With the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen launching missiles and drones at Israel and promising more such attacks as they essentially declared war, the Israeli Navy has moved an unspecified number of Sa'ar 5 class missile corvettes into the Red Sea.
"In accordance with the assessment of the situation and as part of the strengthening of the defense effort in the area, missile ships of the Sea Arm arrived in the Red Sea area yesterday," the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced Wednesday.
Israel is considering a response against the Houthis after a medium range ballistic missiles (MRBM) and several drones launched from Yemen were intercepted yesterday, Rear Admiral. Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, told reporters Wednesday.
“We are at a very high level of defense readiness,” he said in a press briefing. “We have added more Navy vessels that can provide significant protection in the maritime arena, and which also know how to deliver offensive capabilities.”
“We know how to attack where and when we decide, against any security interest of the State of Israel, wherever it is required,” Hagari added.
As we have previously reported, the U.S.-made Sa'ar 5s "can serve as radar pickets, feeding targeting data to the Iron Dome batteries, for example. The Sa’ar 5 is well equipped for the purpose, with its EL/M-2248 MF-STAR multifunction AESA radar being able to automatically track and engage a full spectrum of aerial threats, from aircraft to sea-skimming missiles, at ranges up to 124 miles."
The Sa'ar 5s also carry 32 Barak 8 surface-to-air missiles, two quadruple anti-ship missile launchers, and a Mk 15 Phalanx 20mm close-in weapon system (CIWS). It is not however, an anti-ballistic missile platform.
While the Israeli Navy has in the past experimented with arming Sa'ar 5s with Iron Dome launchers, the video and images released by the IDF indicate that the vessels, at least as depicted, do not have them.
In 2021, amid reports Houthis possessed Iranian-supplied suicide drones and cruise missiles capable of reaching targets within Israel, photo evidence emerged of the Sa’ar 5 class corvette Lahav armed with two Iron Dome launchers, located on the ship’s helicopter flight deck, apparently for the first time. You can read more about that in our story here.
The Houthis on Wednesday released video claiming to show launches of missiles and drones toward Israel.
It is unclear, however, when these were taken or where they landed. As we noted yesterday, a Houthi land attack cruise missile launched at Israel landed in Jordan.
On Wednesday, the Israeli Air Force posted a short interview with an operator of that system.
"We are deployed from the north to the south," said the Arrow battery commander identified only as "Sergeant N."
"Behind the successful interception carried out yesterday from the Red Sea region, are many fighters from the air defense system," Sergeant N. said. "This is an unprecedented moment, and moments like this remind me how proud I am to serve in the Air Force."
Amid the Houthi launches and threats, Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Wednesday warned of "harsh consequences" if attacks continue on Gaza, Reuters reported.
"If an immediate ceasefire doesn't take place in Gaza Strip and the rapid attacks by U.S. and Zionist Regime continue then the consequences would be harsh," he said in Ankara.
Speaking during a news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Amirabdollahian gave no details of Iran's plans.
After that same meeting, Turkey's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan called Israel's ongoing attacks on Gaza "open violations of international law."
The northern front remained hot Wednesday as cross-border battles continued between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.
Israeli forces "attacked a terrorist squad that tried to launch anti-tank missiles at IDF soldiers on the Lebanese border," the IDF said on Telegram.
"An IDF tank attacked a terrorist squad that was trying to launch anti-tank missiles from Lebanese territory into Israeli territory in the Zar’it area."
"Since the beginning of the war, the IDF has struck over 11,000 targets belonging to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip," the IDF said Wednesday on Telegram.
Now its ground incursion into Gaza is intensifying, with assistance from the Israeli Air Force and Navy.
"Simultaneously with the expansion of the ground operations of the ground forces, a multi-armed combined effort is taking place together with the Navy and the Air Force, in order to neutralize ground attacks and significantly damage the terrorist organization Hamas," the IDF said Wednesday.
The IDF also released video of "the activities of the 162nd Division forces in the Gaza Strip," showing numerous armored vehicles, troops moving through rubbled streets and bulldozers in operation.
