IDF's latest brigade draft hints at upcoming Rafah operation - analysis

This could be a signal of further additional movements toward attacking Hamas’s remaining battalions in Rafah or small portions of central Gaza.

IDF infographic of locations of destroyed tunnels throughout the Gaza Strip, April 18, 2024 (IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

The two new brigades called up for operations in Gaza on Monday were not merely to relieve existing forces in the area, but rather were to augment those forces in preparation for new attacks and progress.

This could be a signal of further additional movements toward attacking Hamas’s remaining battalions in Rafah or small portions of central Gaza.

When the IDF withdrew from Khan Yunis in southern Gaza and announced a freeze in major operations on April 7, there was an expectation that the thrust of the war with Hamas was over, and operations now would be confined to smaller clean-up operations of small remaining pieces of terror cells.

However, on Monday, the military announced the surprise return of two reservist brigades to Gaza.

The IDF did not specify the nature of the operations planned for the two brigades, but the military left a vacuum in Khan Yunis after its withdrawal, and it was also possible that the new forces were sent merely to relieve the old ones, who had not been given a sufficient break in months.

Also, the IDF has been expected to start moving toward an eventual operation against four remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah in deep southern Gaza as the Mossad had said that Hamas rejected a ceasefire hostage deal, and the IDF pressed on in the enclave.

Thursday’s announcement seemed to signal that the new brigades would more likely be used for progress against Hamas in Rafah or central Gaza, or both.

 IDF locating tunnels in Gaza.  (credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IDF locating tunnels in Gaza. (credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

Targeting terrorists

Existing forces, including Brigade 401, Firepower Brigade 215, Nahal troops, the air force, and Yahalom counter-tunnel forces have killed around 40 Hamas and other terrorists and destroyed over 100 terrorist infrastructure targets.

The main focus was two terrorist positions, one involving a network of Hamas tunnels, including 17 tunnel shafts, and the other involving a network of Islamic Jihad rocket launchers.

One of the positions was hidden under the Gaza River and was set up to prevent IDF movement across the river in that area.

In recent weeks and months, the forces also managed to destroy around 20 km. of terror tunnels around the corridor the IDF has set up dividing northern Gaza from central and southern Gaza.

One moment the IDF described as very encouraging in steadily breaking down Hamas’s will to fight at the rank and file level was when the military witnessed two Hamas commanders fighting over who could hold onto certain arms and munitions.

The idea was that given how much of Hamas’s weapons the IDF has destroyed, there are not enough left for all Hamas units, so they are now left to fight internally over the small remaining supplies.

In addition, the IDF said this fight showed that central Hamas commanders have lost chain-of-command discipline over their officers in the field.

On another point, the IDF said Hamas is furious that it has failed to break through the military’s corridor, keeping it out of northern Gaza.

In fact, the IDF described a sophisticated plot by Hamas to bus loads of civilians from Rafah to the corridor to try to use them to break through, but the military prevented them.

Further, the IDF noted that it flagged many Hamas fighters who tried to fade into that civilian group to try to bypass the army and get into northern Gaza.

The IDF said that extensive censors, aerial surveillance, lookouts, and human spies had confirmed that either none or close to zero of Hamas’s forces had succeeded in breaching the corridor.

Questioned about what changes the Nahal unit has made, which was involved in the March 31 killing of seven humanitarian aid workers in the World Central Kitchen incident, IDF sources said many changes and a deep probe had been publicly produced on April 5.

Most importantly, the IDF said there had been no repeat incidents in the nearly three weeks that have passed since then.

Nahal Commander Col. Yair Zukerman was censured and his chief of staff Col. Nochi Mendel was fired from his position, as well as other firings and censures to three other senior officers regarding the incident.

The IDF said the incident was terribly tragic, but recounted that the area is not a sterile war zone and that large numbers of troops have been killed in friendly fire incidents.

On March 31, the IDF said 15% of deaths and 38% of wounded soldiers in Gaza were from friendly fire incidents, including 39 killed and 592 wounded.

Earlier Thursday, the IDF announced it had killed a senior Hamas intelligence officer in an overnight strike on a terrorist cell in central Gaza.

The terrorist killed, Yussef Rafik Ahmed Shabat, served as a security officer in the military intelligence wing of Hamas’s Beit Hanun Battalion.

Shabat was responsible for investigations in Hamas’s Beit Hanun Internal Security Department, the military said.

IDF troops, along with the help of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which provided precise intelligence, Firepower Unit 215 and the Air Force targeted 10 terrorists.

The air force also targeted a rocket attack squad in the Rimal area, from which several launches were directed toward IDF Division 162 operating there.

In recent days, the air force has targeted dozens of terror targets throughout Gaza, including observation posts, military structures, terrorists, and other terrorist infrastructure.

In the North, two anti-tank missiles hit a building in the area of Kibbutz Yiron on Thursday evening, N12 reported. There were no casualties, but damage was caused to a building.

The IDF also noted that drone siren warnings in the North were a false alarm.

Earlier, the IDF said Golani soldiers used a drone to track Hezbollah fighters hiding in a structure in the Bilaideh area of southern Lebanon, which was then attacked by the air force.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.