As we begin the second month of the war with Hamas, the Israel Defense Forces now know that there remain 242 hostages held captive in Gaza and that 30 Israeli soldiers have died in combat since the beginning of the war.
Over the weekend, Israeli intelligence confirmed that most of the 242 captives held in Gaza are likely still alive. Though this fact brings a measure of comfort to their families, the conflict’s severity persists unabated. IDF soldiers face relentless rocket fire as their ground incursion deepens into Gaza’s heart. Hamas militants maintain their resistance, engaging in heavy gunfire and launching anti-tank missiles, despite disruptions to their mortar fire coordination.
The IDF has now completed the total encirclement of Gaza City and has effectively separated the Gaza Strip into two distinct parts, Gaza North and Gaza South. In the northern part all telecommunications have been disabled and a major Hamas control center has been captured as well. Deep incursions into the streets of Gaza City are occurring regularly.
Nevertheless, in an effort to encourage civilians in the northern part of Gaza to seek safety in the south, Israel provided a four hour safe passage window in Gaza earlier today to encourage civilians to move to the southern part of the strip. This duplicated yesterday’s effort which saw a large number of Gaza residents, primarily women and children, walking south to places of refuge.
On the northern border with Lebanon, cross border shelling continues from positions situated within 3 miles of the border. The evacuated north of Israel continues to be hit by rockets and mortars with a direct hit last night on buildings in Kiryat Shmona. No injuries were reported there although an Israeli citizen was killed when a mortar landed in a field where he was walking. To date, Hizballah in Lebanon has buried 56 of their soldiers who died as a result of the cross-border activity.
The US continues its military buildup in the region. A nuclear submarine last seen in the Suez Canal is now on its way into the Eastern Mediterranean although it is not clear where it will be stationed. The submarine is both powered by nuclear energy and armed with nuclear warheads as well.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made some previously unscheduled visits in the region over the weekend, meeting in Ramallah with Palestine President Abbas as well as in Baghdad with the leadership there as well. In addition, the new US Ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, presented his credentials to Israel President Yitzchak Herzog at the President’s Residence, on Sunday. He succeeds Tom Nides who returned to the US earlier this year after serving two years in Israel.
Worldwide massive demonstrations continue in support of Gaza and the Palestinian cause. The question remains as to how long official western support will remain committed to Israel’s objective to eliminate Hamas from Gaza in the face of mounting impatience on the streets of western capitals. The leadership of the Muslim World, uncharacteristically, has not been particularly vocal in criticizing Israel (with the exception of Turkey and the Shi’ite bloc) giving one the impression that in private they may be happy that we are working here on eliminating one menace to regional peace and cooperation.
The next days will be critical as our troops work to get to the top leadership of Hamas and neutralize them without putting the lives of the hostages in danger. The sooner they are released from Gaza the better. Let us hope that they will return soon and in good health.