The Israeli military announced on Monday that it would temporarily withdraw several thousand troops from the Gaza Strip, marking the most significant reduction since the war with Hamas began. The decision was made due to the growing toll on the Israeli economy after nearly three months of mobilization with no end in sight. The United States has been urging Israel to scale back its operations as the death toll and suffering in Gaza continues to rise.
According to local health authorities, over 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Gaza since the war began. The United Nations warns that half of Gaza’s population is at risk of starvation due to restricted aid delivery and the inability of aid workers to safely move within the territory.
The Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, emphasized that the troop withdrawal does not indicate any compromise on Israel’s intention to continue fighting until Hamas is destroyed. The fighting across Gaza remains intense, and some troops will be called back to service in 2024.
While Israeli officials have not declared a shift towards a more limited phase of the war, military analysts and U.S. officials believe that the troop withdrawal signals the beginning of such a change. However, they caution that the war is far from over.
Reservists from at least two brigades will be sent home this week, and three brigades will be taken back for scheduled training. The exact number of remaining troops is unknown. The military stated that the withdrawal would significantly alleviate economic burdens and allow them to gather strength for future activities.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is expected to return to Israel in early January for further talks on the war. Last week, President Biden urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a more surgical approach to the war, targeting the leaders and infrastructure of Hamas.
Military analysts believe that the troop withdrawal reflects a transition to a new phase of the war, focusing on precision strikes and operations against Hamas leadership. However, the war is expected to continue for an extended period.
Israel began its campaign in response to a Hamas-led assault in October, which resulted in numerous casualties and hostage-taking. The war effort has added to the economic burden faced by Israelis who fled their homes on Israel’s borders. The Israeli economy is expected to shrink by 2 percent this quarter.
Israeli leaders continue to prepare the public for a prolonged military campaign, despite some skepticism about the feasibility of eliminating Hamas. The dire conditions in Gaza have worsened over the months of war, with the majority of residents displaced and struggling to find food and water.
Fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas continues, with Israeli troops seeking to advance in central and southern Gaza. Hamas claimed responsibility for a rocket barrage from Gaza shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day. Approximately 170 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the ground invasion began in October.