Gaza War: 11 Key Headlines From Scathing Report Rattling Israel's Politicians and Military

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(FILES) This file photo taken on July 29, 2014 shows clouds of heavy smoke billowing into the air following an Israeli military strike in Gaza City on July 29, 2014.
Clouds of heavy smoke billowing into the air following an Israeli military strike in Gaza City on July 29, 2014. Credit: ASHRAF AMRA/AFP

Netanyahu, Ya'alon kept ministers in the dark about strategic Hamas attack

For months in advance of the Israeli army's 2014 operation in the Gaza Strip, top political, military and intelligence-community leaders concealed information from the security cabinet about a possible strategic attack by Hamas, according to the special report on the war by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, released Tuesday. Had the attack been carried out, Shapira notes, it could have constituted a casus belli.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (R) and then-IDF chief Benny Gantz during Operation Protective Edge ,July 30, 2014. Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO

Specifically, says the comptroller in his critical report on Operation Protective Edge, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Israel Defense Forces Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz and the heads of the Shin Bet security service and Mossad – all withheld information about an attack being planned by the Gaza-based Islamist movement. Indeed, this information only reached the cabinet early in July 2014, just hours before an operation meant to foil the attack was to be put on the table for their ratification.

Shapira notes that, according to Shin Bet documents, there was already a substantial amount of evidence about a serious Hamas strike against Israel in the months before the army's operation was launched – information that was passed on to the IDF's Military Intelligence branch. Read the full story.

Netanyahu and Yaalon did not consider diplomatic moves to prevent war

The comptroller determined that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and members of Israel's security cabinet did not, in the year preceding the outbreak of the war, on July 7, explore the possibility of taking diplomatic steps to stop the escalation of hostilities in the Strip.

A cabinet meeting on July 31, 2014. Sitting: Ministers Yuval Steinitz and Moshe Ya'alon. Standing: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Benny Gantz.Credit: Moti Milrod

Shapira's report quotes three statements made by Yaalon two days after the fighting erupted, in which he said that the war could have been averted if Israel had provided a timely response to the distress of Gazas population. In a cabinet meeting on July 8, then-Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz said that We've focused on tactics, but repeatedly – year after year for nine years – avoid dealing with the strategic reality taking shape before our eyes.

No clear government policies and strategies on Gaza were set

Even when there were discussions intended to formulate strategies regarding the Strip, they were incomplete and did not yield any actual results. On October 10, 2013, there was a meeting with the head of the Shin Bet security service at the time, Yoram Cohen, who stressed that Hamas was in strategic distress, whereupon the premier instructed the National Security Council to convene to address Israel's policies regarding Gaza. Six months elapsed before such a discussion was held. On March 13, 2014, this topic came up again at a cabinet meeting that dealt with escalating tensions. Then-Economy Minister Naftali Bennett noted that Israel had no strategy regarding Gaza; Gilad Erdan, the public security minister, concurred. Only on March 23, 2014, a year after the government had been formed, was there a cabinet meeting dealing with setting strategic goals vis-a-vis the Strip. However, the comptroller found that the meeting only dealt with the intensification of IDF actions against Hamas – not with other possible modes of conduct, such as in the diplomatic arena.

Cabinet did not discuss humanitarian crisis in Gaza

In the 16 months between the creation of the government in March 2013 and the outbreak of hostilities in July 2014, the security cabinet did not hold even one meaningful discussion about the Gaza Strip. The vast majority of discussions – even those considered to be strategic in nature – dealt only with military matters. The comptroller's report notes that the absence of discussion on the various political aspects of the situation in Gaza was particularly noticeable on the backdrop of mounting reports about the deterioration of the humanitarian conditions there, the economic crisis and the collapse of vital infrastructure, including the shortage of water supplies.

In December 2013, the prime ministers military secretary, Eyal Zamir, wrote then-National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen that Netanyahu wanted him to arrange a cabinet discussion regarding the civilian situation in Gaza and its implications for Israel. Such a discussion never took place and up to the outbreak of hostilities seven months later, the cabinet did not hold even one session on the Strip's humanitarian crisis. The comptroller notes that Cohen should have followed the prime ministers directive and he also criticizes Yaalon in this regard, since the latter was cognizant of the civilian and humanitarian situation in Gaza and should have understood the potential for escalation of tensions. Despite this the defense minister also did not initiate any discussion of this subject in the cabinet. The report notes, however, that Yaalon expressed regret for not doing so after the war began.

IDF failed to achieve main goal: Only half of Hamas' tunnels were destroyed

Not only did the 2014 war expose defects and shortcomings in the IDF's preparedness for dealing with the attack tunnels Hamas dug from the Gaza Strip into Israel, says the comptroller. The army, he notes, also not did achieve the objectives it was given during Operation Protective Edge: to destroy or neutralize the underground passageways. Indeed, even though this was its key mission, the IDF destroyed only half of them. The army later reported that it had rendered 32 tunnels unusable.

