TIMES OF ISRAEL – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday the IDF has been reaching deeper into Gaza than Hamas ever imagined, and warned Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group that it would be making the “greatest mistake of its life” if it opens a new full-on war front.
Defence minister Yoav Gallant, meanwhile, said the IDF was now operating “in the heart” of Gaza City and “tightening the noose” around Hamas there.
Netanyahu’s remarks at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv came a month after the Hamas terror group launched a surprise onslaught, killing some 1400 people and injuring thousands — mostly civilians — and taking at least 240 men, women and children hostage.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and remove it from power in the Strip but has also had to contend with rocket fire from Lebanon and deadly attacks along the border. A barrage of rockets was fired from across the northern border on Tuesday.
“In the south, the war is moving forward with force that Hamas has never seen,” Netanyahu said. “Gaza City is surrounded. We are operating within it, we are deepening the pressure on Hamas every hour, every day.”
He said thousands of terrorists have been eliminated, both above ground and in a vast network of tunnels, including many of those who planned and carried out the slaughter of October 7.
Netanyahu also said the ground operation had destroyed “countless” Hamas command centres, positions and tunnels that are believed to run for hundreds of kilometres under Gaza and are used by Hamas to move forces, store weapons, and launch attacks on Israeli forces.
“Hamas is discovering that we are reaching places they thought we would never reach,” he said.
Netanyahu praised the troops’ faith and determination to defend the country.
In the north, Netanyahu said, the IDF is both defending and attacking. He said that Israel will not accept Hezbollah or Hamas in Lebanon “harming our communities and our citizens.”
“We will respond with heavy fire to any of their attacks against us,” he promised.
If Hezbollah enters the war, Netanyahu said — then repeated — “it will be making the greatest mistake of its life.”
Regarding the hostages held in Gaza, Netanyahu said he spoke with the president of the Red Cross and demanded that it work to secure their immediate release, “as required by international law.” He also demanded that the Red Cross visit all the hostages and establish their well-being, again as international law requires.
“There will not be a ceasefire without the return of our kidnapped,” Netanyahu stressed, delivering that declaration “to our enemies and our friends alike.” He added that the ground operation is a vital part of the effort to get the hostages home.
On the diplomatic front, Netanyahu said Israel is working to give the IDF diplomatic room to manoeuvre. He said he has been telling foreign leaders that if Israel does not win, their countries could be attacked by Hamas-inspired terrorism next. But Israel will win, he promised.
Netanyahu noted that he speaks with US President Joe Biden regularly, and appreciates the support from the White House and from the American people.
He vowed that Israel “will destroy Hamas’s military and governance capabilities… Gaza will no longer constitute a threat to Israel.”
The Israeli military campaign is mostly focused on the northern Gaza Strip, where Hamas has key assets. Israel is urging Gazans to head to the south of the enclave and thousands did on Tuesday, many of them waving white flags, passing through an evacuation corridor set up by the IDF. They joined an estimated 800,000 who have already migrated.
Netanyahu also promised that his government will open its pockets to rehabilitate devastated southern communities, no matter the cost.
“We will fight together, and with God’s help, we will win together,” concluded Netanyahu.
In a televised press statement Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said IDF ground forces are deployed “in the heart” of Gaza City. They have stormed terror strongholds in Gaza “from all directions, in perfect coordination with maritime and aerial forces,” and are “tightening the noose” around Hamas.
Gallant said Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar “is hiding in his bunker and is without contact with his associates,” vowing again to eliminate him.
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz said “this war is unlike anything we have experienced in the past”.
“We are required to fight deep in the field against an enemy that is turning hospitals and schools into war rooms and weapons depots,” he said.
Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields and as troops have moved further into Gaza they have uncovered weapons, including rocket launchers, situated within civilian sites.
The IDF said Tuesday it uncovered more tunnels in the northern Gaza Strip, near a Ferris wheel and a university. Both tunnels were later destroyed.
In the same area as the university, a weapons depot was found. The IDF says troops recovered chemical substances, assault rifles, RPGs, mines and other equipment.
Troops also came under fire from gunmen inside a mosque. An airstrike was called to take out the Hamas operatives as they tried to flee into a tunnel.
In a separate incident, the IDF said Hamas launched anti-tank guided missiles at troops from several locations, including adjacent to hospitals. It said a helicopter provided suppressing fire to extract the troops.
Troops also killed several Hamas operatives and found rocket launchers and other weapons inside a school. The IDF said the school was used by Hamas as a base for mortar and rocket fire on Israel.
Only one of the more than 240 hostages held by Hamas has been freed by Israeli forces, and Gantz said that Israel will make any political or military move necessary to release the rest.
“I promise that we will do everything to bring them home – by force and by political action. We will fight those who need it, and we will talk to anyone we can,” he said, stopping short of advocating for a full Palestinian security prisoner swap, as has been floated by some.
“We will not give up the chance to bring anyone back,” Gantz continued.
The families of Hamas-held hostages have held several protests, attacking the government for not doing enough to free their loved ones.
In his daily briefing Tuesday evening, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said there will be no ceasefire as the military pushes forward with its ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas terrorists tell themselves that there will be a ceasefire. There won’t be one. We are moving forward,” he said.
Hagari said the IDF has struck more than 14,000 targets in the Gaza Strip, destroyed more than 100 tunnel entrances, and captured 4000 weapons — including rockets — hidden in civilian infrastructure.
The October 7 Hamas attack came with a barrage of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli population centres. Hamas and other terror groups have continued raining rockets on Israel, causing more deaths and damage, including on Tuesday evening, when a rocket scored a direct hit on a house in Savyon. There were no injured in that incident. Over 200,000 Israelis have been displaced by the attacks.
The Hamas-run health ministry claims that more than 10,300 Gazans have been killed since the start of the war, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes both Hamas terror operatives as well as those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches at Israel. Hamas has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll, and does not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives.
Israelis across the country observed a minute of silence on Tuesday morning to commemorate the victims of Hamas’s October 7 massacre, one month after the deadly onslaught.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.