By Michael Biesecker and Sarah El Deeb | Related Press
Lower than a month earlier than Hamas fighters blew by Israel’s high-tech “Iron Wall” and launched an assault that would go away greater than 1,200 Israelis useless, they practiced in a really public gown rehearsal.
A slickly produced two-minute propaganda video posted to social media by Hamas on Sept. 12 reveals fighters utilizing explosives to blast by a duplicate of the border gate, sweep in on pickup vans after which transfer constructing by constructing by a full-scale reconstruction of an Israeli city, firing automated weapons at human-silhouetted paper targets.
The Islamic militant group’s live-fire train dubbed operation “Robust Pillar” additionally had militants in physique armor and fight fatigues finishing up operations that included the destruction of mock-ups of the wall’s concrete towers and a communications antenna, simply as they might do for actual within the lethal assault final Saturday.
Whereas Israel’s extremely regarded safety and intelligence companies have been clearly caught flatfooted by Hamas’ skill to breach its Gaza defenses, the group seems to have hidden its intensive preparations for the assault in plain sight. One of many compounds Hamas used to arrange was so near an Israeli border checkpoint that troopers may have been capable of observe the positioning with binoculars.
“There clearly have been warnings and indications that ought to have been picked up,” mentioned Bradley Bowman, a former U.S. Military officer who’s now senior director of the Middle on Navy and Political Energy on the Basis for Protection of Democracies, a Washington analysis institute. “Or perhaps they have been picked up, however they didn’t spark obligatory preparations to forestall these horrific terrorist acts from taking place.”
The Related Press reviewed greater than 100 movies Hamas launched over the past yr, primarily by the social media app Telegram. Utilizing satellite tv for pc imagery, the AP was capable of confirm key particulars, in addition to determine 5 websites Hamas used to follow taking pictures and blowing holes in Israel’s border defenses.
The AP matched the situation of the mocked-up settlement from the Sept 12 video to a patch of desert exterior Al-Mawasi, a Palestinian city on the southern coast of the Gaza Strip. A big sign up Hebrew and Arabic on the gate says “Horesh Yaron,” the title of a controversial Israeli settlement within the occupied Palestinian West Financial institution.
Bowman mentioned there are indications that Hamas deliberately led Israeli officers to consider it was getting ready to hold out raids within the West Financial institution, moderately than Gaza. It was additionally doubtlessly vital that the train has been held yearly since 2020 in December, however was moved up by almost 4 months this yr to coincide with the anniversary of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.
In a separate video posted to Telegram from final yr’s Robust Pillar train on Dec. 28, Hamas fighters are proven storming what seems to be a mockup Israeli navy base, full with a full-size mannequin of a tank flying an Israeli flag. The gunmen transfer by the cinderblock buildings, seizing and cuffing different males taking part in the roles of Israeli soldier hostages.
The AP matched the situation the place the video was taken to a web site close to the city of Beit Hanoun, lower than half a mile (800 meters) from the Israeli border wall. Satellite tv for pc pictures present elevated exercise on the compound over the past yr, with the addition of concrete constructions and what look like massive tents.
Michael Milshtein, a retired Israeli colonel who beforehand led the navy intelligence division overseeing the Palestinian territories, mentioned he was conscious of the Hamas movies, however was nonetheless caught off guard by the ambition and scale of Saturday’s assault.
“We knew concerning the drones, we knew about booby traps, we knew about cyberattacks and the marine forces. The shock was the coordination between all these programs,” Milshtein mentioned.
The seeds of Israel’s failure to anticipate and cease Saturday’s assault return at the very least a decade. Confronted with recurring assaults from Hamas militants tunneling beneath Israel’s border fence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a concrete resolution — construct an even bigger wall.
With monetary assist from U.S. taxpayers, Israel accomplished building of a $1.1 billion undertaking to fortify its present defenses alongside its 40-mile land border with Gaza in 2021. The brand new, upgraded barrier features a “sensible fence” as much as 6-meters (19.7 ft) excessive, festooned with cameras that may see at the hours of darkness, razor wire and seismic sensors able to detecting the digging of tunnels greater than 200 ft beneath. Manned guard posts have been changed with concrete towers topped with remote-controlled machine weapons.
“In our neighborhood, we have to shield ourselves from wild beasts,” Netanyahu mentioned in 2016, referring to Palestinians and neighboring Arab states. “On the finish of the day as I see it, there will probably be a fence like this one surrounding Israel in its entirety.”
