June 21, 2024 | FDD's Long War Journal

Israeli forces in Rafah report discovering numerous tunnels and significant terrorist infrastructure

June 21, 2024 | FDD's Long War Journal

Israeli forces in Rafah report discovering numerous tunnels and significant terrorist infrastructure

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) extended operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah during the third week of June. The IDF has been in Rafah since the evening of May 6, and it appears the campaign will now extend through July. The IDF’s presence continues because of the large number of tunnel shafts and significant terrorist infrastructure Israeli forces have discovered and must dismantle. Israel’s military estimates that it controls between “60 to 70 percent of Rafah” city and its environs.

The IDF’s battle for Rafah is led by the 162nd Division. The division has several key units that have been conducting the work of finding tunnels and removing munitions and other terrorist infrastructure. These include the Givati Infantry Brigade, the Nahal Infantry Brigade, the 401st Armored Brigade, and the “Negev” 12th Reserve Infantry Brigade.

Members of the Nahal Infantry Brigade took several Israeli journalists along the Philadelphi Corridor, which runs along the Egyptian border south of Rafah, and also provided insights into the difficulties faced in the city’s neighborhoods. Colonel Yair Zuckerman, Nahal’s commander, described the lower-intensity nature of the fighting.

“Yes, we are using less firepower, but I have aerial support whenever I need it, and my officers fire their shells at any target I tell them to,” Zuckerman told Israel’s Ynet. He said his unit has encountered more tunnels in Rafah than anywhere else he’s fought in Gaza. Nahal found 17 tunnels in recent days in its sector, including many shafts in civilian homes. These discoveries add to the tally of dozens of tunnels found elsewhere along the border.

“Over the past few weeks, the soldiers [of the Nahal Reconnaissance Battalion] have been carrying out intelligence-based scans and raiding terrorist targets in the area,” the IDF said on June 20.

Soldiers found “large quantities of weapons hidden in wardrobes” in one civilian building, “including: grenades, explosives, a launcher and anti-tank missiles, ammunition and arms,” according to the IDF. “In another scan made using a drone, a tunnel shaft was located under a child’s bed, and in another room, the soldiers located a passage in the wall that Hamas terrorist operatives had created in order to pass between residences in crowded neighborhoods,” the IDF stated.

Colonel Liron Betito, commander of the Givati Brigade, described the challenges his forces face from booby-trapped buildings in an interview with the Times of Israel.

“Hamas took an approach here where it avoided fighting with terrorists at the front, but instead chose to booby-trap [structures]. And it booby-trapped loads of buildings. I haven’t seen this many booby-trapped buildings before,” Betito said. The perspectives of the Nahal and Givati Brigades highlight the complex battlefield facing the IDF in Rafah and its adjoining neighborhoods.

While fighting continues in Rafah and the IDF uncovers tunnels and weapons, there is also combat in other areas of Gaza. Sirens have sounded in Israel’s border communities every day due to sporadic rocket and mortar fire. Some alarms have been determined to be false and triggered for various reasons. Nevertheless, one community bordering the Gaza Strip has experienced sirens daily, and many sound due to legitimate attacks.

In response, an Israeli warplane struck a launch site used by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Khan Younis. In addition, the Israeli Air Force said it eliminated “the terrorist Muhammad Abu Taha, a drone operator in the Hamas terrorist organization,” adding, “During the war, Abu Taha carried out numerous attacks against IDF forces.”

In another targeted airstrike in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, the IDF said it killed Ahmed Hassan Salame Alsauarka. He was “a squad commander in the Nukhba Forces who infiltrated into and carried out attacks on Israeli communities in southern Israel during the October 7th Massacre. Alsauarka led and directed sniper activity in the area of Beit Hanoun and took part in Hamas’ attacks on IDF troops,” the IDF stated.

Hamas and several other smaller terrorist groups continue to target IDF forces in southern Gaza and the Netzarim Corridor, a strip of territory in central Gaza. The Netzarim Corridor is the only other area besides Rafah where IDF troops are located inside the Gaza Strip. On June 21, the IDF reported that two soldiers were killed by mortar fire in central Gaza, while three were severely wounded.

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:

Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power