Israeli forces surrounded the house of Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar in southern Gaza on Wednesday, demonstrating just how quickly they have advanced southward. “Our forces can reach anywhere in the Gaza Strip,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
The war is still far from over, with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant predicting two more months of major fighting, followed by “mop up” operations to “tak[e] out pockets of terrorist resistance.” But Israeli leaders “definitely feel that they’re racing against that clock because that pressure is mounting from all around the world,” even as further evidence of Hamas’s atrocities emerge, veteran war correspondent Chuck Holton said Thursday on “Washington Watch.”
The Israeli military is scoring military victories both high and low. Israel has begun flooding Hamas’s tunnel network in northern Gaza with seawater, with the dual aim of destroying military equipment and forcing Hamas fighters to come to the surface, Holton explained. So far, it has proved “a fairly effective strategy,” and the Israel Defense Force (IDF) is “taking prisoner many Hamas fighters who are giving themselves up,” he said.
By late November, the IDF had killed five senior Hamas military leaders, about half of the 11 depicted in a photo taken from a tunnel in northern Gaza. The IDF also believes it has “significantly degraded” at least 10 out of an estimated 24 Hamas battalions (of 1,000 or more fighters each) “by taking out midlevel commanders,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
“When they say they’re going to take out Hamas, … what they are planning to do is just destroy any infrastructure that could be used for military purposes, and to kill the leadership of Hamas and replace them with something that’s a little bit friendlier,” Holton explained.
The problem is, the IDF is finding that “the whole of Gaza has been militarized in some way, shape, or form,” said Holton. “The whole of Gaza is not a bunch of civilians in cities, with some military things sprinkled around there. It’s actually a giant military base with 2.5 million civilians living in it.” This means that, “in order to destroy Hamas’s capability to make war, … they may have to just raze the whole thing and start over. And obviously that would take a much, much longer campaign to accomplish.”
But Israel needs to achieve victory as soon as possible, said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, host of “Washington Watch.” He pointed out, “you have the international community and the United Nations repeatedly saying we need a humanitarian ceasefire, which is essentially another name for allowing Hamas to regroup.” The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took the extraordinary step of forcing the Security Council to vote on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The U.S. vetoed the resolution on Friday afternoon, with 13 out of 15 members voting for the measure and the U.K. abstaining.
“Definitely, they feel that they’re racing against that clock because that pressure is mounting from all around the world,” Holton agreed.
“Also, the Biden administration is really starting to show its true face,” he added. “At the beginning, they were standing up and saying, ‘We stand with Israel, they have the right to defend themselves.’ And now they’re saying, ‘Israel, you cannot take longer than the first week of January to complete this.’ ‘We will not allow you to replace the government in Gaza with anything other than Palestinian people,’ etc., etc.”
On the other hand, “the Israeli leadership is saying, ‘Well, there’s one other group of people that has more power over us than you do. That’s our own electorate.’ And the voters here in Israel are saying, ‘Absolutely not. We are not going to put up with more Palestinian Authority in Gaza or anywhere else,’” said Holton. “Israel knows that the Israeli people are not going to let up the pressure on their own politicians until they accomplish this mission.”
“I would think, if I were in Israel, there is only one thing to do. That is, to eliminate this threat,” said Perkins. “As [the hostages] come back and discuss their treatment, and [as] more and more information comes out about what happened on October 7 — the atrocities, the brutality, just demonic activity.”
“They’re hoping to be able to free more of those hostages,” Holton offered. “They found out some absolutely terrible things from the hostages that were released during the ceasefire last week. And that is, that the vast majority of those women were raped, some of them many, many times, even while the bombs were falling around them, … and even some of the men.”
As Perkins met with members of Congress on Capitol Hill this week, he said he witnessed “many of them brought to tears by the reports that they got.” Members of Congress have screened a 43-minute video that features uncut footage of the events on October 7, taken either from surveillance cameras or by Hamas militants.
“Killing the leadership of Hamas as quickly as possible is [Israel’s] quickest route to some sort of victory that they can claim,” said Holton. “And the pressure that they’re putting on the civilian population is … actually helping the IDF, because now the civilian population is starting to understand that, if Hamas would just give themselves up and lay down their weapons, all of their suffering could end. And they’re starting to blame Hamas — rightly so — [rather] than to blame the Israelis.”
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.
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This is Hamas. pic.twitter.com/nT9UfPxWNH
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) December 14, 2023
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