Tactics of terror: Tunnels and rockets
Hebrew media review

Tactics of terror: Tunnels and rockets

As Operation Protective Edge deepens, the papers reflect on the bloody weekend that was

A tank along the Gaza-Israeli border on July 18 (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)
A tank along the Gaza-Israeli border on July 18 (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

Six Israelis lost their lives and the ground operation has expanded deeper into Gaza since the last editions of the Hebrew press were printed on Friday, and the papers scramble to catch up.

All the papers focus on what is becoming the main thrust of the IDF operation: Hamas’s terror tunnels. “Tunnel hunters,” reads Yedioth Ahronoth’s front-page headline alongside a picture of IDF soldiers operating in Gaza. The paper writes that the IDF has discovered 13 tunnels and tens of tunnel openings so far. Security sources tell the paper Hamas was planning to use the tunnels for a “mega-terror attack” like blowing up a cafeteria or taking children hostage in a kibbutz.

Inside Yedioth, columnist Alex Fishman writes that IDF is in a race against the clock to finish its mission. The clock the IDF is racing against is both political and operational. On the political side, the IDF is aware that there will be political moves in the coming days, especially with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the region, which may result in a ceasefire before it finishes the job. Operationally, the IDF knows its soldiers in Gaza are now targets, so it is preventing soldiers from establishing a routine inside Gaza, or staying in one place for too long, in order to minimize IDF casualties.

Israel Hayom also gives the tunnels top billing in its front-page headline, “Expanding the operation against the enemy’s tunnels.” In the following two pages, the paper eschews words and instead opts for a photo collage of what Gaza tunnels look like.

The paper then takes the unusual step of printing the obituaries of the three soldiers killed over the weekend before reporting on the incidents that killed them. Two of the soldiers were killed when Hamas terrorists entered into Israel via a tunnel and attacked an Israeli force from behind before fleeing back to Gaza.

Of the tunnels, Israel Hayom columnist Yoav Limor writes that Hamas is trying to use all its strategic weapons before it loses them. Limor writes that while the tunnels are a threat, the IDF is also worried about anti-tank missiles, like the ones used by Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War. He also writes that one of the obvious goals of the operation is to reduce the rocket fire into Israel but it’s too early to tell if the weekend’s slight decline in rocket fire is due to the ground invasion or a strategic decision by Hamas. “Only the coming days will prove whether Hamas intends to maintain its rocket launchers for a long fight or if the decrease in rocket attacks is due to some other reason.”

Over in Haaretz, its front page gives a recap on all the weekend’s activities including the other tactic Hamas is using against Israel: rockets. Auda al-Wadj was killed and his wife, daughter, and another relative were injured when a rocket struck their home outside Dimona on Saturday. The attack marked the second time during Operation Protective Edge that members of the Bedouin community were harmed. Haaretz reports that the Bedouin community is especially susceptible to rocket attacks due to the lack of sirens and shelters in the area. This has prompted a petition to the High Court of Justice that would force the state to provide shelters (if even temporary concrete shelters) to the Bedouin community.

The ground operation itself

After reporting on the damage Hamas caused Israel over the weekend, the papers switch gears and show how Israel is responding. Yedioth gives the most coverage to the offensive itself, with a translated article from the Italian paper La Stampa by Maurizio Molinari. The headline “A flood of fire” pretty much sums it up. He reports from a “new, imaginary border” in the northern Gaza Strip, where one side of the line is being shelled constantly by the air force, navy, and tank corps, and on the other side people can buy flowers and men drink tea together.

Yedioth also includes a two page infographic of the Gaza Strip and where exactly the IDF is operating. It includes the units that are involved (including the paratroops, Golani, and Nahal), where battles have taken place and where tunnels have been discovered. It also highlights Hamas’s potentially devastating response, the Kornet anti-tank missile.

Haaretz reports that since the ground invasion began over 100 Palestinians have been killed, and many of them have been civilians. The paper puts the number of killed at 330 since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge with 76 of those being children and 36 women. However, the paper points out that it can’t verify the numbers due to the constant bombardment by Israel and difficulty of movement in Gaza.

What’s next?

Israel Hayom looks towards the endgame in its coverage and reports that Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz thinks the ground operation “could end with the complete takeover of Gaza.” While Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon didn’t go that far, he does say that “the operation will continue until the return of peace and security for Israel.”

Columnist Dan Margalit lays out some more concrete goals for Israel in the operation, mainly: a ceasefire soon and a weakened Hamas. Margalit writes that the arrival of both Ban Ki-moon and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicates the intention for a ceasefire. Israel might even allow UN forces at border crossings into Gaza along with members of the Palestinian Authority. But while Margalit thinks the political track is clear, he warns that the IDF still needs to complete its job. “The coming days will be nerve-wracking. IDF must adhere to its mission because the tunnels are a strategic weapon. Less so than rockets, but threatening in itself.”

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