Sights as Next Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Israel will target Rafah, the final major Hamas stronghold in Gaza. “It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war of eliminating Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah,” Netanyahu said on February 9. Momentum has been building for weeks as Israel evaluates its next steps in Gaza and faces mounting pressure to cancel an operation in Rafah.
Rafah in Israel’s Sights as Next Gaza Moves Loom
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat.” In using the word “intense,” he appears to be referring to Israel’s transition to a lower-intensity style of conflict in Gaza in January.
In November, Israel beat Hamas in northern Gaza, and in December, paratroopers and commandos were deployed to the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. Khan Younis served as the headquarters for several significant Hamas battalions and commanders. Some of the 136 prisoners in Gaza were held in Khan Younis, and the IDF is still uncovering further tunnels and proof that Hamas utilized them to hold hostages.
Israel will now seek a “plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions,” according to Netanyahu. According to reports, up to one million Gazans have sought refuge in and around Rafah. According to Israeli estimations, three-quarters of Hamas’ 24 battalions that invaded Israel on October 7 have been defeated. This would leave multiple battalions in Rafah, each with thousands of men.
Rafah, a crucial channel for humanitarian aid into Gaza located on the Egyptian border, has long been a location of smuggling, including firearms. Rafah is about three kilometers from Khan Younis, where the IDF has been operating for two months. It is linked by a road to the Mawasi area, which was formed as a humanitarian zone for Gazans to flee to in October when the IDF launched its ground invasion in Gaza.
On February 9, the IDF gave updated information about operations in Khan Younis. It stated that one reservist brigade was engaged in “targeted raids on terrorist infrastructure, encountering the enemy, eliminating terrorists, and locating many weapons.” This squad “found rocket launchers placed by Hamas terrorists near a kindergarten and mosque.”
The forces destroyed the loaded launchers, which were intended for Israeli land. Furthermore, during investigations of a civilian water facility in the region, the forces discovered a tunnel shaft connecting to an underground tunnel route within the facility.” The demolition of the launcher is part of a larger campaign that has seen rocket fire from Gaza drop to near-zero levels in recent weeks.
Hamas began its war on Israel with thousands of missile launches, but four months later, it has few long-range rockets and firing positions left.
The IDF further stated that special forces “raided a compound in the area used by Hamas terrorists to launch attacks on IDF troops.” Additionally, IDF troops discovered a terrorist cell that had planted explosive devices near the troops stationed in the area.
Following their identification, IDF troops ordered an aircraft to “strike and eliminate the terrorist cell,” the IDF stated. The IDF reports frequently mention discovering AK-47s and ammunition, as opposed to earlier in the battle, when weapons caches discovered included heavier weaponry such as RPGs, mines, and other dangers.
IDF troops who served in Gaza told me that firearms are frequently found in civilian homes, demonstrating Hamas’ desire to turn entire populations into weapons dumps as well as sites from which to fight. The IDF also said on February 9 that it had undertaken an operation in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza, as Hamas continues to strive to infiltrate regions where it was beaten in November.