December 11, 2023 | FDD's Long War Journal

Israel solidifies gains in Gaza, threats grow in north

December 11, 2023 | FDD's Long War Journal

Israel solidifies gains in Gaza, threats grow in north

The Israel Defense Forces said on Monday, December 11 that over 500 members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been apprehended in Gaza since operations began in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. Around 140 of those detainees were captured since December 1, when Hamas broke a ceasefire and IDF operations in Gaza resumed. The IDF said that “some voluntarily turned themselves in and were transferred by field interrogators from Unit 504 in the Intelligence Directorate and the ISA for further questioning.” 

The release of the numbers of those arrested in Gaza is part of a larger picture of consolidation of control by the IDF in areas it has taken in Gaza. This includes territory around Gaza City, which is encircled, and some of the routes into Khan Yunis, where the IDF launched a new phase of operations after December 1. 

The details about the number of suspected apprehended came after Israeli National Security Advisor Tzahi Hanegbi said over the weekend that Israel estimates it has eliminated 7,000 terrorists in Gaza: “It could be more, because we don’t know everything beneath places that collapsed and tunnels etc. But that is the conservative estimate.” This would appear to represent a significant number of Hamas members either eliminated or detained, especially in the north. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also said on Monday night that Hamas battalions in northern Gaza’s Shujaiya and Jabalya neighborhoods are on the verge of collapse.  

As evidence of the breakdown in Shujaiya, an important neighborhood that Israel has struggled to take in the last week, the IDF said that the new commander of the Hamas Shujaia Battalion was eliminated. He had been promoted after the last commander was recently killed. “Since 2019, Krikae had been the Deputy Commander of Hamas’ Shejaiya Battalion. He was previously responsible for anti-tank missile training in the Gaza City Brigade. Kirikae was also part of anti-tank missile fire and terrorist raids carried out inside Israeli territory. Following the elimination of the commander of Hamas’ Shejaiya Battalion during the war, Krikae temporarily assumed the position of battalion commander, before also being killed by the IDF,” the IDF said. The IDF has focused on eliminating many of these battalion and mid-level commanders in the war.  

Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari highlighted that Israeli units had taken control of “Palestine Square” in the “heart of Gaza City.” He said this area “is where [Hamas leader] Yahya Sinwar’s office is located, as well as government offices, properties of senior Hamas officials, and a network of terror tunnels.” He praised several units for taking control of the area, including Israel’s elite Shayetet 13 and the Shaldag Unit as well as elements of the 401st armored brigade. This is one of a wider series of comments from Israeli officials that assert the operation in Gaza is proceeding well.  

On December 11, the IDF also released footage of what it said was “Hamas beating civilians and stealing humanitarian aid from Gazan residents.” This footage was from Shujaiya, the same area where battles have been taking place over the last week. “In footage captured by the IDF Border Defense Corps in Shejaiya, Hamas members are seen forcibly taking humanitarian aid from civilians, loading it onto a Hamas vehicle, beating civilians, and then driving to a Hamas-run site.”  

The IDF also launched its first logistical airdrop — seven tons of water — over Gaza, according to a statement on December 11. “The special supply operation was carried out using the ‘Shimshon’ aircraft of the 103rd Squadron in a joint operation with the Technology and Logistics Division and the aerial supply unit of the Marom Brigade,” the IDF said. The parachutes operated on a “guided supply” system and enabled precision navigation so they arrived to troops in the right place.  

Israel’s Ministry of Defense also said on Monday that the Ministry has appointed a new head of a directorate for strengthening security of northern communities in Israel. Around 40 communities in the north were evacuated in October due to Hezbollah attacks. The attacks have not only continued but increased. According to recent statements, Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi HaLevi are focusing on security in the north. The appointment of the new director, David Suissa, who is a retired Brig. General, illustrates the new spotlight on the north. “In recent years, Suissa has served as a trainer for local authorities to deal with emergency situations, on behalf of the Home Front Command,” the Defense Ministry said. The goal is to strengthen these small communities, many of which sit directly on the border and can be seen easily from Hezbollah positions. “This is in order to create the conditions for the safe return of the residents to the settlements, when the security situation will allow it,” the Ministry said. This new directorate, called “Ofek North” will begin work this week.  

Israel faces continued challenges in the north from Hezbollah. IDF Chief of Staff Halevi met with commanders of the 91st division in the north on Sunday. “We need to return to a different situation, and return to both safety and a sense of security. There is a military way to do this, the beginning of which is also what you are doing here, to damage, to deter, to kill Hezbollah operatives, to demonstrate our superiority, and it can also come in the form of a strike and war, and it may be that over time this will also take other time periods and solutions, because we are focused on other things between the arenas,” he said. He noted that Israel doesn’t think war is the first solution, but pointed to Gaza as an example of what conflict could bring to Lebanon. This has been a common refrain among Israel’s leadership, to warn Lebanon that escalation can lead to a similar style conflict in Lebanon.  

The IDF said on Monday that warplanes struck a Hezbollah military site in responses to rocket launches targeting communities in the Galilee. In the evening, Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles toward the area of Metulla in northern Israel. The IDF said that “no injuries were reported. IDF artillery is striking the sources of the fire.” 

The contrast between the north and the south is clear on the ground. I drove to the border of northern Israel on December 9 along roads that have been threatened by rocket fire. The hills have been blackened by fires from previous rocket and mortar impacts, and the area close to the border felt deserted by civilians. In the south on the Gaza border, by contrast, roads are now beginning to fill with more traffic in recent weeks as the IDF operation enables more major roads near the border to be used for civilian traffic.  

Casualties and injuries to IDF soldiers also continued to mount over the weekend, with the IDF saying 433 soldiers have been killed since the Hamas attack on October 7. This means almost forty soldiers have been killed in the last two weeks, most of them since December 1. Israel has lost more than 100 soldiers since the ground operation began on October 27.   

Reporting from Israel, Seth J. Frantzman is an adjunct fellow at FDD and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal. He is the acting news editor and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post.

Issues:

Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Jihadism Military and Political Power