• 02 March, 2024
Geopolitics & National Security
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USE OF AIR POWER IN GAZA

Air Cmde SP Singh (Retd) Sat, 28 Oct 2023   |  Reading Time: 6 minutes

On October 7, 2023, the Islamic Resistance Movement (better known by its Arabic-derived acronym, Hamas) launched a multifaceted surprise attack on Israel that has killed more than 1000 Israelis and injured at least 2,500 others. The surprise, precision and lethal accuracy of such multi-direction, multi-mode attack through air, land and sea achieved the desired “Shock and Awe” effect and left Israel defence Force (IDF) deployed in the attack zone. A careful campaign of deception ensured Israel was caught off guard when the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas launched its devastating attack, enabling a force using rocket attack of magnitude akin to “Saturation Strike” to overwhelm the enemy followed immediately by para motors from air, bulldozers, SUVs and motorbikes from land border and motorboats from sea to take on the Middle East’s most powerful military.
The attack, to a large extent, diminished Israel’s image as a country possessing military and intelligence superiority. In what appeared a colossal failure of Israel’s military intelligence, Hamas assailants were able to cross the border between Gaza and Israel seemingly undetected, infiltrate dozens of military and civilian sites, including 22 towns and settlements. They were able to destroy military targets and equipment without any resistance and take prisoner as many as 150 Israeli military personnel and 300 plus civilians.
Initial Response
Israel’s initial political and military response to the attack showed confusion, incredulity, and quick calls for an overwhelming response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who announced a declaration of war against Hamas and a declared a state of emergency in Israel. The timing and intensity of this surprise attack were so well executed that for first eight to ten hours, the most combat ready IDF was left totally perplexed with loss of military orientation. There can be no doubt that months of preparation of such coordinated plan, logistics of amassing such massive arsenal of rockets, training of Hamas and final assault , every activity had gone unnoticed from the most potent intelligence set up of Mossad and CIA.
The fact that IDF and Mossad were taken off guard was the basic reason for such a poor initial response where in IDF not only failed to defend civilians from becoming hostage to attacking Hamas terrorists but also failed to defend its own posts. It is only after about eight hours that the military and political machinery of Israel recovered from initial shock and regained orientation. Notwithstanding the initial setback, IDF quickly gathered itself and responded in force and very quickly started their operation. With about 600 Israelis massacred, civilians and soldiers alike; 2,000 wounded – many of them in a very serious, even desperate, condition and hundreds of civilians and soldiers kidnapped and forcibly taken to Gaza as hostages, Hamas had given Israel the choice between a bad war and an even worse peace. Rightly so, the political leadership of Israel, taking the strongest stand ever, declared war on Hamas and vowed to eliminate Hamas for ever.
War on Hamas and Air Operations
In apparent preparation for a hotly anticipated air and land attack on Gaza, Israel activated 60,000 reservists in addition to the record 300,000 who had already been mobilized. It also deployed 35 military battalions and four divisions as build up for “all out operations” to eliminate Hamas. In the past, Israel had attacked Gaza four times since Hamas took over the tiny enclave, sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and Israel proper, in 2007. But those were air strikes or brief incursions. Gaza, a 365 sq. km strip of land with 2.3 million people, has no Air Defence (AD) and Israel Air Force (IAF) can bomb the territory at its will. But this time, given the magnitude and brutality of Hamas’s attack and the shock it has left on Israel’s national psyche and the holes it has punched into Israel’s security model, the response had to be more forceful. As the war is set to escalate and expand with a ground invasion the precision air strikes from IAF commenced on the same day of surprise attack from Hamas.
IAF has a tough task ahead of them wherein while they had to demolish the entire Hamas set up, utmost care was required in ensuring that there are minimal collateral damage to civilians. Their task was even more challenging due to the fact that Hamas had started using innocent children and women as “human shields” to thwart any strong reaction from IAF or IDF. While air operations have been and will remain uncontested in the absence of any Air Defence in Gaza, the IAF had had to quickly ascertain the hide outs of Hamas with accurate inputs from Mossad and start pounding the selected targets with pinpoint accuracy to avoid any civilian casualties or collateral damage. This task, of course is most challenging as the entire Gaza strip area is thickly populated and Hamas assailants have strategically dispersed their assets, leadership and assailants intermingled with civilians.
Hamas militants had struck Israel in a surprise terror attack on Oct 7, 6:30 a.m. with an estimated 2,200 rockets which were fired toward southern and central Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, followed closely by multi-pronged multi-mode attacks by assailants on para motors, SUVs, motorbikes to kill as many innocent civilians and soldiers of IDF along with taking hostages. The IAF in response, after absorbing the initial shock responded with in eight hours by launching retaliatory air strikes in Gaza, destroying a high-rise building in Gaza City which was a hide out of Hamas terrorists. Thereafter, the IAF started relentless air strikes over known hide outs/ Headquarters / weapon storage areas of Hamas that were reconfirmed prior to launch of air strikes.
In addition to airstrikes on Gaza, the Israeli authorities announced a “complete siege” of the enclave. The Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, vowed that “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” would be allowed into Gaza, in order to “flush out” the Hamas militants and target them by air strikes. The blockade restricts the import of goods, including electronic and computer equipment, that could be used to make weapons and prevents most people from leaving the territory. IAF airstrikes had destroyed centers that housed Hamas militants. The widespread militant targets that were attacked simultaneously by IAF are as depicted in the attached map of situation on October 09, 2023.

