Swarms of locusts over Gaza

An inside look at the IAF's unprecedented war against Hamas.

f-16  63 (photo credit: )
f-16 63
(photo credit: )
The screen shows what look like two swarms of green locusts over the Mediterranean Sea, approaching the Gaza Strip. These are not locusts, though, but more than 50 Israel Air Force fighter jets that participated last Saturday in the unprecedented and astonishing air strike that was the opening act for Operation Cast Lead against Hamas. The entire attack, during which 50 Hamas targets were hit, took exactly three minutes and 40 seconds. Each green dot on the screen represents four fighter jets which fly in formation. Each swarm has several "foursomes" and was led by a veteran pilot who, like a conductor in an orchestra, needed to ensure that all of the aircraft carried out their missions in complete synchronization. These new details were revealed on Thursday, the sixth day of Operation Cast Lead, which until now has been mostly fought by the IAF. The aircraft have flown close to 600 sorties over Gaza, bombing several hundred targets from rocket launchers and weapons storehouses to Kassam manufacturing plants, smuggling tunnels and homes of senior Hamas operatives. Most of the targets were prepared ahead of time by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the Southern Command and Military Intelligence. During its flights over Gaza, the IAF also works to produce new targets such as rocket cells and their launchers. Already two years ago, the IAF decided to open a joint operations center in the Southern Command headquarters in order to "close" intelligence and operation "circuits" faster than before. This center works in cooperation with the IAF's main command-and-control center located underneath IAF headquarters in Tel Aviv. It is there, that decisions are made to carry out targeted killings, like the bombing Thursday of Nizar Rayyan, one of Hamas's top clerics and leaders. The IAF films almost all of its bombings, not just to be able to release the videos to the media but more importantly to study the pictures. "Each operation is extremely complicated since it requires not just a well-trained pilot but also precise intelligence on the target's exact location," a defense official explained Thursday. One example was in the bombing of weapons-smuggling tunnels in Rafah, along the Egyptian border. In the video, one can see the bomb dropped by a fighter jet hit a structure which is built over the tunnel's entrance. Suddenly, several hundred meters away, there is another explosion at another entrance to the same tunnel and caused by explosives that were packed inside. With over 400 Palestinians killed since the beginning of the operation, the UN has claimed that a quarter are innocent civilians. While the IDF says it regrets the loss of innocent life, tactically the ratio is relatively low, considering the urban warfare setting Hamas operates from within and the fact that the terror group uses civilian infrastructure, as well as civilians as human shields. Despite this, the IAF does the maximum to minimize collateral damage and in many cases calls homes before bombing them to allow the inhabitants several minutes to evacuate before the bombing. In some cases though the residents decided to climb to the roof of their homes hoping that the IAF would not bomb if it saw people from the air. In response, the IAF fired nearby the building, showing its determination. The people are then seen fleeing the building which is then bombed, setting off secondary explosions caused by the large weapons cache stored inside. The importance in targeted killings cannot be underestimated. In 2004, for example, within the span of a month, Israel killed Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi, After the spate of assassinations, Hamas asked Israel for a hudna, cease-fire.