Hamas was planning a coordinated attack on Israel to inflict mass civilian casualties, an Israeli spokesman told Vanity Fair in an article published online Tuesday.
Khaled Meshal, the exiled leader of Hamas, vehemently denied such a scenario in a conversation with the magazine, while a top Israeli intelligence official asserted that the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teens in June inadvertently tripped up Hamas's plans for a mass attack.
“Hamas had a plan,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, the spokesman, told Vanity Fair. “A simultaneous, coordinated, surprise attack within Israel. They planned to send 200 terrorists armed to the teeth toward civilian populations. This was going to be a coordinated attack. The concept of operations involved 14 offensive tunnels into Israel. With at least 10 men in each tunnel, they would infiltrate and inflict mass casualties.”
According to Vanity Fair, six senior intelligence officials described on background the situation Lerner described on record. Lerner also confirmed the story to the Times of Israel.
Hamas had two goals for the attacks, a senior military intelligence official told Vanity Fair. “First, get in and massacre people in a village. Pull off something they could show on television," he said. "Second, the ability to kidnap soldiers and civilians using the tunnels would give them a great bargaining chip.”
However, Khaled Meshal of Hamas denied that the tunnels were intended for killing civilians.
“If what Israeli leaders are claiming is correct—that Hamas dug those tunnels to attack the Israeli towns and kill civilians—how come Hamas hasn’t done that [before now or] during the war? . . . The Israeli leadership is lying," he argued. "Evidence of this is that when they declared war on Gaza they did not declare the tunnels as part of the military targets. But when they discovered the tunnels, this is when they started to raise the issue. This proves that they first started the war and then looked for justifications.”
Meshal also insisted the tunnels were defensive in nature despite the fact that they ended in proximity to Israeli civilian communities.
“Yes, true. There are Israeli towns adjacent to Gaza," he said. "Have any of the tunnels been used to kill any civilian or any of the residents of such towns? No. Never! . . . [Hamas] used them either to strike beyond the back lines of the Israeli army or to raid some military sites . . . This proves that Hamas is only defending itself.”
A top Israeli intelligence official could not confirm the rumor that Hamas was planning its mass attack on Rosh Hashanah last month, a story which made headlines during the Israeli offensive in Gaza over the summer.
“It may have been,” he said. “But ultimately everything was moved up. Hamas’s grand plan for the tunnels failed because the kidnapping set things in motion before Hamas had everything ready."
The official was referring to the abduction and murder of Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrah in early June, which triggered a mass Israeli crackdown on Hamas that in turn escalated into the 50-day war between the two enemies.
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