Israel expanded its ground operations in the Gaza Strip Friday and Saturday as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a “long and hard” against Hamas and Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagar said, “We are advancing in the stages of the war, according to our plan.”
As my colleague Becca Lower reported Saturday, the Jewish state has entered a new phase in the conflict and unleashed massive air bombardments and “the ground shook in Gaza.” They also deployed tanks and infantry backed by massive strikes from the air and sea.
Strikes had taken out electricity and cell service in the Strip, meaning that people were effectively cut off from the world. Hagari reported that services had been restored by Sunday; however, civil order was still disintegrating:
UNRWA, the main UN agency providing relief to Palestinians in Gaza, said thousands of desperate Palestinians were breaking into its warehouses to seize wheat flour and other staples, in a sign that civil order was starting to break down in the enclave.
The Israeli Defense Forces blamed Hamas for shortages of food, water, and fuel:
When you hear that people in Gaza don’t have fuel, it’s because Hamas took all of it. pic.twitter.com/i2MOjesZxw
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) October 29, 2023
Concerns that the war could spread to neighboring countries intensified when Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi posted a threatening Tweet Saturday:
Zionist regime’s crimes have crossed the red lines, which may force everyone to take action. Washington asks us to not do anything, but they keep giving widespread support to Israel. The US sent messages to the Axis of Resistance but received a clear response on the battlefield.
— سید ابراهیم رئیسی (@raisi_com) October 29, 2023
Netanyahu made his goal clear: the complete destruction of Hamas.
At a press conference in Jerusalem late on Saturday evening, Netanyahu said the war had now entered its “second stage”. “Its aims are clear — the destruction of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities and the return of the hostages,” he said. He described the conflict as a “war for Israel’s very existence”. “We always said: ‘Never again’. Never again is now.” But he stopped short of describing the offensive as a full-scale invasion, saying only that Israel had decided to “expand ground operations” in Gaza and had sent “additional ground forces” in.
The situation is further complicated by the over 200 hostages Hamas still holds. Netanyahu is under intense pressure to get them out:
Netanyahu faces a huge dilemma in stepping up the ground offensive: the families of hostages, whom the prime minister met on Saturday evening, have warned that an invasion could endanger their lives. “Any move considered [should] take into account the wellbeing of our loved ones,” said Meirav Leshem Gonen, the mother of 23-year-old Romi Leshem, who was snatched from a music festival.
You can see the pain on the faces of family members who have no idea whether their loved ones are even alive:
The father of Itay Chen, an Israeli taken hostage, asks CNN anchors:
— Aviva Klompas (@AvivaKlompas) October 29, 2023
Despite the fact that Hamas terrorists launched a surprise attack against Israel and brutally killed over a thousand innocent civilians, pro-Palestine protests are breaking out across the country and even the world.
If they chanted “Hamas surrender” or “release the hostages,” we could take them seriously. https://t.co/GbMxH0OojU
— Ilya Shapiro (@ishapiro) October 28, 2023
As this war enters its next phase, it’s looking more and more like it’s going to be a prolonged battle that will shape the Middle East for years to come.