The Israel Defense Forces say they are going to expand their ground operations into Gaza tonight. Whether this will be a very large-scale armored push that has been on hold for days or still a more limited, short-term action isn't clear.
The statement follows an armor-backed operation into Gaza last night that was larger than what we have seen since the current war kicked off on October 7, after Hamas went on a killing spree in south-central Israel.
This all follows an especially intense round of Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip earlier in the evening, which has led to a widespread communications blackout in the enclave.
The news of an expanding Gaza ground operation also comes the day after the U.S. Air Force pounded two locations in Syria that were used by Iranian-backed groups. This was in response to continuous attacks on various U.S. interests in the region, including those in Syria and Iraq, which have led to nearly two dozen U.S. personnel being injured. You can find our coverage of those strikes here.
The U.S. strikes were clearly a warning as to what could come if those attacks continue. The timing of the aerial bombardment also fits with extra American air and missile defenses and offensive capabilities arriving in the region in recent weeks. These strikes were likely held back until those capabilities were in place as a hedge against an Iranian response, which could include firing ballistic missiles. This would also point to the window opening with U.S. consent to a major ground operation into Gaza.
The IAF says they intercepted a threat over the Red Sea, stating (machine translated):
"Air Force planes thwarted a hostile target that was detected in the morning hours in the Red Sea area. No danger to civilians was perceived and no intrusion into Israeli territory was detected."
The southern attack vector is a very real one after USS Carney shot down a quartet of cruise missiles and many more long-range kamikaze drones approaching Israel from that direction. These weapons were launched by Iranian-backed proxies in Yemen. It is also now known that Saudi forces also intercepted additional weapons during that same time period.
Israel has released a CGI video showing a representation of what it claims are Hamas command and control facilities that sit below the biggest hospital in Gaza.
This pairs with what ex-Israeli special operator Tomer Israeli told us in our big feature on the challenges of hostage rescues in Gaza. Here's the excerpt from that piece:
“There is not just one objective with where the hostages are held, it’s probably several of them,” said Israeli. “Maybe some of them are underground and also maybe in the most protected places in Gaza.”
That, said Israeli, is Dar al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The hospital is the center of the Palestinian medical community’s efforts to treat the tremendous influx of people wounded in the ongoing massive Israeli bombardment. It is also a morgue for the drastically increasing number of people killed in those attacks. However, in addition, it serves as a Hamas headquarters, according to Israeli.
“It's a very busy hospital, but Hamas is using their own patients and civilians as a human shield. Basically, under the hospital, they have the headquarters of the Hamas regime, the Hamas army is headquartered there. Everything is under al-Shifa Hospital.”
CNN has published an interactive article that shows the before and after satellite images of the vast destruction in Gaza caused by aerial bombardment, with entire neighborhoods seen wiped out. You can check that story out here.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is growing increasingly dire by the minute now. Food, water, fuel, and medicine are running out and not nearly enough aid is coming in to make a major dent in what is developing into a huge foreseeable catastrophe. In fact, just a fraction of the daily aid before this even started is making its way into Gaza even though the crossing between Gaza and Egypt is now open, albeit clearly at heavily reduced capacity and strictly regulated by Israel's demands.
While there is talk about expanding international aid, time is running out to do so before the crisis gets to a breaking point.
While a major mechanized incursion into Gaza was occurring last night, Israel's Shayetet 13 naval special operations unit executed an amphibious operation into southern Gaza.
Meanwhile, Hamas' leader Ismail Haniyeh is saying the bombing of Gaza is the new holocaust and that it will rally people around to its cause:
This is a quickly developing situation, we will continuously update this post as new information becomes available.
UPDATE: 4:14 PM EST—
Internet connectivity to Gaza is now extremely limited if working at all. This is exactly how this would play out. I did a thread all about this two weeks ago:
"Some critical things to consider on what is a near certainty to be an Israeli operation unlike anything we have seen and how it could impact the flow of information that we are accustomed to receiving:
Israel arguably has the most advanced and proven cyber and electronic warfare capabilities on the planet. Cutting off the ability for Hamas to communicate with ease will be/is a top priority. Breaking decision cycles and drastically slowing reaction times as well as general situational awareness will be the goal.
