Hamas is digging attack tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border, and Israel is failing to take actions to stop it, a former senior military commander told a security conference on Monday.
Speaking at an event entitled ‘Operation Protective Edge to the Third Intifada?’ organized by the Institute for National Security Studies, former officers offered scathing criticism of government policies at the Sapir Academic College in Sderot.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yom Tov Samia, former OC Southern Command, said the government has consistently been setting ambiguous goals for the IDF during times of conflict, goals “that cannot be checked or measured for achievements.”
Samia, who said he was part of the team of officers who formulated goals during past Israeli operations in Gaza, said the government is forcing the IDF to set poorly defined goals, while failing to order preventative action between rounds of fighting.
Hamas operative in underground tunnel
Although the defense establishment knew all about Hamas’s tunnel activities prior to Operation Protective Edge in 2014, “no preventative action was taken on tunnels,” he said, adding, “Unfortunately, right now there are tunnels being dug under the [border] fence,” and Israel is failing to stop this.
“The IDF has lost the ability to go to the government, when it is quiet, and say, this is intolerable, we’d like to initiate preventative actions. The result is more tunnels. Unfortunately, this is continuing right now.”
Part of the problem, Samia said, is the very nature of the Israeli government model, which leads to a “lack of sovereignty.”
He also blasted the way Israel had reacted in the past to kidnappings of soldiers and civilians, affirming that kidnappings should not turn into “strategic events that shock the country. We must stop this nonsense, and I said that without trivializing human lives.”
“In my eyes, Gilad Schalit was a war captive. We gave him a $30 million tank and a crew. He was captured. Captives can be released through ransom, but the country should not go into hysteria. Israel did not carry out any anti-Hamas operation for five years for fear of killing a hostage. [Then] we learned that price of releasing him was 800 terrorists, with blood on their hands,” Samia said, adding, “I think this realization is starting to trickle down in the IDF.”
Samia also criticized the way the IDF reacted to the kidnapping of the late Lt. Hadar Goldin on August 1, 2014, in Gaza, when the IDF opened heavy fire from the air and artillery fire in Rafah and activated the Hannibal protocol, killing dozens of Palestinians.
“After Black Friday, I sat in the command room and I felt bad. We turned over the whole city, and I knew it would not lead anywhere,” Samia said.
Samia also said the existing rate of conflicts in Gaza is unsustainable for the Israeli economy.
“Operation Cast Lead in 2010 did not prevent Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and that in turn did not prevent Operation Protective Edge in 2014. I can say that Operation Protective Edge will not prevent the next operation. Unless [the next operation] will be different, and unless it will have a different goal, [it too won’t prevent subsequent conflicts],” Samia said.
To have an operation “every other year is ‘checkmate’ for tourism and for business. In fewer than nine years we had four complex rounds of fighting [including the Second Lebanon War] – rounds of fighting in which most Israelis were in safe rooms or bomb shelters.”
Samia praised the IDF’s field units, saying that battalion, brigade, and company commanders are outstanding officers who strive to engage the enemy.
“Can I say the same about division commanders?” he asked, leaving the question unanswered.
Samia also blasted what he described as “festivals” of military awards and citations to soldiers following conflicts.
“If full investigations, which would be embarrassing, took place... including [an investigation of] the government, then I’d be in favor of these celebrations. But unfortunately, this is not the case, and it really disturbs me.”
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ido Nahushtan, former commander of the Israel Air Force, said he is highly disturbed by the post-Iran nuclear deal reality taking shape around Israel.
The 2014 conflict with Hamas was a milestone in the evolution of Iranian strategy, which is based on eroding the Israeli home front with missiles and rockets fired from civilian population centers. “It is very hard to beat it, both tactically and strategically,” Nahushtan said.
With the lifting of sanctions on the Islamic Republic, Hezbollah in Lebanon is currently gaining access to Iran’s very plentiful resources, unlike Gaza, which is limited in resources.
Iran and Hezbollah are bogged down in the Syrian civil war, and “this point in time is, I think, an opportunity...to prepare ourselves to better deal with this [Iranian] strategy,” Nahushtan said.
Israel has developed world-leading precision strike and intelligence capabilities, and built rapid sensor- to-shooter cycles, but these are still inadequate for future conflicts, he warned.
Israel’s air superiority is not assured over Lebanon during a future clash with Hezbollah due to its plentiful surface-to-air missile systems.
“Their goal is to hit and wear out Israel. It works for them. They invest in it, both in Gaza and Lebanon. They view tunnels as assets. They view our air defenses as their weakness, and they are working on overcoming this,” the former IAF chief said.
“What have we learned? Despite the exceptional defense offered by Iron Dome, and the IAF, and despite the exceptional strikes on enemy forces, this [current] equation is bad for Israel. Fifty one days of conflict, all over Israel, that disrupted lives. Thankfully, we sustained low casualties, but this is before they learned their lessons. We want to do things better,” Nahushtan said. “We want to be able to hit every place that they fire from. We need another kind of intelligence, and another kind of direct strike capability. We have to decide that we want this. We must also invest in subterranean warfare. In terms of intelligence, we should strive for higher resolution, and automation.”
The nuclear deal between the P5+1 countries and Iran has allowed Tehran to open “the dam” and enable its many resources to flow to Hezbollah.
“This must be a milestone for us, to build new forces that will be ready for the next Protective Edge, for Hezbollah, or for Iran in four to five years. I am very disturbed by the opening of the Iranian dam.”