IDF rotates units in central Gaza as Rafah operation looms

IDF soldiers carry out operations in central Gaza. (IDF)

The Israel Defense Forces redeployed the Nahal brigade, which has been key to controlling a corridor in central Gaza. The movement of the unit comes after a number of new IDF raids in central and northern Gaza tailored to stopping continued rocket fire and tamping down on new Hamas threats. At the same time, Israel is preparing for an offensive operation in Rafah, the southern city in Gaza where Hamas continues to have numerous battalions of fighters.

The Nahal brigade is an IDF infantry unit that has been key to controlling the Netzarim corridor across the Gaza Strip. The corridor, five miles long, essentially links Israeli border areas near the Israeli kibbutz of Beeri and other communities with the Mediterranean Sea, cutting off Gaza City from central Gaza. This is important because central Gaza is where there are several urban areas, often called the “central camps” where Hamas continues to have control. These include Al Bureij, Nuseirat and Maghazi. The Nahal served under the 162nd division, which controls northern Gaza, since major ground operations began in Gaza on October 27. The Nahal infantry are being replaced by two reserve units, the 2nd infantry brigade and the 679th armored brigade.

The two units had been training in northern Israel. At the moment, they are part of the IDF’s 99th division. “The soldiers practiced combat techniques and learned the main insights and lessons from the fighting and ground maneuver in the Gaza Strip so far. The 2nd Brigade held a training exercise in the north, during which the brigade’s combat team practiced various scenarios led by the National Center for Ground Training,” the IDF this week.

They will be filling big shoes left by the Nahal brigade which carried out five major operations in Gaza since its deployment. It fought in Shati camp, a dense urban area in northern Gaza, as well as clearing Zaytun of terrorists. It also participated in operations around Shifa hospital as well as in Nuseirat. “The soldiers, in cooperation with Yahalom Unit and combat engineers located and destroyed over 20 km of terror tunnels in the Corridor area, part of which connected the Gaza Strip from north to south underground,” the IDF said. As such, the unit played a key role in reducing terror threats. However Hamas continues to return to areas the IDF has cleared. Mortars were fired on April 25 near a temporary pier that IDF has built that is supposed to be part of a wider effort to open a maritime aid corridor and aid a US-led effort to build a temporary floating dock off the coast.

The IDF’s continued operations in northern Gaza illustrate how many threats remain in an area that has now been cleared twice of terrorists since the October 7 attack. For example, the IDF said that the “Netzah Yehuda Battalion operated in the Beit Hanoun area to dismantle terrorist infrastructure.” The unit moved into the northern Gaza town over the Passover holiday on April 22 and 23. “During the operation, the battalion’s soldiers dismantled several terrorist infrastructure and shafts in the area,” the IDF said.

In another operation, the IDF warned Gazan civilians to leave two areas in the town of Beit Lahia in northern Gaza on April 23. The warnings came in response to rocket fire from Beit Lahia that targeted the Israeli border community of Zikim, an area Hamas also attacked on October 7. Israel also targeted Shati with airstrikes, some of the fifty strikes carried out across Gaza on April 23 and 24, and 30 strikes carried out on April 24 and 25. Israel also carried out airstrikes in central Gaza’s Bureij and Nuseirat areas. “Over the past day, IAF fighter jets and additional aircraft struck approximately 25 terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip, including military infrastructure, observation posts, terrorists, launch posts,” the IDF said on April 23.

These various small operations and continued air strikes come as Hamas released a new video of 23-year-old Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin. He was kidnapped at the Nova music festival on October 7 and was injured during the attack. “Until Hamas releases our hostages, the IDF will continue to pursue Hamas everywhere in Gaza. This is an urgent call for action. We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to find our hostages,” IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on April 24. His statement comes amid Israeli preparations for operations in Rafah, and as Hamas continues to try to return to northern Gaza.

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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