Despite ‘Quality Targets,’ Israeli Army Strikes in Gaza Have Little Real Effect

The IDF attacks defined targets, but the effort to enhance their quality in the eyes of the public creates gaps between the promises made by the politicians and the actions against Hamas in reality

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Palestinians inspect a destroyed Hamas site after it was hit by an Israeli air strike, Gaza City March 26, 2019.
Palestinians inspect a destroyed Hamas site after it was hit by an Israeli air strike, Gaza City March 26, 2019.Credit: \ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

After the rocket hit the home in Moshav Mishmeret Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a press release saying, “The Israel Defense Forces is prepared for a significant military response.”

At 5:43 P.M., a statement announced the start of the strikes in the Gaza Strip. The army said the targets included “a secret headquarters of the Hamas terror organization, which serves the organization’s general security, general intelligence and military intelligence.” The statement stressed that it was one of Hamas’ main military assets.

It wasn’t the first time the IDF has attacked that headquarters. It was hit in November after the botched special forces operation in Khan Yunis, when it was described as “A special terror asset of Hamas in Gaza.” A senior officer in the Southern Command who was interviewed tried to illustrate the achievement and its dramatic effect on Hamas. “It was as if they would destroy the headquarters of Military Intelligence,” he said.

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A senior Israel Air Force officer, referring to the attack, said it had “great impact, in terms of deterrence and effectiveness. They are losing the property and the intelligence gathered over the years.” He added that Hamas would be hard-put to recover. But only four months later, Hamas’ intelligence apparatus managed to rehabilitate itself.

Twenty minutes after the announcement of the strike on the intelligence headquarters, the IDF reported another “quality” attack — on Hamas’ internal security offices in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City. This target was also attacked four months ago during one of the rounds of fighting. The IDF described it then, as it did Tuesday, as a “central Hamas government asset.”

Then too, officers believed the damage was severe and would be hard to surmount. In November, a senior IAF officer called the target “the central domestic security headquarters, which coordinates Hamas’ command and control in the Gaza Strip. It is a punch in the gut for Hamas.”

Then too, there were no casualties in the strike, but the senior IAF officer claimed its future impact on Hamas in the future was greater than if personnel had been killed.

On Tuesday the same site was hit again, which suggests the IDF attaches great importance to the airstrikes’ effect on the organization’s survival.

The announcement of the strike on the office of Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh, also in Rimal, was also seen as an attempt by the IDF to take pride in its strength vis-à-vis the organization. Haniyeh’s office was also attacked in Operation Pillar of Defense, which didn’t stop him from continuing to lead and strengthen Hamas. The office has no operational importance, but presenting the target as a quality target is the closest thing to targeted assassinations, which the public would like resumed, as both the IDF and the political leaders very well know.

As the alarms sounded Tuesday in Gaza-area Israeli communities, a regional council head came to a communication point. “They keep reporting fire on guardposts along the fence but these are wooden posts with a tin cylinder,” he told several people who entered the protected space with him. “The day after they shoot, they come and rebuild it.” But the attacks on these posts also have a place of pride in the IDF announcements. To these we can add the reports of attacks on arms stores. Photographs show them to be railroad containers on the beach.

The state comptroller’s report on Operation Protective Edge had a chapter on “intelligence not presented to the security cabinet about gaps in the target bank” before the 2014 war.

“The IDF did not present the gaps and their implications for the ability to achieve goals. It also emerges ... that the ministers did not seek elaboration ... and there was no discussion of it.”

It’s hard to blame the IDF for trying to present these rounds as a decisive victory over Hamas, in an effort to raise national morale. Senior defense officials have claimed over the past year that the Gaza issue has no military solution. They also argue that throughout the past year, even during the rounds of fighting, the goals being set by the security cabinet are to restore calm to the south and prevent escalation.

IDF officers understand they will be the target of criticism of the retaliation policy in Gaza, but find it hard to give the public the true picture. The IDF attacks defined targets, but the effort to enhance their quality creates gaps between the promises made by the politicians and the actions against Hamas in reality.

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