According to Israeli sources reported by Reshet Bet radio, the war in Gaza will persist at its high intensity for up to two more months, to be followed not by a ceasefire, but by localized activities by forces that will remain in the Strip. It is also estimated that there will be attempts to reach additional deals for the release of hostages in the coming two months.
At some point between now and mid-February, some of Gaza’s civilians will be allowed to return to their homes – which Israel has acquiesced to under US pressure.
In their most recent phone conversation last Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Joe Biden that the campaign to subdue Khan Yunis, where the Hamas military leadership is hiding underground, would take another month. Biden then set a deadline for the end of the war in mid-January, to which Netanyahu responded by saying it would take one additional month to finish the job in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced on Saturday that it was bypassing Congress, and approving an emergency sale of some 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth $106 million to Israel. The sale includes 13,981 120 mm High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer tank cartridges, with US support, engineering, and logistics.
The move shortcut the stagnated debate in Congress where the administration has been trying and failing to combine aid to Israel with aid to Ukraine in a $106 billion package.
The time limits made the IDF’s attack in Khan Yunis even more critical for the future of the war. The combined infantry and armor divisions are fighting three concurrent battles, and in all of them, they are encountering tougher resistance than they did before since Hamas views this as its final battle to protect its remaining assets. The Hamas defense system in Khan Yunis includes a regional brigade consisting of four battalions that were kept out of the fighting in the first two months of the war.
Following its predetermined plan of action, the IDF continues to move forward relatively slowly and cautiously while using extremely massive fire. The crushing approach is designed to ensure maximum damage to Hamas terrorists and reduce Israeli casualties. However, the tension between the goals of the war and the time allotted to achieve them, with the Americans already waving a stopwatch, creates a conflict in the direction of the war that could prove to be harmful.
Under these new conditions, Hamas mastermind Yahya Sinwar’s goal would be to play for time, to stretch the war even longer. This could include new offers to swap hostages for security prisoners on condition of a ceasefire.