The head of the Israel Defense Force Southern Command, Eliezer Toledano, who has a significant role in managing the battle against the Hamas terror group in Gaza, said Sunday that the group’s leaders Muhammed Deif and Yahya Sinwar could be targeted by Israeli strikes.
“Muhammad Deif and Yahya Sinwar, were, and remain, in Israel’s sights,” Toledano said in an interview with Channel 12 news, referring to Deif, the elusive head of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and Sinwar, Hamas’s Gaza chief.
Amid increasing talks of a possible ceasefire, Toledano told Channel 12 news the more time the army has to carry out its military goals against terror targets in the Strip, the better.
He hailed the IDF’s preparation for the fighting, highlighting the Israel Air Force’s massive bombardment of Hamas’s internal Gaza tunnel network, known as the “metro,” overnight Thursday-Friday, which reportedly destroyed miles of tunnels and killed what the IDF believes to be dozens of Hamas terrorists. No definitive information has been released on the impact of the bombardment and the death toll.
“This round of fighting was different because we had very good intelligence coupled with extremely effective attack methods from air and land and we attacked Hamas inside the tunnels,” Toledano said.
“The mapping we did in recent years to the underground infrastructure in Gaza is what allowed us to effectively attack the metro,” he added.
He also detailed some of the other IDF operations that proceeded the tunnel barrage.
“In the first days of the fighting we destroyed their forces that tried to infiltrate into Israel; we killed them inside the tunnels. Afterward, we killed many senior Hamas leaders and we will continue to go after them in their underground lairs until the end of the fighting. The idea that we are trying to establish for the enemy is that tunnels are death traps.”
He also reacted to criticism that has been leveled against the IDF for civilian casualties, including a strike that, according to Gaza health officials, killed 42 civilians early Sunday, and another that took down a multi-story building housing several international news agencies.
“Hamas has based its entire operations concept as a terror organization on operating out of civilian areas and using civilians as human shields. These terror towers, where it places its control centers, its labs, its observation posts are underneath press offices or other offices,” Toledano said.
“They did the same thing with their tunnels, which are under families, under their own population. When explosives enter the tunnels and clear them, it is obvious that the shock wave that rushes through the tunnels will collapse entire roads, you can see the pictures,” he said.
Meanwhile, during a visit in the country’s south for a situational assessment, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Hamas had “been bankrupted of its assets, and its subterranean battle doctrine has toppled into the bowels of the earth.”
Of the two Hamas chiefs named by Toledano, Deif is held responsible by Israel for personally orchestrating numerous suicide bombings and other terror attacks since the mid-1990s in which dozens if not hundreds of Israelis were killed, and has long been at the top of the Israeli wanted list.
He has been wounded in several Israeli assassination attempts. One of his wives and two of his children were killed in an Israeli attempt on his life during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
Sinwar, is second only to Hamas politburo head Ismail Haniyeh in the terror group’s hierarchy. He spent decades in an Israeli prison after being convicted in 1989 of conducting the kidnapping and execution of two Israeli soldiers.
Known by his Israeli interrogators as “the Butcher from Khan Younis” due to his enthusiastic execution of Palestinians alleged to have collaborated with Israel, Sinwar was released from jail as part of the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.
Considered a hardliner within Hamas, Sinwar is infamous for his key role in founding Hamas’s military wing and security services. The Izz al-Din al-Qassem brigades and Majd, respectively, have committed numerous terror attacks against Israelis, as well as killing Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel.