US intel says Israel degraded Hamas capabilities, but not close to eliminating group

New York Times report notes doubts in Washington over feasibility of Israel’s war objective to destroy Palestinian terror organization after Oct. 7 massacre

Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released by the military for publication on February 8, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released by the military for publication on February 8, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has degraded Hamas’s combat capabilities but is not yet close to achieving its war aim of eliminating the Palestinian terror organization, US intelligence officials told members of Congress this week, according to a New York Times report on Thursday.

Citing American officials, the report noted that the Biden administration has raised doubts over how realistic is Israel’s stated war goal of destroying Hamas, following the terror group’s murderous rampage across southern Israel on October 7, when thousands of terrorists killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages of all ages.

According to the NYT report, the closed-door intelligence briefing to Congress members did not include discussions on casualties in Gaza, where Hamas-run health authorities claim close to 28,000 Palestinians have been killed over the past four months of war. These figures cannot be independently verified, are believed to include fatalities caused by failed rocket fire by Gaza terror groups, and do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 Hamas gunmen in Gaza, as well as 1,000 terrorists in Israel on October 7.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted throughout the war that destroying Hamas’s military and political capabilities, and bringing back all the hostages, are the primary aims of the ongoing war.

At a press conference on Wednesday, after a day of talks with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Netanyahu said “absolute victory” over Hamas was within reach, and would be achieved “in months.”

At his separate press conference a short while later, Blinken warned Israel that it does not have “a license to dehumanize others” and said the war’s toll on ordinary Gazans was too high.

Earlier in the week, Netanyahu said 75% of Hamas battalions have been destroyed and that Israel was “on the path to total victory,” without elaborating.

Visiting soldiers at Latrun in the center of the country on Monday, Netanyahu said that 18 out of 24 Hamas battalions had been destroyed, and that “there is no substitute for total victory.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) meets with IDF soldiers in Latrun on February 5, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“We will not end the war without achieving that goal of total victory that will restore security,” he said. “We will not give it up.”

He did not lay out what total victory means, even as he continued to maintain that position, during ongoing but extremely difficult negotiations for a deal with Hamas to secure freedom for the approximately 136 hostages held by terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

The prime minister also said that Israel is “collapsing and destroying” Hamas’s tunnel network, a vast complex of hundreds of kilometers of subterranean passages cavities it uses to house and deploy its forces.

At a press conference in Tel Aviv later Monday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said “about half of the Hamas terrorists have been killed or seriously wounded,” echoing Netanyahu.

Neither figure put a number on the Hamas casualties.

Gallant described the ground operation in Gaza as “complex and complicated,” while “progressing and achieving its goals,” with the IDF active “in most of the territory of the Gaza Strip.”

He said Hamas’s leadership, including Yahya Sinwar, is “on the run.”

This handout photo shows Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (C) touring a Military Intelligence base in central Israel on February 8, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“Sinwar goes from hideout to hideout, and is unable to communicate with his surroundings,” Gallant said. “Sinwar does not lead the campaign, does not command the forces; he is busy with his personal survival. He changed from Hamas leader into fugitive terrorist, and IDF forces continue to pursue him.”

Gallant said “18 Hamas battalions are dismantled and no longer function as fighting military frameworks.”

As the IDF pushes through the Hamas tunnel network, denying them as a place of refuge for terrorists, “we are increasing the pressure on the terrorists and the leaders of the terrorist organizations,” he said, and issued a warning to remaining Hamas fighters in the Rafah stronghold, where the Israeli military is currently pushing its offensive.

“Every terrorist hiding in Rafah should know that his end will be like those in Khan Younis and Gaza [City],” Gallant said referring to two areas conquered by the advancing Israeli military.

The defense minister repeated the assertion that the IDF’s military pressure on Hamas will advance the return of the hostages held by the terror group.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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