Year after IDF op, Hamas deterred, tactics altered, official says

Ministry of Strategic Affairs’ director-general says terror organization’s focus now is on domestic production of rockets, preparation of mega-attacks

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

A Palestinian police officer walking amid the destroyed buildings in Gaza on the day after the end of Operation Pillar of Defense. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A Palestinian police officer walking amid the destroyed buildings in Gaza on the day after the end of Operation Pillar of Defense. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Nearly one year after Israel’s eight-day offensive in Gaza, during which Palestinians fired over 1,500 rockets at Israel, a senior government official hailed the enduring nature of the relative quiet. He asserted that Hamas — hemmed in by Egypt and Israel and partially estranged from Iran — has not managed to build up its stockpiles to 2012 levels and has shifted its focus from sheer quantity and continuity of attacks to the ability to carry out strategic rocket strikes and raids.

“Of course it is not like it was last year, because they were not able to replenish everything that they lost. And they lost a lot,” Brig. Gen. (res) Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said at a briefing arranged by The Israel Project in Jerusalem.

Today, he said, “the focus is [more] on strategic capabilities and less on rebuilding capabilities of what they used to do in the past, of just harassing the southern part of Israel, but trying to reach farther or to carry out some strategic operations.” He cited the recent tunnel discoveries as an example.

Kuperwasser, a former chief analyst of the IDF’s Military Intelligence directorate, called the M-75 rocket, which is made in Gaza and can reach Tel Aviv, the crown jewel of the Hamas arsenal. He said that while the Egyptians have destroyed approximately 500 smuggling tunnels into Gaza in recent months and the Iranians are less inclined to send standard arms — such as the more potent Fajr-5 — to Hamas, the capacity to manufacture weapons domestically has only increased.

“The fact that they got from the Iranians the know-how to produce these weapons makes it possible for them to produce them, even if they don’t get ready-made rockets from Iran. Recently, there has been more difficulty to get these,” he continued, adding that Hamas operatives have traveled to Lebanon and Iran for training.

Yossi Kuperwasser at a recent Knesset hearing (Photo credit: Flash 90)
Yossi Kuperwasser at a recent Knesset hearing (photo credit: Flash90)

Operation Pillar of Defense began after a series of increasingly brazen attacks from Gaza, with the November 14 assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari. Over the course of the following eight days, Hamas and Islamic Jihad managed to fire 1,506 rockets and mortars toward Israel, according to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. Five Israeli civilians and one soldier were killed, and roughly 1 million civilians were kept within running distance of a bomb shelter. For the first time since Hamas’s rise to power in 2007, the organization fired rockets directly at Tel Aviv and the vicinity of Jerusalem.

In Gaza, the IDF killed 101 terrorists and 68 civilians, according to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, and struck 1,500 terror sites, including hundreds of tunnels and rocket launchers and a large number of Hamas’s Fajr-5 rockets.

A ceasefire, brokered by Egypt and then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, went into effect on November 21 and has largely been honored since then. Kuperwasser said that although many doubted the durability of the agreement at the time — expecting it to crack and break within weeks — he was not surprised by its longevity.

The stability, he suggested, was rooted in an accurate reading of Hamas’s needs, Egypt’s national objectives, and Israel’s reestablished deterrence.

The agreement allowed for Gazans to fish six nautical miles off the coast, rather than three; for farmers to work the land in close proximity to the security fence; and reduced the Israeli army’s security perimeter on the Gaza side of the border. These Israeli concessions, said Kuperwasser, were “a reflection of our understanding of the order of priorities of Hamas right now.” Faced with the far-reaching changes in the Middle East, which he called a second, more moderate wave of the Arab Spring, and the constant grumble of civilian dissatisfaction, “the only asset they still have is controlling Gaza, and they would not like to risk that at this point in time.”

Egypt, he continued, had a profound interest in stability at the time and sought to play an active role in the region, despite its dire economic straits. “The fact that we enabled Egypt, under president Morsi at the time, to play a role, a positive role, in stabilizing the situation… I think this was very important,” he claimed.

And finally, after following an Islamist pattern of misreading Israel as hesitant, which led to the Israeli offensives in the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defense, the government “managed to send a message.”

The fact that the IDF was able to track and kill Jabari and take out many of the Iranian-made weapons in Gaza, along with the approximately 85-percent success rate of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, illustrated to Hamas that, when operating above board, and therefore accountable to the civilian population, the balance of power had shifted in Israel’s direction.

“We shouldn’t be too much impressed with their rhetoric,” Kuperwasser said, of what are sure to be proclamations of victory come November 14. “They are pretty good at learning lessons.”

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