Monday, 11 August 2014

New York Times: How Hamas beat Israel in Gaza


From the New York Times - Hamas’s achievements on the battlefield are the fruit of a concerted effort to draw lessons from previous Israeli defeats.

In July 2006, Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers on the Israel-Lebanon border. In response, Israel sought to destroy the group. It failed — and even the more modest aims of returning of abducted men or demilitarizing southern Lebanon, proved unattainable. Israel came out of that war battered, leading to the departure of almost the entire top military command, and a number of hard-hitting internal inquiries.

Israel overhauled its intelligence and ground fighting capabilities and applied the lessons of Lebanon in two subsequent clashes with Hamas. Operation Cast Lead in 2008 began with the destruction of 1,200 targets in an immense aerial bombardment. And Hamas was stunned when it saw that Israel didn’t recoil from putting boots on the ground in Gaza.

In November 2012, Israel fired the opening shot by assassinating the Hamas military chief, Ahmad Jabari. Then it bombed most of Hamas’s rocket launching sites and staged a ground incursion. The Hamas forces were thrown into disorder and mostly fled.

Israel agreed to an early cease-fire, for a reason that has remained a closely-guarded secret: The Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, generously financed by the United States, had run out of ammunition. Israel learned the lesson and made sure that sufficient quantities of Iron Dome missiles were available this time around.

But Hamas didn’t walk away empty handed in 2012. It learned lessons and acted on them. First, Hamas took stringent counterintelligence measures to avoid Israeli electronic surveillance. Israel consequently knew much less than it should have about the increased range and payloads of Hamas rockets, the distribution of rocket storage depots and the firing of rockets by remote control.

Second, in order to prepare for an Israeli invasion, Hamas replaced its battalion commanders with new men who had undergone training in Lebanon or Iran. It developed a systematic urban warfare doctrine to ensure maximal Israeli casualties and to protect its high command from assassination.

Finally, Hamas invested in the construction of a vast and complex network of tunnels that reached into Israeli territory and formed units of frogmen to attack Israel from the sea. These were major advances.

Israel’s leaders are determined to represent Defensive Edge as a victory, and it is therefore unlikely that public inquiry panels will be set up as they were after the Lebanon war in 2006 or that heads will roll.

However, the I.D.F. will have to reinvent the way it counters guerrilla warfare. It will once again have to try to recruit agents in Gaza, now that it has become clear that electronic spying is insufficient because Hamas has become more careful.

Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, will now have to pay more attention to Hamas operatives in Qatar and Turkey and intercept Hamas’s communications from weapons suppliers, like North Korea.

Israel may also decide to focus on striking Hamas personnel outside Gaza, without taking responsibility. When the Mossad assassinated a top Hamas official in 2010 in Dubai, the large amount of negative publicity led to a cessation of such acts, but they may now be judged more effective than massive military action. Likewise, special operations will get more attention. Hamas surprised Israel, but Israel has carried out almost no imaginative or daring targeted operations in this latest war. Ehud Barak, the most prominent commando fighter in Israel’s history, proposed some such schemes when he was defense minister in 2010, but they were not adopted.

Finally, the defense ministry will be given unlimited funding to devise an underground electronic “fence” based on oil and gas prospecting technology, that will be laid all along the border between Israel and Gaza to detect tunnels as they are built. more

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