IDF commandos expand Khan Yunis assault ahead of Rafah operation

Eyes on northern border with Lebanon as Hezbollah escalates missile attacks.

By Akiva Van Koningsveld | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip on Feb. 8, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip on Feb. 8, 2024. Credit: IDF.

Troops in elite commando units of the Israel Defense Forces are increasing attacks on Hamas targets in western Khan Yunis ahead of the looming invasion of Rafah, the terror group’s last stronghold in Gaza.

During fighting in Khan Yunis, Maglan commandos identified a terrorist squad responsible for firing an RPG missile, the IDF said on Thursday. The soldiers ordered an airstrike and eliminated the terrorists.

Meanwhile, the elite Egoz special forces unit killed terrorists during close-quarters combat in Khan Yunis. During raids in the city, Egoz troops discovered numerous weapons, mortar bombs, and long and short-range missiles, including a Soviet-built Fagot antitank weapon.

Since Jan. 21, the IDF has been mounting a massive assault in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, killing scores of terrorists, including company commanders. The battle force includes parts of the IDF’s Givati Infantry Brigade, 7th Armored Brigade, paratroopers and commandos.

On Wednesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the IDF would be conducting intense combat operations in Rafah after wrapping up warfare in Khan Yunis.

“We have instructed the IDF to prepare to operate in Rafah and the two central camps,” Netanyahu said at a press conference in Jerusalem, describing Gaza’s southernmost city as Hamas’s “main bastion.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has warned that “every terrorist hiding in Rafah should know that his end will be like those in Khan Younis, Gaza [City] or any other place in the Gaza Strip—surrender or death.”

Hamas senior leader Yahya Sinwar is believed to be hiding in the vast tunnel systems underneath Khan Yunis and Rafah, where he has reportedly surrounded himself with Israeli hostages as human shields.

“The Hamas terrorist organization continues to fight as the citizens of Gaza are suffering,” Gallant said on Thursday afternoon after meetings with the field intelligence unit of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, known by the Hebrew acronym AMSHAT.

In a video shared to social media, Gallant showed documents seized from Hamas compounds in the Strip, which he said proved the “extent of the flow of Iranian funds to Hamas in Gaza.

“There is clear evidence of funds that were transferred, when they arrived, and to whom they were transferred. And, of course, what we see is that Yahya Sinwar takes care of himself first and foremost. Out of millions of dollars, one million goes to him,” stated Gallant.

“Take, for example, this envelope designated to Yahya Sinwar and his family. It contains cash, $20,000. Hamas is fighting and conducting terrorism, while Yahya Sinwar is celebrating with his family,” he said.

“This is going to end. Yahya Sinwar turned from the leader of a terrorist organization into a fugitive,” added the Israeli defense minister.

The Israeli War Cabinet, which is responsible for the day-to-day management of the operation in Gaza—and includes Netanyahu, Gallant and National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz, in addition to three observers—convened on Thursday night to discuss the ongoing negotiations for a hostages-for-ceasefire deal with Hamas.

According to official Israeli figures, 136 hostages remain in Gaza. However, at least 31 of them are confirmed to have died, and Jerusalem is assessing unconfirmed information indicating that another 20 additional captives have also been killed.

Earlier this week, Hamas presented a new offer, repeating demands for a permanent ceasefire and the release of numerous terrorists from Israeli prisons, which Jerusalem swiftly rebuffed as “delusional demands.”

“We are on our way to total victory,” Netanyahu declared in an address on Wednesday night. “Total victory over Hamas will not take years. It will take months. Victory is within reach.”

Bowing to the terrorist organization’s demands will lead to another massacre and a “major disaster” that no Israeli citizen will accept, he emphasized, speaking from his office in Jerusalem.

Hamas’s proposal was “formulated so that Israel would refuse it,” Gallant reportedly told US Secretary Antony Blinken during a meeting this week, adding that “their position will lead to the continuation of the war and [will lead] our forces to other places in Gaza—soon.”

The Biden administration has emphasized the importance of protecting civilians during the upcoming operation in Rafah but stopped short of suggesting any American intervention.

On Thursday, however, Washington’s tone sharpened, with US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby telling reporters that any Israeli operation in Rafah under current circumstances “would be a disaster for those [Palestinian] people, and we would not support it.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on Feb. 7, 2024. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.

‘Missions within minutes’

While the Jewish state fights Hamas terrorists to the south, the IDF continues its preparations for a possible escalation with Iran-backed Hezbollah on the northern border with Lebanon.

“Dozens of aircraft are now operating in the skies of Lebanon … as soon as the order is given, the dozens will turn into hundreds that carry out the missions within minutes,” Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar said at a conference attended by the military’s top brass this week.

As part of the preparations, forces that have been withdrawn from Gaza are currently training for warfare in the north, Ynet reported. Among other forces, the IDF’s 188th Brigade is undergoing drills to “strengthen the competence and readiness,” the army told the outlet.

Shortly after three Israeli soldiers were wounded by an anti-tank missile attack on Thursday, an apparent Israeli drone strike killed at least one Hezbollah terrorist in Southern Lebanon. The target of the strike was identified as Abbas al-Dabs, a senior Hezbollah commander.

Since Oct. 7, four Israeli civilians and nine soldiers have been killed in Hezbollah attacks on the northern border.