IDF Top Brass Failed to Grasp Hamas Tunnel Threat During 2014 Gaza War, Internal Probe Charges

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF commanders visiting a Hamas-dug tunnel on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in May, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF commanders visiting a Hamas-dug tunnel on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in May, 2016.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

The Israel Defense Forces' top brass did not grasp the intensity and scope of the threat of the underground tunnels in the Gaza Strip during the army operation there in the summer of 2014. This is the conclusion that emerges from an internal IDF investigation conducted by Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar, commander of the General Staff and former commander of the Gaza Division, which determined that, “On the eve of the operation [Protective Edge], the assault tunnels were an unknown factor for most of the commanders of the forces involved.”

According to the investigation, whose findings were first publicized Tuesday on Israel's Army Radio, the IDF's lack of preparedness with respect to the tunnels, which were dug by Hamas and led into southern Israel, is related to the fact that Operation Protective Edge consisted of 50 days of nonstop combat: “The enemy’s command-and-control networks and its missile system operated continuously until the last day. The number of wounded, mainly among Hamas fighters, was low relative to the intensity of the [IDF] fire.”

The training of IDF forces to deal with the tunnels was “flawed, and caused confusion in real time,” according to the investigators. Specifically, in the course of the operation, it turned out that only while the fighting was actually going on were the soldiers instructed as to how to locate and destroy the underground passageways – and meanwhile they improvised. Even at that point some of the officers on hand admitted that they hadn’t understood the scope of the tunnel threat until the moment they first confronted it.

In July, the Prime Minister’s Office asserted that, “The claim that Israel did not prepare in time for the tunnel threat is totally unfounded.” In response to the claim by security cabinet member Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), to the effect that information concerning the threat was not presented to or discussed in full by the cabinet – the PMO claimed that this was a lie, maintaining that “the tunnel threat was presented in all its seriousness at nine separate cabinet meetings. The minutes prove that beyond any doubt.”

About two years ago Haaretz published a report, several months after the conclusion of the fighting in Gaza, about the major lacunae in the army's preparation, training and equipment for dealing with the tunnels. For example, during the course of combat, it was reported, the IDF had to resort to an emergency mobilization of bulldozers and drilling equipment that were in private hands. In addition, although the Engineering Corps had liquid explosives for blowing up the underground structures, there were only limited quantities, so soldiers had to use half-a-million mines and additional explosive devices that sometimes caused only partial damage. The investigation by the committee headed by Bachar addressed that issue as well.

The IDF Spokesman’s comment, regarding the investigation: “Immediately after Operation Protective Edge then-Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz appointed a committee headed by Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar to investigate the IDF’s preparation for the tunnel threat, and how the problem was handled. The general conclusions of the committee have been reflected in IDF operational plans in general, and in those of the Southern Command and the Ground Forces in particular.

“To date most of the conclusions have been implemented, including an increase in the number of units trained to deal with the subterranean predicament, the establishment of infrastructure for preparation and training forces, and validation of IDF combat policy in that area. Dealing with the subterranean situation is now a top IDF priority, and great efforts are being invested in building up the force, and in operational programs and in activities carried out on the ground, in order to provide an optimal solution to the threat.”

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