Israel’s military announced on Saturday that it drastically stepped up airstrikes in preparation for its “next stage” of the operation against Gaza, in a statement many see as portending an imminent ground invasion.
“We need to enter under the best possible conditions, and this is what we are doing now, as the next stage of war approaches,” IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari explained after confirming that “from today, we are increasing the strikes and minimising the danger.”
“We will narrow the risks to our forces over the next stages. This is why we have once again urged residents of Gaza to keep moving south,” he added, in words that Israeli media also took to mean a ground assault is about to happen.
One big development from earlier in the day was that 20 large trucks loaded with humanitarian aid were for the first time allowed to pass into Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt.
Controversy was then sparked by a New York Times report that claimed the aid convoy was not checked by inspectors before it went into the strip, amid allegations that weapons or ammo could be hidden in the convoy. Israel has denied the report, however:
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories denies that aid entering the Gaza Strip was not checked before going in.
“All of the equipment was checked before going into Gaza,” it says in a statement, noting that the shipment included “only water, food, and medical equipment.”
“We emphasise that Israel is able to make sure that nothing goes in or out except the aforementioned,” it adds.
Fears are now growing that Hezbollah could fully enter the conflict, with widespread speculation that the well-armed Shia paramilitary group backed by Iran is ready to mount a full attack on northern Israel if the IDF launches a ground assault on the Gaza Strip. So far, there has only been sporadic, intensifying rocket and mortar fire from south Lebanon.
US warships and at least one carrier are in the region (with a second carrier headed that way) as part of “support” operations, but the whole region is on edge given the possibility of a Middle East-wide bigger conflagration.
The USS Gerald Ford Carrier Strike Group’s maneuvers in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea from October 10 to 21. pic.twitter.com/0gH7D63uJU
— Duan Dang (@duandang) October 21, 2023
Worrisomely, other major global powers are bolstering their presence, particularly those that have of late issued severe criticisms of Israel’s large-scale aerial assault on Gaza (namely Russia and China), which has killed thousands of civilians—many women and children among them. Russia has been operating jet patrols over Syria, and importantly, China now has additional warships in the Mideast region.
Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post has confirmed that up to six Chinese warships have been in Middle East waters over the last week.
“The 44th naval escort task force has been involved in routine operations in the area since May and last week spent several days on a visit to Oman, including a joint exercise with the country’s navy, according to the Chinese defense ministry website,” the report says.
The Chief of General Staff for the Israeli Defense Force, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi met with Commanders of Golani Brigade today in Southern Lebanon near the Border with the Gaza Strip where he stated, “We will soon enter the Gaza Strip. We will embark on an Operational and… pic.twitter.com/ItguR0tKjk
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) October 21, 2023
While the warships’ presence off Oman is being presented as “routine” – it seems clear the Chinese PLA Navy is going to stick around, given fast-moving events in Israel-Gaza. Days ago, Beijing’s foreign ministry urged all Chinese citizens to make plans to depart Israel while international flights are still available. Are Chinese warships now headed to the Mediterranean?
The Biden White House has reportedly been urging Netanyahu to hold off on the invasion to give more time to negotiate for hostages, after two Americans were released Friday…
Washington Post: “One U.S. official said it was clear that Netanyahu was not going to wait until the hostage crisis was resolved to initiate a ground offensive and that there was little Washington could do to change that calculus.”
Really? How about leveraging massive US… pic.twitter.com/aTBCMokCqa
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) October 21, 2023
This weekend, all eyes will remain on both Gaza and south Lebanon, as the major powers of the US, Russia, and China keep their military assets on the ready. Iran is also no doubt watching events closely, with Iranian officials having in the last days made key visits to regional capitals Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut. There’s also fear in Tehran of the potential for an Israeli preemptive attack on Iranian nuclear and military facilities, which Israeli leaders have threatened before.