Fifteen Israeli soldiers have been killed in battles in the central and southern Gaza Strip over the past 48 hours, the Israeli military announced on Sunday, a heavy toll for a country that has long been averse to casualties of war.
Another soldier was killed on Friday by rocket fire from Lebanon along Israel’s northern border, according to the military, at least the eighth death in that area from cross-border clashes fueled by Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted the deaths in Gaza on Sunday at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, saying it was “a difficult morning, after a very difficult day of fighting.”
“The war is exacting a very heavy cost from us,” he said in a statement. “However, we have no choice but to continue to fight.”
More than 300 soldiers were killed during the Hamas-led surprise attacks on Oct. 7, and more than 150 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its ground offensive there in response to the assault, according to the military. In all, Israel’s military has named 486 soldiers killed so far since the beginning of the hostilities 12 weeks ago.
In a country where most Jewish 18-year-olds are drafted for mandatory military service and people often volunteer in the reserves into middle age, many families have an intimate connection with the military. By comparison, 67 Israeli soldiers were reported killed during a 50-day war in Gaza in 2014, when Israel carried out a limited ground invasion around the margins of the enclave.
Hamas described Israel’s military campaign as a “failure” in a statement on Sunday, saying that its armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, had “defeated their soldiers and inflicted them with great losses.”
But given the complexity of the combat environment in Gaza, Israeli military analysts say that the casualty rate for soldiers so far is lower than military planners had originally estimated.
“Overall, the military is undergoing an impressive learning process in the course of the fighting that helps it limit its number of casualties,” said Kobi Michael, an expert on civil-military relations at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Israeli troops have focused on northern Gaza and are operating in parts of central and southern Gaza to try to take out Hamas’s militant forces in the enclave. Many battles are taking place in densely populated urban areas, and Hamas’s extensive tunnel network poses a particular challenge for the Israeli forces.
The Israeli public’s tolerance for war casualties has long depended on the level of public consensus over the reasons for going to battle.
Many Israelis considered their country’s 1982 invasion deep into Lebanon to be a war of choice, which led to political and social division. Protesters displayed a daily count of the war dead outside the official residence of Menachem Begin, the prime minister at the time. In 2000, Israel withdrew its forces from the “security zone” it had held for 18 years in southern Lebanon after a public campaign led by four Israeli mothers against the rising toll.
Acceptance of the deaths of soldiers in battle has grown in this war, Mr. Michael said, because of “a very deep understanding among the public of the need to dismantle Hamas in Gaza,” both to provide security for Israel and as a means of deterring the country’s enemies on other fronts.
“You have to understand the collective Israeli psyche” after the shock of Oct. 7, Mr. Michael said, noting that many Israelis consider the current conflict to be “no less than Part 2” of the 1948 war surrounding the establishment of Israel.
“The Israeli public understands the price involved,” Mr. Michael said, “and is ready to pay it.”