Israel faces winter storm, Houthi threats  

Photo: A mixed-gender unit from the Shachar Battalion in the Search and Rescue Brigade in the IDF Home Front Command joined IDF units in Gaza for the first time. (IDF) 

A significant winter storm descended on Israel on Sunday, Nov. 19. The storm brought the first snow to the Hermon mountain, which overlooks the Golan Heights. The mountain has troops from Israel’s 810th territorial Hermon brigade, and the IDF distributed photos of them in the snow standing next to a Merkava tank, which has been accessorized with a metal cage to protect it from drones. The images seem to symbolize several aspects of the war. Weather will still play a role in operations this week. The IDF, which has called up 300,000 reservists since the Oct. 7 attack, also needs to provide winter gear for the soldiers. In addition, simple fixes to modern technological problems, such as drone threats, may be easier than hi-tech fixes, which take time.  

The IDF faced challenges on multiple borders over November 17-19. In Gaza, the main front against Hamas stabilized around Gaza City. The IDF’s main divisions, with infantry and armored units, are pushing slowly into the last big suburban areas before entering the densely backed areas of Gaza City itself. This means the IDF is now moving forces into neighborhoods south and east of the city.  

The IDF’s 36th Division, which is the one that had marched across the center of the Gaza Strip when the ground offensive began in late October, is now in the Zaytun area south of Gaza City. The 162nd Division, which moved toward Gaza City from the north, is in Jabalya. This is important because the IDF already cut off Gaza from the sea to the West by taking the harbor of Gaza on Nov. 16. The city is fully enveloped now. For the first time, an IDF mixed-gender unit called the Shachar Battalion in the Search and Rescue Brigade in the IDF Home Front Command has been operating with the 162nd Division in combat, the IDF said. Generally, women do not serve in combat roles in the IDF, although many carry rifles and are exposed to possible combat situations. The Shachar unit is conducting searches for terrorist weapons in Gaza.  

The move into new neighborhoods enables the dismantling of more terrorist infrastructure. One hundred Hamas terrorists were apprehended, the IDF said over the weekend. In addition, “IDF troops took control of a stronghold of the commander of the Islamic Jihad’s northern command area. The stronghold contains offices of senior terrorists of the organization and a strategic manufacturing site for weapons. During the raid, the troops located heavy-weight rockets, UAVs, and additional weapons,” the IDF said on Nov. 17. Among the weapons found were large Badr-3 rocket parts. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which was a focus of smaller previous IDF aerial campaigns, such as Operation Black Belt in 2019, has not been central to the battle of Gaza this time. However, its infrastructure and operatives continue to be eliminated. PIJ has also put down roots in the West Bank and acts as one of many Iranian-backed proxies in the region.  

IDF Chief of Staff, Herzi HaLevi, said on Nov. 17 that “we are close to dismantling the military system that was present in the northern Gaza Strip. While work remains to be completed, we are approaching it successfully.” The dismantling comes at a cost. Thirteen more IDF soldiers were killed in Gaza in three days of fighting from November 17-19. In addition, the body of IDF soldier Corporal Noa Marciano was recovered from Gaza. She was one of the IDF soldiers in an observation unit near Nahal Oz on Oct. 7 when Hamas overran her unit, and several of the observers were killed and captured. Her body was found near Shifa hospital, where IDF forces have operated since around Nov. 12. The IDF said on the night of Nov. 19 that new details led them to believe she was killed at Shifa hospital and her body taken on a stretcher to a house nearby. Shifa Hospital has become the center of IDF assertions that Hamas used the hospital and tunnels underneath it for terrorist purposes. At the same time, the UN and medics evacuated 31 babies from the hospital on Sunday, Nov. 19. Israel also revealed in the evening of the 19th new documentation showing security footage taken in the hospital on Oct. 7 in which “Hamas terrorists can be seen on Saturday, Oct. 7, forcibly transporting hostages, a Nepalese civilian and a Thai civilian, who were kidnapped from Israeli territory. IDF vehicles stolen during the murderous massacre can also be seen inside the Shifa Hospital area,” the IDF said in a statement. This indicates Hamas transported wounded hostages to the hospital directly after taking them from Israel in the early hours of Oct. 7 during the attack. Hamas killed 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7.  

There were more than one dozen clashes and incidents between Israel and Hezbollah over the weekend as well. These included several anti-tank missiles fired on Sunday toward Israel. In the West Bank, the IDF operated in Balata near Nablus on Saturday and used a drone to carry out a strike on “terrorists involved in planning imminent terror attacks against Israeli civilians and military targets,” the IDF said. Israel has faced increasing threats from the northern West Bank areas near Nablus and Jenin over the last year.  

The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen threatened to attack Israeli ships on Sunday morning, claiming they would target commercial ships linked to Israel as well. Several hours later, a cargo ship en route from Turkey to India via the Red Sea was hijacked by the Houthis. This is a new escalation by the Houthis, who have backed Hamas and the war against Israel since Oct. 7. The Houthis have launched rockets, cruise missiles, and drones at Israel over the past month.  

The cold front that arrived in Israel on Nov. 19 is expected to remain all week, ushering in the first winter-like conditions. At the same time, negotiations for the release of hostages continued to take place, which could set the stage for a pause in fighting in Gaza. The escalation by the Houthis and Hezbollah attacks illustrated that a ceasefire in Gaza wouldn’t likely affect other fronts.  

Reporting from Israel, Seth J. Frantzman is an adjunct fellow at FDD and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal. He is the acting news editor and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post. 

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