IDF chief: We are well prepared for ground operations in the south
A convoy of Israeli tanks near the southern Israeli border with Gaza, Oct. 12, 2023.
Photo: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

The lull in Hamas rocket fire is intended “to put us to sleep,” says the Israeli military; IAF focuses on areas Gaza City and surrounding areas.

By Yaakov Lapin

(JNS) — The Israeli Air Force has focused its strikes on Hamas targets in the heart of Gaza City and northern Gaza areas such as Zaytun, Shati, Israeli military said on Tuesday, day 18 of Israel’s war against the terror group. 

“That’s where Hamas is preparing and strengthening its forces. We are continuing to strike there intensively,” said IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari on Tuesday morning. 

Hagari repeated the military’s call for Gaza residents to move south. 

The IDF had also struck Hamas terrorists preparing to attack the Israeli home front, he stated, adding that “long weeks of combat are ahead of us.” 

In the north, the IAF struck a rocket launch squad preparing to attack on Har Dov, according to Hagari. 

He warned that the decrease in Hamas rocket fire in recent days was part of an attempt “by the enemy to put us to sleep. It still has firing capabilities.” Hagari called on civilians to be attentive to Home Front Command instructions and not to be complacent. 

Addressing the release of two Israeli hostages on Monday, Hagari said,  “We are happy about their release and return to [their] families,” but noted that their husbands were still in Hamas hands.

“[They are] two out of 222 hostages, babies, the elderly, women and men still being held,” he said.

Israel is working with Egypt and the Red Cross to secure further releases, he added.  

Israeli ground forces were training at staging areas, preparing and going over intelligence, according to Hagari. “We will activate our forces when the best conditions are there, and improve the situation [in the meantime] with the IAF and remove threats to them,” he said. “We have to look at [the] region and other efforts underway in Gaza. We are ready and determined.”

Addressing international media reports citing concerns among U.S. officials regarding the readiness of an Israeli ground offensive, Hagari said, “The U.S., a strategic ally, has a range of strategic interests in the Middle East. It has lots of experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are learning from this experience.”

At the same time, he said, “Our war is on our border, not thousands of miles from Israel. We, on the day after the war, have to live with [a reality in which] a threat like this that existed on Oct. 7 is no more, hence this is a decision we have to take alone,” he said. 

The IDF remains committed to the goal of fully dismantling Hamas, including its leadership, military capabilities and working mechanisms, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi stated on Monday. 

“The path is a path of unrelenting attacks, damaging Hamas everywhere and in every way. We are well prepared for the ground operations in the south. The Southern Command has quality operational plans. There are tactical, operative, strategic considerations that have provided additional time, and troops who have more time are better prepared, and that is what we are doing now, said Halevi.

“I am fully aware of the commitment shown in all of the IDF, both in regular and reserve duty, and it is displayed everywhere,” he added.

On Monday evening, Hagari stated that on day 17 of the war, the IAF had focused its strikes on areas surrounding Gaza City. 

“Today we also attacked in a single wave of sorties … and killed tens of terrorists and senior [Hamas] field commanders,” he said. “That is part of the common intelligence effort by Military Intelligence, the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency], [IDF] Southern Command and the IAF,” he stated. 

In the afternoon, Israeli forces intercepted two Hamas unmanned aerial vehicles that had been sent into Israel. 

The IDF also announced that the head of the Hamas northern brigade’s anti-tank missile array, Ibrahim Alkhaser, had been killed in an airstrike in the northern Gaza Strip.

“Alkhaser fired the anti-tank missile which killed IDF soldier Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib and injured additional soldiers in ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls’ [in 2021],” said the military. 

The Israel Defense Forces announced on Monday night that five senior commanders of Hamas’s aerial forces had been killed in recent days, including Murad Abu Murad, the commander of Hamas’s aerial array in Gaza.

In his evening statement, Hagari said on Monday that the IAF’s role is to provide an aerial umbrella, 24 hours a day, over the ground forces’ defensive and offensive efforts. 

In the north, three Hezbollah missile squads were eliminated by the IDF on Monday, said Hagari. A UAV that infiltrated from Lebanon via the Mediterranean Sea was shot down. 

On Monday, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant conducted a situation assessment of naval operations at the Ashdod Navy base. He also toured Israel’s southern Mediterranean coast together with Navy Commander Vice Adm. David Saar Salama, and held discussions with troops stationed in the area. 

Gallant commended the troops for neutralizing dozens of terrorists and thwarting infiltration attempts from the Gaza Strip. He also emphasized the integral role that the Navy will play in the next phase of the war. 

The military said on Monday that IDF soldiers in both regular and reserve service are conducting a variety of training exercises in order to improve the forces’ readiness and capabilities for ground operations in the Gaza Strip. The soldiers and commanders are training in combat teams, which combine forces from the Infantry Corps, the Armored Corps and additional units in a number of different combat scenarios.

In addition, the IDF said that in recent days IAF squadron commanders have been meeting with commanders of ground forces divisions and brigades in order to strengthen inter-branch cooperation. 

Meanwhile on Monday, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a former director general of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry and former head of the Research and Assessment Division of IDF Intelligence, told journalists during a video call organized by Media Matters that the reason Hamas had chose to launch its Oct. 7 assault was “this feeling that the axis of good was getting weaker.”

Hamas leadership, he said, had seen the West’s feeble reaction to Iran’s nuclear program.

“They saw Iran get to 60% [uranium] enrichment, the lifting of sanctions on ballistic missiles, selling UAVs to Russia, getting stronger in the Middle East—no one was doing anything, to the extent that Saudi Arabia and Iran reestablished relations and people got friendlier with Iran and with [Bashar al-]Assad, the butcher of Damascus,” he said.

While Israel does not have evidence that Iran and Hezbollah knew the date of the Hamas attack, “they were familiar with the plan,” he said. “There are too many Iranian fingerprints on the plan to believe they were not knowledgeable [of it,]” he added. 

Regardless, he continued, “The only way to handle this problem is by defeating Hamas, finally, in the Gaza Strip. That’s where we are focused. We gathered a very big force for that reason.”

However, the potential of the war expanding to include Hezbollah, as well as Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria, which have already begun to attack U.S. military forces, is a “clear concern,” he said. 

“This entire axis is getting ready,” said Kuperwasser. “We need to be ready.”

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