The IDF and Hamas are engaged in shadow intelligence war, in which each side seeks to learn as much as it can about the other and use the information to plan painful attacks.
Hamas has come a long way in the world of field intelligence, having recently set up a surveillance and reconnaissance division that is able to communicate the position of IDF ground forces to attack cells, which in turn emerge from tunnels and open fire in coordinated strikes.
On the Israeli side, a mammoth intelligence effort is under way to support the ground forces in Gaza. Military Intelligence and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) work around the clock to provide alerts for threats such as imminent use of tunnels by Hamas, anti-tank missile attacks, Hamas drones, raids on the Israeli coast from Gaza and rocket launches.
The IDF has in recent years invested heavily in intelligence- based combat. This involves Military Intelligence working intimately with the Infantry Brigades and the Armored and Engineering Corps on the ground. Military Intelligence has deployed its officers to the headquarters of army brigades that are now maneuvering in Gaza.
There, they share a wealth of information on the enemy, including signal and visual intelligence. Their presence also speeds up the time it takes to open fire on a target detected by Military Intelligence.
The valuable information is filtered down to battalion and company commanders, who learn about tunnel locations, Hamas weapons facilities, and where to go next from their current position. The intelligence also enables ground forces to avoid booby-trapped homes and ambushes.
Every 12 hours, Military Intelligence draws up a new operational plan, allowing for adjustment to real-time developments on the battlefield.
Military Intelligence has, for example, provided the Israel Air Force with alerts about Hamas drones that have taken off from Gaza and are headed for Israeli air space. It is then up to the IAF to shoot down the unmanned aircraft.
According to Military Intelligence data, Hamas has built a small fleet of armed drones, but these are more primitive than the drones in possession of Hezbollah.
When it comes to tunnels, Military Intelligence sends ground forces to the precise location of shafts in Gaza. IDF units often have to map out the full path of the tunnel.
Military Intelligence is also aware of the location of complex mazes of interconnected underground passages, which surface in Israel in multiple locations.
Before the operation broke out, Hamas, acutely aware of the surveillance it is under, tried to avoid being detected when the diggers were picked up from homes and brought to work sites.
The IDF is learning a great deal about tunnels as ground forces advance in Gaza, adding to its previous knowledge base.
Yet it remains unlikely that the military will know about every tunnel Hamas has dug.
Between November 2012, when the previous Hamas-Israel conflict ended, and July 2014, Military Intelligence created an overall target list of 1,257 terrorist assets. It then accumulated 2,423 targets during the fighting. This has allowed the IDF to attack some 3,800 terrorist targets since the start of the operation.
Additionally, the IDF has gathered information on Hamas rocket launcher locations, air defenses, and regime buildings.
By the time Operation Protective Edge began, Hamas had already moved underground, knowing that Israel was looking for its senior commanders, who are hiding in safe locations, often underneath large civilian structures.
Meanwhile, in Israel, the Shin Bet is questioning 179 Gazan security suspects taken into custody by the army.
The assessment of Military Intelligence is that Hamas has absorbed a serious blow over the past three weeks, and that it will take the organization a long time to recover.
Gazan civilian life has also absorbed a serious blow, and, according to Israeli evaluations, behind closed doors there is little doubt in the minds of many Gazans that Hamas led them to their state.
At the end of the operation, both the IDF and Hamas will carry out detailed studies of the other’s actions and seek to adapt their future moves accordingly.