Hamas’s war crimes against the people of Israel committed on Saturday during cross-border raids against the south were more barbaric and brutal than ISIS, Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a statement to media on Sunday.
Speaking from IDF Southern Command in Beersheva, Hagari said: “This weekend, Hamas started a war against Israel with the worst massacre of innocent civilians in Israel’s history. Hamas was more barbaric and more brutal than ISIS. Let me be crystal clear: Israel will respond with determination and force to their unprovoked war crimes.”
Following Hamas’s murder of many hundreds of Israeli men, women and children, and the taking of dozens of hostages into Gaza, Israel has begun its “forceful, determined and sustained response,” said Hagari, stating that “our Air Force is attacking hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. We follow international law while exercising our right and responsibility to protect our civilians.”
Israeli intelligence indicates that Hamas operatives are hiding among Gazan civilians inside schools and hospitals, said Hagari, adding that Hamas, like ISIS, seeks to maximize civilian casualties in order to cause the world to forget its massacre of hundreds of Israelis that began the war.
“Israel will do whatever it takes to protect our people and restore security to Israel. We are also looking to the north, with full readiness and we are fully coordinated with [the US’s Middle East Command] CENTCOM,” said Hagari.
“Those who attack us in the Middle East will face [a] decisive attack back,” he vowed.
Hagari detailed how Israeli forces, including IDF Paratroopers and special units from the Shaldag, Duvdevan, Yahalom and Givati cleansed the Gaza envelope region of the last of Hamas terrorists, particularly in Be’eri, Kfar Aza, Nahal Oz, Kissuflim and Zikim, where in the latter location the Israeli Navy destroyed Hamas murder squads.
“Our forces working to engage and destroy the enemy. … Some tried to escape to Gaza and were killed at the fence; we will attack anyone who approaches it, from Gaza, too,” he said.
He described the state of IDF commanders as “stable and strong,” adding that they are “acting professionally under tough combat conditions. We are organizing the sector, cleansing it and attacking terrorists wherever they are.
In Gaza, the Israeli Air Force struck some 800 targets so far, with fighter jets, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, according to the military. Three waves of jets struck a Hamas neighborhood in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza with aircraft dropping tons of explosives.
“This was a complex operation that destroyed all of the neighborhood’s buildings where the Nuhbe [Hamas’s elite raiding units] was using the area as a staging ground, and Hamas was planning to attack from there. We will continue to strike at this pace and power,” he said.
The IAF is functioning at full operational capacity and prepared to conduct many more waves of airstrikes with thousands of reservists joining its active duty ranks.
“Hamas brought a big disaster on Gaza. They absorbed hundreds of killed and thousands injured. Tens of enemy fighters have been taken [by Israel],” said Hagari.
A number of Israeli military posts in IDF Southern Command were targeted on Sunday, and the IDF fired on the attacking squads during the day.
In the north, Hagari said, the IDF is monitoring Hezbollah “and all enemies in the northern arena. We are in full operational readiness.”
Local northern communities near the Lebanese border urged civilians to evacuate on Sunday afternoon.
Regarding questions surrounding the failures that enabled Hamas’s atrocities, Hagari said: “First, we will fight and then we’ll investigate. We are at war.”
He added that the IAF’s large-scale airstrikes in Gaza “are being seen across the Middle East.”
‘We’re only at the beginning of it’
Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, and former chairman of the National Security Council (April 2011 to November 2013), said on Sunday that the intelligence and military apparatus in the South experienced a “huge failure.”
“All the investigations will be done after the war. Now they’re not looking for anyone to blame or the reason for the mistake. That will wait after the war,” he said.
“Israel is in a war not because it decided, but because war was declared by Hamas. I don’t see any country in the world that could live in this situation after such an attack, and the other side would not retaliate and try to change the balance of power,” said Amidror.
According to his assessment, the IDF will likely pursue four stages in its response. The first, which is nearly complete, is to eliminate all terrorists inside Israel and not allow any of them to return to Gaza alive.
“The second stage—we’re only at the beginning of it—it’s the destroying all the targets that we have … and identify these places and to kill as many Hamas operatives as possible and prevent them launching rockets and missiles into Israel,” said Amidror.
“We have many targets on a prepared list, and we identify new targets in this stage,” he added. The third likely stage is the decision to reconquer the Gaza Strip, said Amidror, adding that he did not believe that decision has been taken yet by the cabinet, but that it would likely be.
The cabinet decision that was taken, to destroy all of the facilities, infrastructure and capabilities of Hamas, “means we have to go into Gaza to reach these places to kill the people and destroy the infrastructure. This cannot be done only by the air force and artillery. It should be done by forces coming into Gaza. That needs long preparations,” said Amidror.
“Now we are bringing more armor and artillery capabilities into the area, but I have to be very cautious—the decision for the ground operation was not taken yet—but it is understood from what the cabinet declared, on the targets of the war, this will be needed in the end and cannot be avoided,” said Amidror.
Addressing the fact that tens of Israelis are kidnapped in Gaza, with possibly up to 90 percent civilians, Amidror said, “I think it would be wise to say we are not negotiating and not stopping until we get kidnapped civilians back. If for a year we will need to bomb and bomb again, then we should do it for a year. That is my private view,” he said.
The fourth stage is the intensive operation after a ground offensive, “and here we should be very clear we will not let Hamas build capabilities afterwards,” Amidror stated, adding that this would likely take months. “We cannot go back to square one … what will be needed is to destroy Hamas’s military capabilities in the Gaza Strip.”
On Sunday morning, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, IDF International Spokesperson, said that the IDF.
“There are still eight points of engagement in the South. It’s not the severity that it was last night. But when I say ongoing points of combat—these are mainly searches and trying to clean area, and finalizing that there no terrorists are there—in Sderot, Kfar Aza, Be’eri, Kibbutz Re’im, Kissufim, Sufa and the Home Front Command base in Zikim,” he said.
“I recommend that Hezbollah not come into this,” Hecht warned.
Asked about the option of a ground invasion, Hecht said: “The government has to set goals for the IDF. Right now, there are options that will be talked about.”
He added that the IDF will begin calling on Gazans to evacuate their homes in certain areas for their safety ahead of major Israeli airstrikes on Hamas infrastructure.