The commander of that unit, Brigadier General Itzik Cohen, said his troops are now deep in Gaza and arrived at the gates of Gaza City.
In a seven-part Twitter thread, retired Australian Army Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan laid out how he sees Israel’s Gaza offensive playing out.
“The plan appears to be to isolate Gaza City and northern Gaza in the initial phase of the advance,” said Ryan, who has spent much of the last 20 months analyzing the war in Ukraine as well.
“While doing this, the IDF will also be seeking to find Hamas infrastructure in northern Gaza and to minimize Hamas fighters heading south. This will involve crewed and uncrewed aircraft as well as electronic recon, [human intelligence] HUMINT and ground operations.”
“This will take some time - possibly weeks or months - in which time Israel will need to balance military effectiveness, avoiding civilian casualties and keeping an eye on the inevitable strategic clock (the patience of allies) that is ticking,” he wrote.
After completing the northern Gaza operation, “the IDF has options to withdraw or continue south. But the government of Israel probably understands that despite its desire to destroy Hamas in all of Gaza, its allies only have limited strategic endurance for supporting this.”
With that in mind, “Israel has prioritized northern Gaza and will reassess its way forward once it looks like this operation is close to conclusion.”
Focusing on just part of Gaza “means that Israel has kept a large proportion of its mobilized troops in reserve. It could use this reserve to reinforce Gaza operations or for contingencies in northern Israel or the West Bank. Regardless there is a lot of tough, bloody fighting ahead on the ground - and under the ground. And, the bitter information war that rages around the world will continue.”
You can read more about the challenges Israel will facing during its ground invasion in our deep dive here.
The IDF says that 15 of its soldiers were killed in Gaza on Tuesday, according to Haaertz.
Hamas says that its bloody attacks on Oct. 7 which Israeli officials say killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were just the beginning.
Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said that it will continue such attacks, as many as one million times, until Israel is annihilated.
In a video that looks like scores of those emerging from Ukraine, Hamas on Wednesday displayed how it uses drones to drop munitions, on this case on Israeli troops in troops in Gaza.
Hamas also released video showing how it attacks Israeli forces from tunnels. It is unclear, however, exactly how successful these attacks have been, because some views are obstructed and some vehicles are equipped with Israel's Trophy active protection system.
A joint development between Israeli state-owned defense contractors Rafael and the Elta Group division of Israel Aircraft Industries, Trophy is a so-called “hard kill” active protection system for tanks and other armored vehicles. It combines a radar with launchers that shoot a burst of metal pellets, akin to a large shotgun, to destroy incoming anti-tank rockets and missiles.
Hamas continued to launch rockets at Israel and some motorists traveling on Route 4 near Ashdod yesterday turned out to be fairly lucky. This dashcam video below shows a rocket hitting the highway, resulting in three people suffering minor injuries.
Israel conducted another wave of airstrikes against the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza City Wednesday, a day after an attack there killed a large number of civilians.
“The occupation is committing a new massacre today, again, in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Al-Faluja area, in less than 24 hours, after a long series of horrific massacres in the Gaza Strip, which will remain a disgrace to humanity and the silent and watching international community,” Hamas said on Telegram.
“We renew our call to the Arab and Islamic countries and the remaining conscience of the international community to assume their political and moral responsibility by stopping the criminality of this rogue fascist entity, which with its brutality and sadism has exceeded all limits.”
The Israel Defense Forces say they were striking legitimate targets in the crowded camp.
“During battles yesterday (Tuesday), IDF troops identified several Hamas terrorists who barricaded themselves in a multi-story building - located near a school, medical center, and government offices - in the area of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip,” the IDF said Wednesday on Telegram. “IDF troops directed the IAF to strike the terrorists.”
IDF Lt. Col. Jonathan Cornicus, an IDF spokesman, said that the strikes on Tuesday were against "a massive tunnel complex where a senior Hamas terrorist was hiding." Cornicus told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "Ibrahim Biyari and dozen other terrorists are confirmed dead. We will continue to hunt Hamas leaders and combatants wherever they hide."
