The blitz on the network of terror tunnels in Gaza, the wannabe-brilliant deception trick, and the sobering morning after the night before. How the IDF sought to recreate the small and smart army ethos and discovered that sometimes reality turns the tables on you
Nevatim Airbase commander, Brigadier General Omer Tishler, looked straight into the camera, and, with a pilot’s penetrating gaze, said, eloquently and fluently, his words accompanied by sharp, chopping hand gestures, that he identified a painful sensation of surprise on the other side, among Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. This was on Friday night, in an interview with Danny Cushmaro on the main Friday night news edition, after the night before, more than 150 fighter planes (according to the IDF Spokesman) had suddenly taken to the skies and dropped a mega-load of bombs. It was a show that seemed to have been taken straight from the victory albums of the Six Day War. The days when we were always right and the pilots had blond forelocks above their penetrating eyes. Just like Brig. Gen. Tishler.
In the following days, it became clear that the attack was less successful than reflected in the euphoria of Friday night. True, large parts of the “Metro”, Hamas’s strategic tunnel project, were hit and demolished. And true, commanders on various senior levels were killed (“thwarted”, in the watered-down jargon of the operation). But the ploy to trick Hamas into believing that the IDF was launching a ground attack by tanks and infantry to lure the Hamas and Jihad elite units into their combat tunnels and then bomb them failed to deceive enough people, and the whole story was accompanied by two unnecessary media scandals: the question whether the foreign correspondents were lied to and used, and the bombing of the building that housed the AP offices, which gave the success, as Netanyahu would say, something of a “sour” taste.
The IDF recognized that some time ago, we Israelis stopped being David and turned into Goliath. We are no longer a small and smart army, but a tech-heavy monster with a vast budget and manpower complement. The sophisticated ploy was an attempt to revive the past, the good old IDF ethos of “by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war”. An attempt to revert to being David, the redheaded rascal.
But the trick failed, for a number of reasons:
- Tactically, it simply didn’t work. Maybe because it was executed at “half strength” compared to the original plans, which had been toiled over for four years, in which – according to different reports – the fake attack was meant to be massive, so that the other side would see a vast number of tanks and heavy APCs making their way to the border fence. And maybe because Hamas is smart, and not as naïve as our decision makers had thought.
- The security forces sent an advance message to the media. The people in the IDF were so sure of themselves, so hungry for compliments and applause, that the information never stopped flowing to the various media entities for a second. Military correspondents (along with political mouthpieces, and this begs the question whether it is responsible, and even legal, to leak sensitive information to them) began celebrating the ingenious success, even while the planes were still in their air en route back to their bases. Never have so many ran amok to kiss-and-tell so quickly
- The army failed to overcome the somewhat childish urge to brag about how sophisticated it was, and created expectations for the mass killing of hundreds, and even more, of Hamas’s finest warriors, including its senior officers. As a result, the disappointment was already inherent. As soon as it became known that the number of dead was far lower than the rosy forecasts, it was impossible to convince people that the achievements were enough for the operation’s planners. As far as the fired-up average citizen was concerned, “You promised a whole bunch of dead guys”.
- And if this were not enough, simultaneously with the early celebration of the ploy, there were claims that a corresponding trick had been played by the IDF Spokesman on the foreign media. The IDF Spokesman attempted to persuade them that in retrospect, there was no connection between the IDF ploy and the announcement in English that led the foreign media to believe that Israel was launching the ground phase of the operation. The Spokesman claims that it was a less than ideal coice of wordshat was wrongly interpreted by the foreign correspondents. But the outcome was that the IDF spoke with a forked tongue: it tried to convince the foreign media that it was an innocent mistake, and at exactly the same time, someone briefed the Israeli military correspondents that the inaccurate announcement to the foreign media was in fact an inseparable part of the ingenious operation, and they too happily rushed to report it.
- And on top of it all, then came the bombing of the tower that housed AP’s offices, and thus, Israel completely lost the foreign media as an element that was likely, if not to support us, at least to report on the situation without overt rancor.
So what would have been the right thing to do? Maybe, to start while keeping quiet. The planes bombed, caused destruction and killing and landed? People should have kept their mouths shut, let the dust settle, and only then (as they indeed know how to do in the air force), assess the results and estimate the extent of success.
Instead of bragging, the IDF and its mouthpieces should have let Hamas reveal how it was retrieving its many dead and burying them in mass graves. Let them try, unsuccessfully, to hide their failure. Instead, the end result was that Israel, purporting to be smart little David, made an awkward, clumsy impression.
And that’s a shame.
(Credits: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit / CC BY-SA 3.0)