Israel's ground offensive in Gaza is making steady progress. They moved into the strip on 27 October after a sustained air campaign which paved the way for infantry, armoured and engineering units to enter. Despite military analysts predicting that Israel would sustain heavy combat losses, because of decent intelligence gathered in the preceding three weeks, they remain relatively low (46 dead at the time of writing).
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are now operating inside the Al-Shifa hospital, beneath which Israel believes the main operational headquarters of Hamas is located. According to Israeli media sources, five Hamas fighters were killed in the course of the IDF's raid into a part of the hospital last night and Israeli troops found weapons in the area. No IDF soldiers have been killed or wounded so far.
Hamas fighters are trying to make use of the extensive tunnel system in Gaza to ambush Israeli forces. However, their efforts to initiate firefights do not appear to be slowing the IDF's advance. 'It is going well,' Eran Lerman, a reserve colonel in IDF Military Intelligence and former deputy national security advisor under Benjamin Netanyahu, tells me. 'Although every loss is painful: anyone who would have said 40 dead in 20 days of friction inside Gaza would have been dismissed as an optimist.'
Behind the lines of advance in northern Gaza, there is evidence that Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to be active. Hamas's military wing, the Qassam Brigades, reported this week they had detonated an IED on a house where IDF troops were sheltering in Beit Hanoun at the northern edge of the Gaza Strip. This took place even as the Israelis operated south of Beit Hanoun, systematically destroying rocket launching sites, tunnels and observation points south of the town.
But sporadic activity behind the main line of advance will not come as a shock to the Israelis. It will likely be mopped up by Israeli infantry in the days ahead.
As Hamas finds itself short of options to halt the Israeli advance, so the gap between its propaganda and the observable reality on the ground is growing wider. The al-Qassam Brigades Telegram Channel is pumping out a steady stream of hourly reports depicting deadly strikes on IDF armour in Gaza City.
On 13 November, within the space of an hour, there were three such announcements. The first proclaimed that 'the Qassam Brigades has destroyed two Zionist tanks in the south west Gaza axis using Yassin-105 missiles.' The second message reported the destruction of a third tank using the same system, and the third announced a clash in southern Gaza, near Khan Younis.
In a small country like Israel, it is impossible to conceal dead or wounded military personnel. Yet this stream of reported ongoing successful strikes by Hamas do not appear to be reflected either in Israeli casualty figures nor in the ongoing brisk tempo of the advance.
However, the broader path forward remains strewn with obstacles. The military situation is only one of a number of ticking clocks that Israeli policymakers must consider – and these clocks are not ticking in sync with one another.
The stated goal of Israel's operation is the destruction of the Hamas governing authority in Gaza. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on 23 October that the achievement of this goal may take 'a month, two months, three.'
This is a plausible and achievable goal. De facto governing structures are amenable to destruction at the hands of an invading military force. The Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers and the Iraqi Islamic State movement are two terror groups who have found their areas of control taken by superior conventional military force in recent years.
But alongside the military clock, the diplomatic clock is also ticking. Most of Israel's wars end not with a clear decision, but with an imposition of a ceasefire from without. The Lebanon War of 2006, for example, ended with the unsatisfactory UNSC resolution 1701, which entirely failed to address or settle the war's causes. The Yom Kippur War of 1973, too, was brought to an end in Sinai by international pressure before Israeli forces could seal their military victory.
Diplomatic pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire is growing. Israel has agreed to daily four-hour pauses in fighting to allow civilians to depart areas where clashes are taking place.
The US, now as ever Israel's sole barrier against international pressure for an immediate, open-ended ceasefire, supports a pause of at least three days. Rishi Sunak has jumped in, too: on Monday night he said that 'too many civilians are losing their lives'. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen this week estimated that Israel has two to three weeks until international pressure for a ceasefire becomes serious.
The third ticking clock to be considered is that of the 239 Israeli hostages held in Gaza since 7 October. Israeli officials have suggested that military pressure on Hamas and Qatar-mediated negotiations for the hostages work in tandem, with the pressure inducing Hamas to adopt a more flexible position.
This suggestion may well be to once again misunderstand the nature of Hamas. The movement is likely to seek to hold on to an appreciable number of hostages in order to use them as human shields against Israel's continued advance. The US administration is seeking to couch its support for longer periods of ceasefire in terms of the need to allow hostage negotiations to continue and bear fruit. But days long ceasefires will serve to slow the Israeli advance at a time when every moment is vital.
So, the diplomatic and hostage clocks are currently running in contradiction to that of Israel's military campaign. The result is that the IDF is set to soon find itself in a race against time to effectively collapse and obliterate the authority that perpetrated the 7 October massacre.
Even as the Gaza fighting continues, a sharp escalation is taking place on Israel's Lebanon border. Attacks on civilian targets by Hezbollah anti-tank missile fire are now a daily occurrence. In the largest single attack yet, 14 civilians were wounded on Sunday by an anti-tank missile which hit near the border community of Dovev. One of the injured later died of his wounds.
The escalation on Israel's northern border appears linked to the military situation in Gaza. As Hamas loses ground, pressure is growing on other elements of the Iran-led regional axis to become more active in its assistance.
If Israel does indeed get close to its goal of destroying the Hamas entity in Gaza in the period ahead, the implication may yet be that this will open the door to a larger, multi-front conflict. Hezbollah is continuing to increase the range and tempo of its actions in assistance of its beleaguered southern ally. If increased beyond a certain point, this is likely to tip over into open conflict in the north.
'The bigger dilemma is the southern half of Gaza,' Lerman, the former deputy national security adviser says. 'If Hamas does not disintegrate we'll have to turn around and go there, for a long and painful counterinsurgency. And Hezbollah is by now not a "whether" but a "when".'
Ultimately, a general showdown between the Jewish state and the Iran-led regional axis may be inevitable. As to whether it is now at the gates, only the days and weeks ahead will show.
Jonathan Spyer is director of research at the Middle East Forum and director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis. He is author of Days of the Fall: A Reporter's Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars (2018).