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Israel Plans Prolonged Campaign Against Hamas, Aiming to Neutralize Top Leaders

by DIGITAL TIMES
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Israel is gearing up for an extended offensive against Hamas, with a campaign expected to span a year or more, and a significant ground offensive anticipated until early 2024, according to sources familiar with the plans.

The comprehensive strategy involves Israeli forces stationed in north Gaza launching a substantial push into the southern part of the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Objectives encompass eliminating the three top Hamas leaders — Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Marwan Issa — achieving a decisive military victory against the group’s 24 battalions and underground tunnel network, and dismantling its governing capabilities in Gaza.

“We’re currently not near halfway to achieving our objectives,” revealed a source acquainted with Israeli war plans, emphasizing the anticipated duration of the conflict.

Israel’s approach to Gaza remains flexible, with timing influenced by various factors such as operational progress, international pressure, and opportunities to secure the release of Israeli hostages.

Following the collapse of a fragile week-long truce, Israel and Hamas resumed hostilities, with Israel citing the goal of “eliminating Hamas.”

The renewed high-intensity ground operation is projected to extend for several more months into the new year, with sources estimating that it won’t be a matter of weeks, according to individuals familiar with US-Israel discussions.

Subsequently, a phase of “transition and stabilization” with lower military intensity may continue into late 2024, though the location of Israeli ground forces during this period remains uncertain.

In contrast to previous Israeli military operations, one Israeli official suggested there might not be a definitive endpoint, stating, “The referee won’t blow the whistle, and it’s over.”

In response to a devastating Hamas attack on October 7, Israel initiated three weeks of extensive air strikes in Gaza, followed by a ground invasion capturing significant portions of the north. Large areas have been reduced to rubble, displacing over a million people.

Israeli authorities report at least 1,200 casualties in the initial October 7 assault, making it the deadliest in the country’s history. Health officials in the Hamas-controlled territory estimate more than 14,800 people killed in Gaza.

A senior Israeli military officer disclosed that at least 10 of 24 Hamas battalions have been significantly impacted, with over 50 mid-level commanders and an estimated 5,000 fighters killed.

Addressing Israel’s war plans, another source mentioned that operations in northern Gaza are still considered incomplete. “Gaza City isn’t finished yet, nor fully conquered. It’s probably 40 percent done,” indicating a potential additional two weeks to a month to complete operations in the north.

An Israeli ground offensive into south Gaza, previously targeted only by sporadic air strikes, is anticipated to commence concurrently. US officials have cautioned Israel that its approach in the south must differ, emphasizing the need to prioritize civilian protection and facilitate increased humanitarian aid.

During a visit to Tel Aviv, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the importance of an offensive in south Gaza considering civilians’ safety and outlined the necessity for a clear humanitarian plan and safe arrangements for civilians.

Acknowledging the change in approach, an Israeli official familiar with the war plans stated, “We know we can’t conduct the same structure of operations in the south that we did in the north.” With two million civilians in the south, the evacuation method used in the north cannot be replicated.

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