When the Gaza war that Israel calls “Operation Protective Edge” (in Hebrew the name is Tzuk Eitan, מִבְצָע צוּק אֵיתָן, which means Operation Robust Cliff) began over a month ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the key goal was to find and destroy the rockets and launchers that Hamas was using in Gaza — so as to bring calm to southern Israel, which has been targeted on-and-off for nearly 10 years.
After 10 days of failing to stop the Hamas rocket barrage, Netanyahu sent in ground forces. Now the declared key goal became subterranean: locating and destroying a huge network of tunnels — some of which went under the border and had exit points near Israeli residential neighborhoods.
Didn’t the highly respected — almost mythical — Israeli intelligence know about the Hamas tunnels, now nicknamed “Underground Gaza”? Were the Palestinians able to spend millions of dollars worth of materials, and countless man-hours digging and reinforcing tunnels, without Israel noticing?
Senior Israeli military briefers now say: We knew about the tunnels.
Other officials said that moving against Underground Gaza — before the current conflict broke out in July — would have triggered a war. Israel would have been blamed. Even the Israeli public might not have been supportive of a preemptive invasion.
The briefers reveal that Israel even sent experts to Mexico and to South Korea — to see how smugglers’ and attack tunnels were built there.
Many Israelis are starting to ask, “Didn’t Israeli intelligence detect the tunnels as they were being dug?” Presaging what’s likely to be parliamentary investigation, members of the public are asking, “Did intelligence analysts speak to military commanders, and did they both clearly warn government officials and political leaders?”
Were the dots connected? One senior briefer (who insists on not being named) was asked about claims by some cabinet ministers that the IDF (the military) and intelligence chiefs did not tell them “loud and clear” about the tunnels as a strategic threat from Gaza.
Hamas could have chosen to attack Israeli civilians or soldiers at any time. Many now are believing reports of a master plan by Hamas to send a large number of terrorists into Israel on the important New Year holiday, Rosh HaShana, this coming September.
The senior briefer responded to reporters — with a touch of sarcasm — that top military officers might speak in complex sentences, containing comprehensive information in just a few phrases, but it was apparent that Israel’s top civilian officials understood what the military was telling them.