Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

There was a nervous energy at a dusty staging post for ground troops, waiting for an order to invade Gaza.

Several soldiers, stern-faced and in full combat gear, asked not to be filmed.

Others, however, appeared more relaxed, even smiling as they stood by a line of armoured personnel carriers on a sprawling stretch of flat, sandy fields in southern Israel, weapons slung over one shoulder, some with heavy-looking green rucksacks on their backs.

The overwhelming sense on the ground with an infantry brigade was one of a force preparing for battle rather than a prolonged wait – even as debate swirls at a high political and diplomatic level about potential delays in the next stage of Israel’s war against Hamas.

Lieutenant Colonel Gilad Pasternak, 38, the executive officer for the brigade, said his troops were preparing themselves for action.

“Our brigade is about to manoeuvre wherever needed, through the sectors that we need to go through,” he told Sky News, speaking in English.

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Lieutenant Colonel Pasternak says the wait has benefitted the soldiers

The 828 infantry brigade is massed near the border with Gaza

The officer did not talk specifically about any delay but said soldiers have been using their waiting time wisely since commanders mobilised the military in the wake of the 7 October Hamas terror attack on Israel.

“Actually the time that has been given us has made us much more prepared, much more efficient, much more lethal towards Hamas if it will be needed to go inside,” he said.

“All the ground forces know exactly what they are about to do and actually this time of wait that the commanders gave us, it actually made us much more prepared.

“When we have the sign, we will be able to go, do whatever we need to do and we have full confidence in our leadership to do so.”

Israel has been saying for days that it is preparing to move to the next phase in its war against Hamas.

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This is expected to involve a significant ground assault into Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, but is also home to more than two million Palestinian civilians.

But there has not been a rush to enter, despite a massive build-up of thousands of Israeli troops, tanks and artillery along the border with the Palestinian enclave.

Instead, allies such as the United States have been offering Israeli leaders words of caution against a hasty ground attack while Hamas still holds more than 200 hostages inside Gaza.

There is also mounting concern at the rising number of dead Palestinians, including children and women, killed in an unprecedented barrage of Israeli airstrikes.

The soldiers are preparing for a dangerous ground invasion of Gaza

Israel says it only hits Hamas targets but knows that the militant group operates within Gaza’s civilian population.

In addition, there is the very real risk that Israel’s conflict with Hamas could ignite a regional war as Iran – an arch-enemy of Israel – seeks to exploit the crisis.

Sky News was allowed to film with soldiers of the 828 infantry brigade, one of Israel’s most effective infantry units, at the staging post on Tuesday afternoon.

We watched as tracked armoured vehicles rolled into different positions, surrounded by groups of troops.

The soldiers said they had no choice but to fight after the terror unleashed by Hamas inside Israel which left more than 1,400 people dead and many more injured.

Lieutenant Colonel Pasternak, who is a full-time officer rather than a reservist, said a goal of the military operation was to free the hostages who were taken that day.

“I am sure that is exactly what is going to happen,” he said.

He is no stranger to fighting in Gaza.

The officer was injured during a previous ground incursion into the territory in 2014 but said he is ready to return.

“I know Gaza is maybe dangerous,” he said. “The infrastructure Hamas has built inside Gaza is terror infrastructure.

“But I know for sure the IDF (Israel Defence Force) is strong, powerful and able to stand by its missions.”

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