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As Israel's assault on Gaza intensifies, how will the ground operation unfold?


Despite international calls for a humanitarian pause, Israel has been bombing Gaza for 24 days straight now, and the assault is intensifying.


Yeah, there's no sign the bombardments in response to a Hamas attack that killed at least 1,400 people in Israel and saw fighters take upward of 200 hostages will end anytime soon. Here's Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the foreign press.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Calls for a cease-fire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism, to surrender to barbarism. That will not happen.

FADEL: In Gaza, more than 8,300 people have been killed. Some 70% of the dead are women and children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Entire neighborhood blocks have been reduced to rubble and people are trapped with no way out. Meanwhile, the overall strategy of this war, or how the expanding operation will unfold, is still unclear.

MARTÍNEZ: But some clues may actually lie in U.S. military thinking. For more on this, we're joined by Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, we've seen some tanks moving into Gaza. Doesn't look like a full-scale invasion, so what would it be then, what is it?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, you know, at this point, it looks more surgical. The Israelis first mounted, of course, massive air and missile strikes, then moved into Gaza with small numbers of infantry troops supported by tanks and bulldozers. We've seen the Israeli videos of all of this. They grabbed a foothold then moved on from there. And, of course, the Israelis got some advice from an American Marine, Lieutenant General Jim Glynn, who's well-acquainted with urban warfare from his days in Iraq.

MARTÍNEZ: So what does Israel's strategy, what we've seen so far of it, compare to past examples of urban warfare?

BOWMAN: Well, it does kind of mirror past examples. Since General Glynn was in the mix, I thumbed through the Marines manual - it's called "Military Operations In Urbanized Terrain" - over the weekend, little light reading. And that manual kind of mirrors, again, what we've seen so far in Gaza - the element of surprise, so you roll in at night as they did, special assault teams with tanks and combat engineers to destroy obstacles or booby traps. Also, we've seen the bulldozers to clear away debris. You want to isolate your enemy and then move onto your objectives.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Israel claimed it's making targeted strikes on Hamas in Gaza, but it's unclear what their strategy is. So Tom, what have you heard about what Israel's objectives are?

BOWMAN: Well, I spoke with retired Marine General Frank McKenzie about all that. He commanded the U.S. forces in the Middle East. And he said the objectives would likely be Hamas command posts, ammunition dumps and, of course, the hostages, who are likely being kept in that web of tunnels. The Israelis have said there're even more hostages than they initially thought. Now the number is 240, with as many as 10 Americans among them. He said the Israeli foothold will only expand and multiply, using overwhelming firepower from tanks, attack helicopters, other arms.

MARTÍNEZ: And, Tom, this massive ground invasion that we keep hearing is going to happen, what have you heard about when it might happen? I mean, is that still possible at this point?

BOWMAN: No. Most likely, you know, larger numbers of troops would move in, maybe to secure areas, search buildings. Israeli officials say this war will be long and difficult. And in this type of fight, defenders oftentimes have the upper hand. They know the streets, the high-rise buildings, also the tunnels. Now, in some urban fights, like the Marines battling insurgents in the Iraqi city of Fallujah back in 2004, they evacuated tens of thousands of civilians. We spoke with some of them last year, by the way. But in Gaza, civilians are trapped, including as many as 600 Americans.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.