The IDF which is taking on Hamas today is a very different species than the army which fought Hizballah in 2006, or Hamas in 2009 and 2012. The 55,000 troops fighting currently in Gaza are a well-oiled machine, made to order by training and structure for the very conditions they are finding in their current counter-terror mission.
They have been formed into five task forces, each consisting of large armored, infantry, air and naval forces, which is fully equipped, integrated and capable of operating independently without outside back-up. Working to detailed planning, they have been sweeping efficiently through Gaza’s northern and southern sectors.
These troops are exceptionally fit physically, an aspect often neglected in the past, and therefore better able to stand up to the hardships of combat in the Gaza environment.
Their command and logistics functions are also working almost without a hitch, so that medical aid, ammunition, food and other provisions are dispensed to the various units as needed.
Regional cooperation holds back a fast-moving army
In contrast to these improvements, combined with advanced military technological innovations and troop training for lightning action, the chain of command moves sluggishly, bogged down by politicians who insist on a hands-on role in the planning.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a former chief of staff himself, often override the Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz’s command of Operation Protective Edge by overseeing and approving detailed battle decisions.
This micromanagement of an army, which would seem to be excessive in the middle of a war, is exercised largely in the service of Netanyahu’s secret collaboration with Egyptian President Fattah El Sisi and Saudi King Abdullah.
This troika sketched out the operation’s grand design in advance and they now interact almost daily on its execution. (See a separate article for more about the Israel-Egypt-Saudi pact.)
This halting pace accounts for the IDF still fighting on the fringes of Hamas’ military capability and the delay in achieving a clear victory over Hamas, or even breaking its will to fight.
The notable exception to this pattern is Shajaiya, where the IDF routed Hamas decisively in its stronghold and razed a city of 100,000 inhabitants.
Early reliance on air strikes allowed Hamas to settle underground
But the Hamas high command and military infrastructure operating out of elaborate underground cities have scarcely been touched. The IDF must strike this vital backbone of the Islamist terror machine in order to move the operation swiftly into its final, victorious phase.
The greater part of Operation Protective Edge still lies ahead. The head of the Hamas politburo Khaled Meshaal could boast with some justice on July 23 that his forces could fight on for another two months.
The delayed tempo of the operation can be traced to its initial phase, when 17 days ago, the air force was entrusted by Netanyahu and Ya’alon with conducting an awesome blitz to quickly bring Hamas to its knees. Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel persuaded them that air strikes would produce rapid results.
But this did not happen. Air power damaged buildings and surface infrastructure, but failed to touch Hamas’ military core, which stayed intact inside its labyrinthine bunker network 20-40 meters under the center of Gaza City. From there, the top Hamas military and political brass and command centers are safely running operations, including rocket launching units which are close at hand.
By the time Netanyahu and Ya’alon changed tack a week ago, and sent armored and infantry troops into the Gaza Strip, Hamas had won time enough to dig the bulk of its strength into comfortable quarters underground.
Israeli intelligence has had little success in penetrating this subterranean network, leaving the war planners without an exact picture of what they are faced with.
Operation’s success stories are Iron Dome and tank defense system
The success stories of Israel’s counter-terror campaign against Hamas are two homemade guided systems: the Iron Dome missile defense system and the Trophy tank protection system, known as the Armored Shield Protection Active (ASPRO-A), or “Windbreaker.”
While Israel has touted Iron Dome as a system designed to protect civilians – and indeed it has performed this function admirably – most of the 2,000 plus rockets fired from Gaza in the past 17 days were in fact aimed at the Israeli air bases taking part in attacks on Hamas.
Thanks to Iron Dome, no soldiers were hurt and no aircraft destroyed, although several bases took minor damage.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that the IDF has deployed in the Gaza Strip the 401st tank brigade – the only unit all of whose Chariot-4 tanks are equipped with ASPRO-A -.
Commanders and military observers have been impressed by the extent to which this defense system has permitted Israeli tanks to advance on Hamas positions untouched by heavy anti-tank missile fire.
ASPRO-A, fixed atop the Chariot-4 tank, combines soft kill and hard kill elements against weaponry moving in for attack: each system consists of sensors, search radar, four antenna panels, a firing computer and an intercept launcher.
The radar constantly scans 360 degrees, analyzes the type, speed, location and direction of a threat and then shoots a volley of metal bullets packed with explosives to neutralize an incoming missile in mid-air. The system can deal with a wide range of threats and multiple attacks while on the move in all weather conditions.
ASPRO-A’s exceptional performance in difficult conditions has stirred interest in foreign armies.