As Operation Protective Edge enters its eighth week on Tuesday, Hamas has taken a severe military and morale blow, but its military arm is preparing for another round of fighting believing the price its people are paying is tolerable as long as its goals are achieved.
This is the assessment of senior Israeli security officials who nevertheless say there is growing skepticism among Hamas operatives about whether the fighting continues to be worthwhile considering the number of Hamas fighters who have been killed, the destruction of key military installations, the hit on the rocket manufacturing capabilities, and the destruction caused to the terror tunnels, which Hamas viewed as its “Day of Judgement” weapon.
According to these assessments, the IDF attacks in Gaza -- including damage to the homes of senior Hamas commanders -- the killing of commanders as well as damage done to the more junior military level led in many instances to a breakdown in Hamas’s chain of command, and even the abandonment of the rank and file on the battlefield.
According to these assessments, in some cases, mid-level commanders – concerned that their homes would be destroyed – preferred to flee with their families from the areas of fighting. As a result, those fighters who remained often felt abandoned and lost the will to continue to fight.
In other cases, according to the assessment, some of the Hamas fighters felt their superiors completely abandoned them. One instance was reported where 14 Hamas fighters were trapped for 20 days in a tunnel, surviving only on water and dates – with no effort by their commanders to rescue them. Some of the men starved to death.
According to information obtained by the security services, immediately after the kidnapping of the three Israeli youths in Gush Etzion in mid-June, various Hamas commanders went underground, making it impossible to consult with them.
While there was dissatisfaction toward the commanders from the rank-and-file, there was also often dissatisfaction from the commanders toward the fighters, especially in the eastern sector of Gaza where there was displeasure among the senior ranks to the resistance put up against the IDF ground incursion.
According to these assessments, the intensity of the Israeli attacks, the damage down to the commanders, the intelligence and the destruction of the tunnels surprised Hamas officials, some of whom did not believe that Israel was prepared to make a ground incursion into Gaza.
The targeted assassinations and the intelligence information regarding the tunnels created a great deal of suspicion of people collaborating with Israel, and this suspicion led often to abandoning the use of advanced technological equipment, which made management of the fighting for Hamas's top brass even more difficult.
According to the assessments, the prevailing mood in the street is one of bitterness and anger toward Hamas, whose leaders were among the first to hide and left the civilians to fend for themselves.
In one instance, women at Shifa Hospital beat up Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri and prevented him from speaking, as they shouted at him that while their sons were killed and homes were bombed, he was hiding in the hospital.
Hamas's grave condition, and its need to motivate its people, led to a situation where it confiscated aid allowed into the Strip and passed it over to its own people, at the expense of others.
Meanwhile, numerous Hamas activists have been arrested and interrogated over the past seven weeks, and described the degree to which mosques and hospitals were used as staging grounds and hiding places, and where areas near pre-schools were commonly used as starting points for tunnels and as hiding places for arms.
Among the prominent examples:
Abd al-Rahman Balousha, from Khan Yunis, said that the Alsafa and Alabra mosques there serve as a staging ground for Hamas terrorists.
Muhammad Ramadan from Khan Yunis said his anti-tank weapons training took place in a hall located under the Alshafi mosque in Khan Yunis. He added that the hall serves as an Izzadin Al-Kassam Brigades training and instruction facility, and is closed to non-military personnel.
Muhammad Alqadra, from Khan Yunis, said “everyone knows that Hamas leaders are hiding in hospitals,” where they have armed bodyguards, visible to all, usually wearing police uniforms. He estimated that Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh was hiding in Shifa hospital in Gaza, apparently in an area not accessible to citizens, and accompanied by security guards in civilian clothes.