New Hamas Tactics Tried in Real Battle Conditions

Israel’s five-day anti-missile campaign was curtailed Sunday, Nov. 26 by a ceasefire announced by the Palestinians. But it was long enough to provide Israeli forces with the foretaste of a Palestinian fighting force far different from the bands of terrorists the IDF has faced for the past six years in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
For the first time, Hamas and its affiliated armed groups banded in the Popular Resistance Committees proved capable of correct tactics in deploying their troops, avoiding frontal clashes with Israeli forces. The fingerprints were clearly apparent of the 120 Syrian and Hizballah officers whose arrival in the Gaza in the weeks after the Lebanon War was revealed by debkafile. They came in quite openly through Cairo international airport without demur from Egyptian officials.
IDF officers who took part in the anti-missile combat said no direct contact had been made with these Palestinian forces because of their exceptional swiftness in flitting from point to point, much like Hizballah in Lebanon. Their preferred name for the curtailed engagement was The Surveillance Battle.
Israel tacticians fielded small units of special forces in northern Gaza to put a stop to the Palestinian Qassam missile offensive against Israeli civilian towns and villages. Hamas countered by flooding the area with hundreds of surveillance pickets specifically trained to stalk IDF movements.
Composed of one or two men, these pickets were embedded among civilians and kept their rear command constantly briefed on the precise positions of Israeli forces.
Those Israel officers reported that each of their units had its own Hamas shadow. Attempts to shake them off by changing position were ineffective because the stalkers moved faster and often anticipated them.
Israeli troops also came up against the well-calculated, organized and extensive use by Hamas and PRC teams of anti-tank missiles of Iranian, Syrian and Russian manufacture, freshly delivered by Iran and Syria. Whereas Israeli troops were accustomed to encounter this weapon in sporadic, random use, now it was employed to draw Israel forces into chasing anti-tank missile teams into traps laid by larger teams waiting in ambush.
Often too the Palestinians varied the size of their missile force in mid-engagement to confuse the Israel units.
The Israeli commanders, for their part, had their hands tied. They were refused permission by the policy-makers to counter Palestinian tactics, first by severing the northern Gaza battlefield commanders from their lifelines to the south, second by trying out new methods of combat for turning the tables on the enemy.
The last straw for the IDF was prime minister Ehud Olmert’s hasty acceptance of the abrupt ceasefire against military advice. Its timing was doubly damaging and dangerous in that it gave the Hamas and PRC chiefs – and their outside sponsors – the last word, namely the sense that their new tactics had proved successful in conditions of real combat. Hamas’ northern commanders came off confident that their innovations had deflected the Israeli army from its mission to destroy their Qassam surface missile capability against Sderot, and forced the Israeli military to back down and withdraw.
Monday, Nov. 27, defense minister Amir Peretz hailed Israel’s consent to the ceasefire as a possible opening to a broader accommodation with the Palestinians and the recovery of the kidnapped soldier Gilead Shalit. This is not the way it looks to Israel’s military planners. They see Israel’s acquiescence as granting Hamas and radical Palestinian groups at large a license to continue building up their war machine on the lines of Hizballah in south Lebanon and its extension to the West Bank. Gilead Shalit will not gain his freedom without further Israeli surrenders.

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