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Hezbollah launches fatal drone strike as hostage talks appear stalled

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Photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom (GPO)

The north: An IDF reservist was killed and at least ten people wounded yesterday in a drone attack on the Druze village of Hurfeish in the Upper Galilee.

  • The attack, claimed by Hezbollah, comprised two separate drone strikes, the second seemingly timed to deliberately target first responders.
  • The IDF named the fatality as Staff Sgt. (res.) Refael Kauders, 39. One of the injured is in critical condition. IAF helicopters evacuated the wounded to a Galilee Medical Centre in Nahariya and Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
  • Hezbollah also released footage showing a direct hit on an Iron Dome missile defence launcher yesterday.
  • The IDF confirmed strikes in response to the drone attacks, including Hezbollah infrastructure in Naqoura and Matmoura, buildings used by the terror group in Ayta ash-Shab, and an observation post in Khiam. Lebanese media last night reported Israeli strikes north of Bint Jbeil and in the area of Tyre.
  • President Yitzhak Herzog commented on the drone attack at the Jerusalem Day state ceremony at Ammunition Hill, saying, “We can’t remain indifferent to this terror. For months now, Israel has been attacked by Iranian proxies in Lebanon on a daily basis, clearly violating all international resolutions and agreements. The world has to wake up and realize that Israel is left with no choice but to defend its citizens. Israel will do this firmly and forcefully, and don’t come complaining when the situation gets out of control.”
  • Visiting the north yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, referring to the fires caused by Hezbollah attacks which this week consumed 3,460 acres of land, “Yesterday, the ground here burned. I’m glad that you extinguished that. But the ground also burned in Lebanon. Anyone who thinks that he can attack us and we will sit idly by is making a big mistake. We are prepared for a very intensive operation in the north. One way or another, we will restore security to the north.”

Hostage talks: Following President Biden’s Friday speech and ceasefire proposal, talks between Israel and Hamas appear close to collapsing. The US has blamed Hamas, with the President branding the group “the only obstacle to a complete ceasefire” and confirming “Israel’s readiness to move forward” with the terms he set out last week. Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the State Department, said that “Hamas should accept the deal now…the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas.”

  • Last night, a Hamas spokesman said that the ceasefire proposal had been rejected by negotiators. He also confirmed that Hamas’s position was that that Biden’s proposal was simply a ruse designed to lure the organisation into another round of negotiations without an Israeli commitment to end the fighting and withdraw fully from the Gaza Strip.

Gaza Strip: The IDF continues to operate in the Rafah area and in central Gaza. It confirmed yesterday that it had taken “operational control” over east Bureij and Deir al-Balah.

  • Last night, the Israeli Air Force struck a Hamas compound embedded in a UNRWA school in the Nuseirat refugee camp it says was being used by 20-30 Nukhba commandos who had participated in the 7th October attacks as well as PIJ members. While it is unclear how many terrorists were killed, Palestinian sources suggest the strike caused dozens of civilian fatalities.
  • The IDF also continues its operations elsewhere in the Gaza Strip having located a rocket launcher it says was “ready to use” close to the border fence, identified and destroyed a significant tunnel used to store weapons in Rafah.
  • IDF troops also identified several suspects attempting to infiltrate Israel from the Rafah area. Troops engaged the suspects, who opened fire. The IAF eliminated two of the suspects, before tank fire killed a third.

Context: The drone attacks appears to be the most sophisticated attack on a civilian community since October 8th. While most of the victims appear to be soldiers, the attack was on a village football field, not a military installation.

  • The IDF will investigate how two such drones were able to penetrate Israeli airspace undetected, without triggering defence systems or warning sirens. Flying drones at low altitude helps prevent their detection, but it was still expected that the IDF had learned lessons from such tactics used by Hezbollah in its near-daily multi-site attacks on northern Israel over the last eight months.
  • Hezbollah has taken to trying to reduce Israel’s technological edge by targeting observation posts and surveillance equipment. Its attacks are increasing, with the Shin Bet recording over 1,000 attacks (rockets, anti-tank missiles, drones) in the month of May. In comparison, in January they recorded 334 attacks, and in February 534, whilst in both March and April over 740.
  • The precise Hezbollah attacks on both an Israeli civilian community and the Iron Dome launcher attests to their level of sophistication, both in terms of intelligence and operational capability.
  • One explanation for this increase is the connectivity of the northern and southern fronts, with Hezbollah’s intensified attacks increasing the pressure on Israel in Gaza.
  • 10 Israeli civilians and, after Kauders’s death, 15 soldiers and reservists have been killed on the Israeli side, while Hezbollah has reported 331 of its fighters killed. 62 operatives of other armed groups in southern Lebanon have also died. It is understood that around 25 civilians have also died in Lebanon – the high ratio of combatants to civilians killed indicating the precision of IDF strikes.
  • Military officials have briefed that as a result of IDF strikes on Hezbollah personnel, the group has switched up its operations, with operatives now travelling around in smaller numbers.
  • The US President’s ceasefire proposal was relatively similar to one rejected in January and involved three phases beginning with an exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, the IDF’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and the rebuilding of the coastal enclave.
  • However, the proposal envisions a “day after” in Gaza “without Hamas in power”. The group has repeatedly rejected such a post-war reality, and appears to be using this negotiating position to refuse attempts to reach a ceasefire.
  • Israeli Defence Minister Gallant vowed that “any negotiations with the Hamas terrorist organisation will only be conducted under fire”. Netanyahu has also been quoted as saying “I am not willing to stop the war…we can stop the fighting for 42 days in order to return hostages, but we will not give up on total victory.”
  • Despite Israel achieving almost complete operational control of the Strip, the attempted infiltration shows Hamas’s continued determination to launch attacks against Israel.

Looking ahead: With the north now the most significant kinetic front currently faced by Israel, the IDF has increased its preparations for more extensive engagement, possibly involving a ground incursion into southern Lebanon.

  • The Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese news outlet al-Akhbar alleges that the UK has warned the Lebanese government that Israel means to launch a significant offensive in mid-June.
  • Operations in Rafah are predicted to last another month.