tel aviv bombing 2 .
(photo credit: Zaka (Nati Shapira))
After 12 days of fighting, the Israeli defense establishment believes that Hamas's "Chief of Staff" Ahmed Ja'abri is still issuing orders to field commanders fighting against IDF troops in the northern Gaza Strip.
Some of the Hamas commanders are believed to be hiding in Gaza's Shifa Hospital, while others are scattered throughout the Strip in hiding places and bunkers prepared ahead of the operation.
Communication between the commanders is difficult, and as a result, most of the gunmen are fighting according to the military doctrine that Hamas wrote before the war and that governed the group's training during the last cease-fire, which began in June.
Assessments in the defense establishment say Hamas is still capable of launching a "quality" terror attack against Israel, infiltrating the country through tunnels it has dug along the border.
While the Hamas military wing has been hurt, assessments in the defense establishment show that the terror group is currently seeking to carry out an attack that will enable it to say to the Gaza public that it did not completely stand still during the war.
Out of the more than 600 Palestinians reported killed in the operation, the defense establishment has identified close to 300 as Hamas fighters, based on their names. A majority of the others are also believed to be terrorists.
Hamas is believed to be trying to launch long-range rockets into Israeli cities with the hope that they will inflict heavy casualties, and is also trying to kidnap an Israeli soldier, or the body of one. Commanders in Gaza have reported several kidnapping attempts by Hamas gunmen, who jump out of tunnels and try to pull soldiers inside. In one case, soldiers from the Golani Brigade fought with Hamas gunmen who tried to grab one of them and pull him into a tunnel.
Hamas, the defense establishment believes, is operating "carefully, and purposely avoiding IDF troops."
Almost all of the Hamas leadership - including the political echelon and military commanders from the level of battalion commander and up - has gone into hiding in different places throughout Gaza.
Hamas forces are spread out inside towns and have distributed weaponry among them, enough to be able to fire at least several of the long-range 122-mm. Katyusha rockets into Israel on a daily basis.
Israel is said to know where most of the commanders are hiding, but the IDF is not assassinating them because they are hiding in apartment buildings filled with innocent civilians.
The blow to Hamas comes on several levels. First, in the first week of the operation, the IAF bombed all Hamas government buildings, destroying databases. Once the fighting is over, Hamas government officials will not have offices to return to.
Hamas is believed to be afraid it will lose its grip over Gaza, and as a result has imposed curfews on Fatah neighborhoods, fearing that Fatah operatives will try to take over the Gaza Strip. They are also executing Fatah operatives and have killed close to a dozen in the past week.
Meanwhile, most of the damage has been done to Hamas's military infrastructure, including the Kassam production facilities and weapons warehouses. Most of the Hamas commanders are still believed to be alive, but some of those killed and wounded - like the commanders of the rocket squads in Beit Hanun an Khan Yunis - are believed to be difficult to replace.
Hamas is currently hiding within built-up and densely-populated areas, and the organization is not fighting as aggressively as the IDF had estimated before the ground operation began last Saturday. Hamas's strategy is to try and draw the IDF into the built-up areas, where the army will lose its advantage and where it runs the risk of killing innocent civilians if it employs air strikes.
The defense establishment also predicts that Hamas will encounter a hostile civilian population once the operation is over, as the organization will want to show that its commanders survived the Israeli onslaught but will have difficulty justifying their reason for going into hiding.