At a Hanukkah candle-lighting at the Shin Bet security services headquarters two weeks ago, Yuval Diskin spoke with former heads of departments about the organization's preparedness to confront Hamas. The head of the Shin Bet sounded quite cautious. Perhaps even he was surprised by the quality of the intelligence that he and his people had succeeded in providing the Israel Defense Forces during the months of planning that preceded Operation Cast Lead and in the days prior to its launch.
Even those who object to the war in the Gaza Strip will find it hard not to agree that this time around, the intelligence community mostly succeeded in delivering the goods. Seen in the light of the Second Lebanon War failures, these achievements are particularly impressive. Back in 2006, the strategic data provided by the intelligence community was deemed sound, as it allowed the air force to within 34 minutes destroy most of Hezbollah's hideouts for its long-range rockets. But there were many shortcomings at the level of tactical intelligence, especially field intelligence. Even if Military Intelligence had had information about Hezbollah bunkers or outposts, this intel did not always succeed in reaching the forces in the field.
The Israel Defense Forces drew lessons from its failures, and this time, the fighters were better prepared. They are equipped with good intelligence measures and also have access to reliable information while in the field. The dissemination of intelligence is made possible by Shin Bet case officers, who work out of IDF command centers.
Another important factor leading to this success is the close and unprecedented cooperation between the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence: Military Intelligence with its 8200 signal intelligence (sigint) gathering unit in the technological realm and Unit 504 that runs agents, together with the research division and air force intelligence, which provides aerial photographs, has had a considerable role to play in this conflict's intelligence achievements.
With the help of MI 8200, the Shin Bet has begun to transform from an intelligence organization based on human sources into an intelligence-gathering organization that is also adept at electronic eavesdropping, intercepting messages and decoding them. In the Shin Bet today there is talk of "operating sensors," rather than "operating human sources." This stresses the change in its gathering methods, which are varied: They are no longer relying only on agents who provide information to their operators, but also technological systems that make it possible to listen in on phone conversations, intercept faxes and decode messages and the dispatches. In this way, the Shin Bet has compensated for the blows it experienced - less access and difficulties recruiting human sources - since the transfer of the Gaza Strip to Palestinian control in 1994 and the disengagement three years ago. Face-to-face meetings to transmit information between an agent and his handler have been replaced by other methods.
In Military Intelligence speak, cooperation with the Shin Bet and other agencies is called "intelligence fusion," meaning "a joint effort of a number of intelligence agencies in providing resources, knowledge and information to achieve the maximum result." Practically speaking, the "fusion" is manifested in the efficient use of computer programs and the storage and analysis of multi-layered intelligence (measures, voices and data) also during battle.
A precise hit
The intelligence community has thus far succeeded in preparing a rich "target bank" to serve the air force and ground forces. Accurate and precise intelligence is of particular importance in a densely populated area like Gaza, where every mistake is liable to cause the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Nevertheless, despite its good intelligence, Israeli troops still killed dozens of innocent civilians. Particularly impressive has been the ability to identify three mosques, which stored rockets and served as meeting places for terrorists. This is no trivial matter. Mistaken information could have caused the destruction of an innocent mosque, which was not serving as a weapons store, which would have sparked tremendous hostility toward Israel in the world, to the point of forcing it to end the fighting.
It is with good reason that even prior to the operation, the Shin Bet coined the term misgrad (a portmanteau consisting of the Hebrew word for "mosque" and the Grad rocket), which will no doubt star in the gibberish that every war produces.
Another achievement enabled the air force to make precise hits on about 40 tunnels that Hamas exclusively used to smuggle in weapons, ammunition and diesel to generate electricity in its installations. This prevented the need to carpet-bomb the border strip along all of its 12 kilometers, which most probably would have killed more innocent civilians living along the Gaza-Egyptian border (the Philadelphi Route).
However, it is dangerous and premature to boast of intelligence achievements. The longer the war, the lower the chance of continued intelligence successes. And at this stage of the fighting, it is not yet clear how close Israel is to rendering a significant blow to Hamas' strategic capabilities. During the past week, Hamas has fired between 30 and 40 rockets every day. This testifies that the organization is succeeding in maintaining its steady launching capability. The fact that its leadership has ducked underground and it fighters are in no hurry to engage in hand-to-hand fighting with the IDF does not necessarily mean they are in "a state of shock" from the fierceness of the IDF response, as Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin assessed at a cabinet meeting this week. It is possible that, in fact, this was a well-calculated decision by the guerrilla organization to preserve its leadership and its military capabilities for the crucial confrontation - or for "the day after."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now