A careful campaign of deception ensured Israel was caught off guard when the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas launched its devastating assault, enabling a force using bulldozers and hang gliders. Motorbikes to take on the Middle East’s most powerful army. The attack, which killed dozens and wounded thousands, was the most significant breach in Israel’s defenses since Arab armies waged war in 1973. It has prompted a public outpouring of grief from Jews outside of Israel, where leaders in New York and Los Angeles urged congregants to call their elected representatives and express support for the country. But at the same time, it has also exposed cracks in Israel’s democracy and its ability to defend itself against enemies at home or abroad.
Hamas’s military operations often rely on guerilla tactics such as rocket fire and infiltrations into Israeli towns and cities. But the scale and sophistication of Saturday’s assault, which involved hundreds of fighters crossing into Israel via tunnels under the Gaza border, has raised concerns about the group’s abilities to carry out primary operations against the Jewish state.
In a rare interview with POLITICO, a source close to Hamas said the group’s preparations for the attack were far more extensive than Israelis have generally believed. They included constructing a mock Israeli settlement, training, and shooting videos of their activities.
The Hamas attack, which killed over 700 people, also drew on two years of fraud by the terrorist group to keep Israel off balance and convince it that the organization did not want a fight. During that period, it appeared to be more preoccupied with running Gaza, a densely populated strip of land with two million people suffering from years of blockade and poverty, than it was with attacking the Jewish state.
But the source said that a few months before the attack, Hamas leadership decided to ramp up its activities, refocusing on fighting the Jewish state. The group’s leadership wanted to demonstrate that it could do more than fire rockets and infiltrate towns with armed fighters, which had become commonplace.
Iran helped Hamas plan the assault. Iranian security officials, including officers from the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, met with Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah to refine tactical and strategic plans for the offensive. Experts say that Hezbollah has long been allied with Hamas and has also made a point of coordinating with Tehran to advance the goals of both groups.
The plan was reportedly refined at several meetings in Beirut between the two groups. Hezbollah was responsible for launching the warplanes and deploying them on the ground, while Hamas took care of the logistical side of the operation. Both sides were prepared for a massive operation, and they needed many troops to pull it off.