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Israel mourns the loss of twelve soldiers

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What’s happened: Over the weekend, the IDF announced the death of 12 soldiers in four separate incidents.

  • Eight of the soldiers were killed when an anti-tank missile was fired into their armoured personnel carrier (APC) in western Rafah. All eight were from the Engineering Corps, young conscripts in their early 20s.
  • The commander was Capt. Wassim Mahmoud a 23-year-old from the Druze village of Beit Jann. He fell alongside:
    • Sgt. Eliyahu Moshe Zimbalist, 21, from Beit Shemesh
    • Sgt. Itay Amar, 19, from Kochav Yair
    • Staff Sgt. Stanislav Kostarev, 21, from Ashdod
    • Staff Sgt. Orr Blumovitz, 20, from Pardes Hanna-Karkur
    • Staff Sgt. Oz Yeshaya Gruber, 20, from Tal Menashe
    • Sgt. Yakir Ya’akov Levi, from Hafetz Haim
    • Sgt. Shalom Menachem, 21, from Beit El
  • Two IDF reservists were killed in action in the northern Gaza Strip: Cpt. (res.) Eitan Koplowitz, a 28-year-old resident of Jerusalem and Warrant Officer (res.) Eilon Weiss, a 49-year-old resident of Psagot. Both were killed by a bomb that exploded near their tank. Two other soldiers sustained serious injuries in the same incident.
  • Another soldier, Sgt. Yair Rothman, a 19-year-old resident of Karnei Shomron, succumbed to injuries he sustained early last week in a booby-trapped building in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • On Sunday afternoon, the IDF announced a twelfth fatality, St.-Sgt Tzur Abraham, 22, from Modi’in, a combat soldier in the Nahal Brigade, killed in combat in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • IDF Spokesperson Hagari commented on “an additional painful reminder of the price of war and that behind the achievements of the war stand brave soldiers, heroes, who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the State of Israel, that is the common home for all of us – Jews, Druze, Bedouins, Muslims and Christians – all citizens of Israel.”
  • In parallel, the IDF also announced on Sunday, that it in an effort to “increase the volumes of humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip and following additional related discussions with the UN and international organisations, starting yesterday (Saturday), a local, tactical pause of military activity for humanitarian purposes will take place from 08:00 until 19:00 every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom Crossing to the Salah al-Din Road and then northwards. This is an additional step in the humanitarian aid efforts that have been conducted by the IDF and COGAT since the beginning of the war.”
  • Despite IDF progress, on Friday five rockets were fired from a humanitarian zone inside Gaza toward Kibbutz Kissufim. Two fell in open areas inside Israel, while three fell inside the Gaza Strip.

Context: Whilst Israel mourns the losses, steady progress is being made in the military campaign to gain full operational control of the Gaza Strip.

  • However, the soldiers killed in the APC is a painful reminder that even though the Hamas command structure has been significantly weakened, a lone operator or small terror cell can inflict significant damage.
  • This weekend’s fatalities take the total number of IDF soldiers killed since October 7th to 662, 311 since the beginning of the ground operation in Gaza.
  • There is ongoing concern that despite almost nine months of fighting, Hamas remains in power. Writing in Yediot Ahronot, Michael Milshtein explains the success of Hamas remaining in power has been based on their representatives, “such as municipalities and plainclothes police officers who maintain public order by, among other means, taking people suspected of looting and shooting them in the leg. Close ties with the public have been maintained by means of religious and social organisations, which are used to enlist public support for Hamas, alongside domestic intelligence services that locate domestic dissenters and use force to suppress them. Hamas’s military wing has begun to use guerilla warfare tactics instead of fighting as full-fledged battalions, it has also reorganised, appointed new commanders and recruited new fighters to take the place of those who were killed.”
  • The tactical humanitarian pause will allow for the contents of 1,000 trucks that have been waiting on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing to be collected and delivered across the Strip.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu announced this morning that the Israeli war cabinet is to be disbanded. Since October 11th, the smaller decision-making forum has operated above the security cabinet in making decisions on the wars in both the south and the north.
  • Former ministers Gantz and Eisenkot left the war cabinet upon announcing their withdrawal from the government last week. Far-right National Security Minister Ben Gvir had been publicly pressing to be admitted to the war cabinet, with Netanyahu’s decision to disband it a signal of his desire to continue to bypass Ben Gvir in decision-making.
  • Over the weekend, anti-government protests have continued. Thousands of people demonstrated at locations across Israel against the government and in support of a deal that would free the hostages.
  • In addition, hundreds of displaced persons from northern Israel blocked traffic at the entrance to Jerusalem to highlight their predicament, with currently no prospect of return to their homes as the escalation in the northern continued through the weekend.
  • Northern Israel faced continued attacks from Hezbollah over the weekend, including dozens of Katyusha rockets that were fired at northern communities.
    • Several buildings in Kiryat Shmona were hit.
    • More nature area were set on fire in the Baram area as a result of rocket fire.
    • Two homes were hit by anti-tank missiles in Metulla and a large fire broke out as a result in the village.
    • Hezbollah also announced it had targeted a military base with drones.  They claimed the attacks were part of its response to the assassination last week of Abu Taleb, a senior commander.
  • There was also internal criticism heard against Hezbollah. Maronite Christian member of Lebanese parliament Elias Hankach said the war was being fought to serve Iran’s interests.

Looking ahead: Further diplomatic efforts are anticipated to try to reach a ceasefire in the north and south.

  • US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein, whose focus is Lebanon arrives in Israel today and meet with the prime minister and defence minister.
  • The Pentagon has invited Defence Minister Gallant to meet US Secretary of Defence Austin in Washington. This could happen even before Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to address both Houses of Congress next month.
  • With the IDF making progress, once the operation in Rafah is completed, Israel is expected to renew negotiations for both a ceasefire and a hostage deal.