Targeting Hamas leaders is part of a comprehensive strategy against the terrorist organization, but is not a “silver bullet,” former Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin said on Thursday.
Although the current Gaza operation will not be won through targeted killings, it is an important part of Israel’s overall strategy to weaken Hamas’s capabilities that also has included coping with its rocket weapons and destroying its terror tunnels, he said.
Yadlin’s comment in a press briefing organized by The Israel Project came shortly after Israel announced the targeted killing of three senior Hamas military leaders, and as there was still speculation whether the IDF had succeeded in killing Hamas's military wing chief Muhammad Deif.
In some cases in the past, Yadlin said, knocking out key military figures has had a huge impact on the organizations in which they served, such as the killing of Hezbollah’s military chief Imad Mughniyeh in 2008.
Mughniyeh’s death “weakened Hezbollah dramatically,” he said. Likewise, after the killing of Islamic Jihad’s founder and leader Fathi Shaqaqi in 1995, the organization did not function for 10 years, Yadlin said.
Yadlin, the head of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said it was not clear whether Israel managed to kill Deif in a bombing attack on Tuesday night. He said that Hamas might not want to admit to his death, concerned about the affect this would have on its fighters morale. At the same time, if he were alive, Hamas most likely would have wanted to prove it by releasing a video.
“There are a lot of intelligence censors now searching for the information [about Deif’s fate],” he said. “Israel will make an announcement when it is able to say he is dead with 100 percent certainty.”
Yadlin explained the timing of the recent hits less by saying they reflected a change in Israel’s military strategy, and more a coming together of good information and opportunity.
“The limitations on targeting Hamas leadership has to do first with intelligence, and second, with the limitations of collateral damage,” he said.
“Only when the two intersect – you have good intelligence and limited collateral damage – do you send the air force to the right coordinates.”
According to Yadlin, after spending some 45 days in underground bunkers, it is likely that Hamas’s military heads wanted to come up for air a bit, giving the IDF the ability to “find them in the right places.”
Yadlin said that after losing its strategic weapons – the rockets and tunnels – Hamas is now threatening Israel with a war of attrition, thinking this is not something Israeli society will tolerate. But Israel, he said, is not stepping down from a war of attrition, and indeed saying that if that is the way Hamas wants to go, Israel will answer it sevenfold.
“Our fire power, our intelligence, and our capability to sustain more days [in a war of attrition] is greater than theirs,” he said.
A war of attrition also hurts Hamas on another level, he said. “As long as there is attrition, there is no agreement, and Hamas is not gaining any achievement. Believe me, there are difficulties for them explaining to innocent people in Gaza what they are doing.”
According to Yadlin, the leaders of Hamas will understand very soon – if they haven’t done so already – that a war of attrition “plays against them,” and they will eventually return to some form of indirect negotiations – either through Egypt or another mechanism – and will have to understand that Israel will not agree to anything that does not prevent their rearming and rebuilding.
According to Yadlin, preventing Hamas’s rearming and rebuilding – even more the demilitarization of Gaza – will be “the main parameter to look at.”