Israeli forces take control of Gaza’s harbor

Israeli forces took control of Gaza City’s harbor on Thursday, Nov. 16, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said. The harbor has civilian fishing boats and Hamas terrorists also used the harbor. “The Hamas terrorist organization used the harbor as a training facility for their naval commando forces for planning and executing naval terror attacks. Under the guise of a civilian harbor, Hamas used the area for training and carrying out terror attacks, all the while using civilian and Gaza harbor police vessels,” the IDF said. 

The control of the harbor is important because it follows other assaults and raids on Hamas naval commandos. Hamas built up its naval commandos over the last decade. It used them in a raid on Zikim Beach, which is just north of the Gaza border in Israel, in 2014 during the war that year. Hamas attacked the same beach in the morning hours of Oct. 7 as part of its massive strike on Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed in Israel. The offensive on Zikim involved numerous terrorists, and it took Israel more than one day to eliminate them all. When I drove down towards Zikim to cover the war on Oct. 8, 2023, for instance, I saw the bodies of two terrorists who had been recently eliminated that afternoon.  

Hamas continued to try to target this area because it is near the border of Gaza and is made up of dunes where terrorists can then infiltrate and threaten nearby communities. For instance, a second raid in late October was thwarted, the IDF said, and the commander of the naval unit was later killed.  

On Oct. 27, the IDF also used its elite Shayetet naval commandos to raid the southern Gaza Strip. At the time, the IDF said that “the soldiers struck Hamas military infrastructure and operated in a compound used by Hamas’ commando naval forces.” On Oct. 12, the IDF also struck a naval commando operative. These operations have now culminated in the IDF taking control of the harbor. The IDF now controls a swath of coastline running from the border of Israel to an area southwest of Gaza City. The IDF took control of this area by moving armored units south from Israel and encircling Gaza also from the south so that the units that were now near the harbor would link up with those heading south. This cuts Gaza City off from the sea.  

“In the operation, in which soldiers of the Combat Engineering Corps and the Air Force also participated, ten terror tunnel shafts and four structures used for terror were destroyed, and ten terrorists were killed. All buildings in the harbor area were cleared,” the IDF said on Thursday, Nov. 16.  

The IDF continues to slowly chisel away at various Hamas strongholds on the outskirts of Gaza City itself. For instance, on Oct. 16, the Commando Brigade, combat engineers, and tanks continued operations in Shati, a dense neighborhood with buildings and once a refugee camp established in 1948. It was known as the “beach” camp because it is on the beach, about a mile from Gaza’s harbor. Two miles east, IDF troops operating in Beit Hanoun said they uncovered rockets in a civilian home. The rockets were kept under a bed in a compartment. The rockets appear to be 107mm, similar to those used by many Iranian-backed groups in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. 

Israel Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant met with the IDF’s 36th Division commanders on Thursday. The Division operates south of Gaza and is also responsible for operations around Shifa Hospital. The hospital has been in the spotlight for weeks. Israel showed a cache of weapons found at the hospital on Nov. 15. “There are significant findings [at the Shifa hospital] – [we are] operating in a precise and determined manner. We have gained operational control of the western region of Gaza City; we are heading into the next phase of the [ground] operations,” said Gallant. He said that the operation in Shifa Hospital, a large complex of buildings, is being done precisely. The IDF said that a Hamas tunnel was exposed at Shifa Hospital, and an engineering unit also found a tunnel at Rantisi Hospital, north of Shifa. 

Gallant said that Israel had gained more control of the “western area of Gaza City.” He did not specify the neighborhoods, but this is where the humanitarian corridor of Salah al-Din Road also leads south. Israel has urged civilians to leave Gaza City for a month, and many have been able to use this road to go south.  

Israeli soldiers were injured in fighting in the Sheikh Ijlin area southwest of Gaza City. The body of one hostage held by Hamas was found on Thursday. Hamas kidnaped Yehudit Weiss from Kibbutz Beeri on Oct. 7. Her body was found in a building next to Shifa Hospital. “In the structure in which Yehudit was located, military equipment including Kalashnikov rifles and RPGs were also found,” the IDF said. She is the second hostage that has been confirmed killed this week. Noa Marciano, an IDF soldier kidnapped from her observation unit on Oct. 7, was shown in a video released by Hamas this week. The IDF said on Nov. 14, she had been killed. Her body had not been recovered. 372 IDF soldiers have been killed since Oct. 7. Eighteen soldiers have been killed in ground operations in Gaza in the past week.  

Rocket fire from Gaza has decreased over the last several days, continuing a trend that appears to coincide with the IDF’s deeper operations in Gaza. There were no rocket attacks on central Israel on Nov. 16, for instance. In Lebanon, the IDF also “carried out strikes on Hezbollah terror targets in Lebanon. The targets included a number of military posts from which Hezbollah terrorists operated,” the IDF said. This also represented a shift in tempo because it was not in immediate response to an attack but appeared to be a pre-emptive strike. The IDF did not elaborate on it.  

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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