analysisIsrael at War

In northern Gaza, IDF settles into targeted mopping up stage

Unlike the previous large-scale maneuvering in Gaza City, the IDF now deploys smaller forces to prevent Hamas from regrouping.

Israeli soldiers during operational activity in the Gaza Strip, Feb. 12, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Israeli soldiers during operational activity in the Gaza Strip, Feb. 12, 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.

As the Israel Defense Forces dismantles Hamas’s capabilities in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza and prepares to move into neighboring Rafah, it is also settling into the mopping-up stage in northern and central Gaza. 

In southern Gaza, the IDF’s Division 98 is focusing high intensity operations in western Khan Yunis, continuing to destroy tunnel shafts, eliminate terrorists and raid significant Hamas facilities. 

But while the focus is on the battles raging in this area, smaller IDF units, under the command of Division 162, are still operating in Gaza City, as well as in most of central Gaza, focusing on areas in which Hamas is attempting to regroup.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi indicated on Tuesday that this stage will be lengthy. 

“We have been fighting for about four months and still have a long road ahead,” he said.

According to Halevi, “We are progressing as planned, and our accomplishments thus far have exceeded our expectations. We continue the fighting in different formations. In the north of the Gaza Strip we return to wherever terrorism is identified. Using the intelligence we gained in the field and during the investigations of the numerous terrorists we caught, we returned to other targets, eliminating the enemy and destroying more terrorist infrastructure, thus intensifying our achievement.

“In the south of the Gaza Strip, in Khan Yunis, we are reaching places that the enemy never imagined we would reach. All of Hamas’ strategic assets are being destroyed in the city that was once considered their terror stronghold. So far, we have eliminated over 10,000 terrorists, including many commanders. This is what dismantling Hamas means.”

In southern Gaza, the IDF remains committed to the goal of eliminating Hamas’s senior leadership, as well as taking more enemy commanders and operatives, before Israeli civilians can begin returning to their homes in the western Negev safely. Above all of this, the goal of returning the hostages continues to hover over the war—a goal Halevi described as “a supreme mission and moral obligation.”

Monday’s dramatic rescue of two Israeli hostages from the heart of Rafah is a signal of the growing confidence of Israel’s special forces and intelligence community in southern Gaza. But most of the hostages, according to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, will be brought home through a deal. 

In the meantime, the IDF remains fully committed to operating wherever terrorism rears its head in Gaza, and has no intention of stopping. 

On Feb. 5, the IDF’s 162 Division began a division-level raid in central and northern Gaza City, and in the Al-Shati area. 

The raid saw Nahal Brigade troops and the 401st Armored Brigade join up into integrated combat teams and return to areas the IDF had previously cleared.

“The concept of the operation is for the division to conduct a thorough and comprehensive raid in a selected area,” the IDF said at the time. “The forces killed hundreds of operatives, arrested dozens of terrorists for investigation, and located large quantities of weapons.”

According to Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen, Commander of the 162 Division, the division is “intensifying the pace of operations and the pressure on Hamas remaining in the area. The division is currently in the midst of an operation in Al-Shati, operating against strategic Hamas targets above and below ground. This is an area that initially required three divisions and three days to reach. Now, two combat teams reached the same area within an hour and a half. The forces operating under the division are preventing Hamas from rebuilding its capabilities, killing hundreds of terrorists and arresting dozens of others.”

As this occurred, the IDF has found that terrorists in northern Gaza are less inclined to hide in tunnels and more reliant on humanitarian shelters and civilian population clusters to launch attacks from, Army Radio reported in recent days. 

There are some 300,000 Gazan civilians who remain in northern Gaza, mostly in local civilian shelters. 

Part of this marathon-like pace means that many reserve forces had to be released for rest, based on the assumption that they will be called again—either to return to Gaza, or to fight against Hezbollah. 

Some soldiers in the regular service have only returned home once or twice since the war erupted with Hamas’s mass murder attack on Oct. 7. Managing personnel and their ability to fight for a long time is a key aspect of IDF decision-making when it comes to force allocation and withdrawing forces. 

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