In the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, Israel is making strategic shifts in its operations. Some forces are being withdrawn from Gaza to focus on targeted operations against Hamas, while reservists are being partially returned to civilian life to help the economy. Israeli officials anticipate that the war will continue well into the new year.
The Israeli military has announced that several thousand troops will be taken out of Gaza in the coming weeks for training and rest. Some of these troops will be preparing for a possible flare-up of a second front against Hezbollah in Lebanon. However, toppling Hamas in the Palestinian territory remains an objective.
The war has been divided into three main stages. The first stage involved intense shelling to clear access routes for ground forces and encourage civilians to evacuate. The second stage, which began on October 27, saw tanks and troops invading much of the Gaza Strip. Now, the military is moving to the third stage, which involves intense mopping-up missions against the terrorists.
Israeli officials expect the war to last at least six months and involve these mopping-up missions. The objective is to recover the 129 hostages still held in Gaza and to crush Hamas. Truce efforts mediated by Qatar and Egypt have raised the possibility of some hostages being freed.
The shift in tactics appears to be a response to pressure from the United States, Israel's top ally, to review tactics and protect non-combatants. Israel claims it has reduced civilian casualties and is trying to be more "surgical" in its military operations.
In terms of troop movements, two brigades of reservists are being withdrawn from Gaza to "re-energize the Israeli economy." Some of the troops pulled out of Gaza in the south will be prepared for rotation to the northern border with Lebanon, where there has been exchange of fire between Israel and Hezbollah.
Israel has warned that a full-on war with Lebanon looms if Hezbollah does not back down. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran. Israel has also been facing longer-range attacks from Iran's militant allies in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
The Israel-Hamas war has caused unprecedented devastation in Gaza. The territory's Health Ministry has reported almost 22,000 fatalities, many of them civilian. Israel claims to have killed over 8,000 Palestinian fighters, suggesting that Hamas still has a significant number of core personnel. Israel has listed 174 soldiers, including many reservists, as killed in Gaza fighting and nine on the Lebanese border.
Late on Monday, a missile strike in central Gaza killed at least eight people and injured 20 more. The situation remains volatile, with both sides continuing to exchange fire.