Israel’s defence minister warned of a growing risk of a regional conflict in the Middle East on Tuesday as tensions with Iran increased.
Yoav Gallant told a parliamentary committee that Israel was being attacked in a “multi-arena war” from seven areas, which he identified as Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran.
“We have already responded and acted in six of these arenas and I say here in the most explicit way — anyone who acts against us is a potential target, there is no immunity for anyone,” he said.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was insistent that the “war will continue until the end” while visiting IDF soldiers in Gaza’s north on Christmas Day. “Whoever talks about stopping, there is no such thing,” he said.
After gaining control of Gaza City, the Israeli military sent tanks south towards Khan Younis, where many senior Hamas leaders grew up. The second-largest city in the enclave has been pounded by Israel’s air force in recent days, with the IDF describing the fighting as the most severe it has encountered so far.
The IDF’s Arabic spokesperson has posted maps on social media platform X indicating areas people should flee from and telling Gaza residents to “keep following the map carefully”.
But it is unclear how the territory’s 2.3mn civilians will be able to follow the updates due to limited access to electricity and internet connections.
Israel’s incursion in Gaza: October 2023 to present
Israel’s defence forces launched air and land offensives in Gaza after Hamas’s brutal October 7 attack in southern Israel.
Hamas killed more than 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. The militant group, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, also seized hostages. The IDF’s response has killed more than 20,000 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian officials.
A temporary truce between the two sides in late November allowed for the release of about 100 Israeli women and children as well as foreigners held hostage by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups. This was in exchange for about 240 Palestinian women and children freed from Israeli jails.
Israel’s military has carried out one of the largest bombing campaigns in history on the small, blockaded enclave. Satellite data shows the toll the war has taken on Gaza’s infrastructure and homes, with much of the Palestinian enclave’s two biggest cities in ruins, including entire neighbourhoods destroyed.
Israel’s military has been tight-lipped about how many troops it has committed to the incursion — its biggest operation in years. But satellite imagery and tracking data shows a significant incursion.
A satellite image from December 3 published by Planet Labs showed IDF military vehicles north of Khan Younis.
Data tracking the movement of Israeli forces between October 30 and December 11 showed them tightening their hold on Gaza City and surrounding al-Shifa hospital.
Satellite imagery published by Planet Labs from October 31 showed after breaching the barrier wall in at least six places, Israel’s columns cut through the sparsely populated farmland to the south of the border, before moving deeper into Gaza towards more populated areas.
Aid agencies have warned about the dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza since the war began, including a lack of water, medicine and food. Israel has allowed some humanitarian convoys into Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, but the UN’s World Food Programme has warned that people are still at risk of famine.
There is also insufficient fuel to keep hospitals and communications networks running after Gaza’s sole power plant went offline on October 11 due to a lack of fuel, with the outage captured by night-time satellite imagery.
Hamas’s attack on Israel: October 7 2023
As much of Israel slept, Hamas militants launched an unprecedented, multi-pronged dawn assault on the country from the Gaza Strip. The Middle East’s most powerful security force was caught off guard.
Launched on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, the assault began in the early hours with thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The barrage set off warning sirens across the south and centre of the country, sending citizens fleeing to air-raid shelters.
Israel’s military said Gaza-based militants launched more than 4,500 rockets over that weekend. Many were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system, but satellite imagery showed fires and plumes of black smoke rising from some locations that had been hit.
Hundreds of Hamas fighters simultaneously attacked by land, air and sea, repeatedly breaching the fortified barrier between Gaza and Israel.
Images and videos showed motorbikes carrying armed militants riding through a hole in a wire fence along the border and a bulldozer destroying part of the barrier. Bombs, rockets and drones could also be seen blowing up the fence as well as defensive positions.
Militants used motorised paragliders to attack the Supernova music festival, not far from the Gaza border, flying in and turning the two-day rave into the site of a massacre.
Gunmen chased young Israelis across the desert, shooting and snatching people to take back to Gaza as hostages. The Israeli military failed to respond for hours, apparently caught by surprise by the attack. Hundreds of bodies have been recovered from the site.
After breaching the Gaza fence, armed Hamas fighters began targeting Israeli communities at several locations, going door-to-door and taking hostages.
Images and video show people lying dead in the streets after execution-style killings and residents including women, children and the elderly being taken away.
The Hamas militants also attacked Israeli military sites.
More than 1,200 Israeli civilians and troops were killed, the IDF said — making it the deadliest attack on the country since its foundation.
The complexity of the assault by Hamas was unlike anything Israel has witnessed in decades. It raised serious questions about the security service’s intelligence gathering and the military’s preparedness for an attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed a “complete siege” on Gaza on October 9, calling up a record 300,000 reservists and ordering the strip to be pounded from the air.
Israel’s military also ordered the evacuation of 42 communities along its northern border, where Israelis have died in cross-border fire that Israel blamed on Hizbollah or Lebanon-based Palestinian factions — part of the Iran-backed “Axis of Resistance”.
Visual and Data team: Janina Conboye, Peter Andringa, Steven Bernard, Chris Campbell, Sam Joiner, Lucy Rodgers and Alan Smith