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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Military Intelligence: 'The Rosh HaShannah attack was a myth invented by Haredi media. We know nothing about it'

A tweet from Haredi reporter Yaakov Rivlin.

Translation: Senior office in Military Intelligence before [Knesset] Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: The Hamas program to infiltrate into Israel on Rosh HaShannah via ten tunnels is a tale that is running around the Haredi media. We known nothing about it.


Maybe this is connected to some hard questions being asked by journalist Nachum Barnea about why if the tunnels are such a danger, the government was willing to agree to a truce without touching them?

Netanyahu agreed to the ceasefire last week, despite knowing about the tunnels and the threat they posed. His decision, and that of the Cabinet, was made within the sphere of legitimacy. Bennett, who voted against it because of the tunnels, thought otherwise, but the cabinet had other considerations.

What is not legitimate is the gap between rhetoric and reality. Netanyahu was not the first to warn about the tunnels, but he did so halfheartedly. As prime minister he did not see the tunnels as sufficient threat to justify military action, before and during Pillar of Defense in 2012, and before and during Protective Edge. He chose to take a risk. When he told Channel 2's Udi Segal that he hoped that the problem of the tunnels could be solved politically, he knew that this was not grounded in reality.

Netanyahu, like others in the government, was surprised by Hamas' offensive ability, its fighting spirit and the subsequent number of fallen soldiers. Only he can answer the question of whether prior knowledge of the price would have prevented him from rolling into a ground operation. It's not certain that he is able to answer such a question - even to himself.


In summer 2010, a discussion took place in the Southern Command - one of many - on the issue of the tunnels. It was a fascinating discussion, precisely because there wasn't really anything new in it. Anyone who today pleads ignorance about the tunnels is lying to others - or to himself. For better or for worse, everything was on the table.

GOC Southern Command at the time, Yoav Galant, opened the debate. Terrorist organizations are preparing an attack via the tunnels, he said, high-quality attacks in real time, using extensive infrastructure throughout the sector. Hamas had taken advantage of the calm since Operation Cast Lead to improve its level of preparedness for terrorist attacks, and the tunnels were an important element in their planning.

The threat, Galant said, was expected to get stronger: The length of the tunnels was growing, the pace of work accelerating, and the ability to hide improving. The command made great efforts to address this issue in six areas, including defense, attack, intelligence and development of technology. These efforts must continue.

Subterranean warfare, said the general, is a method of fighting in which the enemy has shown operational capability and success, and against whose abilities there is no effective solution. The use of the tunnels is growing, a fact that demands creative solutions.

A complete solution, he concluded, would include exposure of the digging work, accurate detection of the tunnel routes and the ability to prevent, disrupt or wipe out the threat.

No less than seven different methods for dealing with the tunnels were raised during the discussion. Each had a more grandiose name than the last (there are no limits to creativity when it comes to inventing military names) but the results were ultimately disappointing. The Southern Command established a test site near Kerem Shalom, including a tunnel at a depth of 10 meters. And while these efforts bore no fruit, there was still great faith in the summer of 2010 that a solution would be found to the problem of the tunnels.
One idea included a system of sensors to detect all digging operations. But the system failed and the army stopped using it. Another system of sensors above ground was supposed to detect all activity carried out below it, but this system was not automated and required improvement.

A third invention was meant to locate tools that were being used underground; a fourth involved drilling into the ground, inserting poles, connecting to the water system and turning on the taps. The monetary cost was astronomical, and ultimately prohibitive.

The fifth system was designed to monitor excavation work from the air; the sixth aimed to reveal the route of a tunnel once it had been discovered. And finally, the seventh system was based on "statistical" drilling and explosions, and proved to have low efficiency.

In the absence of any redeeming technological invention, there was no way around dealing with the tunnels on three parallel tracks: intelligence, military operations beyond the Gaza border fence, and a sizeable financial investment in technological development. Intelligence-gathering efforts were made, but military operations beyond the fence were disabled at government direction, and money was not allocated. The tunnels were forced onto the backburner.

The data shows a clear shift after Operation Cast Lead. In the three years between the disengagement from Gaza in summer 2005 and Cast Lead in the winter of 2008-9, the fighters of the Southern Command embarked on 92 missions to locate the tunnels and demolish them. Tunnels were destroyed in, among others, Saja'iyya, Zeitun and Khan Younis - sites the IDF has returned to this past week. The ground on Israel's Gaza border was cleared during these missions.
At the end of Cast Lead, then-defense minister Ehud Barak ordered an end to missions beyond the fence. Galant claimed that the understandings reached with Hamas in the wake of the operation did allow for such actions, but Barak argued otherwise. Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff at the time, did not intervene.

But one incident did play a defining role for both sides. In November 2008, a tunnel leading from Gaza into Israel was discovered south of Wadi Gaza, in the central Strip. The decision was taken to attack it. Barak and Ashkenazi both wanted to strike from the air, but Galant claimed an air strike would not destroy the tunnel - it would only take out the mouth, thereby making it difficult to locate later. Barak was persuaded, and successfully dispatched a Paratrooper Reconnaissance Battalion (commanded by Yaron Finkelman, today commander of the Gaza border region). 

There's much more here

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