Photos: IDF Spokesman
After bisecting the Gaza Strip and surrounding Gaza City with a ring of Armored Corps steel, the IDF’s strategy is clear: to grapple immediately with Hamas leadership at their headquarters, deferring the deadly work of pacifying the rest of the city until the day after.
That makes Shifa Hospital, in the city’s upscale Rimal neighborhood, the focus of the war’s next stage. Gaza’s most important medical facility also doubles as Hamas’s headquarters. It is said to be linked to the massive tunnel network known as the “Gaza Metro” that Hamas has created over the last 15 years. The Shifa branch of the Metro, the IDF says, contains vast stores of ammunition and fuel, as well as facilities to direct Hamas rocket forces and field operatives.
While today, outlets like the Washington Post cast doubt on Israeli claims to that effect, back in 2014, the paper reported simply that the hospital “has become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.”
The medical facility’s dual use has a long history. On the second day of the Six Day War, IDF forces took over the hospital, which was then used to sign the surrender of the Gaza Strip from Egyptian forces. In 1969, the hospital’s director, Dr. Riyad Zianoun, was forced to step down after revelations that he was working with local armed groups. Later, in the ’90s, hooded terrorists invaded the operating theater and killed a patient who’d fallen victim to intra-Palestinian violence.
After the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2006, the terror group co-opted the hospital. A recent visualization of the health center released by the IDF reveals an extensive network of command-and-control rooms used by the terror group. It’s there that Hamas’s senior leadership — led by Yahya Sinwar — is holed up, so far immune to Israeli military action due to the shield of civilians on the floor above.
Israel’s mapping of the nether regions of the hospital are based on firsthand knowledge, because it was an Israeli architect who designed the center’s campus. Founded by British Mandatory authorities, the hospital was expanded and modernized by Israeli health authorities in the 1980s, under architect Gershon Zipor. According to Ynet, Zipor’s son Barak noted the irony of the current standoff with Hamas over the building. Back in the 1990s, the contractor building the hospital’s new facilities employed the terror group as a security firm to protect the project from other armed elements.
Even with IDF forces encircling the hospital intent on decapitating Hamas, taking over the military facilities below is complicated by two factors: the first is the regular hospital activity above, and the second is the presence of the hostages, likely held in the chambers underneath Shifa.
Anxious to keep skittish allies onside, the IDF will do everything in its power not to provide pictures of so-called “war crimes” such as a military takeover of the hospital. Hence the pause of operations outside the medical center, while the IDF attempts to empty the facility. At the same time, Hamas is doing everything in its power to keep its human shields in place.
While there are possibly already Israeli personnel operating undercover in the hospital, the troops around Shifa will be searching for entrances into the tunnel network as an alternative access route.
Military pressure, as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has repeatedly said, is essential to force Hamas into negotiating over the fate of the captives in its clutches. So, in that sense, both war aims — toppling Hamas and releasing hostages — are served by the ring of steel now round the hospital.
But at a certain point, when Hamas leaders fear for their lives, that parallel will end, as IDF pressure will endanger the captives’ lives. In Hamas’s pitiless world, those Jewish lives exist to provide leverage for the terror group.
Managing those twin aims of destroying Hamas and releasing the hostages is at the heart of the battle for Shifa, and by extension for Gaza as a whole. Like a surgeon embarking on an experimental procedure to cut away a dangerous cancer in a weak patient, the operation to take over Shifa Hospital is a journey into the unknown.
Equally unclear is what Israel is going to do with the northern border. Avoiding a two-front war has been an imperative since October 7, but it’s looking ever less likely that a showdown with Hezbollah can be avoided. Recent speeches by Hassan Nasrallah seemed to indicate that the warlord wasn’t keen on exposing Lebanon to massive retribution, but his actions speak louder than words. In the massive exchanges of fire between the two sides, Hezbollah has lost dozens of terrorists in the last few weeks, but that hasn’t deterred the terror group from escalating, wounding a group of civilians with a missile attack on Dovev, a village on Israel’s northern border.
The Shiite terror group — far more powerful than Hamas — is smarting under the disgrace of being seen to have lost the mantle of anti-Zionist heroism to its Gazan cousin. That alone may be enough to drive Hezbollah into the all-out war it’s avoided since 2006. Israelis are clear-eyed about the realities of such a war and Hezbollah’s ability to inflict significant pain through its giant rocket arsenal.
Yet there is a growing consensus that such a conflict is almost inevitable. With vast swaths of the country’s north uninhabitable and the region’s residents living as refugees, whether Nasrallah wants a war on not, he may get one.
The decision on whether to open a second front isn’t just Israel’s to make, though. Netanyahu and his war cabinet need to factor in the wishes of America, and to a lesser extent, European allies. An alarming moment for the fragile pro-Israel coalition came this week with French president Emmanuel Macron’s denunciation of Israel’s operations in Gaza, which he subsequently walked back. But with hundreds of thousands demonstrating against Israel in London, and record anti-Semitism that has seen a Jewish man killed in Los Angeles, and shots fired at a yeshivah in Montreal, it’s clear that the blowback against Israel’s self-defense is registering worldwide.
Under immense strain from progressive Democrats, the White House’s patience is wearing thin. For Joe Biden, it’s not just his left flank that he needs to be wary of — it’s also America’s tenuous global position. The US is now arming two allies in major wars — Israel and Ukraine — with precious little left in reserve to equip a third, Taiwan. That may make the latter a tempting morsel for Communist China, a fact that partly explains the White House’s refusal to take on Iran, even as Tehran deploys its proxies Hamas, Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthis.
But alongside the very real threat of a rupture with Western partners if Israel presses ahead, Bibi will be mindful of a lesson of Israeli military history: That as long as Israeli domestic consensus holds over the absolute necessity of war in the last resort, an international coalition — however tenuous — can be held together.
And one last thought about the methods of maintaining international support for Israel’s cause. Over the last weeks, the Government Press Office and Foreign Ministry have held macabre screenings of the footage from the Simchas Torah massacres — footage deemed too gruesome to release to the public. Knesset members and foreign journalists who viewed the material — taken from Hamas terrorists’ bodycams — ended up vomiting at the terrible sights of burned and tortured men, women, and babies. With even Israel’s allies across the Wobbly West losing stomach for Israel’s just war, and widespread denial across the left of Hamas’s crimes, the government is debating releasing the footage to remind the world just why Israeli troops are now in Gaza.
It’s doubtful whether the Jew-haters across the left can ever be convinced, just as Holocaust deniers will always deny the truth simply because they’re twisted individuals. But the very fact that the Israeli government need even contemplate the move is an utter indictment of the evil now afoot across vast swaths of the progressive left. Because not only did Hamas kill our innocent mothers, and defenseless children — these preening progressive bigots inflicted another indignity. They forced us to show the final moments of our kedoshim, as they begged for their lives, in a vain bid for a drop of legitimacy to defend those who survived.
The evil of Rashida Tlaib and Jeremy Corbyn and all the others for whom no number of dead Jews will ever justify Jewish self-defense is not something that we can deal with. Like those who died at the hands of the Nazis, the blood of our murdered brothers and sisters from the Simchas Torah pogrom boils, an indictment of the murderous culture that unleashed Hamas, and of their fellow travelers across the West who forced the final indignity on our martyred children.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 986)
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