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Two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza as government continues to face pressure on several fronts

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What’s happened: The IDF has announced the death of two reservists killed fighting in the Gaza Strip: Sergeants First Class Omer Smadga and Saadia Yaakov Dery of the Alexandroni Brigade. They were killed in a mortar attack in the central Gaza Strip where three other soldiers were severely injured.

  • The IDF continues its combat operations against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups in Gaza. Ground troops are primarily operating in the south and centre of the Strip, with airstrikes taking place throughout.
  • Joint operations between the IDF and Shin Bet have entailed the acquisition and elimination of individual Hamas operatives, generally commanders responsible for strategic capabilities. These have included a Nukhba commandoes and snipers who infiltrated southern Israel on 7th October, and a drone operator known to have conducted numerous attacks on Israeli troops.
  • Last night, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket launch site which had been placed within a shelter inside a humanitarian safe zone while the Nachal Brigade discovered a significant arms cache within a civilian home in Rafah.
  • “Soldiers located inside a civilian residence large quantities of weapons hidden in wardrobes, including: grenades, explosives, a launcher and anti-tank missiles, ammunition and arms. In another scan made using, a drone, a tunnel shaft was located under a child’s bed, and in another room the soldiers located a passage in the wall that Hamas terrorist operatives had created in order to pass between residences in crowded neighbourhoods.”
  • This indicates an ongoing pattern of terrorist groups embedding themselves within the Gaza Strip’s civilian and humanitarian infrastructure, risking high levels of collateral damage.
  • Rafah remains the IDF’s primary operational focus in the Gaza Strip. The majority of Hamas operatives killed by Israeli Army ground troops were found in tunnels, and Hamas’s local tunnel system has been described as its “centre of gravity”.
  • In the north, the IDF continues to strike Hezbollah commanders and military infrastructure in Lebanon, primarily in the south of the country. Yesterday, according to the IDF, “fighter jets struck two Hezbollah weapons storage facilities in the areas of Houla and Tallouseh, alongside Hezbollah military structures and terrorist infrastructure in the areas of Meiss El Jabal, Aitaroun, and Yaroun in southern Lebanon. Additionally, IDF artillery fired to remove threats in multiple areas in southern Lebanon.”
  • Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Austin has ordered that the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier and a warship had been ordered to extend their missions in the Mediterranean, as the US looks to support Israel with a two-carrier presence.

Context: With military operations in Gaza ongoing, there remain no immediate prospects for a hostage deal, with Hamas rejecting any proposal which does not explicitly and conclusively provide for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

  • 120 hostages remain in captivity in the Strip, with the Wall Street Journal estimating this week that only 50 remain alive. Israel has so far confirmed the deaths of 41 of the remaining hostages, but the US paper puts the number of dead at 66.
  • “It seems like every week more hostages are dying or getting in danger or very sick,” head of the medical team for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum Hagai Levine told the paper.
  • The deaths of the two IDF soldiers takes the total number of IDF soldiers killed since October 7th to 664, 313 since the beginning of the ground operation in Gaza.
  • The Israeli government continues to face severe pressure from a number of sources:
    • From protesters and hostage families to agree to a deal.
    • From the military echelon to properly prepare a scenario for the ‘Day After’ in Gaza now that fighting is drawing to a close. IDF spokesperson Hagari illustrated these concerns with unusually explicit public remarks in which he said that “To replace the people who are dealing with civilian services, the people who are distributing food or stealing the food, something else needs to be created that might grow. That is a decision for the political leadership, and the military will enact.”
    • From the US, following Prime Minister Netanyahu’s public claim earlier this week that Washington was withholding vital weaponry from Israel.
    • From within, as Netanyahu faces internal Likud and ultra-Orthodox rebellion over the so-called Rabbis’ Bill and efforts to formalise the exemption of the ultra-Orthodox from the military draft, and from Minister Ben Gvir over his desire to play a more influential role in the conduct of the war.
  • On the northern front, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah threatens Israel with further escalation in which “no place” in Israel would be spared in a war with “no rules” and “no ceilings”.
  • In recent weeks, there has been a ratcheting up of both Hezbollah attacks on Israel’s north, from which some 80,000 Israelis remained displaced, and in Israeli responses.
  • According to data from Alma, between October 8th 2023 and June 17th this year, Hezbollah launched a total of 2,133 attacks on Israel, comprising rocket fire, drone attacks, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft guns. Of these, 47.5 percent were aimed at civilian targets.
  • After Nasrallah also threatened Cyprus earlier this week, Nicosia has withdrawn its ambassador from Lebanon. Nasrallah said that “opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war.” An EU spokesperson also hit out at Nasrallah, saying “any threats against our member state are threats against the EU”.
  • With the US continuing to press for a diplomatic solution to prevent what it fears could escalate to an all-out regional war, Lebanese media reports US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein meeting with the speaker of the Lebanese parliament and Hezbollah ally Nabih Berri.

Looking ahead: IDF officials said this week that they expected operations in Rafah to be concluded within a month. Officials also warned, though, that they expected an IDF brigade would have to remain deployed along the Philadelphi Corridor moving forward to stem the tide of illicit weapons smuggled into Gaza from Egypt.

  • The IDF also continues to raise the readiness of troops on the ground regarding the northern front. OC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Uri Gordin and IDF Operations Director Maj. Gen. Oded Basiuk this week approved operational plans for an Israeli offensive in Lebanon