IDF says it found proof Hamas developed cruise missile capabilities, aided by Iran

Army says dozens of terrorists killed, 100 targets struck in past day, including weapons caches and tunnels in Khan Younis; grandson of Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin said killed

Parts of what the IDF says is a cruise missile developed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in an image published January 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Parts of what the IDF says is a cruise missile developed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in an image published January 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli soldiers in Gaza uncovered equipment being used by Hamas to develop precision-guided missiles under Iranian tutelage, the military said Sunday. Such technology would represent a dangerous upgrade to the terror group’s weapons capabilities.

The announcement came as fighting in Gaza entered a third month since war broke out on October 7, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaling that Israel was not yet ready to wind down its war against Hamas, even as US President Joe Biden’s top diplomat headed to the region to redouble pressure for a shift to lower-intensity fighting.

Troops discovered the guided-missile program while raiding a Hamas site near Gaza City’s Daraj and Tuffah neighborhoods, which led them to an underground weapons manufacturing plant.

Soldiers found “components proving terrorists of the Hamas terror organization studied under Iranian guidance how to operate and build precision components and strategic weapons,” the Israel Defense Forces said, sharing images of what it asserted was the rocket engine and warhead of a cruise missile developed by Hamas.

While vast, the terror group’s arsenal of projectiles has been thought to be primarily made up of unguided rockets, with only anti-tank guided missiles and small explosive drones — used at short range — possessing guided capabilities, along with explosives-laden underwater drones and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that are not effective against Israeli aircraft.

Israel has long accused Iran of attempting to export precision missile technology to its Lebanese proxy group Hezbollah, and has reportedly bombed weapons convoys in Syria to prevent such transfers. But the same concerns had not been thought to apply to Hamas, which has hounded Israel with tens of thousands of rocket attacks over the years.

While a near-constant occurrence at the start of the war, rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza have partially faded away in recent weeks, though a barrage on central and southern Israel in the opening minutes of January 1 served as a reminder of the group’s remaining arsenal.

Rocket sirens rang out in two communities near the Strip late Sunday morning, with no reports of injuries or damage.

On Saturday, the army said it had completed the dismantlement of Hamas’s “military framework” in the northern Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, and was now shifting its attention to taking apart the terror group’s infrastructure in central and southern Gaza.

Israeli strikes pounded areas around Khan Younis and Rafah on Sunday, with reports of intensifying battles on the ground in the central and southern parts of the enclave.

The IDF said troops of the Kfir Brigade killed dozens of terror operatives and destroyed more than 100 Hamas targets in the Khan Younis area, including tunnels.

In one incident, the IDF said soldiers of the brigade operating in Bani Suheila, on the outskirts of Khan Younis, encountered a five-man Hamas cell and directed an aircraft to strike them.

Troops of the Kfir Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis in a handout image published January 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

After the gun battle, the troops located and destroyed a site where the operatives were holed up, the IDF said.

In another area of Khan Younis, the IDF said, the Kfir soldiers found a large cache of weapons, including firearms, grenades, and explosives, some of which were hidden inside bags bearing the logo of UNRWA, the agency for Palestinian refugees in the Strip.

The IDF said combat engineers working alongside the Kfir Brigade destroyed a Hamas command center used by the terror group to plan the October 7 onslaught.

Other Hamas targets destroyed by the troops included observation and anti-tank missile launch positions, tunnel shafts, and underground passages, the IDF stated.

The IDF also said strikes in central Gaza’s al-Bureij camp targeted members of Hamas’s elite Nukhba.

Troops of the Yiftah Reserve Brigade raided and later destroyed a tunnel network and the home of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood, the army said.

In the eastern part of Shejaiya, the IDF said the reservists located a tunnel shaft belonging to Islamic Jihad, which led to an underground network. In the northern part of Shejaiya, the brigade located several tunnel shafts near the home of Ahmed Samara, who the IDF says is responsible for Islamic Jihad’s tunnels in northern Gaza.

In Samara’s home, the IDF said troops recovered several weapons, an Islamic Jihad instructional booklet, a tactical plan for the October 7 attack and a book about Adolf Hitler.

While working to demolish the tunnels near Samara’s home, the IDF said gunmen opened fire and set off explosive devices inside the underground passages. It said troops spotted suspicious activity from inside the tunnel before the explosion, retreated and called in artillery strikes.

Combat engineers later destroyed the tunnels, weapons and 12 buildings in the area above the underground network, some of which were booby-trapped, according to the IDF.

Hamas-controlled health authorities raised the death toll from over 90 days of fighting to 22,835, though the figures could not be independently verified. The figure does not differentiate between civilians and combatants and includes Palestinians killed by errant rocket fire from Gaza. Israel says it has killed 8,500 terrorists since launching the war.

Journalists killed

An Israeli airstrike on a car near Rafah in southern Gaza killed two Palestinian journalists who were out reporting, the journalists’ union there said.

Hamza Wael Dahdouh, the son of Al Jazeera’s Gaza correspondent Wael Al-Dahdouh, and Mustafa Thuria, a video stringer for AFP who was working for Al Jazeera, both died in the strike in Rafah, the union said.

The IDF did not comment on the report.

In a separate strike, Ali Salem Abu Ajwa — the grandson of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was himself assassinated in a 2004 Israeli strike — was reported killed. The IDF did not comment on the report.

Israel launched its military campaign to eliminate Hamas after the terror group invaded southern Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, as it rampaged through communities and other areas. Over 240 people were taken hostage, over 130 of whom remain in captivity in the Strip.

Meeting with his full cabinet at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemingly sought to deflect growing international pressure for Israel to ease back on its campaign.

“The war must not be stopped until we complete all of its goals – the elimination of Hamas, the return of all our hostages, and a promise that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel,” Netanyahu told gathered ministers. “I say this to both our enemies and our friends. This is our responsibility and this is the commitment from all of us.”

The comments came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken toured the region on a diplomatic mission to keep the war from spreading and to push Israel to adjust its military operations to reduce civilian casualties and significantly boost the amount of humanitarian aid reaching Gaza.

“We have an intense focus on preventing this conflict from spreading,” said Blinken during a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Abdullah urged Blinken to use Washington’s influence over Israel to press it for an immediate ceasefire, a palace statement said, warning him of the “catastrophic repercussions” of Israel’s continued military campaign.

Blinken is expected in Israel and the West Bank on Tuesday and Wednesday, after visiting Qatar and the United Arab Emirates later on Sunday and Saudi Arabia on Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman, Jordan January 7, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

Plans to discuss the next stage of the war were seemingly thrown into disarray late Thursday as a high-level security cabinet meeting on the subject descended into a yelling match. Multiple media reports indicated the premier’s allies had sniped at the IDF chief over plans to internally probe the army’s mistakes in the lead-up to October 7.

The incident opened a major rift within the ruling coalition, with ministers Gantz, Gadi Eisenkot and Chili Tropper from the National Unity party skipping Sunday’s cabinet meeting, highlighting the growing tensions between the factions comprising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wartime cabinet.

On Friday, Gantz blamed Netanyahu for the dustup, saying that “It is his responsibility to fix this… If what is important now is security and unity, then we need to hold an essential meeting on the continuation of the fighting, and soon.”

Reuters and Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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