Security and Defense: Meeting goals on the ground

The successes achieved so far by Operation Cast Lead, say defense officials, are the result of careful coordination among the different branches of the military - something that was lacking in the Second War in Lebanon.

tanks near gaza 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
tanks near gaza 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The major intelligence achievement of the Second Lebanon War took place with the opening shot against Hizbullah on July 12, following the kidnapping of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. That night, IAF fighters flew deep into Lebanon and, within 34 minutes, bombed more than 90 targets, all of them housing the guerrilla group's long-range missiles. Subsequently, however, even when the IDF had intelligence, it failed to relay it to the forces in the field. As a result, despite the heavy bombing of Hizbullah bunkers in Beirut's Dahiyah neighborhood, the group continued to maintain command-and-control capabilities, and few of its senior operatives were killed. Though Operation Cast Lead is not yet over, one conclusion that can already be made is that in this war, the intelligence is unprecedented, as is the cooperation among the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the IDF's Southern Command and the air force. Three branches of the defense establishment collect intelligence relating to Gaza: the Shin Bet, which operates human agents on the ground and a variety of sensors for intelligence collecting; Military Intelligence, which has the 8200 Unit for SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) and Unit 504 for HUMINT (Human Intelligence); and the IAF's Intelligence Division, which collects VISINT (Visual Intelligence), through aircraft, satellites and other intelligence-gathering platforms. In the past, these branches worked independently of one another, with each branch operating its own command center. This time around, however, as a lesson from the 2006 war, the IDF, Shin Bet and IAF decided to create a single joint command-and-control center at Southern Command headquarters in Beersheba. There, all of the intelligence is processed, and targets are selected and added to those prepared before the war. This unprecedented intelligence cooperation is what has led to the IDF's success in dealing Hamas such a severe blow in the first few days of the operation. The cooperation among the different agencies produced dozens of targets, enabling the relatively quick closing of "intelligence circuits" - the time it takes from the spotting of a target to its bombing. By the beginning of the week, more than 1,000 targets had been bombed, among them more than 300 that were located during the fighting. THE IDF started preparing for Operation Cast Lead three years ago, when the Southern Command began drawing up an operational plan for confronting Hamas and stopping the rocket attacks on the South. The intelligence gathering intensified over the past year, particularly after the cease-fire went into effect in June, and Hamas increased its arms smuggling and training. Under Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, the Southern Command had been calling for a ground operation since Hamas violently took over Gaza in the summer of 2007. At one point, Galant even recommended a preemptive strike, after intelligence showed that Hamas was set to cross a "technological threshold" and obtain large quantities of high-grade explosives and an improved propellant for its Kassam rockets, making them more accurate and extending their shelf-life. The political echelon and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi were against a preemptive strike. Hamas, then, began manufacturing the improved rockets. The operation launched nearly two weeks ago caught Hamas in the middle of its production cycle, when it had managed to manufacture a mere few thousand rockets, not the expected tens of thousands it would have been able to manufacture, given more time. THE BLOW to Hamas is demonstrated on several different levels. The IDF has destroyed nearly all Hamas government facilities, including the Prime Minister's Office, Interior Ministry and police headquarters. This has created a sense of anarchy, leading Hamas earlier this week to impose curfews on Fatah neighborhoods, out of fear that Fatah will try to take over. In addition, Hamas has ordered some of its remaining policemen to stand at street corners and direct traffic, if only to create a sense that it is still in charge. "All of the [Hamas] offices and databases are gone," one top security official asserted this week. "When this is all over, no civil servant will have an office to sit in." Then there is the weapons infrastructure, which has been severely impaired, including Kassam manufacturing plants, more than 100 weapons-smuggling tunnels along the Philadelphi corridor, the Hamas research-and-development laboratories, located at the Islamic University campus in Gaza City, a main operations bunker near Shifa Hospital and a major weapons-manufacturing plant, located in the neighborhood of Tal al-Zatar, north of Jabaliya. Dozens of weapons storehouses have also been bombed, though many are believed to remain. Also harmed is the Hamas military wing, Izzadin al-Kassam, whose rocket division is believed to have suffered a heavy blow. And though it still has several thousands rockets, it will have difficulty replacing some of its people, among them Iman Siam, its founder, who was seriously wounded in an air strike on Tuesday; Muhammad Akhram Shabat, head of the rocket division in Beit Hanun; and Husam Hamdan, head of the rocket division in Khan Younis. Though several hundred Hamas operatives are believed to have been killed, none is among the top terror leaders. Still, Israel is said to know where most of them are hiding. And the reason the IDF is not killing them is because many are hiding in apartment buildings filled with civilians. Instead, the IDF is bombing many of their homes, which also serve as command-and-control centers with extensive weapons caches. THE IDF believes that it has succeeded in achieving two of the three objectives set for it by the cabinet. The first was to hurt Hamas. After 14 days of air strikes and ground operations that have killed hundreds of Hamas operatives and destroyed more than 1,000 targets, it feels that it has made progress in this direction. The second objective was to create a new balance of deterrence. Here, too, the IDF sees progress. The thinking goes that Hamas now realizes it had underestimated Israel by assuming it could fire rockets with impunity, following the collapse of the cease-fire - and that with its control over Gaza wavering, it will not be able to act as it has been doing for the past eight years. The third goal - to create a "new security reality" in the South - is the one the IDF is still working on. It was to try and meet this goal that the IDF launched the ground operation last Saturday. And, if the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire does not meet Israeli demands, it is considering expanding the operation. AT THE moment, the IDF believes that Hamas would agree to a new cease-fire under the same terms as the last one: whereby Israel would open the border crossings, and Hamas would rein in other Palestinian factions and stop terror activity in Gaza. But neither the the government nor the army considers this sufficient. What they say is needed is a new deal - one that not only ends terrorist attacks, but also puts a stop to the military buildup by eradicating the tunnel industry in the Philadelphi Corridor. "If we stop today, and the smuggling is not stopped, then next time they will be able to fire into Tel Aviv- not just Ashdod and Beersheba," one defense official explained.