The IDF’s intelligence on Hamas’s military wing in Gaza has increased greatly over the past two years, and the Southern Command’s war preparations have been enhanced as a result, a senior military source said on Thursday.
The Southern Command is carefully monitoring Hamas’s 25 regional battalions and has prepared detailed files on each one as part of preparations for ground forces that could, in the event of a future escalation, be sent in to Gaza to land “painful strikes” on Hamas, according to the source.
“We did not have this level of knowledge in Operation Protective Edge [in 2014],” the source said. “Our brigade, battalion, and company commanders are assigned regions, and will know many things that will assist them in destroying their targets,” the high-ranking officer added.
Their orders will be to kill or capture as many Hamas operatives as they encounter and destroy infrastructure. “In every location, missions will be very clear. The brigade commanders will need to reach areas marked by blue arrows on a map... They will destroy weapons production centers as well,” he said.
The Southern Command has spent the past year and a half making intensive preparations for potential future conflicts.
Plans include spreading out a “stronger defense” of southern communities, and a better layout of staging areas, that were targeted by Hamas in the previous conflict.
Preparations also include holding roundtables between the Southern Command and General Staff military entities like Military Intelligence, the air force, navy, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Military Prosecution.
All IDF battalion commanders have, in recent weeks, completed courses dedicated exclusively to the topic of “how to defeat Hamas, and fighting in populated areas,” the source said. “Last week, we drilled moving hundreds of military trailers, and the rapid build-up of forces. We are preparing the Southern Command’s readiness for war,” he added.
On the other side of the border, Hamas’s military wing is busy with its own preparations, using the current quiet to build up its own offensive capabilities.
This includes an intensified training for Hamas’s elite Nuhba forces, which make up a quarter of Hamas’s 20,000-strong armed members, and who are trained to launch cross-border raids into Israel.
The Nuhba Force has increased its size and scope of activities, as well as its training, the source said. “They are paying much more attention to training, capabilities and weapons,” he said. Hamas is also building up its naval commando unit, the source said.
Additionally, Hamas has begun assembling a drone unit.
Hamas’s rocket strategy is aimed at flooding the South with short-range rockets and mortars, while keeping central cities under a continuous “routine of sirens” by firing a stream of mid-range rockets. Hamas is trying to emulate Hezbollah’s rocket upgrades, and to achieve accuracy and lethality, but it is struggling to progress in this area, according to the source.
The military wing is practicing ways to try and “overcome Iron Dome,” the source added.
Meanwhile, Hamas continues to try to ignite violence in the West Bank, and has been “deeply disappointed” by the relative calm there, the source said. “Hamas is willing to take risks to orchestrate big attacks in Judea and Samaria, even at the cost of deteriorating the situation in Gaza. It sees this as a strategic opportunity,” the source said.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, the military wing is gradually growing in power at the expense of the political wing. Figures like Muhammad Deif, who leads the military wing, Yihye Sinwar, who was released in the Gilad Shalit exchange (and who served 22 years in prison for killing Palestinians who cooperated with Israel), and Marwan Issa, are taking power away from Hamas’s political wing, as well as from overseas leader Khaled Mashaal.
“Since being released, Sinwar has been a dominant person in Hamas. He runs things, alongside Deif and Issa,” the source said. Hamas’s military wing is in charge of police appointments, a task that once belonged to the political wing.
Meanwhile, Hamas has created commanders whose only task is to oversee weapons production, a task once held by territorial brigade commanders.
Hamas remains in a state of distress and economic crisis, unable to pay members in time, and failing to smuggle many weapons from Sinai.
Nevertheless, it maintains good relations with the ISIS-affiliated Sinai Province group, transferring it funds, and caring for its injured, as well as trying to smuggle weapons through the group. Hamas’s goal is to set up a new base of attack against Israel from Sinai, as well as from Lebanon and Syria, according to IDF assessments.
The military wing still sees Iran as its principal patron and source of funding and training, while the political wing is pulling the Gaza regime in the opposite direction, toward Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni powers.
Egypt, for its part, continues to exhibit great hostility to Hamas, viewing it as a branch of its domestic foe, the Muslim Brotherhood, and making demands of Hamas that it cannot meet, such as turning in member suspected of assisting Sinai Province.
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