By 13 Oct/ 0800, on seventh day of war Israel had accomplished the following in retaliatory air operations and other related ground offensive plans:
IAF had targeted HAMAS Naval Force HQ in Gaza as well as bombed Damascus and Aleppo International Airports.
(b) Senior member of HAMAS Naval element, Muhammad Abu Shamala, killed by airstrikes that targeted the HQ of naval forces in Gaza
(c) Palestinian Islamic Jihad (JIP) leader, Abdel Rehman Shehab, and his f family were killed in Israeli airstrikes.
(d) Germany banned HAMAS operations in the country. Offered military assistance to Israelis. Provides Unmanned Combat aerial Vehicles (UCAV) use to Israel for combat strike usage.
(e) The IAF has confirmed that it has killed the head of Hamas’s Air Force chief Murad Abu Murad in the airstrike carried out 11 Oct 2023. The strike targeted a headquarters from which Hamas managed its aerial activity in the Gaza Strip.
(f) By evening of October 10, 2023, IAF had struck over 400 targets in the small enclave, including 10 towers were used by Hamas and along with hideouts of terrorist squads in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip.
(g) Along with the mass strikes by IAF, the IDF in its ground operations with its Flotilla 13 elite unit, had rescued 250 hostages alive, killed 60+ HAMAS terrorist and apprehended 26 assailants, including the Deputy Commander of HAMAS Southern Naval Division, Muhammad Abu A’ali

What to expect Next.
Israel’s war on Hamas is going to intensify with IAF having pulverized more than 2000 targets of Hamas hideouts, weapon areas, strongholds, infrastructure units and most importantly large number of terror outfit leaders, the situation is all set for a massive ground offensive by IDF. The joint IAF and IDF operations once again would be executed with surgical precision, backed by hard confirmed intelligence to ensure that not only Hamas terrorists are targeted but also to ensure minimum civilian Palestine casualties in collateral damage. The simultaneous efforts to rescue hostages alive from the clutches of Hamas terrorists would be executed with similar precision and focus.
The strategic move of US of positioning two of its aircraft carriers of Carrier Battle Group (CBG) with more than 50 fighters each, in the Mediterranean is a clear signature of allowing freedom of “Hamas cleansing operation” to IAF and IDF with no interference from any of the Gulf countries supporting Hamas directly or indirectly. This conflict is far from over, and it is completely unpredictable as to how it will progress. Powerful, centrifugal forces have been unleashed that have rewritten the rules for Israel and Hamas, and perhaps others in the region. Even though Hezbollah terrorists have joined Hamas to carry out rocket attacks over Israel from West Bank area, IAF and IDF with continuous supply of weapons from US, as promised by president Joe Biden recently, would be able to take this war to their planned objectives of eliminating Hamas.


Author
Air Commodore S P Singh, VSM (Retd), has more than 3000 hours of flying experience on various fighter aircraft including MiG 21 Bison and SU-30. He is presently working as Senior Fellow at Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS) and heading Indo-Pacific Group.

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