Israel has degraded Hamas’ North Gaza Brigade, which is consistent with CTP-ISW's observation that Israel appears to be nearing the final stages of its clearing operation in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced the beginning of clearing operations in Jabalia on November 18. The IDF reported on December 19 that it completely “dismantled” Hamas’ three battalions operating in Jabalia. About 500 suspected Palestinians fighters surrendered to Israeli forces in the Jabalia refugee camp, some of whom belong to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Israeli Army Radio reported that the IDF fought “hard battles” in Jabalia against Palestinian militias for more than two weeks until Israeli forces had killed over 1,000 fighters. IDF Brigadier General Itzik Cohen said that the fighting in Jabalia "resulted in the dismantling of the military capacity” of Hamas’ North Gaza Brigade. The IDF estimated on December 19 that there are only a few militia fighters left in the Jabalia area.
Israel appears to be nearing the final stages of its clearing operation in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli ground forces advanced into the northern Gaza Strip on October 27. Israeli clearing operations have relied on ground, air, and naval forces to destroy Hamas’ military infrastructure, namely its tunnel system and command structure. Palestinian militia fighters have clashed with Israeli forces in virtually all neighborhoods of the northern Gaza Strip since October 27. The Israeli Army Radio reported that the IDF has killed between 6,000 and 7,000 Palestinian militia fighters since the war began. Operations in the northern Gaza Strip likely resulted in most of the deaths. CTP-ISW defines “degrade” as a temporary effect whereby a unit’s losses seriously impede its ability to continue executing assigned missions while the unit remains able to operate.
Israeli forces uncovered an advanced and extensive Hamas tunnel system in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported on December 17 that its forces had uncovered four kilometers of the tunnel near the Erez crossing in recent weeks. The tunnel is wide enough for vehicles to pass through it, reinforced with concrete, and connected to electricity and communications infrastructure. Israel said one section of the tunnel is the largest that it has discovered in the Gaza Strip and 400 meters from Israeli territory. The IDF stated that it was not familiar with the tunnel route nor its enormous scope prior to the war. The Wall Street Journal published a map of the tunnel system that Hamas has created below the Gaza Strip based on data from 2014, which includes a singular tunnel running south of the Erez checkpoint. The IDF published a map on December 17 of the entire tunnel network that it has uncovered, which shows a notable expansion of the tunnels’ coverage and complexity compared to the 2014 data.
The Houthis refocused their attack campaign to target Israel directly rather than international shipping and may have concluded that they achieved their objective of halting shipping through the Red Sea.
Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance” are exploiting the Israel-Hamas war to demonstrate their capability to control a key maritime route and chokepoint in the Middle East. The Houthis have conducted almost daily drone and missile attacks against commercial vessels transiting the Bab al Mandeb since December 9.
Israeli forces are engaged in intense fighting around Shujaiya and Zaytoun neighborhoods of Gaza city. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi told Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip that they are facing challenging terrain in these areas. These remarks are unsurprising in part because Shujaiya is one of the most densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces searched on December 13 a school compound that Hamas’ Shujaiya Battalion used. Israeli forces also cleared nearby tunnels.
Hamas conducted a complex, multi-part ambush targeting an Israeli patrol and quick reaction force (QRF) in Shujaiya’s kasbah on December 12. Hamas ambushed an Israeli fireteam entering a three-building complex during Israeli clearing operations in Shujaiya. Hamas fighters detonated an IED and fired small arms at the Israeli fireteam during the initial ambush. Israeli forces nearby lost contact with the Israeli fireteam inside the building and launched a QRF to rescue the fireteam. One Israeli force moved north of the three-building complex, while another moved south. Hamas fighters continued to attack the QRF by setting off IEDs and throwing grenades at Israeli forces. Israel recovered the bodies of the Israeli fireteam, but five additional Israeli soldiers died during the rescue operation including a battalion commander, three company commanders, and the “head of the Golani Brigade’s forward command team.”
Palestinian militias are attempting to resist Israeli advances north and east of Khan Younis. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed that it detonated multiple claymore-type, anti-personnel mines targeting ten Israeli soldiers east of Khan Younis. The militia also claimed that it inflicted five casualties during a small arms clash with Israeli forces along the Israeli forward line of advance in al Qarara, north of Khan Younis . The al Qassem Brigades separately mortared Israeli soldiers advancing north and east of Khan Younis. The al Quds Brigades—the militant wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—claimed that it conducted four mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli forces advancing into Khan Younis. Al Quds Brigades fighters fired tandem-charge rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) at an Israeli armored personnel carrier east of Khan Younis. The National Resistance Brigade—the militant wing of Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)—used mortars against Israeli forces advancing east of Khan Younis. Residents published footage of audible small arms fire east of Khan Younis on December 12. The BBC reported on December 11 that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had captured most of the four main towns east of Khan Younis.
Israeli forces are degrading Hamas’ battalions in Shujaiya and Jabalia. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on December 11 that Hamas’ Jabalia and Shujaiya Battalions are “on the verge of being dismantled.” CTP-ISW defines “degrade” as a temporary effect whereby a unit’s losses seriously impede its ability to continue executing assigned missions while the unit remains able to operate. Israeli forces captured Hamas military infrastructure in Jabalia, including explosives manufacturing facilities, training facilities, and weapons caches. The loss of these facilities will temporarily negatively affect Hamas’ Jabalia al Balad Battalion’s ability to execute its assigned missions, which include using improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades to resist Israeli advances.
Palestinian militias continued to attack Israeli forces on the Israeli forward line of advance in Khan Younis on December 10. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued targeting Palestinian militia sites in Khan Younis, Jabalia, Shujaiya, and Beit Hanoun. Israeli forces attacked underground tunnels in Khan Younis and conducted airstrikes to support ground maneuvers. The al Qassem Brigades—the militant wing of Hamas—claimed that its fighters detonated an explosively formed penetrator (EFP) targeting Israeli forces northeast of Khan Younis. The militia claimed to kill 13 Israeli soldiers in the EFP attack and two more soldiers with small arms afterward the initial explosion. EFPs are particularly lethal improvised explosive devices designed to penetrate armored vehicles, such as main battle tanks. This attack is consistent with the shift of Hamas and other Palestinian militias using increasingly sophisticated tactics since the humanitarian pause expired on December 1.