The Israeli Air Force struck hundreds of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza in recent hours, including tunnels with terrorists in them, while infantry and armored corps conducted raids on the ground in the enclave in preparation for a wider ground offensive, the Israeli military stated on Monday.
Dozens of operational command centers housing Hamas and PIJ operatives were also hit, according to Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.
Strikes were also conducted on targets that posed a threat to forces in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip, including dozens of mortar and anti-tank missile launch sites, according to Hagari.
The raids into Gaza are being conducted by armored and infantry units against terror cells that were “preparing for our next stage,” while also seeking out information for hostages and the missing, Hagari said on Monday.
On Sunday, during a visit to the IAF’s Operations Command and Control Center, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, “In terms of the operational aspects of maneuvering—at the end of the day, nothing will stop the IDF. It is a combination of two things: Our aerial capabilities and ground maneuvering. This should be our last maneuvering operation in Gaza, for the simple reason that afterwards there will be no more Hamas.”
Gallant added that “It may take a month, two or three, but at the end there will be no more Hamas. Prior to meeting our armed forces on the ground, the enemy [Hamas terrorists], will be faced with IAF strikes.”
On Sunday, one Israeli soldier was killed and three injured in an anti-tank missile attack on a tank and engineering vehicle during a raid in the Kissufim area.
The activity was part of the military’s effort to dismantle terror infrastructure, clear the area of terrorists and weapons and locate missing persons, and bodies, according to the IDF. The army later identified the fallen soldier as Cpl. Tamir Barak, 19, of the Armored Engineering Corps unit.
Barak’s family and the families of the injured soldiers had been notified, according to the IDF.
Since Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel, the military has recovered the bodies of over 1,000 terrorists, and has also captured a number of terrorists alive.
“This testifies to the courage of the security forces and civilian [security] teams who fought in the opening stages,” said Hagari.
In southern Gaza, meanwhile, the IDF has begun inspecting a second group of trucks delivering food, water and medicines to those Palestinians who have evacuated northern Gaza and Gaza City.
The IDF is seeking to push more civilians in Gaza to move south “until we finish the next stages,” said Hagari.
“Any other supplies, fuels, are not entering Gaza and we are supervising to ensure that Hamas is not taking UNRWA supplies,” said Hagari, adding, “We watch this aerially and if needed we will take action.”
Addressing the northern front, Hagari said that the IDF has destroyed over 20 Hezbollah anti-tank terror cells since Oct. 7, including seven that were eliminated before they could fire at targets in northern Israel.
The IDF continues to fire on Hezbollah terror targets in response to attacks from the north.
The IDF has notified the families of 308 soldiers who have fallen in the war so far, and has counted 222 hostages in Gaza as of Monday, including foreign nationals that according to the military took time to identify.
The IDF will use any available means to return hostages, said Hagari, describing that as the first goal. The second goal, he said, was the destruction of Hamas’s terror force and regime, he added.
“Our operational readiness is improving,” said Hagari. “Even as we speak, there is an air campaign underway, hitting terrorists that are preparing for the next stage. Hence we are taking advantage of [the] time to improve our readiness to enable [the] ground maneuver,” he stated.
On Saturday, Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council and former commander of the IDF’s Operations and Planning directorates, told journalists in a video call organized by the Jerusalem Press Club that “if we now end this current conflict in some kind of ceasefire or any other interim agreement, or any other arrangement short of the complete annihilation of Hamas, Israel will not be able to convince people living in 22 kibbutzim around Gaza and people living in cities of Sderot [and] Ofakim to return to their homes and to continue to raise children there.”
As a result, he said, a precondition of allowing “a return to normality should be the complete elimination of Hamas as a political and military entity. Anything short of that cannot be acceptable. It is not a matter of political decision or even strong Israeli public opinion—it is something essential.”
Four key challenges
He listed four central challenges involved in a ground operation against Hamas, beginning with Israeli forces reaching certain strategic geographical locations. “This is relatively easy,” he said. The second challenge, he said, will be to hold and secure these sites.
The third challenge will be to reach the tunnels.
“Most of Hamas’s infrastructure, combatants and command control systems are underground, so we will have to find effective ways to reach the tunnels,” said Eiland.
The final challenge will be facilitating the movement of the hundreds of thousands of Gazans who have yet to flee south but who will do so as the combat intensifies. Israel will need to keep “some kind of safety corridor” open for them since it will not be able to provide any conditions for them in the ground offensive zone, said Eiland.
Addressing the 222 people, most of them civilians, including women, children and the elderly, that are being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, Eiland said Hamas’s decision on Saturday to release two Israeli- American hostages was an attempt to delay Israel’s ground assault.
Once Hamas is destroyed, Israel could cooperate with anyone interested in politically taking over Gaza, said Eiland, naming the Palestinian Authority, Arab countries, NATO or the United Nations, to search for “some kind of stable solution.”
He noted that this was not a problem anyone is eager to shoulder.
“No one wants to participate in this tender, because everyone, particularly in the Arab world, especially Egypt, says: ‘The Palestinian problem is yours, we will not help you.’”
As a result, “no one knows” yet who will rule Gaza in the future, said Eiland.