The 30-day mourning period in Israel has ended, with Jews remembering the October 7, 2023 Hamas massacre of family and friends in southern communities, that led to the Simchat Torah War – also referred to as “Iron Swords.”
While the most troubling aspect of the war continues to plague minds – the return of the hostages and missing persons – Israelis are also focused on how well the IDF is conducting the war. A majority of Israelis agree with the government’s strategic goals.
According to Col. (res.) Itamar Yaar, former deputy head of the National Security Council, who spoke to journalists on a call hosted by Media Central, Israel’s three strategic goals, from the beginning, have been:
(1) Destroy the military capability of the organization Hamas-ISIS, which Yaar claims is more extreme than ISIS, itself.
(2) Dismantle or neutralize the effective control of Hamas on the population of Gaza. There is not democracy in Gaza. They control everything there, according to Yaar.
(3) Bring all those that were kidnapped – civilians, soldiers, children, women, and men – back home.
Yaar spoke candidly about what happened that led to the October 7th massacre. It was a surprise for Israel regarding three main elements:
It was an intelligence failure, especially on identifying the timing. It was a failure by Israel to not realize how big the Hamas operation was. And, the third problem was that the readiness along the Israeli-Gaza border was at a very low level.
“The idea that Hamas would want to kill as many Israelis as they can is not a surprise. Israeli intelligence knew it, but we were not ready,” Yaar explained.
Once the Hamas massacre occurred, the IDF changed their operational plans. They used the original plans, but updated them to the new situation as of October 7, 2023. While Israel called up at least 360,000 of its forces, there was a delay of the Israeli ground invasion. The IDF spent the first two weeks in preparation, using Israeli air force capabilities; using special operational forces that went in and out of Gaza; and, taking advantage of the damage on the ground in Gaza due to IDF firepower.
Yaar shared that what happened when the ground forces went into Gaza, during the third week of IDF operations, has gone according to plan. “The IDF achieved most of what they expected to achieve in this period of time.”
It’s been to the IDF’s advantage to take the ground slowly, meticulously, step by step. “They use operational field intelligence. They use information that they get from software and hardware that they found in the tunnels, in buildings, and in all kinds of facilities. They use information that they get from Hamas activists that were captured. And, they use intelligence that other agencies collect from Gaza itself, and from other areas,” Yaar indicated.
The IDF is now focusing on tactical goals. One of them is to neutralize Hamas capabilities to launch rockets and missiles. Yaar does not think that the IDF will be able to destroy all capabilities. But, there is evidence that much of the operational capabilities of Hamas are gone. It will be different in the future, with fewer rockets and missiles to launch at Israeli civilians.
On a tactical and operational level, another goal of the IDF is to destroy every building and every site where Israel sees Hamas firepower coming towards Israeli ground forces. This also includes Hamas firing at Israeli airplanes and UAV’s. In addition, the Israeli military aims at destroying buildings that the IDF sees as potential threats to Israeli soldiers.
Bulldozers are an active part of these Israeli military operations. This is one of the tactics that the IDF forces gained after the first Lebanon War of 1982. “The bulldozers are very effective. They are doing a very good job. They are destroying what needs to be destroyed,” Yaar emphasized.
The purpose of using the bulldozers is to make sure the tunnels and other areas underground will collapse. Besides tunnels that connect from one place to another, there are rooms and large areas that are Hamas headquarters; communication centers; logistics and ammunition centers — all located under the ground. According to Yaar, Hamas has done a good job in building a town under Gaza. Destroying this town is a very important part of IDF ground operations.
Yaar added that IDF ground forces “need to neutralize Hamas fighters and Hamas activists that still do not understand that it is over for them. And, it is only a matter of time that they will be dead.”
The IDF is going into more and more areas, taking control over locations in the northern Gaza Strip, including in Gaza City. Yaar admitted that there are Hamas terrorists that the IDF needs to fight; to kill them one-by-one; or to capture them.
Another very important part of the IDF ground operations is to collect information about the hostages, and to use this information to try and find some of those kidnapped, as well as data on the location of others.
Yaar spoke about the area of Al-Shifa hospital that has become known as a symbol of what is happening in Gaza. “Under Shifa, we have the main Hamas command and control center. This is the place of the main Hamas headquarters; it is the main communication center,” he explained.
He further stated that it is known that Hamas is not there; that they escaped to other places. Still, it is a goal of the IDF to capture underground Hamas centers; get significant information; and dismantle underground Hamas structures.
Speaking of where IDF ground forces are now, Yaar revealed that they will be in the Shifa location in a few days. Israeli forces have already contacted the manager of Shifa hospital and told him to take responsibility for his patients. The IDF suggested that he release patients from the hospital, so that the site will be empty.
“It will only be a matter of time until the (IDF) forces will take control of the site. It doesn’t mean to destroy it. It doesn’t mean to get in every room in the building. It means to take control of the site of all the buildings. This can be achieved,” Yaar claimed.
Looking at that situation where patients are in the hospital’s wards, and terrorists may be waiting in other wards, Yaar was firm that if Israeli forces face firepower coming from a hospital building, IDF troops will respond. In this case, he said there will be casualties. Then, Yaar issued a stern warning:
“We call on all people to leave Shifa hospital.”
Israeli military officials do not see any reason for there to be casualties, but the IDF will not tolerate the use of a Hamas military facility under the hospital.
What was not elaborated on is that this type of warfare is what Hamas uses to convince the media to turn against Israel, and to turn international public opinion against Israel, something the IDF is trying to avoid and bring under control.
Jonathan Conricus, one of the IDF spokesmen to the international media, gave his analysis of the Gaza situation in a zoom briefing hosted by Israel’s Defense and Security Forum (IDSF).
He explained a few of the strategies of the IDF. “We are operating around all areas of the Gaza Strip, keeping it vague and unclear. We don’t want to give the enemy the location of our troops. After we attack, then we speak about it and then release information. But, learning from past events, we are careful about showing our locations, and we don’t want to give anything away to the enemy.”
He added that this strategy is working because Hamas is having difficulties understanding the tactics of the IDF, a positive development.
Conricus also brought encouraging news that the morale of the soldiers on the ground is high despite sustained casualties. “Morale is high. Cohesion is high. Regular and ground troops are very clear about the mission,” he stated. He added that there is great unity of purpose, too.
He explained that it has been important to prevent another October 7th massacre, and that means that the IDF must take out every stronghold under Gaza. “If we don’t take them out there, we will face challenges and they (Hamas) will regroup.” Conricus added that troops on the ground are working on methodology, without exposing themselves to danger, using a lot of fire capabilities, as well as lots of intelligence in support of tactical movements of troops. This is in order for Israeli soldiers to be exposed to the least amount of danger.
“War is a learning content between two sides; the part you pay is in blood,” he confessed.
Conricus assured IDF supporters that the troops are operating better, safer, and faster. The enemy is under duress, he said, “but we must not let down our guard. They have significant infrastructure. They are fighting quite hard.”
Meanwhile, as the war continues in Gaza, the fate of the hostages remains the biggest concern for many Israelis. The view of Israeli military officials is that the ground operation, step by step, influences Hamas terrorists. The Israeli army thinks that the terrorists will take decisions to defend themselves. In the chaos of war, the IDF is gaining valuable information, and its focus is to reach some of the hostages, while pushing Hamas to understand that it is in their interest to release all of them.
It is the hope of Israeli citizens, and those from other nations, that the hostages will soon be freed. While the war rages on, including at a lower level on other fronts, family members wait anxiously for the day they will see their loved ones again.