Hamas Prepared Attack That Would Bring Israel to Its Knees, Israeli Defense Officials Say
Israel’s Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu revealed on Thursday that Hamas was intending to attack Israel from dozens of tunnels in a coordinated simultaneous attack. At the beginning of Thursday’s special cabinet meeting the prime minister said, “These tunnels enable the enemy to open a multi-pronged offensive and carry out a massive terror attack inside Israel.”
According to security officials cited by Israeli news website NRG, the political echelon now needs to give the military more time to eliminate the tunnels since “we are now not even halfway through.” The attack Hamas was planning, the officials say, “would have made Israel drop to its knees.” They added that even the tunnels destroyed until now takes away from Hamas a strategic asset the terror group has been working on for years.
The IDF’s Southern Command assessment is also that more time is needed, and in fact it was on the Southern Command’s recommendation that the government on Wednesday decided to reject a proposal for a humanitarian ceasefire. Intelligence officials assessed that such a truce would allow Hamas time to reorganize and what Israel needed to do now is push the terror group with its back against the wall so the leaders there will ask themselves whether it was wise to continue the large-scale fighting they initiated.
The IDF is continuing to engage Hamas targets and infrastructure on a daily basis: in one incident on Thursday, two terrorists who climbed out of a tunnel immediately surrendered to soldiers from the Paratrooper Brigade. There were other incidents where dozens of men surrendered to the IDF. On Friday morning, the IDF spokesperson revealed that five days ago, soldiers from the Nahal Brigade were confronted by a woman wearing a suicide vest.
According to the report, after engaging a terrorist squad, a figure rushed out toward the soldiers. It was a woman with a bomb strapped to her chest. The soldiers identified the threat and “neutralized” her before she was able to carry out her intended suicide attack, the IDF spokesperson said.
The Southern Command led the call not to make do with artillery and air force fire, but rather to widen the Gaza theater. According to NRG, sources in the IDF say Hamas had prepared for the battle but it has now escalated beyond the group’s control. They assessed that the group’s resilience is seemingly starting to crack at the seams.
Hamas has prepared a veritable plan for ground warfare, after a few failed terror attacks and the realization that rockets are no match for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. Preparations for a ‘boots-on-the-ground’ war started when Hamas realized it had nothing to lose, but the organization was not prepared for the IDF to start the ground incursion so soon and hoped to have convenient exit strategies.
IDF officials warned that the drop in the daily number of rockets fired at Israel do not indicate Hamas is running out. While it is true that Hamas’s reservoir of projectiles has been significantly depleted, taking into account the number of rockets fired and the number of rockets and launchers destroyed by the IDF, the smaller barrages are seen in the military as a calculation by Hamas that the war can take a whole month and therefore it would need to retain its rocket-launching capabilities to the very last day. According to estimates, Hamas had 9000 rockets at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge. It has fired around 2000 and some 3000 were destroyed by Israel. It therefore still has some 4000 rockets in storage.
The tunnels cost millions from Hamas’ coffers in recent years. A special force called “Nukba” (The Chosen Ones) was established recently to expedite the digging process. An intelligence countermeasure taken by the Southern Command recognized that Hamas’s underground activity had increased.
There were three shifts working on each tunnel, and they could dig up to 15 meters every 24 hours. The underground maze in Gaza is extensive. Most of the tunnels were discovered using high level intelligence, and only a few were ‘stumbled upon’ by troops scanning the area.
In the defense establishment, there is a careful assessment circulating that Hamas, which has literally been preparing for its day of judgment, has by now exposed all its strategic capabilities and does not have any more surprises in store. Defense officials also assess that Hamas is frustrated by not having extracted the most out of its assets and for being taken by surprise by the Israeli ground maneuvers with the terror group having too few fighters in the front lines. This is corroborated by anther assessment that Hamas aimed to keep most of its men in the rear in anticipation that Israel’s maneuvers will cut deep into the Gaza Strip.
The IDF indicates it will need several more days to deal with the tunnels but has already drawn up plans for extending the assault.