Security and Defense: Post mortem dues

The defense establishment is preparing for the next round that is 'only a matter of time' away.

idf tank aiming at YOU 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
idf tank aiming at YOU 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Whenever OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin enters his office in IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, he passes the pictures of his 15 predecessors. On the photo-lined wall are well-known former generals, such as the country's sixth president, Chaim Herzog, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former chiefs of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon and Amnon Lipkin Shahak. But there are also pictures of five Intelligence chiefs who were forced out of their positions prematurely, some for providing inaccurate predictions that led to disasters, like that of the Yom Kippur War. On Sunday, when Yadlin arrived at work, he couldn't help but think about how Hamas - like five of his own predecessors - had inaccurately read its enemy in the run-up to Operation Cast Lead, which came to an official end on Wednesday with the full withdrawal of IDF forces from the Gaza Strip. Since its violent coup d'état in the summer of 2007, Hamas had been preparing for a showdown with the IDF. To meet the challenge, it called on Iran for assistance in creating a comprehensive defensive and offensive plan to fight Israel and strike deep inside its cities. The plan had three pillars. The first rested on defensive structures and measures in Gaza, including dozens of kilometers of tunnels and bunkers, and thousands of roadside antipersonnel and antitank bombs planted next to booby-trapped homes. The second rested on rocket capability, and the third on obtaining a "victory image," in the form of a burned-out Merkava tank or an abducted soldier. Despite the tens of millions of Iranian dollars poured into Gaza, Hamas's plan failed. The tunnels and booby traps were unsuccessful in stopping the IDF as it pushed into the Strip on January 3. The 401st Armored Brigade, for example, succeeded in crossing and cutting the entire Strip in half in less than five hours. Hamas also failed to exact a heavy toll through rocket attacks. Though its missiles did hit cities within a 40-kilimeter range, they went no further. This, according to Israeli intelligence, is because the operation caught Hamas as it was finalizing plans to obtain rockets that could reach Tel Aviv. Military Intelligence believes that Hamas had initially planned to fire 100-200 rockets a day, but after losing most of its underground launchers and missiles in air strikes, the average number per day - throughout the three weeks of fighting - was closer to 40. Hamas would have been willing to overlook all of this had it succeeded in creating a victory image. But this, too, it failed to accomplish. In total, the IAF bombed more than 2,000 targets. These included more than half of Hamas's rocket arsenal, 200 homes of Hamas commanders, all of its government offices and 80 percent of the hundreds of tunnels it had dug under the Philadelphi Corridor. BEFORE THE operation, Hamas was considered by Israel's enemies as reliable in its reports to the press. But as the operation escalated, Yadlin created a "lie meter" which showed the growing increase in Hamas fabrications. During the first week, which involved only strikes from the air, Hamas released the numbers and names of its dead. But by the second week, when the ground offensive was launched, it began to hide this information. By the time the cease-fire went into effect, it announced that only 48 of its fighters had been killed, as compared with the 49 IDF soldiers whose deaths it took credit for. The facts are much different. Ten soldiers were killed during the fighting and, according to IDF estimates, of the Palestinians killed, at least two-thirds were Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives. The "official" Palestinian total of 1,300 dead is now being widely disputed. ACCORDING TO intelligence assessments, when predicting what Israel would do after the previous cease-fire expired, Hamas made five critical mistakes. The first was to assume that the Israeli government - supposedly paralyzed by the upcoming elections - would not launch an operation in Gaza, in spite of the rocket attacks. The second was to predict there wouldn't be a ground offensive. The third was its failure to anticipate that so-called moderate Arab countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, would turn a cold shoulder. The fourth was its inability to predict accurately what the radical axis in the Middle East would do. It was certain that Iran, Syria or Hizbullah would come to its rescue by opening up a second front. None did. Its final mistake was misreading the Palestinian street. Military Intelligence believes many Palestinians have become disenchanted with Hamas, blaming it for the devastation in Gaza, caused by what they consider an unnecessary war. Now that the operation is over, it is this devastation that is turning into the main story. Israel is doing its best to counter the difficult images emerging from the Strip, but knows that there is nothing it can really say when faced with pictures of little children crying near piles of rubble that used to be their homes. CHIEF OF General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi does not believe that the IDF used disproportionate force. It dropped hundreds of thousands of flyers warning about imminent incursions, at the risk of losing the element of surprise. It also made more than 250,000 calls to land lines and cellphones to warn Palestinians about air strikes. In closed-door meetings this week, Ashkenazi defended the use of force, saying that Israel did not choose the urban centers as the theater for the war. "Had Hamas fired at us from the beach, we would have fought against it there," a senior official said. "It is not our fault that Hamas decided to fire at us from inside mosques, homes, hospitals and UN facilities." Had Israel not responded with force to Hamas attacks, the official said, the alternative would have been to lose a lot more than 10 soldiers. Ashkenazi has no doubt who won this round. In comparison to the Second Lebanon War - which he calls a "missed opportunity" - Operation Cast Lead was a grand success. A relatively small force - just larger than a division - was employed in Gaza, as opposed to the four divisions that were used in Lebanon in 2006. AS IT prepares for the next round - which it has no doubt is only a matter of time in coming - the defense establishment is focusing its efforts on obtaining the release of Gilad Schalit. A month before the war, a top member of the General Staff said military pressure was the only effective way to get Hamas back to the negotiating table. "We need leverage," he said. "And there is no better leverage than military pressure." Now that Hamas is badly beaten, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is hoping that by the elections on February 10, he will succeed in clinching a deal for a prisoner swap. The IDF believes that Hamas, in an effort to win back Palestinian public opinion, will take this opportunity to demand the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Its original demand of 1,400 is unlikely to change. But defense officials this week raised the possibility that the type of prisoners would be negotiable, which means that hundreds of those with blood on their hands might not have to be considered for release.