A military ground offensive by the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip would last years and involve horrific fighting, David Petraeus, who served as a top U.S. general in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told POLITICO’s Power Play podcast.
Speaking after the brutal attacks by Hamas militants on Israel which left 1,400 dead and thousands injured, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency warned that pursuing the IDF’s bombing campaign with a land invasion “could be Mogadishu on steroids very quickly.”
Citing the 1993 incident in which three American Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in the Somali capital, prompting bloody urban fighting as American forces struggled to rescue crash survivors, Petraeus said the IDF faced a similar reality inside hostile territory if it engaged on the ground.
“If they’re [Hamas] as creative in the defense as they were in that horrific, barbaric, unspeakable attack, then you’ll see suicide bombers, you’ll see improvised explosive devices, there will be ambushes, booby traps, and the urban setting, again, could not be more challenging,” he said.
In response to the Hamas attacks this month, the IDF has launched operations to rescue hostages taken to Gaza from Israel, while also beginning a bombing campaign in the densely populated enclave that has caused civilian casualties.
Petraeus said his personal experience of running armies engaged in brutal counterinsurgency campaigns should serve as a warning for the IDF should it proceed with a ground invasion.
“It’s hard for me to imagine a more difficult setting than this particular one, and I was one who commanded forces in a number of major urban operations,” Petraeus said. “You don’t win counterinsurgencies in a year or two. They typically take a decade or more, as we saw in Iraq, as we saw in Afghanistan.”
The former military chief said Israel needs a plan to restore basic services, rebuild Gaza and buttress governance in the region once it considers the battle against Hamas won.