Hamas’s big plan disrupted

In an update providing the necessary context to Israel’s rejection of a ceasefire at this stage of its offensive in Gaza, The Israel Project‘s Omri Ceren writes:

Leaks have begun to trickle out on what Israeli interogators are learning from captured Hamas fighters. One plot in particular is getting overwhelming attention.

Hamas was apparently a few months away from conducting a mass attack on Israeli civilians during the upcoming Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, on September 24. The raid would have been like something out of a movie: hundreds of heavily-armed Hamas fighters would have emerged from over a dozen underground tunnels in the dead of night, jogged 10 minutes to their targets, and then infiltrated a set of lightly-populated and lightly-guarded Israeli communities. Casualties could have reached the thousands, and some of the victims would have been taken back alive as hostages.

The offensive attack tunnels seem to quite literally have been built for this kind of purpose. The IDF recently published a map of how they were dug to spill out on both sides of nearby communities (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BtYjL4mCAAAI6c6.png). Israeli soldiers have been reporting that just inside some of the tunnels were storage units filled with tranquilizers, handcuffs, ropes, and so on.

The reports on this are mostly in Hebrew right now (the original one is here if you want it: http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/600/825.html?hp=1&cat=875&loc=1). There are bits and pieces are getting translated on blogs and in think tank bulletins. The Gatestone Institute’s Lawrence Franklin has the best English-language I’ve seen so far, and I’ve pasted it below.

If the reports are confirmed, there are some immediate adjustments that analysts, journalists, and diplomats will all but certainly make:

(1) A ceasefire without at least the destruction of Hamas’s tunnel network would likely becomes a non-starter. It would be militarily untenable – and probably politically impossible – for Israeli leaders to accept anything less.

(2) The inevitable Israeli investigation into pre-conflict failures – and the Israelis always hold these, no matter how well things go – will have to take into account both how so many tunnels got built and why Israeli intelligence failed to crack the tunnel plot earlier. There’s a lot of focus right now on the former, but a lot of the digging and earth moving happened underground. It’s the latter debate, about sigint and humint, that has the potential to cost people careers.

(3) Confirmation of the plot would raise the stakes in the growing controversy over how human rights groups and diplomatic bodies pressured the Israelis into liberalizing restrictions on cement imports. Kilometers and kilometers of reinforced tunnels were being built deep into Israeli territory while Gaza-based offiicals railed against cement shortages. Some critics have already begun to name names, and the debate is already become very granular: TIP held a conference call yesterday in which one expert described how Hamas filled emptied UNRWA relief bags with dirt and then drove them away in UN-painted trucks, so that drones overhead saw what looked like a UN-sanctioned aid convoy.

(4) The public debate over the degree to which Operation Protective Edge was a “war of choice” for the Israelis would become constrained. A full-blown war would be seen as in some sense inevitable, with the only difference being whether it came before or after the Jewish High Holidays this fall.

Here is Lawrence Franklin’s column, cited above. I thought that readers trying to understand the course of the war would find this information useful.

JOHN adds: Israel’s refusal to enter into a week-long cease-fire agreement also likely had something to do with this: REPORT: HAMAS MORALE COLLAPSING, TERRORISTS FLEE IDF:

The source added that in recent days, a recognizable wave of demoralization has washed over Hamas’s combat battalions. “They simply escape, leaving behind weapons and suicide bomb vests that were laid out for battle. This morning we stormed a position, and they just weren’t there. I don’t see a determined enemy. We have encountered stronger pockets of fighting in the past. But now, I would not give them a high grade for fighting spirit.”

Also this:

“The spirit of Hamas terrorists is weakening,” Southern Region Commander Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman says. “I see terrorists in distress, abandoned by their commanders who deserted them at the front and stayed behind…and facing them, our reserve and standing army units led by commanders leading the force.”

Leading from behind! It doesn’t work for Hamas any better than it does for President Obama.

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