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Israeli Intelligence Failure: Didn’t Anticipate Vast Gaza Tunnel Network

gaza tunnel

Hamas fighters in Gaza tunnel

One of the most dynamic developments in the current Gaza war is the massive system of tunnels dug by Hamas militants in the past three years.  The tunnels honeycomb the Strip and allow access for fighters not just to the battlefield within Gaza, but to the Israeli border itself, where there was a successful attack that killed two IDF officers.  The tunnels, like those dug by Hezbollah in Lebanon, allowed Palestinian fighters to engage with the IDF when it was to their advantage and to disappear when it wasn’t.  Unlike Operation Cast Lead, when Hamas largely evaporated and gave the IDF the run of Gaza, this time Hamas has stood and fought.  Ten soldiers were killed in the 2009 war and 33 have been killed in this one.

But one question few people inside Israel are asking is: how could Israel’s vaunted intelligence agencies not have known what was going on in Gaza?  Why were they virtually in the dark about a development as important as this?  How could they have sent their forces into ambushes that cost so many lives and in which the troops sometimes didn’t know what hit them?

Yisrael HaYom notes that on the eve of the war, Israeli intelligence believed there were 9-13 (depending on which agency you asked) tunnels in Gaza.  So far the IDF has identified 31.  But U.S. satellite intelligence has detected at least 60, saying there may be more than that.  That means that either the IDF is lying when it offers the smaller number; or it really believes there are only 31 and has further proven the slipshod intelligence offered to it.

I should add that the above Jerusalem Post report is based on information provided by Steve Emerson, an entirely unreliable source.  But whether Emerson is wrong or right, it seems eminently reasonable to assume that the IDF, which didn’t know the extent of the tunnel network going into the war, may not yet know the extent of the network even after having its troops on the ground in Gaza.

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • RD Sultan July 25, 2014, 7:00 AM

    “How could Israel’s vaunted intelligence agencies not have known what was going on in Gaza.”

    It’s due to Israel’s lack of human intelligence on Gaza thanks to Hamas’ vigorous purge of informants/spy’s in the past two years. It’s best not to allow zero enemy intelligence gathering.

  • Daniel Rocha July 25, 2014, 7:05 AM

    This is the proposal to negotiate with hammas:
    1. A one-week, temporary cease-fire, starting Sunday, during which Israel Defense Forces troops will not leave the Gaza Strip entirely and will continue to locate and destroy Hamas tunnels.

    2. During this cease-fire, Israel and Hamas will begin negotiations on a more permanent arrangement, with Egyptian mediation. The Palestinian Authority will participate in these talks.

    3. The United States, the UN secretary-general and the European Union will provide guarantees to both sides that the negotiations will deal with the issues important to them – for Israel, disarming Gaza of its rockets and tunnels, and for Hamas, ending the blockade of Gaza and repairing the damage the Strip has suffered.


  • Citizen of the World July 25, 2014, 1:38 PM

    1st question to be asked about the data: Are the numbers mean thr openings of the tunnels or the number of tunnels..
    2nd: What kind of tunnels are mentioned? Attack tunnels or internal tunnels?

    One more thing to be mentioned: Most of the tunnel openings found in the last couple of days located inside houses…

    I guess there is much more than pure numbers that need to be addressed when talking about tunnels..

    • Citizen of the World July 25, 2014, 1:40 PM

      Attack tunnels => Cross border

      • Ahhiyawa July 26, 2014, 7:16 AM

        There’s no way to know the total number of tunnels or the exact tactical disposition of every single one of them. What is certain is the IDF is operating in a tactical environment subject to ambush, constant harassing & interdiction fires and having a hell of a time trying to shape the battle area. How extensive HAMAS defensive system is, is only known to HAMAS, but I believe a consequence of their planning (tunnels under the border) has forced Israel to fight in a well prepared battle space of their choosing and to the IDF’s disadvantage.

        • Richard Silverstein July 26, 2014, 7:05 PM

          @ Ahhiyawa: How right you are. The IDF is playing into Hamas’ tactical/strategic plan. Whenever you play by your opponents rules, you lose.

    • Richard Silverstein July 25, 2014, 5:48 PM

      @ CItizen of the World:

      Most of the tunnel openings found in the last couple of days located inside houses…

      And you know this HOW? Evidence, credible evidence. Please do not make statements that appear factual but aren’t based on credible sources.

  • Peter July 25, 2014, 1:44 PM

    Sort of off-topic:
    Just noticed Mark Regev has a tell… whenever he’s about to lie like mad he says “Let’s be clear.” It means completely the opposite.

  • Oui July 25, 2014, 2:03 PM

    My post from the Propaganda War:

    I Get Sick to my Stomach Seeing a Young …

    Journalists must report on Isreali self-restraint

    I am sick to my stomach after seeing a network TV newscast of a young Palestinian girl lying paralyzed in a hospital in Gaza, the victim of Israeli bombs. I see other children in the hospital. My eyes are tearful. I feel pain in my chest. I finally have to turn away from watching.

