[Marxism] Hamas's Shift to Tunnel Warfare Catches Israel by Surprise
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Fri Aug 1 14:22:40 MDT 2014
NY Times, August 1 2014
Hamas's Shift to Tunnel Warfare Catches Israel by Surprise
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — Israel entered its latest conflict with Hamas armed with a
high-tech arsenal, real-time battlefield intelligence and strong
domestic support for dealing a heavy blow to Hamas.
But again on Friday, Israeli forces were taken by surprise, this time
with two soldiers killed and one taken prisoner when militants once
again attacked from a tunnel leading from Gaza into Israel.
As frustration grows in Israel over the military’s inability to
neutralize Hamas, the militant Islamic group that governs Gaza, despite
hitting 4,300 targets in 24 days of intense bombing, some military
experts say it is increasingly evident that the Israel Defense Forces
have been operating from an old playbook and are not fully prepared for
a more sophisticated, battle-ready adversary. The issue is not
specifically the tunnels — which Israel knew about — but the way Hamas
fighters trained to use them to create what experts in Israel are
calling a “360-degree front.”
Plumes of smoke above a neighborhood in Gaza City after militants fired
rockets toward Israel on Thursday after a lull in fighting.From Gaza, an
Array of Makeshift Rockets Packs a CounterpunchJULY 17, 2014
“Hamas has changed its doctrine and is using the tunnels as a main
method of operation,” said Israel Ziv, a retired general who headed the
military’s Gaza division and its operations directorate. “This is
something we learned amid the fighting.”
Israeli troops in Gaza described Hamas gunmen who vanished from one
house, like magicians, and suddenly popped up to fire at them from
another. And while Hamas fighters are able to use the tunnels to
surprise the forces from behind and to attack those in the rear, Israeli
soldiers find themselves having to improvise. In the Gaza war that began
in late 2008, 10 Israeli soldiers were killed, four of them from
friendly fire. This time, 61 soldiers have been killed, mostly in
combat, and one has now been taken prisoner.
“The military has been playing it by ear,” said Amos Harel, a military
affairs analyst for the newspaper Haaretz, who added that despite its
knowledge of the tunnels, Israel’s military planners did not draft a new
doctrine for prosecuting a land invasion. “But it is pretty good at
doing that, and has done it many times.”
In this latest asymmetrical war with Hamas, the third in five years,
Israel thought it was prepared. It had built up an integrated
communications systems able to transfer intelligence in real time to air
and ground forces, an advancement that military officials described as a
Precision-guided missiles have destroyed up to a third of Hamas’s rocket
stocks, according to Israeli officials, as well as hundreds of houses or
apartments that the military described as militant command-and-control
centers and many other weapons production sites and stores.
Hamas still has up to 4,000 rockets, beyond the nearly 3,000 rockets
that it has fired into Israel. More than 1,400 Palestinians have been
killed, many of them civilians, according to Gaza officials, stirring
international outrage and raising demands for a cease-fire.
And while Israel says it has killed hundreds of militants and arrested
scores more, Hamas’s senior military command and political leadership
“The leadership hides underground, like under Shifa Hospital,” said Eado
Hecht, a military analyst who teaches at the Israeli military’s Command
and General Staff College and at Bar-Ilan and Haifa Universities.
What Israel was not ready for was Hamas fighters who are willing to
engage and are trained to use tunnels, a tool of war whose roots go back
to antiquity. During Israel’s last ground incursion in the winter of
2008-9, Hamas fighters largely avoided clashes, melting into the crowded
urban landscape. This time, they were prepared for combat.
“What surprised me was the operational plans they built,” said Atai
Shelach, a former commander of the military’s combat engineering unit.
The tunnels themselves, while well known, have also presented a
challenge. After years of research there is still no technological
solution for detecting and destroying the tunnels from afar, officials
said. The shafts leading to Hamas’s labyrinth are “inside houses, so we
won’t see them from the air,” said Mr. Hecht, the military analyst.
“You have to go house to house and check,” he added.
As Israel’s forces have slowly advanced, they have pummeled
neighborhoods with heavy artillery, which analysts said was militarily
necessary to safeguard soldiers who were operating without the element
of surprise. Those tactics have also drawn international condemnation
for devastating civilian homes and infrastructure, and taking so many
lives. “In a dense urban environment, you need to use aggressive force
to save soldiers’ lives,” Mr. Harel, the military affairs analyst, said.
Special forces are equipped with portable Israeli-made Spike antitank
guided missiles with ranges of 1.5 miles to 15 miles. Yiftah Shapir, a
weapons expert at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel
Aviv University, said they can be used for almost anything, and are so
accurate that they can pinpoint a window on a building.
Hamas has also upgraded its weaponry. Aside from its rockets, some of
which can reach almost to the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, its
arsenal includes antiaircraft and antitank missiles.
The number of Palestinian casualties in Gaza is comparable to that in
the 2008-9 conflict, when about 1,400 were killed, according to
Palestinian figures. Israel put the figure at closer to 1,120.
Still, a decisive Israeli victory over Hamas remains elusive.
“The question is not military, the question is what does Israel want,”
said Yaakov Amidror, a retired general who served as Israel’s national
security adviser until November. To bring complete quiet to Gaza would
require a takeover and occupation of the territory for six months to a
year, he said. Israel, which unilaterally withdrew its forces and
settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005, has little appetite to return.
What is left, military officials say, is to create deterrence. In recent
years, Israeli strategists have spoken of the “Dahiya doctrine,”
referring to Israel’s flattening of the Dahiya district in Beirut, a
Shiite neighborhood that housed the command-and-control headquarters of
Hezbollah, during its 34-day war against the Lebanese organization in
the summer of 2006. The idea was to inflict such damage that the other
side would ask whether confrontation was worthwhile.
While many Israelis deemed that war a failure, it has restored quiet to
Israel’s northern border for the last eight years.
But experts say the Dahiya doctrine does not apply to Gaza. The Hamas
command is not concentrated in one area, and the leader of the movement,
Khaled Meshal, lives in exile, “in a five-star hotel in Qatar,” as Mr.
Amidror put it, where the impact of the destruction is less immediate.
Gabi Siboni, who runs the military and strategic affairs program at the
Institute for National Security Studies, said another reason was that
Hamas “is not accountable, not to the world and not to its citizens.” By
embedding its forces and fighting from within the population centers, he
said, Hamas has raised its willingness “to sacrifice” its civilians “to
an art form.”
Hamas has said it is fighting to lift the economic blockade from Gaza
and wants an opening of the passages controlled by Israel and Egypt,
among other things — demands that will now be addressed in cease-fire
talks in Cairo. Israel wants blocks on Hamas’s ability to rearm and,
eventually, to see Gaza demilitarized.
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