IDF presses forward in Rafah after recent losses

IDF soldiers in southern Gaza
IDF soldiers operating in southern Gaza. (IDF image)

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued to confront Hamas and other terrorist groups in Rafah in southern Gaza after suffering significant losses. On June 15, a Namer armored personnel carrier (APC) was struck by an explosive that killed eight occupants, including Israeli combat engineers returning from a mission. On June 16, IDF losses increased to 11 soldiers killed over several days of fighting in central and southern Gaza.

The IDF’s 162nd Division has been leading the battle in Rafah since the evening of May 6. The division previously played a key role in six months of fighting in northern Gaza before transferring to Rafah. The initial goal of its latest operation was to seize the Philadelphi corridor along the Egyptian border and then press inland into the city of Rafah.

In a June 17 statement, the IDF said Israeli forces “are targeting Hamas […] and its outposts in the Shabura and Tel al-Sultan areas” after gaining control over the Philadelphi corridor. The Rafah battles are proceeding neighborhood-by-neighborhood as operations fan out from the border.

“Since the beginning of the operations in the area, hundreds of terrorists have been eliminated; hundreds of tunnel shafts and about 25 tunnel routes have been located. The soldiers continue to operate in the area and are making progress in the mission of dismantling the Hamas Rafah Brigade,” the IDF said.

During forty days of fighting in Rafah, the 162nd Division has lost 22 soldiers and eliminated an estimated 550 terrorists. Two of an estimated four battalions that make up Hamas’s Rafah Brigade are thought to have been mostly defeated. It is not clear how many of the group’s members remain in the forty percent of Rafah still controlled by terrorists, as some of the group’s personnel may have moved to neighboring areas in Khan Younis or Mawasi. On June 17, the pro-Iranian Al-Mayadeen channel claimed Hamas and other terrorist groups continue to target the IDF in Rafah and other areas of Gaza.

Israeli forces found 25 lengthy tunnels that stretch near the Egyptian border, though the IDF has not revealed if the tunnels travel under it. However, Rafah has long been a center for smuggling weapons and other items into Gaza.

Overall, the 162nd Division has lost 180 soldiers since October 7, and approximately 3,800 troops have been injured. A total of 662 IDF soldiers have been killed since Hamas’s initial October attack.

The eight soldiers killed on June 15 represent one of the largest death tolls for the IDF in a single day since ground operations in Gaza began on October 27. Israeli Namer APCs are protected by the Trophy active protection system (APS), which can stop various missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). However, it is not clear if the Trophy system would have been effective if the attack was from an improvised explosive device.

The Namer APC has been in service for 15 years, and its role expanded over the last decade to replace the IDF’s aging and vulnerable M113s, which date from the Vietnam era. The IDF also uses more modern Eitan APCs deployed with the Nahal Brigade operating in Gaza.

The commanding officer of the IDF’s Southern Command, Major General Yaron Finkelman, went to Rafah on June 16. Finkelman met with the commanding officer of the 162nd Division, Brigadier General Itzik Cohen, the commanding officer of the 401st Brigade, Colonel Benny Aharon, and other leaders.

“We are here in Tel al-Sultan, Rafah. After a painful event that happened yesterday, we lost soldiers and lost commanders during an operation,” Finkelman said. “We must continue operational activity forward to our objectives, which is the defeat of the Rafah Brigade and the destruction of all enemy infrastructure here in the area.”

On June 17, the IDF stated it has continued to find terrorist infrastructure throughout Gaza, including buildings booby-trapped with explosives and “a weapons storage facility from which anti-tank missiles were fired toward IDF troops.”

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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