IDF destroys key strategic tunnel via BICom
Gaza: The IDF announced it had destroyed a strategic tunnel used for terrorist activity that connected between the north and south of the Gaza Strip.
- The tunnel was reportedly hundreds of metres long, 90 metres deep, and had close to 5,700 shafts. It was used by Hamas for getting across the Strip.
- The IDF said Hamas used over 6,000 tonnes of concrete and 1,800 tonnes of steel for its extensive tunnel network and had invested tens of millions of dollars in the project.
- Elsewhere, a heavy barrage of rockets from Gaza included a hit on a civilian store in Netivot. The rockets were fired from an area in Gaza that the IDF had recently left.
- Meanwhile, a delegation of Israeli security officials arrived in Cairo for meetings with senior Egyptian officials.
- According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Bureau (following a formal Qatari statement on the issue) hostages will begin to receive medication today.
- The medication for the hostages, as well as humanitarian aid that Israel agreed could be supplied to the Gaza Strip in exchange for said medication, will be delivered by two Qatari air force planes to El-Arish, and from there to the Gaza Strip.
- The Shin Bet said that an Islamic Jihad commander, Bassel Mahdi, who was captured in Gaza, told of how members of his organisation were trained in Iran.
- Two reservists were killed in fighting in northern Gaza, bringing the total death toll since the ground incursion to 192.
West Bank: A joint statement by the IDF and the Shin Bet announced three members of a terror cell were killed in Nablus by drone strike. The individuals who were killed were responsible for one of the main terror cells in the West Bank.
- Abdallah Abu Shalal and his squad were responsible for a number of attacks in the past year, including the shooting attack in the Shimon HaTzadik neighbourhood of Jerusalem last April, where two Israeli civilians were injured.
The north: The IDF struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, on the Suluki valley more than 20 kilometres from the Israeli border. The IDF reported that it used Air Force and artillery, targeting dozens of Hezbollah "positions, military instillations and weapons production infrastructure."
- Lebanese security sources told Reuters there were at least 16 airstrikes in quick succession on the Valley, describing them as the "densest bombardment of a single location" since hostilities began.
- The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported that President Biden's envoy, Amos Hochstein, proposed that Hezbollah be pushed back seven kilometres from the border with Israel and the Lebanese army be stationed in southern Lebanon. According to the report, Hochstein said that "there is no need for a withdrawal to the north of the Litani River."
Red Sea: The Houthis targeted with naval missiles the Malta-flagged, Greek-owned carrier Zografia ship near the Yemeni port of Saleef. This resulted in a "direct hit," according to the group. The ship, that was heading to Israel, sustained material damage but no injuries.
- US Central Command conducted a strike in Yemen that destroyed four Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles, in response for Houthi attacks on international shipping lanes in the Red Sea.
Davos: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the Kingdom could normalise relations with Israel if a comprehensive deal were reached including Palestinian statehood. "We agree that regional peace includes peace for Israel, but that could only happen through peace for the Palestinians through a Palestinian state."
- Also at Davos, US Secretary of State Blinken said Arab countries claim that they do not "want to get into the business of rebuilding Gaza only to have it levelled again."
- US National Security Adviser Sullivan also spoke at Davos and explained the US’s strategy prior to October 7: "our approach was and remains focused on moving toward greater integration and stability in the region,” he said. “Long before October 7, the US was deeply engaged in an effort to secure a political horizon for the Palestinian people - with Israel's security guaranteed as part of that."
- "We judged that direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, which had fallen short so many times before, it was unlikely to succeed. We determined the best approach was to work toward a package deal that involved normalization between Israel and key Arab states, together with meaningful progress and a political horizon for the Palestinian people.”
- "That was our goal before October 7, and it was our progress toward that goal that Hamas sought to destroy," he said. He went on to say: "That is the reality Israel is contending with - a determined terrorist threat that chose as its battlefield the communities of innocent civilians, and still to this day holds more than 100 hostages in circumstances that are dire and deteriorating."
Context: Divisions continue within the Israeli cabinet. Minister Gantz, who joined the Netanyahu coalition after October 7 in order to help prosecute the war, recently submitted a list of demands to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the National Security Council regarding seven issues that are critical for the ongoing war which need to be discussed and decisions made on them:
- These include:
- Reiterating the government’s war goals, especially as they pertain to the hostages.
- The future of Philadelphi Road, which runs along the length of the Gaza-Egypt border, and the mechanism to prevent future smuggling operations.
- The mechanism for distributing humanitarian aid and administering civilian life in Gaza, either by means of an international mechanism or some other mechanism.
- The timetable and conditions to allow the residents of the Gaza periphery and the northern communities to return to their communities.
- A deadline for the diplomatic efforts to reach an arrangement for the northern border which pushes Hezbollah and its elite Radwan force away from the border.
- Some of the above issues have not been discussed at all whereas others have only been discussed superficially. At all events, no decisions have been made on any of them.
- Gantz and his political ally Eisenkot also endorsed the warnings that were issued by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Halevi and Defense Minister Gallant, who said that the achievements that have been made in the war would be eroded unless complementary political decisions were made.
- The US continues to try and exert pressure on Israel to strengthen the Palestinian Authority (PA). Officials recently told Israel that they expect to see the transfer of funds owed to the PA, as well as the entry of Palestinian labourers into Israel. Strong opposition exists within some elements of the cabinet to both of these steps (for more details on the debate over Palestinian labourers see Tuesday’s BICOM brief).
- The fact that rockets have emanated from areas the IDF has recently left has led to debate about whether it needs to return (see Israeli Media Summary below).
- Hochstein’s alleged suggestion that Hezbollah move north, but not beyond the Litani river, is a moderation of the demands of UN Resolution 1701, with which Hezbollah has continually refused to comply, and which calls for their withdrawal north of the river.
- Hochstein’s mediation is part of wider US efforts to dampen tensions between Israel and Hezbollah on the norther border and prevent an escalation Washington fears could spread to a regional war.