January 2, 2024 | Flash Brief

Israel Shifts to ‘Third Phase’ of Gaza War

January 2, 2024 | Flash Brief

Israel Shifts to ‘Third Phase’ of Gaza War

Latest Developments

Israel is withdrawing some ground forces from the Gaza Strip and focusing on localized operations against Hamas. This move constitutes a shift to what Israeli officials have described as the “third phase” of the war. The Israeli military said on January 1 that it would rotate five brigades out of Gaza, a significant reduction in the combat deployment reported to comprise several divisions.

Two of the five brigades are made up of reservists, many of whom will be discharged as a bid to ease the economic impact of their mobilization. Of the other troops, some will be allowed to rest and then undergo retraining for possible redeployment to the border with Lebanon. Hezbollah attacks on Israel there have persisted despite Jerusalem’s warning to Beirut that Lebanon risks becoming a full-blown second war front.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said on December 31 that the partial troop withdrawal will “ease the burden on the economy” and will allow Israeli forces “to gather strength for the upcoming activities in the next year.” The military, he added, is “adapting the planning of force deployment in Gaza” with an eye toward further combat in 2024. “The objectives of the war require prolonged fighting, and we are preparing accordingly.”

Expert Analysis

“From the outset of this war, Jerusalem anticipated that the first two phases would be completed by the new year. It has kept to that objective and is now shifting gears. The Biden administration, which has been publicly pressuring the Israelis for lower-intensity operations in Gaza, would do well to shift its own gears and voice support for what will doubtless be a prolonged and painful counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency campaign.” — Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

“Even if the daily violence in Gaza diminishes, Lebanon looks likely to keep simmering and perhaps even boil over. Hezbollah has so far rebuffed diplomatic calls to stand down and back away from the Israeli border, saying this would require an end to the Gaza war first. The brinkmanship in Beirut is intolerable and dangerous. The Biden administration should make clear that, by withdrawing forces from Gaza, Israel is only focusing its ability to escalate hostilities in Lebanon if necessary.” — Joe Truzman, Research Analyst at FDD’s Long War Journal

The Three Phases

The rotation of ground forces signals a shift to what Israeli officials have described as the “third phase” of the Gaza war. The first phase was the shelling campaign that followed Hamas’s October 7 cross-border rampage. This campaign aimed to eliminate the Palestinian terrorist group’s above-ground targets, encourage civilians to evacuate combat zones, and clear access routes for future incursions.

The second phase, which began on October 27, was the ground sweep in which Israeli forces established control of northern Gaza as well as much of the southern and central areas of the enclave. In the third phase, expected to take as many as six months, more specialized Israeli units will carry out kill-or-capture operations against Hamas, including in its underground network of tunnels and bunkers.

Thousands of Terrorists Eliminated

Israel estimates that its forces have killed more than 8,000 Palestinian terrorists out of a pre-war force strength of some 30,000. Potentially thousands of members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other factions have been captured. In the northern sector, in and around the de facto capital Gaza City, a pre-war contingent of 15,000 to 18,000 terrorists has been reduced to “a few thousand,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on January 2.

“Victory is doubly necessary to exact a price and secure the safety of Gaza border residents,” Gallant said. “More importantly, if you don’t decisively conclude an event with 1,500 casualties and captives, you can’t live in the Middle East, because tomorrow another aggressor will emerge. Therefore, we are determined to achieve our goal.”

IDF Expands Operations Against Hamas in Khan Younis,” FDD Flash Brief

Israel Battles Hamas Battalion in Gaza City,” FDD Flash Brief

Israeli Forces Move on Central Gaza,” FDD Flash Brief


Hezbollah Israel Israel at War Lebanon