The Israel Defense Forces are transitioning to a new phase of operations in Gaza that has seen decreased numbers of airstrikes and the defeat of most Hamas units in northern Gaza. As that happens, the IDF is also expanding some operations in and around Khan Yunis, a city in southern Gaza that has been a focus of fighting since early December.
Hamas terrorist cells in northern and central Gaza are mostly eviscerated, and the IDF continues to pursue Hamas in southern Gaza — part of a larger mission that Israel says will see fighting continue throughout the year. On Sunday, Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant discussed the threats Israel continues to see on seven fronts. This is terminology he has used in the past to describe all the Iranian-backed threats the occur in Gaza, Lebanon, the West Bank, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond. Gallant continues to say the goals of the war include “the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities, the elimination of Hamas leadership, and the detection and release of hostages held in Gaza,” according to a statement from his office. Gallant made the statement while meeting US Senators. He also recently met with US Senator Lindsey Graham and former US Vice President Mike Pence.
Gallant also continues to focus on the hostages held in Gaza. There are 136 hostages held in Gaza, according to Israel’s current assessment. Gallant met representatives of the families of IDF soldiers held in Gaza. The precise number of IDF soldiers held hostage has not been released but is included in the overall number of 136 hostages still held. The IDF Chief of Staff also said that fighting in Gaza will continue throughout 2024.
In Gaza, members of the IDF’s 7th armored brigade expanded operations in Khan Yunis. “The 7th Brigade has been working in recent days to expand its operations in southern Khan Yunis. The soldiers of the brigade have killed many terrorists in close-quarters combat, with tank fire and through coordination with aerial forces,” the IDF said. The armored brigade has been fighting in Khan Yunis alongside the commandos and paratroopers of the 98th division. According to the IDF on January 8, the 7th armored helped to locate terrorist infrastructure and weapons hidden in civilian residences. “Furthermore, during offensive operations, several RPG missiles were shot at the forces. The forces engaged in close-quarters combat and eliminated the terrorist cell that carried out the shooting with both tank fire and airstrikes,” the IDF said.
The 7th armored operates the Merkava 4 tank. This is Israel’s most recent tank model. An updated “fifth generation” version of it was unveiled in 2023 and is supposed to be deployed with the 401st armored brigade. The IDF tank units are equipped with Trophy active protection systems for their vehicles, which is supposed to protect them from RPGs and anti-tank missiles. In conversations with an IDF officer involved in repairing tanks that are serving in Gaza, he said the system has been functioning effectively. In addition, tank crews have improvised protection for their vehicles by adding a kind of fence or cage on top, which the units call a “pergola” to defend against drones. At a site near the border with Gaza, I was able to speak to the crews and the officers involved in repairing the tanks. The tanks have been fighting in Gaza since the ground maneuver began on October 27 and some since October 7, meaning they have now seen 90 days of combat. The tanks that require repairs or are damaged are mostly being turned around and sent back into combat within a day, depending on the type of repair, according to the officer I spoke with.
In Gaza, the tanks are bolstering the operations of the 98th division. The IDF said overnight between January 7 and 8 that they carried out 30 strikes against “significant” targets. IDF statements on January 8 said that airstrikes and operations by combat helicopters targeted a number of terrorists in the city that were identified by ground forces. This kind of close cooperation and precision strike operations are part of the current phase of war, which includes less large airstrikes than in past phases.