Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon instructed the IDF to begin the ground action to strike at the terrorist tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory on Thursday evening, July 17. The new phase of the operation entails a large IDF force of infantry, tanks, artillery, combat engineers and field intelligence all entering the Gaza Strip. The Israel Air Force, Navy and other Israeli security agencies are supporting the on-ground forces.
Earlier on Thursday morning, a Hamas assault squad consisting of 13 highly armed terrorists, came through such a tunnel and attempted to carry out a large-scale massacre of members in the Israeli community of Kibbutz Sufa, located on the Gaza border. The terrorists went through an underground tunnel that was dug in the southern Gaza Strip into Israel. As the terrorists emerged on the Israeli side, armed with RPGs and assault rifles, they were spotted and neutralized by the IDF.
“Had we not succeeded, we would have woken up to 13 terrorists in a kibbutz,” said IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yaalon also instructed the IDF to be prepared for an expansion of the ground action. The directive for ground action was approved by the Security Cabinet after Israel agreed to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, whereas Hamas rejected it and continued firing rockets at Israeli cities.
“Hamas also did not honor the humanitarian ceasefire initiated by the UN and continued firing at Israeli cities during the lull. In light of Hamas’ criminal and relentless aggression, as well as the dangerous attempt to infiltrate Israeli territory, Israel must act to defend its citizens,” according to a statement released by the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel.
The goal to target Hamas’ tunnels that cross under the Israel-Gaza border, which enable terrorists to infiltrate Israel and carry attacks, requires intensive and precise operations inside Gaza, according to the IDF assessments.
In a briefing to Israeli generals on the ground operation late Thursday night, the IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, stated that “We are going to strike. It is going to be a combined strike, from the air and the ground.”
“Our forces will operate in close coordination, employing their full strength, both along the routes of deployment, and within the area itself, to achieve operation control in the area and to continue striking targets within the Gaza Strip.”
The Chief of Staff also wished the soldiers and generals good luck and stated that the IDF is doing “everything in our capacity with the appropriate force, as proud Israeli soldiers.”
The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, called upon the public to read the Psalms for the safety and success of the soldiers. “They are fulfilling a moral obligation on behalf of the nation of Israel – we are all praying for their success, safety and safe return home,” said Rabbi Lau.
Meanwhile, rockets continued to strike Israel throughout Thursday night and into Friday morning, albeit for a three hour pause in rocket fire once the ground operation began.
Since July 8, Hamas has fired 1,500 rockets incessantly at Israeli civilians in major cities and communities across the country, threatening the majority of Israel’s citizens.