Israel Is Unsure It Deterred Hamas, and the Military Is Preparing for Renewed Gaza Fighting

Top military officials say privately the accomplishments of the latest operation will slip away unless a more permanent arrangement with Hamas is achieved quickly ■ IDF chief's tenure extended to fend off 'complex regional challenges'

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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תושבי עזה מדליקים נרות בין ההריסות, שלשום
Gazans lighting candles amidst the ruins of buildings, yesterdayCredit: Reuters/Mohammed Salem
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

With scarcely a week since a cease-fire was secured in the military confrontation between Israel and Hamas, the Israeli military is poised for a possible resumption of the fighting in the near future, with top military officials believing that Hamas could yet reengage.

In contrast to assertions by Israel’s political leadership about the successful deterrence of Hamas, senior IDF brass have said in closed-door meetings that it is not yet possible to gauge the extent to which Hamas has been staved off, and how the damage in Gaza will affect a decision by Hamas on whether to embark on another round of fighting in the near future.

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Meanwhile, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced Thursday he decided to extend IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi’s tenure by another year. In a statement, Gantz said keeping Kochavi in his position for a fourth year “is crucial for Israel’s security” at a time “of regional shifts and complex challenges.”

The government is expected to approve the move, which Gantz was coordinated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, in the coming days.

Those in the IDF Intelligence Corps describe the accomplishments of this month’s confrontation as “nearly perfect” and “operatively decisive,” but Israel’s deterrent capabilities remain unclear. The Intelligence Corps is of the opinion that this tactical victory was achieved mainly due to the IDF’s ability to foil every attempt by Hamas to stage wide-scale aerial, naval or ground attacks that that could have handed it a clear victory.

Israel’s victory was “nearly” perfect due to the army’s difficulty damaging the rocket launching network that Hamas and Islamic Jihad deployed. It is estimated that only about 10 percent of the network was damaged, and Hamas still has thousands of rockets of various ranges at its disposal. The Intelligence Corps personnel’s described the fighting as “operatively decisive” but, in their estimation, fell short of a clear victory, as it did not lead to Hamas’ collapse.

However, they did say that senior Hamas officials who directed research and development of the group’s networks of rockets, drones and advanced weaponry were hit. According to the IDF, more than 100 Hamas members were killed in the fighting, including senior engineers and weapons developers.

But Intelligence Corps officials are still awaiting more precise data on the extent of the damage that Hamas suffered. The group is still extracting the dead from the ruins of its tunnel network, hundreds of kilometers of which were destroyed in the fighting.

Despite the Israeli defense establishment’s efforts to present a clear picture of victory from its military operation, there is unanimity among Israel’s defense organizations that if the country’s political leadership doesn’t quickly embark on a long-term arrangement with Hamas, the accomplishments of this month’s military operation will dissipate.

The return of two Israeli civilians in Gaza and the bodies of two soldiers killed in 2014, which the officials say Israel will use to condition non-urgent humanitarian assistance, is seen by them as “sensitive and problematic” because Hamas will likely demand more than the provision of essential infrastructure.

According to the officials, Israel will also be required to release Hamas prisoners in return for the soldiers’ bodies and the civilians – and to quickly take advantage of Gaza residents’ need for a long—term arrangement between Israel and Hamas, because it is an important impetus to advancing any such deal. The officials also said that the wave of violence in the West Bank has ended, and that this period of greater calm should be used to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, which has attempted to calm the area and to foil attacks in its territory and in Gaza.

A Hamas tunnel from 2018Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

They also added that a situation should be avoided in which Hamas receives the funds that are earmarked for the rehabilitation of Gaza and the improvement of the well-being of its residents. Hamas was in the spotlight of the international community when it ended this month’s round of fighting, and the confrontation has served to improve Hamas’ cards in negotiating a long-term arrangement with Israel.

Qatar has already announced that it will provide half a billion dollars for Gaza’s reconstruction, and the United States has promised assistance, as have Egypt, Turkey and European countries. Iran is also interested in helping in the reconstruction effort, but it appears that it wishes to provide direct assistance to rehabilitate Hamas’ military wing, which has prompted Hamas to announce that it will not use the funds for civilians.

Destroying the ‘metro’

A senior Israeli Intelligence Corps official commented on Thursday on the destruction of Hamas’ underground terrorist tunnel network, the “metro,” as Israel has dubbed it.

“For the first time, artificial intelligence was the central component in the fight against the enemy,” he said. These new artificial intelligence tools, which the IDF used to destroy the metro, include an “alchemist” system that provides protection of the borders and identifies targets in real time.

In the course of this month’s fighting, a multidisciplinary base was put into service involving Intelligence Corps units and the Israel Air Force, designed to identify targets and attack them in real time. The new base identified about 200 “quality” targets, including launching pits for missiles aimed at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, according to the source, half of which were attacked during the fighting.

Unit 9900 of the Intelligence Corps was also a decisive factor in locating tunnels and missile launching sites, the official said. The unit managed to develop the capacity to spot changes on the ground in real time in addition to a large number of senior Hamas figures, who were killed following intelligence that the unit developed. This is in addition to a model making it possible, with data processing and artificial intelligence, to verify whether or not the senior figure is at the target site.

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