Israel foresees ‘seven more months of fighting’
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Israel foresees ‘seven more months of fighting’

Security chief’s prediction underlines challenge of defeating Hamas

An Israeli soldier walks past military vehicles near the border with Gaza in southern Israel on May 29. (Photo: Reuters)
An Israeli soldier walks past military vehicles near the border with Gaza in southern Israel on May 29. (Photo: Reuters)

Hamas probably won’t be defeated until the end of the year, Israel’s national security adviser says, underscoring the difficulty the country faces in achieving its stated aim of crushing the Islamist group in Gaza.

“We have another seven months of fighting to deepen the achievement and attain what we define as the destruction of the governmental and military capabilities of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad,” Tzachi Hanegbi said on Wednesday in an interview with the state broadcaster Kan.

Islamic Jihad is a separate anti-Israel militant organisation that also has fighters in Gaza.

Hanegbi reiterated the war in the Palestinian territory is “justified” and “necessary” for Israel to preserve its security.

His comments came after almost eight months of conflict that began when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct 7. Israel says it has killed around 15,000 Hamas fighters but there are still up to 8,000 lodged in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, the centre of which Israeli tanks entered this week.

Hamas’s most senior figures — including its leader, Yahya Sinwar, and his military chief, Mohammed Deif — remain at large and fighters have managed to regroup in parts of the Gaza Strip that the Israel Defense Forces cleared months ago.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never set a timeline for what he calls “total victory”, and Hanegbi said the army always stated 2024 would be a year of fighting, many analysts believe Hamas has been more resilient than the Israeli army expected.

Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, continues to operate in a vast tunnel network that Israeli forces have struggled to destroy and fire rockets into Israel, albeit with far less frequency than in the early days of the war.

Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and abducted 250 with their incursion into southern Israel. Israel’s counterattack has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, which doesn’t differentiate between combatants and civilians.

The war has inflamed the region and led to widespread criticism of Israel. The International Court of Justice published a ruling last week that many countries interpreted as ordering a halt to military activities in Rafah.

The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court is also seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as leaders of Hamas.

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