Military preparing for next stage of war, says IDF spokesman
Israeli intelligence is using the harrowing video footage from Saturday’s terrorist attack, as well as captured terrorists, to identify and track down those responsible and destroy Hamas’ infrastructure in Gaza
Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images
Israel’s military is “preparing for the next stages” of its war in Gaza, even as it continues to defend its southern border and detect terrorist operatives who infiltrated its territory over the weekend, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said on Thursday.
“We have told all our units to prepare for an operative contingency plan from the air and from the sea and the army is now waiting to see what the political leadership decides about a ground operation – it has not been decided yet, but we are preparing for a ground maneuver if it is decided,” Hecht told journalists in a briefing.
Israel’s security cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, met on Wednesday night hours after forming a unity government with former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, a leader in the opposition.
Overnight Wednesday, IDF military jets continued to strike the Palestinian enclave, specifically targeting the infrastructure and individuals of Hamas’s elite Nukhba force, which Hecht explained was behind Saturday’s mass terrorist attack that killed more than 1,200 people – civilians and Israeli soldiers – as well as kidnapping an estimated 80 hostages, though the numbers are continuing to rise.
“The Nukhba elite forces consist of terrorists selected by senior Hamas operatives, designated to carry out terrorist attacks such as ambushes, raids, assaults, infiltration through terror tunnels, as well as firing anti-tank missiles, rockets and sniper fire,” said the army in a statement on Thursday. “The Nukhba elite forces were one of the leading forces that infiltrated the State of Israel in order to carry out murderous acts of terror against its citizens.”
Among those targeted and killed in airstrikes on Wednesday night was Hamas’s senior Naval operative, Muhammad Abu Shamla. His residence, said the army, was used to store naval weapons.
Hecht also said that another senior Hamas operative, who had been part of the attack and had shared atrocious visuals from Saturday’s attack on his social media platforms, was also targeted and killed.
“Our intelligence is focused on finding these people,” the spokesman explained. “We plan to get to every one of them – all those guys who were sitting on the pick-up truck with the young German woman – we will get to all of them, and they will pay with their life.”
He said that Israeli intelligence officers are combing social media, bodycams retrieved from some of the more than 1,500 dead terrorists and other visuals to identify individuals involved in the attack, locate them and kill them. Israel is also interrogating captured terrorists to glean information about Hamas’ capabilities and infrastructure.
“We are focused on taking out the senior leadership, not only the military but also the government leadership all the way up to [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar,” said Hecht. “They were directly involved in this.”
IDF Spokesman Read Admiral Daniel Hagari told Israeli reporters on Thursday that there had been some “warning signs” the night before the surprise attack from Gaza that something might happen on the Gaza front, but those did not reach the higher levels of the intelligence establishment.
“It was a surprise attack, but now everyone is looking back at tweets and statements that came out from certain people that might have indicated something was going on,” explained Hecht. “It’s too early at this stage to talk about the intelligence issues, this is something we will look into and talk about when this is finished.”
Meanwhile, there were reports of additional terrorists attempting to infiltrate Israel via the sea and several points on Wednesday where terrorists remaining in southern Israel battled Israeli forces. Five terrorists were killed and two more were captured on Wednesday and there were also several large salvos of rocket fire over the south and through to the center of the country.
Along the border fence, which Hecht said was breached in multiple locations, the army has been working to bring back security, stationing more than 100 tanks along the line and providing cover for those repairing the fence from the air.
“Anyone who comes near the fence will be shot,” said Hecht. “No one is going into Gaza, and no one is coming out.”
Inside Gaza, officials said that its only power station stopped working on Wednesday after Israel declared a complete siege on the Strip, closing off access to electricity, food, fuel and water in response to Saturday’s terror attack.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said it was forced to cut back on its healthcare services, even as it reported that some 1,055 people had been killed so far in Israeli airstrikes and a further 5,000 injured.
Israel on Wednesday declared the entire area around Gaza as a closed military zone, emphasizing that entry for civilians is “strictly prohibited and constitutes a serious security risk, as well as a criminal offense.”
In a statement, the army said that “IDF soldiers are conducting combat activity in the area and entering [the area] endangers lives as well as harms the IDF’s activities.”
Hecht said the army was “ramping up” its readiness all over the country, including in the north and in the West bank “if this turns out to be a multi-arena event.”
“We are on full alert and another vision has been deployed to the northern border,” he said.
On Wednesday evening, alerts were issued about an infiltration in the north, and civilians were ordered into safe rooms but a little while later the army issued a statement saying it was a false alarm. Hecht explained that people are jumpy and scared and the mistake was human era. However, in another incident later on Wednesday night, Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles into Israel.
In the West Bank, Hecht said the army was also bolstering its forces and arresting active Hamas terrorists in the area in order to ensure that it remains secure.