Senior IDF commanders said Wednesday July 23 that the time had come for a decisive war move. Breaking up the Hamas’ subterranean tunnels would take weeks, they said, but the critical encounter for completing their military mission and bringing the war to a close was still to be fought after three key IDF victories: The battle for Shejaiya grabbed the headlines, but the confrontations in eastern Rafah and eastern Khan Younes in the south were just as important.
The commanders are now urging a large-scale assault on the bunker complex housing Hamas’ top military command and infrastructure. They say it is up to national leaders, i.e., the security cabinet, to determine the military’s next move and the disposition of the forces present on the battlefields of the Gaza Strip.
The tank units could undertake the opening moves for the next, critical stage of the Israeli operation at no more than hours’ notice.
Political circles in Israel agree that after Hamas rejected all the ceasefire proposals floated, the next stage is the war’s expansion for its closing shots. There is no word yet on how they are to be conducted.
The Western diplomats and Palestinian Authority officials who met Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal in Qatar Sunday were amazed to hear him assert that Hamas was winning the war against the IDF and confident of being able to keep going for a long time, debkafile's military and intelligence sources report.
On Monday, July 21, Meshaal told one Western official: "In Gaza we see that the IDF is slow and clumsy. Our forces are mobile and flexible, including our rockets which we can move quickly from one place to another."
Asked about Hamas' defeat in Shajaiya, where a Gaza City suburb, home to 100,000 Palestinians, was razed to the ground, he declined to comment.
After Israel learned of Meshaal's comments, the IDF was instructed Monday night to demolish the empty home of Mohammed Deif, head of Hamas military wing. Israeli war planners believe Deif is the brain behind Hamas’ war, along with Izz-e- din al Qassam Brigades commander Marwan Issa.
While their forces were in retreat in the Gaza Strip, Hamas diplomacy won a strong point against Israel by a rocket that hit close enough to Ben-Gurion Airport to persuade US and certain European airlines to suspend their flights.
The rocket landed at Yehud, which is not far from the runways of Ben-Gurion airport and Airport City which houses a business and shopping center and Israel Aircraft Industries.
By Tuesday night, 85 international flights were cancelled by all American and a few European airlines. The Israeli El Al and Arkia moved fast to expand their service to and from Israel to fill the gap.
Early Wednesday morning, US Secretary of State John Kerry declined a request by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to intervene with the Federal Aviation Administration-FAA to rescind its ban on US carriers’ flights to Israel.
Kerry said he could not interfere in this and that anyway the FAA reviews its decisions every 24 hours. The European carriers are unlikely to resume their flights to Ben-Gurion so long as the Americans observe the ban.
debkafile's military sources note that Hamas' success in disrupting civilian air traffic to and from Israel exposed a hidden side of its war on Israel. Most of the nearly 2,000 rockets fired over the last 16 days did not miss Israel’s urban centers by chance, although many were deflected by Iron Dome interceptors. Hamas was focusing on strategic targets, such Israeli Air Force bases and facilities in the south and center. When IDF communiqués report that rockets land in open areas, this does not necessarily rule out their explosion in or near military bases.