The attacks on Jabalia have sparked global outrage.
There is also debate about whether the strikes constitute a war crime.
Former CIA intelligence officer Marc Polymeropoulos argues that given Hamas leaders were hiding in a tunnel complex there, no war crime was committed. Political scientist, author and founder of the Eurasia Group Ian Bremmer had a different take.
"this is a war crime," he said on Twitter. "period."
The United Nations laid out a series of scathing complaints about Israel's Gaza strikes.
"Gaza has become a graveyard for children," UNICEF tweeted. "It is a living hell for everyone else."
"Fuel is vital for the water supply; for the ambulances; for the hospitals to operations," the World Health Organization said of Israel's ongoing denial of fuel deliveries to the besieged Palestinian enclave.
"Some of these buildings where people are sheltering are coming under attack," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
As the carnage continues, talks are underway to create a multinational force in Gaza should Israel ultimately defeat Hamas, Politico is reporting, saying it is the "clearest sign yet that the U.S. and its partners are seriously weighing deploying foreign troops to the enclave."
"Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told POLITICO that there’s early, closed-door diplomacy over establishing a peacekeeping force in Gaza, though it was not likely to include American troops," the publication reported.
U.S. special operations forces on the ground in Israel are helping locate the more than 200 hostages seized during Hamas’s surprise cross-border attacks on Oct. 7, the Pentagon’s top special operations policy official said on Tuesday, The New York Times reported.
“We’re actively helping the Israelis to do a number of things,” Christopher P. Maier, an assistant secretary of defense, told a special operations conference in Washington. He said that a main task was to help Israel “identify hostages, including American hostages. It’s really our responsibility to do so.”
Maier declined to say how many U.S. SOF operators are in Israel. But other U.S. officials say the Defense Department has dispatched several dozen commandos in recent weeks, in addition to a small team that was in Israel on Oct. 7 conducting previously scheduled training.
The officials, who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, said the commandos would join F.B.I., State Department and other U.S. government hostage-recovery specialists in their discussions with Israeli counterparts.
The U.S. Special Operations forces are not assigned any combatant roles in Israel, but they are talking through with their Israeli counterparts “what is going to be a very complex fight going forward” in Gaza, Maier said.
The ongoing attacks have created diplomatic fallout for Israel.
Jordan on Wednesday announced it was temporarily withdrawing its ambassador in protest.
"This decision stands as a firm representation of Jordan's condemnation and rejection of the raging Israeli war on Gaza, which has led to the killing of innocent civilians and an unprecedented severe humanitarian crisis," the official Jordan News Agency announced.
"There are rising concerns over the situation escalating further, potentially jeopardizing the security of the entire region and international peace, according to a statement from the foreign ministry."
Jordanian officials also notified the Israeli foreign ministry "that its ambassador, who had previously departed from Jordan, should not return for the time being."
The return of ambassadors "hinges upon Israel ceasing its war in Gaza, halting the resulting humanitarian disaster, and refraining from actions that deny Palestinians their basic rights, including access to food, water, and medicine, as well as a secure and stable life on their national soil."
Still, Saudi Arabia, which had put normalization talks with Israel on hold as the war progressed, is still interesting in making that happen, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.
The United Arab Emirates also appears to be interesting in maintaining relations with Israel.
For the first time since the war began, injured Palestinians and foreign nationals from Gaza have started making sanctioned border crossings into Egypt, officials and Egyptian media said, according to CNN.
At least 81 severely injured Palestinians were expected to arrive in Egypt on Wednesday. A spokesperson for Egypt’s Ministry of Health told CNN “they are arriving one by one.”
At least five U.S. aid workers have also crossed the border, according to ABC News.
This is a developing story. We will update it when there is more news about the Israeli-Hamas war.
Update: 4:15 PM EST -
Satellite imagery collected by Maxar Technologies shows the extent of the destruction in Jabalia. Israeli airstrikes leveled several blocks.
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