“This is a long war, but in the end, we will break Hamas. We must keep going until we eliminate them as a governing system, and as a military organization capable of launching attacks against the state of Israel,” Yoav Gallant said.
Gallant described the conflict to the soldiers as an “hourglass” that has “flipped against” Hamas and is now in Israel’s favor.
The Israeli defense minister has on several occasions outlined Israel’s commitment to pursuing Hamas fighters in Gaza for as “long as necessary”.
The minister stressed that it will “take months, not a single day” to achieve Israel’s objectives despite his claim that Hamas’ capabilities have been significantly weakened.
“They don’t have ammunition, they don’t have reinforcements.”
In early January, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari stated Israel will continue to wage war in Gaza throughout 2024. The IDF spokesman’s prediction followed similar comments from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warned that “many more months” of fighting still lay ahead.
A new report by US intelligence agencies has concluded that Palestinian group Hamas has lost 20-30 percent of its fighters after months of Israel’s war on the besieged Gaza Strip, meaning it is far from being destroyed.
The report says the agencies also found Hamas still has enough weaponry to continue striking Israeli forces and launch rockets into Israel “for months”.
It noted even though individual Hamas fighters may have to take on more tasks since they have lost comrades, they are far from being incapacitated and have changed their operational tactics to adjust.
The report also added Israeli officials estimate up to 16,000 Hamas fighters have been wounded and about half of those will not be returning to the battlefield. But US estimates puts that number between 10,500 and 11,700 fighters, many of whom could return.
The Israeli military has been “astonished” by the size and quality of the tunnels Hamas has built under the besieged enclave, according to a report.
The tunnel network was originally estimated to include 250 miles (400 km) of underground passages and bunkers. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has since revised these estimates to 350-450 miles (560-725 km) or more.
Two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were close to 5,700 separate shafts leading into the tunnels under Gaza. None of the numbers could be independently verified, however.
It could take “years” to disable the tunnels, one Israeli official told the New York Times newspaper. They need to be mapped, checked for Israeli captives, and “made irreparable”, he stated, acknowledging that the recent attempts to destroy the tunnels by flooding them with seawater “have failed”.
According to another official, Israel is using a “triangle” model to locate the tunnels, which assumes they will be found under any hospital, school or mosque in Gaza.
The Israeli military has underestimated the “extent and importance” of the tunnels to Hamas, which the daily described as an “intelligence failure”.
The IDF has not disclosed the number of soldiers killed and wounded in tunnel warfare. Officially, almost 190 soldiers have been killed and 240 or so seriously wounded in the fighting since the start of the ground campaign in Gaza.
One soldier, who spoke with the Times on condition of anonymity, said that he took had taken part in destroying about 50 tunnels in Beit Hanoun, in the northeast of Gaza. All of them were rigged with bombs and other explosives, wired to be activated remotely.
The Palestinian group Hamas, which maintains de facto control over Gaza, struck at nearby Israeli settlements on October 7, claiming the lives of approximately 1,200 Israelis. Another 250 were taken into the Palestinian enclave as captives. Israel responded by declaring war on Hamas and launching air and artillery strikes on Gaza, followed by ground troops in November.
Almost 26,600 Palestinians have been killed and another 65,000 wounded since early October, according to the Gaza health ministry.