Successful strikes in the north, as Israel suffers more loses in Gaza via BICom
The north: Hezbollah has confirmed that the commander of its Radwan force was killed yesterday morning in a strike attributed to Israel.
- Wissam al-Tawil’s (also known as Jawad) car was attacked in the village of Khirbet Selm, about 15 kilometres from the Israeli border in southern Lebanon.
- Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that Israel "took responsibility for the operation, it is part of our war," while Hezbollah said that al-Tawil had died a "martyr on the path to Jerusalem".
- Al-Tawil was responsible for the for the ambush in 2000 in which the soldiers Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Suwayed were killed and kidnapped, and for the 2006 kidnapping and killing of Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, a precipitating factor in the start of the Second Lebanon War. He was also behind last year’s explosive attack near Megiddo in northern Israel, and planned an invasion of northern border communities.
- The IAF also attacked a military compound, infrastructure and rocket launchers in the northern Lebanese villages of Marwahin and Aita-al Shaab last night.
- Tawil’s killing takes the number of Hezbollah fighters killed since October 7th to at least 151, while reports this morning suggest that three Hezbollah members have been killed in a targeted strike on their vehicle in the town of Ghandouriyeh.
- Israel announced yesterday that it had also killed Hassan Hakashah, the central figure behind Hamas rocket attacks from Syria in a strike on Beit Jinn.
- "We will not allow terrorism from Syrian territory and hold Syria responsible for all activity emanating from its territory," the military said.
- Air raid sirens sounded this morning across northern Israel, and rockets were fired into the Ramat Naftali area. Safed residents have been told to remain in safe rooms after an Israeli interceptor was fired at a suspicious target that apparently infiltrated from Lebanon.
Gaza Strip: This morning it was announced that four more IDF soldiers were killed in action yesterday in the Gaza Strip, taking the total to 180 since the start of the ground campaign. In addition, six more soldiers were hospitalised in serious condition.
- In southern Gaza, the IDF is expanding its operations inside Khan Yunis. According to the IDF Spokesperson’s office over the last day, “approximately 40 terrorists were killed. In addition, significant terror tunnel shafts were located, as well as a variety of weapons, including twelve AK-47 rifles, four loaded RPG launchers, dozens of grenades, cartridges, and military vests.”
- Also in Khan Yunis the IDF exposed another tunnel shaft near a school and found evidence of students training with weapons. They also found, “explosives, weapons, grenades, communications devices and large quantities of intelligence documents.”
- The IDF added, that during the operations, “several RPG missiles were shot at the forces. The forces engaged in close-quarters combat and eliminated the terrorist cell that carried out the shooting with both tank fire and airstrikes.”
In central Gaza yesterday troops uncovered, “the largest weapons production site found since the beginning of the war.” According to the IDF, they found:
- Components for long-range rockets capable of reaching northern Israel.
- Underground long-range rockets manufacturing facilities.
- Explosives and mortar shells accuracy enhancers.
- Tunnel shafts reaching approximately 30 metres underground.
- Light weapons and UAVs.
- Despite IDF advances, Hamas continue to fire rockets out of Gaza into Israel. 14 rockets were fired towards southern Israel early Monday evening. In total Hamas and other terror organisations have launched over 13,000 rockets and mortars since the war began.
Context: Al-Tawil is thought to have been a close associate of Qasem Soleimani, the former commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force killed in a US strike in early 2020.
- Al-Tawil’s death comes as Hezbollah has intensified attacks on northern Israel in the wake of last week’s assassination of Hamas official Saleh al-Aruri in Beirut.
- Hezbollah fired more than 60 rockets at the Mount Meron base as an initial response to the killing, causing significant damage to a sensitive strategic air traffic control base.
- Prime Minister Netanyahu met yesterday with soldiers on the northern border, pledging to do anything to "restore security to the north and to let Hezbollah “know that we cannot be messed with."
- "Hezbollah made a big mistake with us in 2006 and is making a big mistake with us now. They thought we were cobwebs, and suddenly they see we are a spider… We showed the organisation what's happening to its friends in the south, and that's what's going to happen here in the north. We will do everything we can to restore security."
- Merom Galil Regional Council Chairperson Amit Sofer warned Kan Radio this morning that Israel was not prepared for an escalation in fighting in the northern theatre. “Precious time is being wasted [that could be used] to prepare for the major scenario of missile fire,” he said. “I think we have use this time to prepare. There are huge fortification gaps [shortfalls] here in the area of shelters. We aren’t talking about some huge project. With a few million, we could save lives.”
- The US fears that all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah could trigger a wider regional conflagration, and is determined to see a diplomatic solution which would ensure that Hezbollah personnel and infrastructure are moved sufficiently north of the Litani river to allow for the safe return home of Israel’s evacuated northern residents.
- Both Secretary of State Blinken and Amos Hockstein, the diplomat who brokered the 2022 maritime deal between Israel and Lebanon are working to this effect. The French have also been involved in trying to prevail on the Lebanese government to act to move Hezbollah north beyond the Litani.
- Israeli officials are increasingly pessimistic about the chances of success of these diplomatic moves, and fear that only a military solution can restore security to the northern envelope.
- The conventional wisdom was that Hezbollah, too, wished to avoid all-out war, and that its Iranian patron was holding the organisation’s extensive 150,000 missile and rockets arsenal back for use should Israel mount an attack on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
- US Secretary of State Blinken arrived in Israel last night, for his fifth visit since the war began.
- For the US benefit and in an effort to maintain international legitimacy, Israel declared that it was transitioning to the third stage of its war in the Gaza Strip.
- The third stage currently seems to apply to the northern part of the Gaza, where the IDF is reducing its heavy concentration of troops. This next stage is expected to feature pinpoint raids and strikes on Hamas targets that would be carried out from Israeli territory.
- There is criticism in Israel that the announcement of the transition to the third phase appeared first in English, in the US media and not to the Israeli public.
- Secretary Blinken is expected to press Israel to allow Gazans from the north to return to their homes, however Israel is looking to condition their return for progress in the release of the remaining hostages.
- These events are being interpreted in Israel as the coming to fruition of the conflicting timetable which have been identified for some time: between Israeli military estimates of a total defeat of Hamas which might be very bloody and take many months, and of US expectations for a much swifter end to intense fighting in Gaza.
- The IDF remains convinced that strong military pressure on the southern Gazan city of Khan Yunis remains crucial to the release of more Israeli hostages held by Hamas.
Looking ahead: The IDF has still not conducted any ground operations along the Egyptian border. The vast amount of weapons that Hamas has attests to the scale of the ability to smuggle in weapons though this route and makes it a key issue to end the war and ensure Hamas cannot rearm.
- Families of the hostages are planning to protest at Kerem Shalom, the entry point of humanitarian aid into Gaza.
- In parallel, Arabic media sources are reporting an Israeli delegation is in Cairo for indirect talks to renew negotiations for the release of hostages.