IDF forces in the area where a Hamas tunnel was discovered, on July 20, 2014. Credit: IDF spokesperson

Army lacked suitable combat methods for dealing with the tunnels

No military doctrines, combat techniques or explicit orders were issued for dealing with the Hamas tunnels, the comptroller determined. Only in July 2014, while the fighting was going on, did the IDF Engineering Corps issue guidelines for locating and destroying the structures.

Until that point, the forces improvised or based their mode of operation on methods that had been previously used when coping with the smuggling tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border. Only in December 2014, four months after the war ended, did the headquarters of the chief infantry and paratroop forces issue combat orders outlining the principles of fighting in areas containing multiple tunnels.

The army did not prepare plans well in advance for a situation in which combatants would be forced to deal with such tunnels upon entering the Strip, as part of a ground operation – even though there was a high likelihood of such fighting there. Moreover, even after such a plan was drawn up, according to the comptroller, it was formulated just before Operation Protective Edge, so that some of the brigades involved in the fighting only received the guidelines after the war had started.

Air Force was not prepared to take out Hamas tunnels

The IAF possessed limited means and lacked the knowhow, intelligence and appropriate operational guidelines – as well as relevant capabilities and skills – for addressing the threat of Hamas' tunnels. Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, who at the time of the Gaza operation was IAF chief of staff (and is due later this year to become the next IAF commander), said on the eve of the campaign that the force did not have sufficient intelligence to allow it to formulate operational tactics for confronting the tunnels.

Despite this, during a session held during the war, the cabinet recommended that they be attacked from the air, even though the defense establishment knew this would not destroy the entire route of the underground passageways and would actually impede future ground operations against them – which is what indeed transpired. However, that information was not provided to the cabinet members before they recommended aerial attacks, according to the comptroller.

A ball of fire rises from a building following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on August 23, 2014. Credit: AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED OTHMAN

Israeli intel only prioritized tunnel threat after the war

The threat posed by Hamas' tunnels was not considered a top priority by Israel's intelligence community until early 2015, months after Operation Protective Edge ended.

Even though Prime Minister Netanyahu and defense establishment officials had defined the tunnels as a strategic threat to the country, they were not targeted as part of major intelligence missions. This impacted the assignment of resources to the intelligence agencies for the purpose of dealing with the threat.

The comptroller notes that the head of IDF Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and Shin Bet chief Cohen should have made this issue a top priority among the intelligence community, and adds that the political echelons – the prime minister and the defense minister – should have been overseeing this process.

The Shin Bet and MI began to ratchet up their intelligence-gathering activities with respect to the underground structures at the end of 2013, after three tunnels dug by Hamas and extending into Israel proper were discovered within one year. The comptroller comments that despite that, the general intelligence passed onto IDF combat units during the 2014 war, including information about the tunnels, was an important intelligence achievement".

Ministers Yuval Steinitz, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Gadi Eizenkot at a cabinet meeting on August 10, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod

Significant intelligence gaps on Hamas in Gaza

From mid-2013 until the outbreak of hostilities in July 2014, and during the campaign itself, the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence suffered serious and significant gaps with regard to intelligence gathering in Gaza. These lacunae, says the comptrollers report, related both to the underground tunnels and to identification of targets for the air force, as well as to another area – presumably, regarding the plans and activities of the heads of Hamas military wing in Gaza. 

Specifically, there were flaws in intelligence-gathering efforts by MI and the Shin Bet concerning the tunnels from 2008 until Operation Protective Edge. In particular, the comptroller identified significant gaps in the information passed on to combat units regarding the defensive tunnels in Gaza (i.e., tunnels in the Strip that do not pass under the border into Israel proper). This impacted the way the tunnels were related to before and during the operation. Moreover, information concerning these gaps was not relayed to cabinet members up to the outbreak of hostilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF chief Benny Gantz at a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 27, 2014.Credit: Michal Fattal

Development of tunnel-detection technology was delayed; foot-dragging continues to date

The search for a technological solution that can be used to locate underground tunnels has been going on for years, and the defense establishment takes pride in having examined virtually all possibilities. Even when such a system was found – and the army and the Ministry of Defense defined its implementation as a matter of urgency – the IDF was slow to deploy it.

As early as the end of 2012, the Defense Ministry commissioned a firm to carry out this effort, stipulating that the first stage should be completed by February 2014. By the time the war broke out in Gaza, however, this stage had not been completed; moreover, the equipment in question was deployed only in limited areas.

Even after the operation ended there were delays in installation of the system: Only in late March 2015, a year after the scheduled date, did work start on installing it along Israel's border with Gaza – but the foot-dragging continued. By mid-2016, the system was still only partly operational and work is now underway to complete it.

IDF forces near the area where a Hamas tunnel was discovered, on July 19, 2014.Credit: IDF spokesperson

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