Had the IDF been ordered to, it could have seized the whole of the Gaza Strip in a week, and spent up to two years taking apart Hamas’s guerrilla army, but this has not been the goal of the operation thus far, a senior military source said Sunday.
“Had we been ordered to defeat Hamas, we would have done it. We would have drafted four divisions, evacuated the Gazan population from battlegrounds, conquered the area and scanned it thoroughly.
It would take a week to take Gaza, and up to two years to destroy terrorist infrastructure,” the source said.
In such a scenario, “A guerrilla war would have started. This was not the mission given to the IDF, and rightfully so,” the source said. “The IDF divided up Gaza dozens of times, most recently in Operation Cast Lead [in 2009]. Every brigade can do it. The question is, what is the aim?” The goal of the offensive was not to topple Hamas, but to create a better security environment for Israel, the source continued.
At the same time, he warned, “The IDF has a range of plans. We are prepared for everything.”
“The Israeli interest is for there to be one address in Gaza,” the source said. “We want one element to control Gaza. That’s why toppling Hamas has not been set as a goal. Who would be responsible for Gaza on the day after? Hence, Israel hit very strongly, but not enough to topple Hamas.”
Nevertheless, if Hamas insists on continuing the conflict, the IDF is prepared to hit it “deep in its territory,” the source said.
Ground forces can be sent into Gaza to destroy a large portion of Hamas’s command and control sites, as well as weapons storage and production facilities.
The source added that Israel has replenished its deterrence against Hamas, but that an arrangement allowing Hamas to end the conflict has not yet been drawn up.
Hamas dearly wishes to see such an arrangement, he added.
“Hamas thought it would create fear and terror in the Israeli home front. It was not aware of Iron Dome’s capabilities. What it experienced in Pillar of Defense [in 2012] was a partial capability [of Iron Dome]. It was very surprised. This gave us the duration,” the source said.
Hamas is isolated in the international arena, and has only has Qatar and Turkey as backers. Neither can provide it with the guarantees that it needs, the source argued. Additionally, Hamas very much wanted to avoid an Egyptian- led mediation effort, but was forced into one anyway.
The central goals of the operation have been to harm Hamas’s offensive capabilities. Hamas has under a third of its rocket arsenal left, and the large majority of its attack tunnels had been destroyed. Hamas’s front-line defensive battalions have been severely eroded by IDF ground forces, the source said.
Additionally, he said, Gaza’s civilian population is in distress. Many are homeless, and entire neighborhoods have been destroyed in areas where the IDF and Hamas clashed. Rebuilding will take a very long time, the source said.
“Hamas wants to finish the war. It doesn’t yet have the mechanism to do so,” he added.