Israel’s intelligence dilemma over Gaza


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday avoided direct talk of a ground operation following a meeting with his Cabinet but said there were more phases in store for Operation Protective Edge, now in its 5th day. Netanyahu added that what stands before Israel Defense Forces “is a difficult, complex and complicated operation.”

That’s an understatement. The extent of an Israeli ground incursion into Gaza relies heavily on the quality of intelligence at hand. In fact, the current flare-up is a direct consequence of Israel’s prior intelligence failures stemming from Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. That operation shared the same objective as Operation Protective Edge: neutralizing Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s arsenal of long-range rockets.

With more than 860 airstrikes launched since the July 8 start of Operation Protective Edge, Israel Defense Forces are evidently relying heavily on air power to destroy rocket launchers, smuggling routes, tunnels and militant safe-houses. But the airstrikes have been met so far with a high rate of rocket attacks—more than 350 since the operation kicked off, including a handful making use of long-range artillery rockets. Therefore, the Israeli military must ask itself how accurate its estimates have been on the size of the rocket arsenal to begin with.

The rocket supply chain for Gaza can be roughly broken down into three broad components. The first is the smuggling routes that bring rockets or their components from other locations into Gaza itself. Israel controls two sides of the Gaza rectangle and has a naval blockade on the coastal border, but it must rely on Egypt to monitor the Gaza border with Sinai. This means supplies are still making their way into Gaza, or a large enough stockpile was built up earlier. Either way, the presence of the arsenal exposes a significant intelligence gap Israel faces in its efforts to interdict supplies en route to Gaza.

The second component is the launch sites, where rockets are rushed out and prepped in camouflaged launchers for rapid firing. This is where Israel would arguably have better intelligence in the sense that it is the most observable of targets. Intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance operations can observe the preparation of such sites or detect the launching of rockets and relay geographic coordinates rapidly to air assets that can then strike them. But without a substantial ground presence, it becomes more difficult to perform a damage assessment to ensure destruction of the entire network of systems in a given area. Furthermore, new launch sites can be surreptitiously constructed, meaning the strikes can lead to only a temporary degradation of launch capabilities.

The third component is the assembly plants and stockpiles themselves. These are likely dispersed, well-hidden and buried deeply in heavily urbanized areas of Gaza. Israel likely faces critical intelligence obstacles in identifying these targets, but even with an accurate read on these sites, Israel Defense Forces would have to mobilize in much larger numbers, carry out an extensive ground invasion of Gaza, subject itself to a war of attrition and at the same time contend with the high humanitarian cost associated with military operations deep in the Gaza interior, where Hamas makes it a point to find civilian cover. An Israeli ground invasion could easily favor Hamas as the group’s suicide tactics, improvised explosive devices, advanced anti-tank guided missiles and hostage taking become highly relevant again, compounding the threat value of the rocket attacks.

There is a reason Israel has shied away from a deep ground incursion into Gaza in previous operations: The success of the operation rests on the quality of intelligence. Given Israel’s intelligence record on the rocket threat to date, we can imagine this is one of several critical issues keeping Netanyahu awake at night as he contemplates how far he can afford to send his troops into Gaza.

Publishing by The Manila Times of this GeoPolitical Diary is with the express permission of STRATFOR, which provides global awareness and guidance to individuals, governments and businesses around the world. It uses a unique, intel-based approach to analyze world affairs.



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