IDF soldiers at entrance to terror tunnel. (Photo: IDF Spokesperson/FLASH90)

The IDF says it has eliminated half of Hamas’s fighting force in Rafah, which had four battalions and is left with two.

By Shula Rosen

According to an IDF Givati Brigade commander, Israel has destroyed half of Hamas’s military capabilities in Rafah and may dismantle the terror group as a fighting force in Gaza within a month.

Col. Liron Betito spoke to Times of Israel about the many booby-trapped buildings and the complex tunnel system that the IDF was dismantling in Rafah.

Rafah is the last stronghold of Hamas and had four battalions before the operation began, but now its fighting force, according to IDF, has dwindled to half of what it was.

However, at the beginning of the Rafah campaign, Hamas’s Rafah brigades, which were considered weaker than the others, became stronger as terrorists fled from the north into Rafah.

The Givati Brigade has moved deeper into Rafah in the past few weeks and has focused on Yabna, where Hamas has developed its infrastructure.

At the beginning of the Rafah operation, the IDF estimated that just 2,000 terror operatives remained in Rafah, and the number was relatively few because it was believed that many of them had evacuated along with the 1.2 million civilians.

About 550 terrorists have been killed amid fighting, but the IDF estimates that many more have been eliminated through airstrikes.

The IDF says it has eliminated half of Hamas’s fighting force in Rafah, which had four battalions and is left with two.

Yabna (South) and East Rafah have been almost entirely dismantled, while Shaboura (North) and Tel Sultan (West) have been severely disabled.

Betito said that one way to determine if a battalion is neutralized is if its tunnels and other infrastructure are destroyed.

He added that of the 150 terrorists he and his brigade have located, most were hiding in tunnels.

Betito explained, “The center of gravity is the tunnels. If we don’t [dismantle] the tunnels, it is very hard to control the area. You can be above ground operating freely, but [Hamas] can surprise you from underground.”

He added, “In the end, if I want to hold the area properly, I need to reach underground, locate tunnel shafts, put explosives inside, destroy it, locate the next shaft, and demolish the whole network.”

He concluded, “This way, [Hamas] will have no choice but to either die inside [the tunnel] or to come outside. Above ground, I want them there, I have a major advantage there.”