Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon had reservations last Saturday about plans to launch F-16 fighters to attack the Hamas leadership during a top-secret meeting in a Gaza residential neighborhood. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, supported by Shin Bet head Avi Dichter, made the decision to go ahead.
Air Force performance analysts presented the operation's planners with various alternatives for dropping munitions on buildings in Gaza. The analysis indicated that a one-ton bomb - of the sort that took out Hamas militant Salah Shehadeh last summer but killed 15 civilians as well - would destroy the three-story building but might also kill 20 to 30 civilians in surrounding buildings, many of them children. The analysis also indicated that a 250-kilo bomb was likely to destroy the top floor, do serious damage to the second floor and leave those on the ground floor a good chance of escaping injury.
Lacking verified information regarding the floor on which the Hamas meeting would actually take place, Ya'alon determined that the desire to avoid killing dozens of Palestinian civilians was greater than the objective to hit the Hamas leadership, so he recommended the IDF not drop a heavy bomb. This despite the fact that the quarter-ton bomb could lead to the operation's failure if Ahmed Yassin and his colleagues were on a lower floor - a likely scenario as Yassin is confined to a wheelchair.
A witness to the secret meeting regarding the operations quoted Ya'alon as saying "opportunity knocks, but it's better to hold back than be tempted. Another opportunity will come along."
Despite Ya'alon's well-reasoned reservations although not vehement opposition, Sharon and Mofaz decided to instruct the Air Force to carry out the attack, based on the Shin Bet's willingness to venture an assessment that the meeting was taking place on the top floor.
From arrival of the intelligence information until the attack, 90 minutes went by. When the bomb fell, the militants were on the ground floor - either because that's where they met or because they were on their way out. The operation failed.
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