In 2024, current wars are seen to intensify

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

By all indications, the coming year will see the continuation and even intensification of devastating wars in the world.

In Ukraine, the invading Russian military has failed to crush that country’s valiantly defending forces. And in Palestine’s Gaza Strip, the invading Israeli military vows to wipe out the fighters of the militant Hamas movement.

Both wars have caused incalculable damage and suffering not only on civilian populations, but even on nations across the world.

Russia’s ground invasion on Feb. 24, 2022 escalated its war in Ukraine that began in 2014. But after ten years, neither side can confidently claim dominance on the ground. Ukraine’s persevering defense has relied largely on the sustained military aid from the United States and its European allies.

Recently, Ukraine’s government geared up for a protracted war with Russia through a proposed legislation in parliament that seeks to lower the age of citizens who could be drafted into military service – from 27 to 25. The New York Times says that military officials have talked about a large-scale mobilization of up to 500,000 soldiers.   

In the case of Israel, the military’s chief of staff, Herzi Hallevi, indicated that their war with Hamas will probably go on for many months. The Israeli Defense Forces, he vowed, would reach the Hamas leadership “whether it takes a week or whether it takes months.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defined his government’s goal in more precise terms. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed article on Dec. 26, he declared:

“Hamas must be destroyed, Gaza must be demilitarized and Palestinian society must be deradicalized. These are the three prerequisites for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors in Gaza.” Demilitarization, he said, “will require establishing a temporary security zone” on the perimeter of the Gaza Strip. “For the foreseeable future, Israel will have to retain overriding security responsibility over Gaza.”

Towards those objectives, Netanyahu emphasized, “We are intensifying the fighting in the coming days.” Following his statement, two southern Gaza towns, Khan Younis and Rafah – to which the Israeli military earlier had told displaced Palestinians to seek shelter – were severely bombed and subjected to ruthless ground operations. The civilian casualties reached nearly 21,000 by this midweek, with women and children constituting 70 percent of those killed, according to Hamas health authorities. The injured numbered almost 55,000, and about 85 percent of the 2.3-million Palestinian population have been forced to flee their homes.

Israel’s retaliatory war on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip “has already become one of the most destructive conflicts of the 21st century,” according to the Guardian.

The United Nations estimated that one-fourth of Gaza’s population are now starving, and that only nine of the 36 hospitals in the territory are functioning but with gravely insufficient medical supplies.

Following a UN Security Council resolution mandating delivery “at scale” of aid to the Gazan people, the Netherlands’ deputy prime minister, Sigrid Kaag, has been appointed the UN’s senior coordinator for humanitarian aid and reconstruction to Gaza. Her term begins on Jan. 8, 2024.

However, last Wednesday, the UN human rights office warned that the scale and intensity of ground operations and fighting between Israeli forces and “Palestinian armed groups” was hindering the delivery of aid to those in need. Sigrid Kaag is facing severe difficulties indeed.

Meantime, Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, told the parliament that besides Gaza, Israel was facing attacks from six other war theaters: Lebanon, Judea and Samaria (referring to the West Bank), Iraq, Yemen and Iran. “We have already responded and taken action in six of these theaters,” Gallant said.

“As we go into 2024, [there’s] no end in sight,” the Guardian predicted. “This conflict will probably continue, leaving in its wake a trail of unfathomable destruction and death.”

Even here in the Philippines, deadly hostilities are taking place. Last Monday, Christmas Day, a military operation was launched in the mountains of Malaybalay City in Bukidnon by the Philippine Army against a New People’s Army (NPA) camp.

As reported by the military, nine NPA rebels (among about supposedly 40 fighters) were killed in an early dawn offensive that involved three battalions, two from the Army and one from the Special Forces. But before the overwhelmingly large number of ground forces moved against the rebels, the jungle camp was pounded by airstrikes and artillery bombardment.

It was later disclosed by Brig. Gen. Michele Anayron, the Army’s 403rd Infantry Brigade commanding officer who organized the troops, that the attack made use of advanced warfare technology recently acquired by the Army. The equipment used included an Israeli-made truck-mounted howitzer supported by heat-seeking drones for precision aerial strikes. The Army also deployed a Brazilian-made Super Tucano aircraft that dropped 250-pound bombs on the NPA camp, according to him.

Explaining the use of “close air support and artillery,” Anayron said it was intended to minimize casualties among their ground troops, alleging that landmines could have been scattered around the camp. Yet, after the ground troops had moved into the abandoned NPA camp, the military never mentioned anything about landmines hampering their advance.

The attack was launched as the Communist Party of the Philippines announced that the NPA would be observing a two-day unilateral ceasefire on Christmas Day and on Dec. 26, the CPP’s 55th founding anniversary. The government did not reciprocate, disdaining any ceasefire with the Left revolutionaries they now consider as “terrorists.”

In reporting on the Bukidnon incident, the Phil Star included remarks made by Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr.’s interview over ANC on Dec. 24.

Clarifying that peace talks with the NDFP have not yet resumed and the ongoing talks were only exploratory, Teodoro stressed, according to the report, that “if formal peace talks resumed, there would be a cessation of law enforcement operations against the CPP-NPA-(NDFP) and a cessation of activities of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict [NTF-ELCAC].”

That’s an intriguing possibility.

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