The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) amassed huge number of troops and military hardware along the border almost immediately after Hamas launched the deadliest ever terror attack on Israeli soil on October 7. On top of its regular force, the IDF has also called up 300,000 reservists who reported to their bases within hours.
But despite the build-up and the widespread expectations that a ground incursion was imminent, the IDF has so far largely focused on aerial bombardment.
Israel mounted a limited raid into Gaza overnight that it said was intended “to create better terms for ground operations.” But the lack of a larger offensive has prompted questions about Israel’s strategy – and its planned endgame for Gaza.
On top of everyone’s mind is the fate of the more than 200 hostages who are still held by Hamas in Gaza and who could be endangered if Israel invades.
The hostages include Israeli civilians and soldiers as well as foreign nationals and children as young as 9 months. Among them are scores of hostages holding foreign passports from 25 different countries, including Mexico, Brazil, the United States, Germany and Thailand, according to the Israeli government.
This makes the situation even more complicated for Israel, because it needs to consider its allies’ interests.
Four of the people held captive – two Israeli women and two American woman – have been released in recent days, giving hopes that more could follow.
US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron all visited Israel in the past few days. All stressed that Israel has the right to defend itself and offered support. But each also urged caution and pressed for more time to negotiate.
Israel’s plan for what would come after the invasion remains unclear, which is another reason why many are asking for time. The US and its allies have been urging Israel to be strategic and clear about its goals, warning against a prolonged occupation, US and Western officials told CNN.
They have also emphasized the need to avoid further civilian casualties.
The IDF says its strikes are targeting Hamas and its infrastructure, but the civilian death toll has been enormous. According to health authorities in the Hamas-controlled enclave, more than 6,850 Palestinians have been killed so far.
At least 35 UN staffers have also been killed in Gaza, the majority due to Israeli airstrikes, according to the United Nations.