Intel Sources: Gazan Informants Intercepted by Hamas During War

Intelligence bodies to examine claims that classified info used carelessly, leading to Israeli losses.

Intelligence organizations in Israel will examine claims that classified information was used carelessly during the fighting in the Gaza Strip, supposedly leading to the loss of intelligence "assets."

Senior army sources told Haaretz that the use of the intelligence was necessary in order to save the lives of soldiers who faced obvious danger during an operation, but added that the subject is one that needs to be examined in an extensive and orderly intelligence investigation of the type that normally takes place following an operation of the magnitude of Cast Lead.

During the recent fighting, and following it as well, Hamas executed several dozen civilians. Some of those killed were members of rival Fatah, but others were not politically affiliated.

It appears that in most cases Hamas suspected that their victims had collaborated with Israeli intelligence.

However, it also appears that there were cases in which Hamas gunmen took advantage of the chaos in order to settle old scores with Fatah rivals, even if the excuse was as flimsy as seeing them smiling in the street, or appearing to express satisfaction at the Israeli offensive and the damage it caused Hamas.

Palestinian sources said that Hamas gunmen shot and killed civilians, and in other instances shot and wounded them in the legs "on the spot and without asking questions."

Among those killed were Fatah members who were spotted in the vicinity of Hamas installations bombed by the air force, and who were carrying cell phones, and could not satisfactorily explain what they were doing in that particular location at that time.

In one case, which was widely discussed in the Strip, Hamas gunmen kidnapped a civilian from his home, tortured him, and ripped out his eyes, because they suspected he was an Israeli agent. The man was returned to his family, but several days later the gunmen returned and murdered him.

During the fighting, various Israeli security organizations prided themselves on the close interaction between the different intelligence bodies, and the removal of all obstacles in the flow of intelligence from them to units in the field.

To a large extent, intelligence during the operation was managed from the field headquarters of Southern Command, with the elimination of all the restrictions imposed in the past, which often prevented effective use of information.

This allowed an accelerated process of putting information into action, whether though the targeting from the air of a group of militants who had just launched a rocket toward Israel, or in quickly assisting ground forces in jeopardy.

Brigade and battalion commanders who operate in the field were very impressed by the fact that the Shin Bet security service and Military Intelligence could warn them with great precision of developments in their proximity.

However, it appears that these achievements had some problematic implications.

Sources at Southern Command and in MI claim that intelligence-gathering personnel both at the Shin Bet and MI were frustrated that in a number of instances, operations officers failed to adequately protect a source of information - namely Palestinian agents.

According to one source, a number of agents were "intercepted" by Hamas during the operation because the intelligence they provided was used carelessly.

"The approach of the commanders was that, this is war and there is no room for caution now," one of the sources said. "One argument was that everything needed to be done in order to preserve the lives of soldiers in the battlefield - that the security of the soldiers came before the security of the informant. But we also heard a different argument, which said that what we are now doing is 'killing a lot of Arabs,' and therefore details like protecting those who are working for us are less important."

According to a former senior intelligence officer, the disagreement reflects a permanent sort of tension between intelligence officers and operations officers, which peaks during periods of high-intensity fighting.

"It is natural for 'controllers' to be concerned. They need to protect the person who is working with them. But sometimes the higher-ups have other considerations, like protecting the forces in the field, and they decide differently. In any case, these are the sort of arguments that require in-depth examination."

They Shin Bet declined to respond to the claims. However, senior officers at Military Intelligence denied that the claims were accurate.

Missing Ja'abari

It was also learned recently that Israel had tried, at least on two occasions, to assassinate the head of the Hamas military wing, Ahmed Ja'abari, during the Gaza offensive.

In one instance, the air force dropped two one-ton bombs on a building where Ja'abari was believed to be hiding with a group of militants. One of the men was killed, but Ja'abari emerged unharmed.

In another case, Israel had intelligence that Ja'abari was in an urban compound that included 10 homes. Because it was not certain that the target was at the location, a decision was made not to attack, even though some urged a strike in spite of the potential for collateral damage that such an attack would entail.

Unlike Ja'abari, another senior figure in the Hamas military wing, Mohammed Deif, who had been seriously injured in two assassination attempts on him in recent years, avoided taking any significant part in the recent fighting.

It seems that Deif did not entirely recover from the massive injuries he suffered during the prior Israeli attacks.

Most of the senior Hamas figures hid in a bunker - which had been built by Israel - under Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, as well as in bunkers under the buildings housing foreign delegations, such as that of Qatar.

Hamas also made use of other buildings Israel left behind during the unilateral withdrawal from the Strip in 2005: nearly 100 public bomb shelters that had been built in the settlements of Gush Katif were not destroyed by the IDF during the disengagement. The shelters were used as arms depots and hideouts for militants.

During Operation Lead Cast, the IDF and the Shin Bet killed approximately 20 commanders of the Hamas military wing, who held positions ranging from company commander to brigade commander. Israel also killed three of the organization's top 10 leaders - in both its political and military wings: Nizar Riyan, Said Sayyam and Salah Abu-Shreikh.

During the two years that marked the peak of the second intifada (2002-2004), Israel killed the largest number of important Hamas leaders, including Ahmed Yassin (founder and spiritual leader of the group), Abdel Aziz Rantisi (Yassin's temporary successor), Ibrahim Maqadmeh, Salah Shehadeh, Ismail Abu-Shanab and Adnan al-Rul.