If the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen continue to attack Eilat with missiles, the State of Israel will “know what to do,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said during a visit to the Red Sea city on Wednesday.
The minister was briefed on operational and intelligence activities as well as the navy’s preparations in the face of aerial and maritime threats in the Red Sea, Gallant’s Office stated. He was accompanied by Israeli Navy commander V. Adm. David Saar Salama and boarded a Sa’ar 6-class corvette that was recently deployed to the area.
“The threat to freedom of navigation in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait [between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden], 2,000 kilometers from the State of Israel, is not only a threat to traffic to Israel, but also to international freedom of navigation in waters belonging to all countries,” said Gallant.
He thanked U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, whom Gallant recently hosted in Israel, for leading a multinational force tasked with ensuring freedom of navigation in the Bab el-Mandeb.
“I have met the men and women in our navy, the officers and commanders. We will not tolerate threats against the State of Israel. If they continue to provoke us, try to attack Eilat with missiles or by other means, we will know what to do. We are preparing—the troops here are ready for any mission and any command. The State of Israel, through the navy and the air force, will know how to defend itself,” Gallant warned.
When announcing the establishment of the task force, Austin stated on Tuesday, while in Bahrain, “This is an international challenge that demands collective action. Therefore, today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative.”
Major shipping companies have suspended operations through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in recent days amid daily drone and ballistic missile attacks emanating from the Houthi-controlled part of Yemen. The Houthis have also attempted to attack Israeli territory several times after declaring their support for Hamas.
Meanwhile, in the north, the Israeli Air Force struck a series of Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, including terrorist infrastructure and “military” sites where Hezbollah terrorists operated.
IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi conducted a tour of the Lebanese border with the commanders of the 146th Division.
“We are not returning to how things were beforehand. This means to push further, to reinforce this and to bring the residents back here, to [Moshav] Netu’a, and along the entire border line, to a different situation that is much more secure,” Halevi said. “Our role as those in uniform is to prepare the first option, to be very well prepared for combat,”
“No matter what, the coming year will include a lot of work,” he added.
Hamas’s nerve center
In the south, IDF troops have secured control of Hamas’s “Elite Quarter” in the center of Gaza City, including the area of Palestine Square, from where the terrorist group’s administrative and military leadership formerly operated, the military said.
The complex includes a large network of tunnels that connects terrorist hideouts, offices and residential apartments belonging to Hamas’s senior leadership.
“This complex, both above and below ground, was a center of power for Hamas’s military and political wings,” the IDF said.
“In recent weeks, the 162nd Division’s 401st [Armored] Brigade, along with forces from the [air force’s commando] Shaldag Unit, Shayetet 13 [naval commandoes] and the [Combat Engineering Corps’ elite] Yahalom Unit have been operating in the area of Rimal in Gaza City, where Palestine Square is located,” the military said.
“The forces carried out a combined and coordinated offensive on Palestine Square and secured the area. Over the last few days, the area was completely secured. During the battles to secure the area, IDF forces eliminated approximately 600 terrorists in both ground and aerial operations,” the military continued.
The Elite Quarter’s “military infrastructure was located in the direct vicinity of commercial stores, government buildings, civilian residences and a designated school for deaf children,” it added.
A sweep and clear operation revealed what the IDF described as an “underground terrorist city that is part of Hamas’s tunnel system and includes a strategic tunnel route connected to other significant underground infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.”
Shafts leading to the tunnel network are located in the homes and offices of senior officials and allow for covert descent through designated elevators and stairs, the military said.
This enabled Hamas operatives to both escape and remain in hideouts for extended periods. The tunnel network includes blast doors and hideouts. In some cases, food, water and electrical infrastructure were found that allowed for prolonged stays.
The heart of Gaza City
“This network was used by the organization’s senior officials, [politburo head] Ismail Haniyeh, [chief in Gaza] Yahya Sinwar, [Al-Qassam Brigades head] Muhammed Deif and others, to direct Hamas’s operational activity. It was also used for protected daily movement through the heart of Gaza City,” the IDF said.
Near these buildings, Hamas established a specialized workshop for digging and building the underground network.
IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said on Wednesday evening that the IDF is deepening its operations and moving to Gaza City’s Al-Tuffah and Al-Daraj neighborhoods, near Shejaia. This will enable the military to secure southern Israeli communities such as Kibbutz Nir Am, Kibbutz Kfar Aza and Kibbutz Mefalsim, said Hagari.
“This is part of our war against terrorism. And we will ensure the security situation will be different,” he vowed.
Hamas tried to stop the IDF from taking over the Elite Quarter because it knew it would degrade the ability of Hamas battalion and company commanders to manage the fighting in the city, he added.
“When they lost it, they got weaker, hence we defeated Hamas battalions in this area. Our objective is also to ensure this terror infrastructure won’t be there in future,” said Hagari.
“We found sensitive intelligence in the tunnels, and we used it to plan our operations and to understand Hamas’s locations. This is being expressed in targets we hit and actions by IDF,” he added. “We will neutralize this underground city. We will continue this operation as well in southern Gaza and reach the underground area of Hamas’s leadership in Khan Yunis.”
One hundred thirty-three IDF soldiers have died since the start of the ground offensive on Oct. 27.
More than 5,000 trucks containing over 89,000 tons of aid, as well as fuel tankers, have entered the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the war.