Israel suffers casualties in Gaza as Hezbollah drones target north

Israel Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Ministry of Defense headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 9. (Photo credit: Elad Malka/Israel Ministry of Defense)

Nine Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza on January 8, one of the deadliest days for IDF soldiers since the ground campaign began in Gaza on October 27. The IDF has now lost 519 soldiers since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. Six of those killed in Gaza on January 8 were killed in a mistaken detonation of demolition explosives that were being laid. The high losses came as Hezbollah also carried out a kamikaze drone attack on Israel’s Northern Command in the city of Safed. The two incidents underscore the reality that Israel faces possible escalation on two fronts amidst pressure for it to reduce the intensity of its campaign in Gaza.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel on January 9, where he met with Israeli officials including Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant. They met at the Israeli Ministry of Defense headquarters in Tel Aviv. “Minister Gallant reflected on changes in combat tactics in the northern area of the Gaza strip, which will enable the State of Israel to achieve its goals in the war. In this regard, he emphasized that operations in the region of Khan Younis will intensify and continue until Hamas leadership is detected, and Israeli hostages return home safely,” Gallant’s office said in a statement about the meeting.

They also discussed wider regional threats posed by Iran and its proxies. Gallant has often referred to threats in seven arenas in the region, from Yemen to the West Bank and northern Israel. “An increase in the pressure placed on Iran is critical, and may prevent regional escalation in additional arenas,” Gallant said, without specifying the arenas to which he was referring. However on January 8, the IDF said it had “eliminated Hassan Hakashah in Beit Jann in Syria. He was a central figure responsible for rockets fired by Hamas from Syrian territory toward Israel in recent weeks. Since the beginning of the war, Hakashah directed Hamas terrorist cells which fired rockets from Syria toward Israeli territory.” The IDF reiterated that it would not “allow terrorism from Syrian territory.” An IDF spokesperson reiterated that the IDF will not tolerate threats against northern Israel from Lebanon.

This desire to concentrate on Hezbollah threats in the north was clear from Gallant’s meeting with Blinken during which he said Israel was prioritizing the return of Israel’s northern residents to their homes. 80,000 Israelis were evacuated from dozens of communities along the northern border in October due to Hezbollah attacks.

Israel has carried out several high-profile strikes inside Lebanon. A Hezbollah commander in charge of drone operations was killed on Tuesday. He was targeted near a funeral for another key Hezbollah commander of the terrorist group’s elite Radwan force. Hamas deputy commander Saleh al-Arouri was also killed on January 2 in Beirut. Israel did not take credit for eliminating Arouri, but Iran and Hezbollah have both blamed Israel.

IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on the evening of January 8 that Israel would continue to operate against Hamas leaders and said Israel “targeted a series of Hezbollah targets across southern Lebanon, including military sites belonging to the organization. We responded with fire to areas from which launches were identified toward Israeli territory.”

Hezbollah is expanding its attacks on Israel, as well. By targeting Safed and an IDF base on Mount Meron, the highest mountain in northern Israel, Hezbollah has illustrated it can target key IDF installations in the north. Israel has a plethora of air defenses to counter these threats, but even symbolic damage is important to Hezbollah’s messaging surrounding threats of further escalation. Hezbollah has increasingly relied on drones or UAVs in these attacks. On the afternoon of January 9, the IDF said that it detected additional drone infiltration: “One of the targets was successfully intercepted by the IDF Aerial Defence Array,” the IDF said. Israel’s air defenses include the Iron Dome system for short-range threats and David’s Sling and Arrow systems for medium- and long-range ballistic missile threats.

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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