(photo credit: REUTERS)
On the first full day of a truce with Hamas, the IDF redeployed behind the Israeli border, and senior army officers began sharing their war stories.
The accounts all point to a cruel and cynical enemy that is willing to use kindergartens, schools and hospitals as rocket bases and tunnel covers, and which actively seeks to get Gazan civilians killed and injured.
One source on Tuesday spoke of how the army uncovered the Gazan shaft of a cross-border tunnel. It surfaced in a hothouse located right next to a Palestinian kindergarten. It led directly to Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara, where Hamas gunmen planned to massacre civilians.
Other units found rocket launch tripods in school playgrounds.
“At the entrance to Beit Hanun, there were more homes with booby-traps than not,” said another army officer.
“Much of the destruction of homes in Gaza was because of Hamas’s booby traps.”
A brigade commander saw seven buildings utterly destroyed, when IDF shells set off bombs planted by Hamas inside them. “You see the buildings jump up and collapse, and you know a shell can’t do that to a multi-story building,” the source said.
In recent days, the IDF came under increased Hamas mortar fire, and when it traced the origin of the attacks, it found that they came from kindergartens and playgrounds in Gaza.
“This limited us a lot,” said a source.
“It forced us to take many risks. In some places we refrained from acting.
In others, when we had no choice, we fired back.”
Soldiers spoke of finding antitank missile launchers in children’s bedrooms, and automatic rifles in a room next to a child’s bedroom.
“There are certain things that, until you encounter them yourself on the battlefield, you can’t understand them,” said a source. “Only in combat can you learn these things,” he added, referring to the deep knowledge the IDF has recently obtained of Hamas by confronting it on its home turf.
This process explains how the ground offensive became focused on destroying the tunnels. The threat of underground passages leading from Gaza into Israel had been known for years, but only recently did the IDF realize how Hamas planned to use them.
Hamas planned coordinated, simultaneous raids by hundreds of terrorists, who would have entered southern Israel and simply massacred the inhabitants of southern communities.
Had Hamas’s plot succeeded, the attack could have been the worst in Israeli history.
The same sources, when discussing Palestinian casualties, said they were up front about the Gazan civilians who were unintentionally killed in IDF strikes.
Well over 900 terrorists were killed in Gaza, according to the sources, and the civilian-to-combatant casualty ratio was one of the lowest in recent wars fought by Western armies against guerrilla foes.
Stories also continue to abound of strikes canceled by the IDF.
Looking ahead, army officials said they expect the operation to refresh Israeli deterrence, “both in Gaza and in Lebanon.”
“Hamas will have to ask itself difficult questions. Was digging tunnels under homes worth it?” said one source.
The officers cited the “personal damage to Hamas battalion commanders, who used their homes as command and control centers, and now have no where to return to.”
A senior IDF commander added, “Gaza is totally different now. Hamas built capabilities it could not effectively activate. Islamic Jihad’s apparatus has been taken apart. We were not willing to strike Hamas brigade commanders who hid under Shifa Hospital. That’s a victory we could not live with.”