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A senior official in the Shin Bet security service argues that Hamas failed militarily during Operation Cast Lead and did not achieve any of its aims. According to the official, the group's battle doctrine was proved hollow and failed to cause any real damage to Israel.

This is the first assessment of its type published by a senior Shin Bet official since the end of the Gaza offensive nine months ago. The report was published on the Web site of a major research institute based in the United States.

Yoram Cohen, who co-authored the report with Jeffrey White, was until six months ago the Shin Bet's deputy director. In the past year, Cohen has been in the United States for study and research.

According to the two authors, the period of relative quiet that has followed the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip does not "signal the end of Hamas' struggle." They predict that "more violence can be expected in the future, at varying levels of intensity."

Cohen and White add that "the movement's willingness and ability to use violence for political purposes is a critical component of the Israeli-Palestinian equation."

Cohen and White describe the fighting in January as the first real test of Hamas in terms of its military capabilities, which had been built up gradually since the Israeli pullout from the Strip in the summer of 2005. At the start of the recent confrontation, the group had around 15,000 armed militants, 2,000 of whom were members of the group's military wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades

Relied on imports

The organization's order of battle was based on an offensive wing that fired rockets and mortars into Israel, and on ground forces who were deployed defensively. Hamas' military capabilities relied in great part on training and materials imported into Gaza from Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

"Despite attempts to put a positive image on its performance during the operation, the actual course of the fighting reveals a different story: Hamas ... accomplished little militarily, and their only real success was the continuation of rocket fire into Israel - which declined after three weeks of combat," the authors say.

They add that had Israel continued to pressure Hamas militarily, using its advantages in intelligence and technology, as well as the occupation of large portions of the Strip, "the IDF undoubtedly could have destroyed Hamas' military capabilities."

Such a possibility, the authors say, would have significantly increased the number of casualties on both sides, but in the end Hamas would not have remained in control of Gaza, even though sporadic resistance may have continued.

Hamas' failed gamble

Cohen and White describe Hamas' decision in December not to renew the tahadiyeh, the unofficial cease-fire with Israel, as a failed gamble. They say Hamas had hoped to gain an "image of victory" by firing rockets and through pinpoint achievements such as the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and the downing of aircraft or helicopters.

These aims failed, the authors say. The casualties, the economic damage and even the psychological damage caused by the rocket fire during the operation never reached the levels expected by Hamas. During the operation Hamas fired around 400 locally-made rockets and 200 other types of rockets, mostly Iranian-made.

The authors point out that at the start of the fighting the Hamas leadership in Gaza went underground and its influence on military matters dropped significantly. The organization's command structure in Damascus had even less control over developments.

According to the report, Hamas avoided direct engagements, and those that occurred lasted minutes, not hours.

"Hamas had planned to stand and fight, but the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades proved unequal to the task ... and consequently they failed to match the public image Hamas had tried so hard to present of stalwart, proficient Islamic warriors," the report states.

The authors say Hamas will continue imitating Hezbollah's tactics and seek to equip itself with longer-range and more effective rockets.