That nine of the 10 Israeli servicemen who died in the counter-terror operation against Hamas Monday, July 28, were killed on Israeli soil was a wake-up call for Israel’s war leaders. It meant that Hamas had used the 22 days of combat to carry the contest from its own home ground into Israel by grabbing the tactical advantage of surprise.
The Nahal Oz encounter was a tragic microcosm of the current face of Operation Defensive Edge.
The tunnel, from which a band of Hamas infiltrators jumped out – and about whose existence the IDF admits to have known – ran app. 150 meters from Shejaiya in Gaza to the military pillbox guarding Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Between five and seven terrorist nonetheless were allowed to reach their destination armed to the teeth with automatic and anti-tank and explosives.
This brought two facts to light: First, the battle for Shejaiya was not over, although it had slipped out of sight. According to debkafile’s military sources, the shattered town has become a no-man’s land where Hamas gangs hide out for attacks on Israeli troops.
Second, while the IDF and government officials issue upbeat communiqués claiming that the entire tunnel problem will be disposed of in a matter of days – one officer asserted that the IDF is in control of all the terror tunnels – the Nahal Oz episode told a different story.
That it was allowed to happen shows that: –
1. Although the secret passage used for attacking Nahal Oz was known to the military command, the unit charged with its defense was taken by surprise with tragic results: five Israeli combatants lost their lives. The single defender who survived opened fire on the infiltrators and put them to flight, so stopping them snatching the bodies of the fallen men as bargaining counters.
2. Even if the IDF had decided to leave the tunnel shaft open for operational use, such as a secret route for Israeli troops to steal into Gaza behind enemy lines, it must still be asked why not fit it with sensors and cameras for tracking invaders and sounding the alarm?
3. One Hamas terrorist was killed in the encounter; the rest made their escape back to Shejaiya. It ended in an appalling score of 5 to 1 dead.
4. The IDF spokesman claimed that Hamas was bent on a terrorist raid on the kibbutz. The truth was they had come to kidnap Israeli soldiers.
debkafile’s military experts outline the obstacles facing the destruction of Hamas’ underground passage system:
a) Explosions cannot reach their entire length, which often runs to a kilometer or more with a web of multiple branches which fork off in uncharted directions. So when the IDF reports that 15 or 17 of the 31 tunnels uncovered have been destroyed, this means that explosions have demolished a section that runs from a point under the Israeli surface to a point controlled by IDF troops in the Gaza Strip.
b) Explosions that run further and deeper are technically feasible, but only at the risk of setting off earth tremors strong enough to topple buildings on both the Gazan and Israeli sides of the border.
c) Israel will never be rid of Hamas’ multi-branched underground empire and its threat of surprise raids for murder and kidnaps, without first physically demolishing the war rooms hidden in the deeply buried branches forking off from the main passages. Even then, some of those passages may remain undiscovered.
A senior IDF officer commented Tuesday: “We were surprised to find an elaborate system which connected the tunnels with Hamas’ chain of command.”
d) Some officers are saying that too much focus may have been placed by official spokesmen on the tunnel problem, possibly in order to distract attention from the extent to which the heads of government have held the armed forces back from gaining any serious advantages in the war on Hamas – or even terminating its rocket blitz.