IDF probe: Israel was unready for Gaza tunnel threat in 2014
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IDF probe: Israel was unready for Gaza tunnel threat in 2014

Officers were not made aware of 'magnitude' of risks, reports finds, despite prior knowledge by political leaders

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

A Hamas tunnel discovered by soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade in the northern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
A Hamas tunnel discovered by soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade in the northern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

A military investigation found that officers were unprepared for the threat of Hamas attack tunnels during the 2014 Gaza war, despite prior knowledge by Israel’s political leadership, Army Radio reported Tuesday.

A number of tunnels were used by Hamas fighters to infiltrate Israel and carry out deadly attacks on troops during the Gaza Strip conflict in the summer of 2014. During that campaign, dubbed in Israel “Operation Protective Edge,” Israeli forces discovered and destroyed at least 34 tunnels, many of them leading into Israeli territory.

The internal Israel Defense Forces report, which was prepared after the war, found that the army was aware tunnels were being used by Hamas but combat units were not prepared sufficiently to deal with the threat, according to Army Radio.

“On the eve of the operation the attack tunnels were an unknown entity to the officers of most of the active forces. The threat was known, but their magnitude and significance were not understood,” the report, parts of which remain classified, is said to state.

An Israeli tank drives through an undisclosed area of the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge on July 31, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
An Israeli tank drives through an undisclosed area of the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge on July 31, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Headed by the commander of the IDF’s General Staff Corps, Maj. Gen. Yossi Bachar, the probe was authored by over 30 senior officers and included responses to questionnaires filled in by nearly all the officers involved in the operation, Army Radio said.

In further damning findings, the report also suggested there was a connection between the lack of preparation and the length of the 50-day war.

“The enemy’s command infrastructure and control over its rocket capability was continually active until the last day of the war. The [low] number of Hamas casualties was not proportionate to the heavy fire power used against them,” it reportedly said.

Army Radio said it would be releasing further findings from the report in the coming days.

Responding to the report, MK Ofer Shelah of the opposition Yesh Atid party said he was not surprised by its findings.

“I’ve been saying for a year and a half now: Israel and the army got embroiled in a war that it knew was coming but had not prepared a goal, military plans or its troops for,” he said in a statement Tuesday, assigning blame for the failures to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) seen during the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, during the committee's vote on a new chairman, on Monday, May 12, 2014. (Flash90)
MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) seen during the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, during the committee’s vote on a new chairman, on Monday, May 12, 2014. (Flash90)

“The political echelon is not just responsible for saying there is a problem, it is responsible for solving it. It needs to make sure that the army is prepared for any threat; it didn’t do that. The prime minister ignored the problem,” he added.

Leaks earlier this year of an unreleased state comptroller report into the government’s handling of the 2014 war accused Netanyahu, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and then-IDF chief Benny Gantz of covering up information regarding the threat posed by the Hamas terror group ahead of the operation.

According to media sources who reviewed the 70-page document in May, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira accused Netanyahu and Ya’alon of failing to provide the security cabinet with real-time updates regarding the imminent threat of war with Hamas and the capabilities of the terror group’s cross-border attack tunnels.

Hamas has bragged since the 2014 war that it is rebuilding a network of attack tunnels under the Israeli border and restocking its arsenals while testing more potent rockets for future use against Israel.

A Hamas tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
A Hamas tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Since April, the IDF has discovered two tunnels leading into Israeli territory, and the Shin Bet says it has captured a number of Gazans who have given them extensive information on the tunnel system.

Following the conflict, Israel invested an estimated NIS 1 billion (approximately $250 million) into developing a detection system to locate such tunnels.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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