Israel’s military action in Gaza is widely reported daily across the world. Images of hundreds of rockets lighting up the skies over Israeli cities and of the rubble of destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip are once again part of the daily cycle of print and broadcast news. But most reports are thin on details of Israel’s military activities. What exactly are their aims? How are they pursuing them? And how much success are they having?
Often Israel’s military activities seem baffling to the wider world. The country’s reluctance to give a detailed, running-commentary on every strike frustrates journalists and citizens, who then assume the worst of motives for these unexplained acts.
Take, for example, the airstrikes on Saturday which destroyed the 15-storey al-Jalaa tower, which housed offices of Al Jazeera and Associated Press. Israel insists it did not target a 'media centre' as was widely reported. Their intelligence revealed that the tower was used by Hamas, and to a lesser extent by Islamic Jihad, for three purposes.
Firstly, they say, it housed the offices of their military intelligence, which were used for military purposes against Israel. Secondly, Hamas’ Research and Development was undertaken there, with the best subject matter experts operating to develop military weapons to use against Israel. And thirdly, Israel says, there were 'highly advanced technological tools in or on the building which Hamas has used in fighting against' Israel.
The IDF is 'committed to the safety and free work of journalists,' according to spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. He explains that 'out of respect to civilians non-combatants and journalists' notice was given of the airstrike on the tower, despite that giving Hamas and Islamic Jihad time to salvage some of their equipment.
Israel has said throughout the operation that it only has military targets, but that Gaza presents an extremely difficult battle space because Hamas does everything it can to embed its own infrastructure within civilian infrastructure. And some of the targets it is attacking are indeed houses or flats.
Late last night, an IDF fighter jet struck the house of the commander of Hamas’ Al-Farka’in Battalion, which Israel says served as terror infrastructure. Earlier in the day, they eliminated two Islamic Jihad Surface-to-Surface missile operatives located in Khan Yunis, and in the Meghazi refugee camp; they also struck the house of Raed Saad, who Israel describes as the chief of staff of Hamas's Special Operations. Israel’s intelligence is forensic, and their list of terror targets seemingly endless.
Since the start of what Israel has called ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls’, the country has sustained 2,800 rocket attacks from Gaza. So far there have been ten Israeli civilian casualties, eight as a direct result of rocket fire. Israel aims to stop the barrage of rockets, and also to destroy Hamas’ capability to restock their supplies, preventing future waves of attacks. Israel analyses each incoming missile, assessing the warhead, size, flight path and other information to complete their picture of Hamas’ capability and development.
During this war they have been on the receiving end of rockets with larger warheads and extended ranges. A terrifying 3.5 to four million Israelis are now in the range of Hamas’ rockets. But Israel has also noticed a decrease in rocket quality, with more rockets falling short than normal: so far 430 rockets have fallen short, landing inside the Gaza Strip.
These failed launches cause damage and casualties inside Gaza. While Israel does not have an accurate estimate of how many Palestinians have been killed this way, they say it is at least 20, an under reported fact. Hamas is not only murdering Israeli civilians, but also innocent Gazans. Naturally, Hamas blames the deaths on Israel, rolling the numbers into the tally they provide through their unreliable Health Ministry statistics.
So how did Hamas manage to acquire its vast supply of weapons? The area is famously blockaded by Egypt and Israel, and is also constantly reported as being so financially weak it desperately needed support to vaccinate its population against Covid-19.
Sadly, the truth is that Hamas’ priorities are not the health and welfare of its citizens, but are in fact the development of weapons and military infrastructure to attack Israel, including digging miles of tunnels to allow much of their terror network to operate underground, even beneath civilian areas. Israel has proudly destroyed many of these tunnels, dealing Hamas a psychological and practical blow.
Iran is the biggest provider of weapons to Islamic Jihad and Hamas. They provide both ready to use weapons which are smuggled in, as well as funds and technical knowledge. Conricus says Hamas are 'industrious and focused' when it comes to increasing their supply of weapons. And Turkey has strong ties with Hamas, with reports suggesting Hamas activity there allows them to generate revenue and enhance their operations.
As well as taking out weapons stores and manufacturing sites, Israel has taken out numerous developers and engineers key to Hamas’ capability. By their most conservative estimates, they have killed over 75 enemy combatants. They have also eliminated rocket launchers (often stationed in civilian areas) and underground tunnel systems, particularly in Shejaiya and Beit Hanoun.
Israel’s famous ‘Iron Dome’ missile defence system has succeeded with over 90 per cent of its interceptions, saving lives every single day. Without it, the situation would have been far worse for Israel. And for the first time, Iron Dome has been used to intercept kamikaze unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) sent from Gaza. Israeli military sources say this is the first time in the world that a UAV has been taken down by a missile defence system.
There is no ceasefire in sight, and while hundreds of rockets continue to be launched, Israel says it won’t even discuss the end of its action. The IDF reports it has so far struck more than 672 military targets and has significantly degraded Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s ability to produce new rockets by attacking their Research and Development and production facilities. Hamas will not be able to replace what they are firing now for several years to come, increasing the chance of stability and calm in the future.