Despite perceived overall success in Operation Protective Edge domestically, heavy criticism has already been directed against the political and security establishments regarding the IDF being unprepared for the scope of the Hamas tunnel threat, with both leaking off-the-record attacks on the other to shift blame.
A primary defense by politicians and some military officials has been to shift blame relating to the tunnels to the intelligence sector for not being fully in the know, but a 2007 state comptroller’s report on the issues belies this argument.
The criticism comes following numerous surprise attacks emanating from the tunnels, attacks in which multiple soldiers were killed.
The number of expected tunnels has grown multiple times, and some have expressed frustration at the inability to destroy them from the air as well as the longer-than-expected time taken to destroy them even using ground forces.
But those claiming the intelligence sector did not warn them of the scope of the problem must deal with the 2007 report which said unequivocally that the entire defense establishment had been part of an “ongoing failure.”
Among those mentioned as being involved in the tunnel effort at the time were then-IDF chief and current Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, then-deputy IDF chief Dan Halutz, then-OC Ground Forces Maj.-Gen.
(res.) Yiftah Ron-Tal and the head of the IDF’s Combat Engineering Corps at the time, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shimon Daniel.
The report itself came after several incidents in which soldiers were killed or kidnapped, most notably Gilad Schalit, by surprise Hamas attacks from tunnels, seemingly not that different from the recent attacks.
The report recommended numerous urgent changes, “in light of the flawed handling of the threat in the three areas reviewed, the conceptual foundation for addressing the issue, technological efforts and intelligence handling of the threat, each of them individually and collectively.”
The first recommendation was appointing a point-person in the IDF who would have full coordinating power on the issue to make sure all efforts were undertaken in a unified fashion.
This was in contrast to the prior appointment of certain officials to handle the issue in theory, but where the comptroller found that in practice they were never given sufficient authority or even included in all government meetings on the issue, such that their ideas were ignored.
The second recommendation was that better mechanisms for alerting soldiers and civilians in real time about threats emanating from tunnels needed to be developed as well as providing intelligence to forward troops to react promptly.
For politicians seeking cover from criticism, this recommendation specifically mentioned the necessity of oversight and even intervention by the political leadership.
Third, the resources of the IDF, the Defense Ministry and private-sector experts needed to be better pooled and mobilized to effectively address faster location and neutralizing of the tunnels.
At the time, the IDF reportedly gave a number of responses to the report’s conclusions. But one of the reported responses – that the threat of tunnels would take longer to address because it was unprecedented – seemed to ignore decades of guerrilla tunnel warfare in various parts of the world.
The IDF, Defense Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to requests for comment by press time.