Shortly after daybreak on Saturday, Hamas fighters pushed by Netanyahu’s wall in a matter of minutes. They usually did it on the relative low-cost, utilizing explosive costs to blow holes within the barrier after which sending in bulldozers to widen the breaches as fighters streamed by on bikes and in pick-up vans. Cameras and communications gear have been bombarded by grenades and mortar shells dropped from off-the-shelf, industrial drones — a tactic borrowed straight from the battlefields of Ukraine.
Snipers took out Israel’s subtle roboguns by focusing on their uncovered ammunition packing containers, inflicting them to blow up. Militants armed with assault rifles used paragliders to sail over the Israeli defenses, offering Hamas airborne troops regardless of missing airplanes. More and more subtle selfmade rockets able to hanging Tel Aviv substituted for a scarcity of heavy artillery.
Satellite tv for pc pictures analyzed by the AP present the huge extent of the injury performed on the closely fortified Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel. The photographs taken Sunday confirmed gaping holes in three sections of the border wall, the biggest greater than 70 meters (230 ft) large.
As soon as the wall was breached, Hamas fighters streamed by by the tons of. A video confirmed a lone Israeli battle tank speeding to the sight of the assault, solely to be attacked and destroyed in a ball of flame. Hamas then disabled radio towers and radar websites, doubtless impeding the power of Israeli commanders to see and perceive the extent of the assault.
Hamas forces additionally struck a close-by military base close to Zikim, partaking in an intense firefight with Israeli troops earlier than overrunning the put up. Movies posted by Hamas present graphic scenes with dozens of useless Israeli troopers.
They then fanned out throughout the countryside of Southern Israel, attacking kibbutzim and a music pageant. On the our bodies of among the Hamas militants killed throughout the invasion have been detailed maps displaying deliberate zones and routes of assault, in accordance with pictures posted by Israeli first responders who recovered among the the corpses. Israeli authorities introduced Wednesday that they had recovered the our bodies of about 1,500 Islamic fighters, although no particulars have been supplied about the place they have been discovered or how they died.
Navy consultants advised the AP the assault confirmed a stage of sophistication not beforehand exhibited by Hamas, doubtless suggesting that they had exterior assist.
“I simply was impressed with Hamas’s skill to make use of fundamentals and fundamentals to have the ability to penetrate the wall,” mentioned retired U.S. Military Lt. Col. Stephen Danner, a fight engineer educated to construct and breach defenses. “They appeared to have the ability to discover these weak spots and penetrate shortly after which exploit that breach.”
Ali Barakeh, a Beirut-based senior Hamas official, acknowledged that through the years the group had obtained provides, monetary help, navy experience and coaching from its allies overseas, together with Iran and Hezbollah. However he insisted the latest operation to breach Israel’s border defenses was homegrown, with the precise date and time for the assault recognized solely to a handful of commanders inside Hamas.
Particulars of the operation have been stored so tight, Barakeh mentioned, that some Hamas fighters who took half within the assault Saturday believed they have been heading to simply one other drill, displaying up in road garments moderately than their uniforms.
Final weekend’s devastating shock assault has shaken political help for Netanyahu inside Israel, who pushed forward with spending to construct partitions regardless of some inside his personal cupboard and navy warning that it in all probability wouldn’t work.
Within the days since Hamas struck, senior Israeli officers have largely deflected questions concerning the wall and the obvious intelligence failure. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief spokesman for the Israel Protection Forces, acknowledged the navy owes the general public an evidence, however mentioned now isn’t the time.
“First, we battle, then we examine,” he mentioned.
In Netanyahu’s push to construct border partitions, he discovered an enthusiastic associate in then-President Donald Trump, who praised the Iron Wall as a possible mannequin for the expanded barrier he deliberate for the U.S. Southern border with Mexico.
Underneath Trump, the U.S. expanded a joint initiative with Israel began beneath the Obama Administration to develop applied sciences for detecting underground tunnels alongside the Gaza border defenses. Since 2016, Congress has appropriated $320 million towards the undertaking.
However even with all its high-tech devices, the Iron Wall was nonetheless largely only a bodily barrier that could possibly be breached, mentioned Victor Tricaud, a senior analyst with the London-based consulting agency Management Dangers.
“The fence, irrespective of what number of sensors … irrespective of how deep the underground obstacles go, on the finish of the day, it’s successfully a metallic fence,” he mentioned. “Explosives, bulldozers can finally get by it. What was exceptional was Hamas’s functionality to maintain all of the preparations beneath wraps.”
Biesecker reported from Washington and El Deeb from Beirut. AP reporters Jon Gambrell in Jerusalem, Lori Hinnant in Paris, Beatrice Dupuy in New York, and Aaron Kessler and Fu Ting in Washington contributed.