Despite days of punishing airstrikes, Israel’s military campaign has failed to inflict serious damage on the Hamas war machine, several sources said Monday.
Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, nearly a week old, has been hobbled by insufficient intelligence, an unwillingness to inflict mass harm on Gaza’s civilian population, and Hamas advancements based on takeaways from the last major armed conflict in 2012, according to current and former officials.
“They still have almost 90 percent of their rockets,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Amidror, who believes that an invasion of Gaza would prove useful in the long term — sparing lives on both sides — said that Israel has not hit Hamas rocket stores, rocket development capacity, and senior personnel for two reasons: a lack of detailed intelligence; and an understanding that, based on the location of the arms and personnel, “the collateral damage would be enormous.”
Calling the operational changes made by Hamas “incredible,” two senior intelligence officers, stationed in Tel Aviv and in the Southern Command, detailed some of the shifts.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a problem with online intelligence,” said the officer from the Southern Command. He described a situation in which senior operatives were dug in deep underground and refrained entirely from using cell phones. Instead, he said, Hamas commanders use runners and other means.
The other officer focused on collateral damage. He said that Netanyahu directly ordered the heads of the army to avoid civilian casualties and to act with extreme caution in this regard.
Hamas, aware of Israel’s Achilles’ heel, he continued, placed much of its rocket stores under tall, civilian buildings. “Even if we ordered all of the residents out of the buildings,” he explained, “the collateral damage would be massive.” The secondary explosions, in the middle of a dense urban area, would kill many innocent civilians.
The Southern Command officer said that the offensive tunnel discovered by the army during the days before the operation was, like several of its recent predecessors, of exceptional quality. The focus on cross-border tunnels like the one discovered near Kerem Shalom, he noted, is yet another shift made in light of the Iron Dome’s success. Citing the ventilation and lighting, he quipped that, in a time of peace, the city of Tel Aviv would do well to hire these men to dig its light rail tunnels.
The underground channels within Gaza, though, he continued, are mostly escape tunnels and passages through which ambushes could be laid, but that the subterranean space in Gaza itself was not all that vast or menacing. “It’s not the Vietcong,” he said.
The officer in Tel Aviv also asserted that the November 2012 assassination of Ahmed Jabari, much like the 2008 killing of Imad Mughniyeh — the former military commanders of Hamas and Hezbollah respectively — has proven worthwhile. Hamas, despite its ability to make doctrinal shifts in the wake of Operation Pillar of Defense, has struggled to effectively control its army of operatives during a time of war.
The fact that Hamas fired most of its big guns early, attempting to strike Tel Aviv on the first day of the confrontation and promptly sending naval commandos to attack the beach-side community of Zikim, on two consecutive nights, was a form “of operational stupidity,” he said.
Additionally, the advance warning on Saturday night of a mass rocket barrage aimed at Tel Aviv at 9 p.m. may have made sense from a public relations perspective, he said, but operationally it was unwise. “It meant that there were dozens of IAF aircraft waiting for them and they got hit hard in the places they fired from.”
The officer said that, while he did not doubt Hamas’s determination, he sensed a lack of professionalism on the ground. “They’re acting without operational logic,” he concluded. “It’s a mess, disorganized, without anyone organizing and commanding from above. In hindsight,” he concluded, “the Jabari targeted killing was justified.”