Reportage. The calm before the storm. Israeli soldiers spend their last moments of peace. We have some idea of what’s to come: hundreds or thousands more civilian deaths.

Among the IDF soldiers ready to invade Gaza

“We are ready, but we’re soldiers. We don’t make the decisions. That’s up to the government. When they give the order, then we’ll go.”

The gray-haired spokesman for the brigade accompanying us to the Kisufim kibbutz has seen too much to be as naïve as he sounds, and says it all with a smile on his face.

“But everyone in the West is convinced that the ground operation will start soon – maybe even today?” we ask.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have that information,” he replies in a strong West Coast U.S. accent; he’s wearing black Ray-Bans and has a rather cowboyish walk. He sounds like he might be one of those hybrid figures: liaison officer, former member of the intelligence community, or maybe both. In any case, he tells us nothing, but adds that “some people just want to see the world burn, and those over there are like that. If they could, they’d kill us all, but fortunately we’re stronger.”

“So you can kill them instead,” we reply. He doesn’t like the thrust of that remark, but continues: “Now the world knows what these terrorists are capable of: killing, slitting throats, raping… They are a threat to all of humanity, even to the Palestinians, who are generally good people. Anyway, tell the Italians: don’t worry, the IDF is on it.”

That’s the end of the conversation, as the military men walk away as a group toward the exit.

It is Shabbat, and even in the kibbutzim occupied only by the military there are tables set with whatever the camp canteens have to offer. They all have yarmulkes, they sing “the Shabbat song,” as our interpreter explains, they joke around and seem relaxed. They don’t feel like talking to us, which is understandable: it might be one of the last moments of peace they experience. Everyone is walking around with their weapons; the atmosphere has definitely changed from a few days ago.

The spokesman for Yoav Gallant, Israel’s Defense Minister, has confirmed it: the armed forces are continuing preparations for the “next phase of the war, including the ground operation.”

“The troops, both those in service and reservists, are deployed in the field and are training in accordance with the approved operational plans,” the spokesman added. These plans might be quite different from the speculations in the first hours after the Hamas attack. First of all, it might not be the infantry taking on the lead role. The idea of a frontal assault, with bulldozers and armored vehicles, seems to have been shelved by the chiefs of staff in Tel Aviv. It’s more plausible at the moment that the operation will develop on three different levels, making use of all the armed forces.

At the start of last week, we reported about the port of Zikim (below Ashkelon), from which we were abruptly kicked out by military personnel that didn’t look like the others. In that area, fast speedboats, amphibious craft and small landing craft are being assembled right now. At this point, it seems that the navy commando teams will spearhead the attack: they will be dispatched, at night and without warning, to the Gaza City port, where they will be tasked with setting up a stable position and creating a safe zone for the paratroopers to land.

We saw them on Friday: young men near Nahal Oz, put to work by officers to simulate assaults in the open field. The navy commandos and paratroopers will establish a beachhead that will allow the Israeli military to have a base camp inside Gaza to parachute in or transport fresh ammunition, supplies and troops from the sea. This is likely where all Hamas fire will be concentrated in the first few hours.

Afterwards, it will be the turn of the bulldozers and heavy armor. On Friday, near Tel Aviv, we saw one that the military calls “the Beast”: a fully armored vehicle weighing 56 tons that the military deploys in the riskiest of situations. It’s enough to take a look at it to imagine the havoc it will wreak when it enters a densely populated area, at the head of a division of heavily armed foot soldiers.

After the frontal assault vehicles, it will be the turn of the mechanized infantry, now stationed near Ashdod and Sderot, neatly deployed on the still-uncultivated fields. The entry of the infantrymen will signal the most active phase of fighting, with the air force on constant reconnaissance to detect and report any suspicious movements, the sea blockaded and the roads closed.

At that point, it seems clear that anything that moves will be considered potentially dangerous and taken out. The leaflets dropped on northern Gaza on Sunday morning read: “Go south of Jabalia,” because Israel will continue to attack “the places from which rockets are fired toward its territory.” A warning that leaves no room for any alternative.

It’s already known what the consequences will be, encompassed by the euphemism “collateral damage.” We, who don’t use military jargon, would call that hundreds, perhaps thousands more civilian deaths.

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