When will IDF finish high-intensity combat phase of war?

The IDF will likely complete its operations in Khan Yunis and begin moving units into Rafah, assuming no hostage release deal is reached with Hamas that would require a pause in fighting.

By Yaakov Lappin, JNS

The Israel Defense Forces will likely begin maneuvering in Rafah, southern Gaza—the last Hamas stronghold—towards the end of February, and could complete the high-intensity phase of its war against Hamas by early May, a senior former Israeli defense official says.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said during a call organized on Monday by the Jerusalem Press Club that by the start of March, the IDF will likely complete its operations in Khan Yunis and begin moving units into Rafah, assuming no hostage release deal is reached with Hamas, which would alter this timeline.

Amidror served as national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and as chairman of the National Security Council between 2011 and 2013. He is also a former head of Research Department in the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate

“There are four battalions of Hamas” in Rafah, Amidror said. “All of them will be dismantled by the IDF. This will take the whole March and maybe to the end of April.

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“In the meantime, we have to be sure that part of the population which is concentrated in Rafah will move slowly but surely to designated areas which would be kind of a safe haven for this population,” he added.

Many displaced Gazan civilians headed to Rafah “because they had the hope that they will be allowed to cross the border into Egypt,” Amidror said, adding, “The Egyptians do not want any Palestinians in Egypt. That was my, by the way, my assessment from the beginning—that they would not allow any Palestinian to enter Egypt.”

The targeted raids phase

According to this rough assessment, by the start of May, the IDF will complete its high-intensity stage of operations against Hamas in southern Gaza, gain operational control of the entire Strip over and underground, and shift into the targeted raids phase, as it has already done in northern Gaza.

This next phase, according to Amidror, will entail “specific raids of battalions or brigades into specific areas based on intelligence that we will have.” He estimated that it would take another six months to a year to “clean out the Gaza Strip totally” in this next phase.

“And then it will be ‘the day after’ in which someone will have to take responsibility for Gaza,” he said.

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Amidror added that the IDF is gleaning a great deal of intelligence from “papers” and other data sources confiscated from Hamas sites in Gaza, including from Hamas headquarters, and the interrogation of Hamas terrorists.

“Many of them are now instead of fighting and being killed, they are surrendering,” he said.

Professor Eyal Zisser, vice rector of Tel Aviv University and chair of Contemporary History of the Middle East, told JNS that when the IDF completes the destruction of the remaining Hamas battalions, this would indeed constitute “the elimination of Hamas as an organized military force—akin to a regular army—with its headquarters, training camps, bases and weapon depots.

“But it turns it into a guerrilla organization—essentially like what happens in Judea and Samaria, where there are lone terrorists and cells carrying out terror attacks, and in Gaza, there is a vacuum and anarchy so it is more difficult to control than Judea and Samaria, hence it is a challenge for the IDF but a lesser challenge than dealing with the Hamas army with which we started the war.”

Addressing the senior Hamas leadership, Zisser said, “They certainly did not anticipate this happening, and certainly relied on their past experience that there would be fighting for several weeks and that the IDF would not enter the Strip.

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“Currently, they essentially do not control anything but are hiding in a bunker. However, the Hamas units operate independently and in a disconnected manner, as they were trained to do. So there is no management of the war, there is hiding and concealment, and I assume they are hiding in the hope of surviving and that eventually, the IDF will leave the Strip and they will come out of the bunker—and for them, to survive will be to win.”