I received a message from a trusted contact in Israel yesterday telling me that no ground offensive was planned in Gaza. This was despite the fact that heavy armour and infantry reservists were massing on the border. I decided to hold the story and break it in the morning.
Within hours, however, the official Israeli army Twitter account had suggested to the world that ground troops had gone into action. ‘IDF (Israel Defence Force) air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip,’ it said.
Nobody noted the careful ambiguity. Within minutes, the news had spread across the world. ‘Israel goes in,’ screamed the MailOnline, the world’s biggest newspaper website. ‘Israeli troops have entered the Gaza Strip as conflict with Palestinians escalates, Israeli military says,’ tweeted the distinguished Washington Post.
In a state of exasperation, I almost deleted my source’s number from my phone. By morning, however, the truth was coming out. My source had been on the money. The delicately-worded IDF tweet had actually meant that ground forces were shelling from inside Israel, not that they had crossed the border; but the fact that it produced headlines suggesting that an assault was underway played into Israeli tactics.
As night fell, Hamas fighters had prepared for battle, swarming into the ‘Metro’ tunnels and manning positions in the open. Both those below and above ground were summarily wiped out by Israeli jets.
This limited civilian casualties by encouraging combatants to move away from their human shields and create a unified target. As an illustration of Mossad’s Biblical motto – ‘by way of deception shall you make war’ – it could not have been better.