    I mention this so that what I am about to write is not put through the prism of those who assume that all pro-Israel Jewish Americans are insensitive to the plight of the Palestinians and the suffering of the children during this terrible tragedy of the Gaza crisis.

    [Source: Lanny Davis, former adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton]

    PS Such bullshit Lanny, I saw you getting time on CNN. Who is your paymaster this time …

    Ambassador Ron Dermer Owns CNN

    • leeor July 25, 2014, 3:43 PM

      Just to correct a minor detail – the picture was not taken in a Gaza hospital but rather an Israeli one, where the girl was treated for several years, payed by the state. I’m not saying that diminished the tragedy of hitting that family by accident, but at least they were trying to make amends.

      • Oui July 25, 2014, 5:52 PM

        I try to be fair, click on the image of the girl for more info …

        “Will eight-year-old Maria Amen, who lost five of her family members when an Israeli missile hit her home in the Gaza Strip in May 2006 get a house of her own three-and-a-half years later?

        The eight-year-old lost her mother, two of her brothers, her aunt and her grandmother in the strike, and was also hit herself. She was left almost completely paralyzed to this day, and currently resides at a rehabilitation hospital in Jerusalem.”

        There is even a mention of Richard’s blog in the article.

      • Richard Silverstein July 25, 2014, 7:42 PM

        @ leeor: Either you’re a liar or ignorant. The defense ministry tried vigorously to shed itself of responsibility for her. It tried to off load her on a Ramallah hospital which had no services to tend for her specialized needs. Israeli media shamed the defense ministry into dropping that feeble, shameful attempt to evade responsibility. It’s pathetic to claim the ministry did its duty by this poor girl. It only did so out of shaming.

        This is an example of why I told Canuck readers must read this blog before they comment. If they don’t they make foolish comments as Leeor has done.

    • Richard Silverstein July 25, 2014, 5:27 PM

      @ Oui: Lanny Davis is a paid PR consultant for The Israel Project. Paid about $250K per year roughly (depending on how much “work” he does & how many Israeli wars he’s pimping for).

  • Arie Brand July 25, 2014, 8:46 PM

    Whatever it does to the oppressor’s knowledge of the tunnels, this latest outrage might change the tunnel vision of some Americans (sorry for the pun). I read an article by John B.Judis in the New Republic (which used to have a reputation for being “pro-Israel”) that struck me as remarkably fair, considering …

    He regards Israel as the last colonial power, and a colonial power with a remarkable disregard for the welfare of its subjects. Indeed, I know something of colonial history and I can say that by British and Dutch late-colonial standards they are colonial barbarians.

    To see the whole Israel enterprise as an anachronistic project was of course also the view of the late Tony Judt, an ardent Zionist in his youth, who elaborated on this theme in a well known article in the New York Review of Books of Oct. 2003. He didn’t call it a late colonial project, as Judis does, but an anachronistic separatist project:

    “It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.” The only future for Israel that Judt could see was that of a binational state, with equal rights for all its citizens.

    My bone of contention with Judis’ article is his view that opinion in the American Jewish community is shifting somewhat (and not in favour of Likud-Israel) but that this is more or less balanced by the growth of the group favouring Israel on the Christian right. This was directly contradicted by a recent article in the Middle East Quarterly, authored by Daniel Brog and titled “The End of Evangelical Support for Israel?”. I put an extensive quote from it on this site ten days ago. One sentence out of that: “With every passing month, more evidence is emerging that these anti-Israel christians are succeeding in reaching beyond the evangelical left and influencing the mainstream.”

  • Walk Tall Hang Loose July 25, 2014, 10:54 PM

    The only tunnels that are a threat to Israel are those that cross the border, and they are the only tunnels that Israel has a right to destroy. Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza has a perfect right to dig tunnels in its own territory for defence against Israeli incursions.

  • PersianAdvocate July 26, 2014, 12:48 AM

    Richard, if they have signs that say “pound their mothers”, politicians calling for the killing of Palestinian mothers, and then 80-90% civilian casualty rates not only this time, but in 2008-2009 and 2012 also, how can you provide this context that they are even going after “terrorists”? This is genocide — I am not trying to violate your terms — please do me the one kind service of looking up the term and seeing if it applies here. Naomi Wolf was the one who brought it to my attention that it fit the definition as accepted by international legal lexicons to a tee.

  • Citizen of the World July 26, 2014, 1:11 AM

    @RS, I found some interesting info abou the building of those terror tunnels.. Wonder what’s you opinion on this:

    Is it ok to kill children if Hamas is the one who (in this case directly) does it?

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