This paired with what is akin to a siege on Gaza, where the access to power and connectivity to the outside world (and all other services for that matter) will continue to dwindle and the information operation that will seek to control the narrative of what is happening will likely result in a drastic reduction in videos, images, and reports coming out of Gaza. We could see this outside of Gaza, as well, to a more limited degree.
While OSINT is an incredibly powerful but often murky if not at times outright inaccurate tool, the volume of information will very likely wither. OSINT is and will be weaponized as well.
In other words, the aperture will become very restricted in terms of info, regardless of its validity.
With less information available there is less opportunity for corroboration or even getting a basic feel for what is real and what is not and what is happening in general. This will all directly impact the public's situational awareness in regards to this conflict. Traditional reporting will also suffer here, but the circumstances are different in terms of determining what is true and what is false."
There are reports of major clashes occurring now inside Gaza, but we cannot confirm exactly what is going on. This is to be expected even if a substantially larger raid into Gaza is occurring, but not a full push.
UPDATE: 4:40 PM EST—
Washington Post reports that the Biden administration is working to persuade Israel against a full-out invasion on the ground, instead relying on smaller transient raids and special operations missions.
Trey Yingst has a great expanded report from right on the Gaza border about what he is seeing and hearing:
Also, an RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic intelligence jet is moving to take up station off the southern Israeli coastline. Rivet Joints hoover-up both communications and signals intelligence. Listening to Hamas on the radios, for instance, and quickly geolocating their signals and translating what is said into actionable intelligence or situational awareness building information for longer-lead intelligence products.
UPDATE: 8:00 PM EST—
It looks very much like the large scale invasion of Gaza is now in its opening movements. Massive bombardment is ongoing, which includes airstrikes and artillery, and what looks like a multi-pronged push into the northern stretch of the Gaza Strip.
CBS News has it from U.S. officials that this is indeed the beginning of the major ground operation.
Mark Regev, advisor to Netanyahu has just stated that Gaza will be 'very different' after this operation ends. As to the scope of that operation, Israel's defense minister says it is going to be a long and difficult operation, mirroring sentiments we have been hearing from Israeli leadership over the past couple of weeks.
As suspected, very little information is coming out of Gaza itself.
Pivoting to last night's air strike by USAF fighters on targets related to the IRGC and its proxies in Syria, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder has returned queries, stating:
Q. Can you provide a post-strike assessment? Any casualties?
A. U.S. military F-16 and F-15 fighter aircraft conducted self-defense strikes Oct. 26 (ET) on a weapons storage facility and ammunition storage facility used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups, located in the vicinity of Abu Kamal, Syria. Both facilities were destroyed. We currently assess there were no casualties in the strikes. These narrowly tailored strikes in self-defense were intended solely to protect and defend U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria. They are separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, and do not constitute a shift in the U.S. approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Q. How many attacks have there been against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 17?
A. Between Oct. 17-27, U.S. and Coalition Forces have been attacked at least 14 separate times in Iraq and six separate times in Syria by a mix of one-way attack drones and rockets, for a total of 20 attacks to date. Most of these attacks were disrupted by defensive measures and failed to reach their targets.
UPDATE: 6:30 PM PST—
There are so many conflicting reports from relatively reliable sources at this point in regards to the U.S. position on this ground operation at this time, it's impossible to get a clear view. Some say tonight's operation is one last-ditch effort to have Hamas capitulate and release the hostages, backed by the Arab world's pressure on Hamas to do so, while others seem pretty clear that Israel is making the call to go all in here.
Once bit of clarity may have come from Lt. Gen. James Gylnn who is working with Israel on this entire crisis:
UN Secretary General António Guterres had repeated his call for a ceasefire today. This was backed by a resolution from the UN General Assembly. This is something that should be mentioned that did not make it into our original report.
There also appears to be major military operations ongoing in the West Bank, as well. Unconfirmed CCTV video purports to show Israeli troops entering into refugee camp there.
The security situation in the region has not reportedly changed yet, with no reports of major military moves by Hezbollah or other Iranian proxies, as well as Iran itself. Although there was one claim by an IRGC-backed group that it had attacked the base where U.S. personnel are present in At Tanf in southern Syria again tonight. This has not been confirmed by U.S. officials.
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