DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military analysts point out the big difference between the ways in which Iran and Israel prepared for the Gaza War: Tehran's war planners drew on the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon war between Israel and Hizballah in order to produce a Hamas victory, whereas Israeli strategists put their Lebanese experience to one side and drafted a new scenario for keeping the IDF a step ahead of the Iranian plan.
Tehran erred in assuming that Israel would wage its Gaza offensive as a sequel to the Lebanon War.
Israel's military leaders, backed this time to the hilt by government policy-makers, went for surprise tactics, of a kind Israel had never pursued in any previous conflict with Arab or Palestinian foes.
Their overriding objective was to demolish Iran's war doctrine from the word go:
1. Following their first directive, droves of Israeli Air Force F-16 fighters-bombers, helicopter gunships and drones blasted to extinction large parts of the Iranian-designed subterranean fortress of tunnels and bunkers in the first hour of Israel's Operation Cast Lead on Dec. 27. Hamas' big arsenals and rocket depots were similarly targeted.
2. Some 80 percent of the missile/rocket silos designed and built by Iranian and Syrian military engineers were wiped out by bunker-buster bombs in that first wave of attacks.
Consequently, instead of firing 200 missiles a day, precisely targeting important Israeli urban centers, Hamas was reduced to 40 in the early days of the 22-day conflict, going down to 20 in the final ten days.
After the launchers' guidance mechanisms were knocked out, 98 percent of the rockets and missiles landed wide of their targets or went astray.
3. The Israeli ground forces which went in on Jan. 3 were preceded by tanks, artillery and aircraft firing broadsides across a 500-800 sq. meter area to clear their path of the advance.
This tactic knocked out the explosive booby-traps which had been planted in almost every second residential building and road to blow up the invaders. Every shell therefore triggered chain blasts from the explosives massed inside the buildings, magnifying the destruction.
Ruthless yet circumscribed – in coordination with Obama and Mubarak
In the long history of Israeli-Arab confrontations, the Olmert government became the first to knowingly approve military action in which collateral damage to civilians was unavoidable because Hamas had integrated the Palestinian population willy-nilly into its war strategy.
In consequence, the Palestinians claimed more than 1,300 dead – 800 of them civilians, including at least 300 children (figures that were later disputed by Palestinian physicians as inflated) and entire neighborhoods were wiped out, especially in Gaza City, Rafah and Khan Younes. Israeli politicians and generals alike argued that the Hamas rocket attacks terrorizing southern Israel could not be damped down without harm to the one and-a-quarter million Palestinians living under its rule.
Israeli troops were ruthless in their attacks on Hamas military and leadership targets embedded in civilian areas, resorting in some cases to the use of white phosphorus shells to strike the homes of senior commanders living with their wives and children atop huge weapons caches.
Israeli leaders were driven to these ruthless extremes by their perception that they were acting in justified self-defense – even though this jarred with the sentiments voiced by the incoming president of Israel's staunchest ally.
In his inauguration speech on Jan. 20, US President Barack Obama said:
“Security in post-9/11 America will not come at the expense of abandoning the US ideals of liberty and the rule of law.” He went on to say that “security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”
In Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli military appeared to throw restraint to the winds, applauded by most of a country weary of eight years of restraint.
In fact, the battle's goals were clearly defined and strictly circumscribed.
Israeli forces did not fight to recapture Gaza's cities or even subdue its Hamas rulers – not because of the ideals articulated by Obama but because Jerusalem had aligned its objectives previously in coordination with Obama's team and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.