Israeli Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi visited northern Gaza on February 6 and met with IDF commanders and soldiers. He said Israel was continuing to “advance” in the Gaza strip. He also said there is military pressure concerning freeing the hostages held in Gaza. There are 136 hostages held in Gaza, and Israel believes at least 31 of them have been killed since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. Halevi met with the commander of Israel’s Southern Command and commanders of the 162nd IDF division in northern Gaza and discussed the current strategy in Gaza with them. The 162nd has led operations throughout northern Gaza since October.
Halavi’s visit focused on a key question surrounding Israel’s current operations in Gaza. Israel has withdrawn some units from Gaza over the last month, and the fighting has shifted to focus primarily on Hamas holdouts in southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. However, fighting continues in northern Gaza. Israeli forces have had to return to areas where they already defeated Hamas battalions, such as the dense urban area of Shati near the beach northwest of Gaza City. “We came to the same place, but it’s a completely different story. We are working with different intelligence, different objectives, different achievements, we are killing more enemy forces,” Halevi said.
The Israeli Chief of Staff compared the current phase of fighting in Gaza to “peeling off layers.” This means, apparently, that the first layers were defeated in the air campaign in October, and then the ground maneuver in November and December in northern Gaza. Now a new layer has been exposed as Hamas elements continue to pop up. “What we are doing now in this repetition is going back, sometimes for the second time, sometimes for a third time, to the same space, and cementing our achievements. The principle of raids, quality focused efforts, the correct combat management, surprise and stratagem – will cement the achievement. More terrorists killed, more commanders killed, more infrastructure destroyed,” he said.
The IDF operation now consists of “surprise raids” in areas of Gaza. Another part of this campaign is the continued efforts in southern Gaza by the 98th division. That unit has been operating in Khan Younis since early December. It continues to find Hamas tunnels in the city. For instance, the IDF said on February 7 that a Hamas tunnel that was a kilometer in length was uncovered. “The tunnel was used to hide high-ranking members of the Hamas terrorist organization and to hold hostages,” the IDF said.
The operations in northern and southern Gaza took place as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel would continue fighting in Gaza against Hamas until victory is achieved. These comments were made as US Secretary of State Antony Blinked visited Israel on February 7. In addition it comes a day after Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, said that Israel would enter Rafah near the Egyptian border, the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza. Any operation in Gaza appears to be controversial, and the US, UN and other countries have raised concerns about this potential next step in Gaza. Regional media, such as Al-Ain in the Gulf have profiled Rafah and asked whether the “countdown” has begun to an Israeli offensive there.