's rejection of the two-state solution.

David Schenker, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, dismissed any notion of a complete withdrawal of the Israeli military from Palestinian territory. "Israel says it will maintain security control, which means drones will constantly fly over Gaza and its army will not stand still if they see Hamas re-emerging, but will return to Gaza," said Schenker, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute's research center in the United States.

Gadi Eisenkot, former chief of staff of the Israeli army in Netanyahu's war cabinet, proposed an international coalition led by Egypt as an alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza. At a closed-door briefing last week before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he emphasized the complex nature of the war against insurgents: "It is a religious, nationalist, social, and military struggle, there is no knockout blow, it is a protracted warfare that will last for many years," he told Reuters.