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What will Israel’s next phase entail in Gaza as war drags on?

The Israeli military continues fighting in an attempt to mark as many achievements on the ground before it shifts to the third phase of the war.
A picture taken in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Dec. 11, 2023.

As the Israeli military continues its ground campaign in Gaza, focusing on the central and southern areas of the strip, in parallel it has indicated that it is preparing for the next stage of the war — which will include shifting from a massive ground offensive accompanied by bombardments to targeted operations. Still, the way things look currently, the IDF is unlikely to move to the next stage of fighting before mid-January

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz referred clearly on Thursday to the upcoming transition in the fighting. Visiting the army’s Southern Command, Gantz said that "the achievements on the battlefield are accumulating. We have established military infrastructure in the area that supports the fighting; we have eliminated thousands of terrorists; we destroyed and we continue to destroy large parts of the underground; and we severely damaged Hamas' ability to command and control and its ability to launch (attacks)." He added, "We are ready for the next stage in the fighting, which will be continuous, powerful and deeper than Hamas imagines."

Statements made in recent days by IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari reveal that Israeli troops are focusing most of their efforts in the city of Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza Strip, uncovering miles of tunnels and combatting Hamas attackers, though fierce battles are also taking place in the central region of the Gaza Strip. Two of the three Israeli soldiers killed overnight Wednesday died in battles there. Another soldier was seriously wounded there. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated in recent days that the war will continue until Hamas is eliminated. In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Netanyahu wrote that "Hamas must be destroyed, Gaza must be demilitarized and Palestinian society must be deradicalized. These are the three prerequisites for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors in Gaza."

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