KHAN YOUNIS, GAZA – On Sunday, I had the rare opportunity to travel into the Gaza Strip.
I never imagined doing so, but we traveled into the very center of Khan Younis, the largest city in the southern section of the Strip, where the fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas terrorists has been so intense for the last two months.
Meeting early in the morning at an IDF base located on the outskirts of Gaza, my TBN cameraman – who works for THE ROSENBERG REPORT – and I stepped into an armored personnel carrier and took the one-hour-and-fifteen-minute journey into the heart of darkness.
The scene was apocalyptic.
Above ground, we saw hundreds of apartment buildings, mosques, and other buildings destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli forces. Why? Because every single one of them was used by Hamas terrorists to attack Israeli forces and store machine guns, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades, landmines and other weapons.
Underground, we were the first reporters to tour a maze of newly discovered Hamas terror tunnels never seen by reporters before.
INSIDE THE LAIR OF YAHYA SINWAR
The tunnels were long, narrow, hot, humid and deep.
Soon, we were 25 meters – some seven stories – below Khan Yunis.
There we saw firsthand a bunker where senior Hamas leaders recently lived and directed the war against Israel.
We also stepped inside the very cages where at least 12 Israeli hostages were recently held.
Guiding us and briefing us along the way was IDF Brig.-Gen. Dan Goldfus, the veteran commander responsible for the 98th Brigade.
Goldfus is liberating Khan Younis from Hamas, hunting down Hamas commanders, and rescuing Israeli hostages, if at all possible.
At one point, I asked the general which Hamas commanders had lived and operated in these particular tunnels.
He told me he was confident that the highest-ranking Hamas terror master inside Gaza had been there.
“I believe Yahya Sinwar was here,” he told me.
Later in the day, a reporter for NBC News pressed Goldfus again on the matter.
Again, the general said he believed Sinwar had been there.
This was the lair of Yahya Sinwar.
One of them, anyway.
STANDING IN ‘THE EPICENTER OF EVIL’
The general didn’t provide us with proof, but it wasn’t clear to me whether Goldfus really didn’t have definitive proof, or if, for security reasons, he was simply refusing to tell us more about what he and military intelligence now know about Sinwar’s movements.
That said, Goldfus did not hesitate to explain why he was 100% certain that senior Hamas leaders had been there.
Throughout the tunnel complex, he showed us simple concrete areas where low-level Hamas guards would stand post and sleep on the floor.
Then he showed us sections some 75 feet underground where the ceilings were much higher.
The walls and floors weren’t simple concrete.
Rather, they were beautifully tiled.
Some of these chambers had bed frames, real mattresses, blankets, and pillows.
They also had much better kitchens and bathrooms than the sections where low-level fighters were positioned, often sleeping directly on floors or thin mattresses.
The chambers that were bigger, wider, and better designed – and with better provisions – weren’t built for Israeli hostages.
They were built for senior Hamas leaders to live, work, and direct the war against Israel, General Goldfus explained.
That said, Goldfus said that Sinwar and all the top Hamas leaders are on the run and that Israel’s victory is certain.
It was clear these Hamas leaders had been forced to leave quickly once the IDF came surging into the tunnels.
Food, drinks, dirty dishes, clothes, and a cache of weapons – grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, and landmines, among other items – had all been left behind as the Hamas monsters fled for their lives, taking the hostages with them.
It’s hard to describe just how bizarre and surreal it was to be standing in the epicenter of evil.
I had woken up at home in Jerusalem and then a few hours later was standing in the lair of Yahya Sinwar and his senior deputies, and then standing in one of the very cages where at least 12 Israeli hostages had been held.
Goldfus said three hostages who had been held captive there were released in November.
Others, he said, had been there more recently.
‘WE ARE IN THE MOST IMPORTANT TUNNEL’
Reporters asked the general why Sinwar hadn’t been caught yet.
“He will be,” Goldfus said confidently.
“He doesn't care about his people. He’s putting his people between him and us. He’s putting the civilians – the population [of Gaza] – between him and us.”
“He’s running,” Goldfus explained. “He's on the run. We will reach him. We'll reach him. It takes time.”
“This took many years to build these compounds, this underground maze of terror,” he noted, but added that the IDF has made enormous progress in the fight against Hamas in just four months.
Someone asked, “Do you think you've destroyed even half the tunnels at this point?”
“I don't have to destroy half the tunnels,” Goldfus replied. “I'm in the heart of the tunnels. There are all kinds of different kinds of tunnels. It doesn't matter how many tunnels there are. The question is: What tunnels have been reached and which are the most important ones?”
“We are in the most important tunnel,” the general said flatly.
“We are maneuvering in the most important tunnels. We are maneuvering the tunnels that Sinwar and his friends, his terror friends, spend time.”
“They thought that we wouldn’t have the means, or the ability or the audacity to enter these tunnels – but we did so four months into this war.”
The IDF’s top priority, Goldfus said, was to find and rescue the hostages, and to put enormous pressure on Hamas to release more – and then all – of the hostages.
The second priority is to vanquish Hamas once and for all so it no longer controls the Gaza Strip and cannot launch attacks against Israel in the future.
To accomplish both missions, he said, “you have to have the control, the operational control, above ground and below ground.”
“The game is preventing from the Hamas to exist as entity, to have the ability either to rule or to have a threat on the State of Israel.”
What if there is no way to get the hostages back without ending the war? someone asked.
“I'm a military commander,” Goldfus replied. “My mission is to create as much ability for my leaders to make decisions….And that's what I'm trying to do.”
“I live in a democratic country,” he said. “We live in a democratic country where we elect our government, and this government tells the soldiers what to do.”
ISRAEL IS WINNING AND THE MORALE OF THE TROOPS IS HIGH
How is the morale of the troops?
“The morale is very high,” Goldfus told us.
“The soldiers are ready to keep on pushing through all the time. All the time.”
“We have regular soldiers and we have one of the world's wonders – the reserve soldiers in the IDF. The reserve soldiers are just ordinary people who were called up on the 7th of October. They didn't even have to be called up. They just appeared. They came. And they fought to defend their country and they've been defending their country ever since.”
“For four months, these civilians have left their homes, left their wives and children to fight the terrorist entity known as Hamas, to defend the State of Israel.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the work of the IDF, especially those operating in Khan Younis and the southern part of the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu said that 75% of Hamas terrorists in Gaza have been killed, severely wounded, or captured.
Also joining us for the journey into Gaza was Chris Mitchell, the Jerusalem bureau chief for CBN News.
Reporters and cameramen for NBC News, Sky News, i24 News, and an Italian news crew were with us, as well, for a total of 16 journalists.
This article, photos, and video were all reviewed and cleared by the IDF military censor to ensure that no military secrets were inadvertently disclosed.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.