Israel’s defense leaders have indicated a shift in the military campaign against the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, from intense battles to more targeted operations, with the military spokesperson confirming for the first time that this change is already underway.
In interviews with international media on Sunday and Monday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari both noted that as the focus moves to the southern part of the densely populated Palestinian enclave, different tactics will be needed to avoid civilian casualties.
Hagari told The New York Times Monday that the Israel Defense Forces had already begun a new, less intensive phase in the war against Hamas, with fewer ground troops and airstrikes.
“The war shifted a stage… But the transition will be with no ceremony. It’s not about dramatic announcements,” Hagari said, notably choosing a US news outlet to make the announcement, rather than addressing the Israeli public directly in his daily televised briefing in Hebrew.
Hagari told The New York Times that the IDF would continue reducing the number of troops in Gaza, as it began to do at the beginning of January.
Similarly, the defense minister said that the IDF was shifting from the “intense maneuvering phase of the war” to “different types of special operations,” though he later issued a “clarification,” saying he had meant that this shift would happen soon and had not already happened.
“We need to take into consideration the huge number of civilians,” Gallant told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Sunday, adding that the military tactics “take some time” to adjust.
“But we aren’t going to give up,” he said.
Hagari elaborated on his remarks in an evening press conference.
“There are still terror operatives and weapons in the north of the Gaza Strip, but they do not function within an organized military framework and now we operate there in [a different] way, and with a different mix of forces,” he said.
“At this stage, we are focusing on the center of the Gaza Strip and the south of the Gaza Strip. This is still an intense and complex operational activity,” Hagari said adding that the fighting in Gaza will continue throughout 2024.
Military and defense officials have said the IDF will continue intensive operations in the Strip’s center and south, while carrying out smaller operations in the north, where Hamas is largely defeated.
War erupted in Gaza after Hamas’s October 7 massacres, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages amid horrific acts of brutality.
In response, Israel vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, and launched a wide-scale offensive aimed at destroying Hamas’s military and governance capabilities. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says over 23,000 people have been killed in the fighting, though these figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 8,500 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.
The comments came hours before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to arrive in Israel, where one of his top agenda items was slated to be the transition to the next phase in fighting and preventing the conflict from spreading — a goal that might have been hampered by the alleged Israeli airstrike in Lebanon earlier Monday that killed a senior Hezbollah commander.
In his comments to the Wall Street Journal, Gallant issued another stern warning to the Hezbollah terror group, while reiterating that Israel does not want to get into another war.
“They see what is happening in Gaza. They know we can copy-paste to Beirut,” Gallant was quoted as saying.
Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.
Israel has warned that it will no longer tolerate the presence of the Lebanon-based terror group along the frontier, where it could attempt to carry out an attack similar to the massacres committed by Hamas on October 7.
“Eighty-thousand people need to be able to go back to their homes safely,” Gallant was quoted as saying, referring to Israelis on the northern border who were evacuated amid the Hezbollah attacks.
“Should Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran be allowed to decide how we live our lives here in Israel?” Gallant asked. “That is something we don’t accept.”