Top Israeli official says fighting in Gaza likely to last at least another 7 months

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi says battle in Rafah is ‘not for no reason,’ points to need to take control of Philadelphi Route along Strip’s border with Egypt

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip, in a handout image cleared for publication on May 29, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip, in a handout image cleared for publication on May 29, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

A senior Israeli official predicted on Wednesday that the war in Gaza would continue at least through the rest of the year, as international pressure on Israel to end fighting only grows.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in an interview with Kan public radio that “this year, we expect another seven months of combat, in order to deepen our achievement and achieve what we define as the destruction of the military and governing capabilities of both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.”

Hanegbi noted that the Israel Defense Forces have previously stated that it expects the entirety of 2024 to be a period of war, and five months into the year, the assessment remains unchanged.

Speaking from Cyprus, where he is part of a delegation dealing with the inspection of aid for Gaza passing through there, Hanegbi said that the current fighting is Gaza is “not just justified and not just essential, but without it there will be no rebuilding, and we won’t be able to maintain our independence.”

The ongoing battle in Rafah, widely criticized around the world, “is not for no reason… we need to shut the border between Egypt and Gaza, because for the past 17 years there has been a kingdom of smuggling that today we are feeling with every rocket, every explosive device, every missile,” he said.

The national security adviser reiterated that Israel has set three clear goals for its end to the war in Gaza: destroying the infrastructure of Hamas; bringing home the hostages; and removing any threat to Israel emanating from the Gaza Strip.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi speaks during a statement to the media at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 31, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Hanegbi said that the IDF is currently “in control of 75% of the Philadelphi Route, and I believe it will be in control of it all with time. Together with the Egyptians, we must ensure that… weapons smuggling is prevented.” In the long term, he said, “I know that nobody is going to volunteer to protect us from inside Gaza — not the Emiratis and not the Saudis or the Jordanians.”

The Philadelphi Route is the Israeli name given to the strip of Gaza that abuts the border with Egypt. Several hours after Hanegbi’s interview, the IDF announced that it had established full “operational control” over the route. The Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza has been shut since the IDF began its ground operations in the city earlier this month, incensing Cairo.

Hanegbi added, however that “we very much don’t want to rule Gaza,” pointing to the 2.2 million citizens who he said spent years “as captives, taken hostage for 17 years by a murderous terror group,” expressing hope that a new civilian leadership can emerge from the Strip. “We’re trying to plan what will come after Hamas.”

Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza close to eight months ago, after the terror group carried out an unprecedented cross-border assault on southern Israel, killing close to 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 252 to Gaza, including a number of bodies. Israel believes 121 hostages remain in the Strip, at least 37 of whom have been determined by Israeli officials to be dead.

IDF soldiers are seen operating in Gaza in this handout photo cleared for publication on May 17, 2024. (IDF)

Hanegbi rejected the assertion that the current government is not doing all it can to reach a deal with Hamas for the return of the remaining hostages, saying that the cabinet had repeatedly “expanded the mandate” of its negotiating team. “Israel has been forced… to erode its own position, so much so that the Americans in the past few weeks have said again and again that the Israeli offer is ‘very generous.'”

Pressure against Israel to end the war has steadily grown over the past eight months as the death toll in Gaza has soared; unverified figures from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claim that more than 36,000 people have been killed in the Strip since October 7, a figure that does not distinguish between civilians and terrorists. Data released earlier this month shows that around 24,000 of the dead are considered “identified fatalities.”

Israel says that it has killed some 15,000 Hamas terrorists in Gaza; since the start of the IDF ground operation, 291 soldiers have been killed in action, with a total of 639 slain since October 7, the highest Israeli military death toll since the First Lebanon War in the early 1980s.

Nearly eight months into the fighting sparked by Hamas’s attack, international pressure on Israel continues to grow, with even close allies appearing to grow frustrated by the ongoing war, in particular the rising death toll, the lack of a clear plan for a post-Hamas Gaza as well as the return of IDF troops to areas in the Strip it had previously declared to be cleared of Hamas.

The start of ground operations in Rafah earlier this month, the southernmost city in Gaza where more than half of the Strip’s residents had taken up shelter, further infuriated many nations who had warned against such a move. The UN said this week that more than one million Palestinians had left Rafah since the start of the IDF’s ground invasion.

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