analysisIsrael at War

IDF gradually tightens grip on Hamas’s last bastion in Gaza

The Israeli military is ramping up operations throughout the Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers operating in eastern Rafah, the Gaza Strip, May 9, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Israeli soldiers operating in eastern Rafah, the Gaza Strip, May 9, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

Developments in Rafah signify that the Israeli military is implementing a gradual expansion of its operation in Hamas’s last fortress.

The Israel Defense Forces is engaged in intensive operations in central and northern Gaza as well, where on Thursday, a tragic friendly-fire incident involving the Paratroopers’ 202 Battalion led to five IDF casualties. 

The IDF’s 162nd Division is in charge of operations in Rafah, where it is overseeing an operation targeting key terrorist infrastructure and Hamas operational points. Once complete, the operation should also see the IDF in control of the strategic Philadelphi Corridor, via which Hamas has spent years smuggling weapons, both above and below ground.

Under the 162nd Division are the 401st Armored Brigade and the Givati Infantry Brigade, who have been highly active in eastern Rafah in recent days. 

During Memorial Day and Independence Day (May 13 and 14) alone, the IDF eliminated around 100 terrorists throughout Gaza, according to the military. 

According to IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, since the start of the IDF’s operation in Rafah on May 7—when Israeli tanks took control of the Gaza side of the strategically vital Rafah Crossing (a part of the Philadelphi Corridor)—Israeli forces in Rafah have killed around 100 terrorists, destroyed rocket launchers and located some 10 underground terror tunnels. 

Hagari also described the seizure of numerous weapons caches containing anti-tank missiles, rockets and other explosives.

The IDF also released footage on May 14 showing armed terrorists adjacent to U.N. vehicles and shooting from an UNRWA compound in eastern Rafah. This evidence was promptly forwarded to senior members of the international community, with a call for urgent investigation into the ties between UNRWA’s logistics centers and Hamas operatives. 

The goal of the phased operation in Rafah is the systematic dismantling of the four Hamas battalions left standing in Gaza, as the rest of what remains of the terrorist group dissolves into guerilla cells. 

However, the IDF is gradually expanding operations not just in the south, but in the center and north of the Strip as well.

The IDF’s 99th Division has spent several days operating in central Gaza’s Zeitoun region, killing some 150 terrorists and destroying around 80 structures used by Hamas, including a Hamas war room embedded within an UNRWA school. The facility housed some 15 Nukhba force terrorists who had been involved in planning and implementing Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, according to the military. 

On May 15, the Nahal Brigade left Zeitoun and began preparations for operations in other areas of the Strip, leaving behind one brigade combat team. 

In northern Gaza, the IDF’s 98th Division, which previously led operations in Khan Yunis, initiated operations in a region of Jabalia that had not yet been entered by Israeli forces during the current conflict. 

This new campaign has led to the elimination of approximately 80 terrorists in Jabalia, and the destruction of multiple rocket launchers, including long-range capabilities. Weapons workshops were also targeted and destroyed. Supporting these ground maneuvers, the Israeli Air Force has conducted more than 100 airstrikes.

Meanwhile, the IDF’s 143rd Division is leading attacks on Hamas in Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun, close to the Israeli border, to prevent the resurgence of terrorist bases close to Israel. 

According to recent reports, some 450,000 people—a little under half of the civilian population that was in Rafah, have so far heeded the IDF’s calls to leave the area. 

The rocket fire Hamas is directing at southern Israel represents the last of its projectile stockpiles, which were planted before the war, and Hamas will not have the ability to mass produce rockets so long as Israel continues its raids in Gaza, according to the IDF.

At the same time, Hamas will certainly try to rebuild its terror army, which is why the IDF will need to conduct targeted operations in Gaza for many years to come, as it has been doing for the past two decades in Judea and Samaria.

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