The outcome of the ground phase of Israel’s Defensive Edge Operation may be determined just as much by its unseen battle as by the destruction of more than a dozen Hamas terrorist tunnels and infrastructure Saturday morning, July 19, the 12th day of the operation. This clandestine battle can’t be fought or won by even the most sophisticated high-tech and electronic gadgetry tools. It requires a flexible, shrewd and cautious ground maneuver to be conducted among with the local population – and above all, boots on the ground – for collecting such arcane data as the locations of tunnel openings and other enemy secrets.
This kind of interaction with the locals comes under the heading of HUMINT. IDF obtains its eyes on the ground either voluntarily, inadvertently or by interrogating prisoners.
The spies on the ground of the Shin Bet, IDF combat intelligence-gathering and AMAN field units, trained in clandestine operations in an Arab environment, may pick up data bonanzas from ordinary people in war zones, who are willing to talk out of various motives:
Financial: Ordinary Gazan Palestinians, in contrast to their ruling elite, are in dire financial distress. They may be persuaded to part with valuable information for a cash reward or a permit to cross into Israel.
Revenge: They are deeply fragmented by factional and personal rivalries. Certain elements may offer information to settle scores with their opponents.
Safe Guarantee: A Palestinian in Gaza may be willing to sell valuable secrets to buy an IDF guarantee of safety from attack for himself, his family and his property for the duration of the Israeli-Hamas military conflict.
Buying long-term collaborators with financial or medical rewards is one of the key HUMINT operations which are performed under cover of the IDF ground incursion.
Less gentle treatment is meted out to extract information from the dozens of captured Hamas operatives who are being grilled at makeshift sites.
Contrary to conventional assumptions, Israeli interrogators have not found violence to be the most productive method of extracting secrets from unwilling subjects. They obtain their best results by tricks and subterfuge and, dovetailing the information obtained with the data incoming from other sources, human and other.
They also act on the premise that their subjects may be utterly faithful to their national and religious ideals, but some may also human beings, with personal ambitions, wives, ageing parents or sick children in need of medical or other assistance. Therefore, a detailed rundown on the subject’s CV obtained in advance will give the investigator the advantage of knowing where to apply pressure to extract information.
This sort of pressure is apt to produce a gold mine, the key piece of information for unlocking such secrets as the locations of terrorist tunnel openings – the first of which Israel ground forces in fact found Friday night in schools, private homes and greenhouses.
It may also yield from prisoners such valuable data as the whereabouts of the booby traps Hamas rigged for invaders, the identities of contact men, the Hamas chain of command, its combat systems, its technological resources and its command and control centers.