Israeli children speak with a police officer as they stand
next to a bomb shelter on the first day of the school year
in Kibbutz Saad, outside the Gaza Strip. Photo by Reuters
The Israeli military has provided its most detailed
assessment yet of the conduct and impact of the Gaza war,
including photographs indicating that militants stored and
fired rockets from schools and a breakdown of the toll
inflicted on Hamas.
In a briefing at its headquarters in Tel Aviv, the Israel
Defence Forces presented a minute picture of the structure
and capability of Hamas and other militant groups operating
in Gaza, an effort to explain the severity of the threat
Israel faced and justify Israel's heavy tank shelling and air
strikes during the 50-day conflict - tactics that drew
Among the evidence laid out by a senior military officer were
details of the ranges and number of rockets fired by Hamas
and Islamic Jihad, photographs showing how rocket launchers
were hidden in graveyards and a school playground, and how
tunnels were used to carry out and escape from the site of
One set of photographs showed a school by day, its central
yard empty. By night, rockets looked to be stockpiled in the
yard. At another school a canopy, where a hole had been torn
for a rocket launching, was further frayed after a projectile
was fired from underneath, he said.
"We're dealing with a carefully structured and in many cases
well trained terrorist force," said the general staff
officer, who spoke on condition that his name not be used.
"Hamas has at least 16,000 operatives organised into six
brigades across the Gaza Strip, each with its own commander,
while (Islamic Jihad) has a similar structure and a total of
around 6,000 operatives."
The war, the longest Israel has fought since it withdrew from
the narrow coastal enclave in 2005, left more than 2,100
Palestinians, most of them civilians, dead, the Palestinian
health ministry said. Israel said 67 of its soldiers and six
civilians were killed.
After two failed attempts, an open-ended ceasefire was struck
by Egyptian mediators on Aug. 26. Detailed talks on a
longer-term peace are supposed to start in the coming weeks,
although already there are doubts about their prospects.
On the day before the war began, the IDF said it estimated
militants held 10,000 rockets in Gaza, including 350-400 with
a range of up to 80 km (50 miles) and a few dozen with a
range of 160 km, reaching Jerusalem. On top of that, the
intelligence officer said, there were "thousands upon
thousands" of mortars.
Around 4,000 rockets were fired during the conflict and 3,000
destroyed by Israel's operations, leaving between 2,500 and
3,000 in the hands of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups.
The officer described that as a "major degradation" of the
groups' capabilities, alongside the destruction of 32 tunnels
built from Gaza into Israel and steps to hit Hamas's
He presented figures showing that civilians made up the
majority of those killed in the conflict, saying that of
2,127 Palestinian deaths so far verified by Israel, 706 were
civilians and 616 militants.
A further 805 are listed as "unknown", but the officer said
once verification was complete it was likely 40-45 percent of
them would be found to be militants and the remainder
He said the heavy civilian death toll was the result of Hamas
and others conducting operations from densely populated areas
or employing "operatives" who may not have had a direct
militant affiliation but still participated in some way.
During the war, at least 6 U.N.-run schools were hit by
Israeli artillery, killing at least two dozen people and
drawing heavy criticism of Israel. Militant rockets were also
found in three empty U.N. schools.
The pictures shown by the Israeli officer were of other,
"We're a moral military. We want to learn from our mistakes,"
he said, adding that civilian casualties were "a big issue in
the world" and one that Israel was keen to address.
With the war over, various investigations are set to begin,
including an internal Israeli military one, another by
Israel's government watchdog and a third by the UN's human
rights commission, already criticised in Israel.
While the officer, occasionally sipping tea from a U.S.
Defence Intelligence Agency cup, said Hamas had not managed
to surprise Israel during the war, he acknowledged that an
attack by commandos who swam from Gaza into Israel was well
planned, used advanced, Western equipment and was carried out
by militants who were "in very good shape".
Other near surprises were the extent of the tunnel network
dug by Hamas and its attempt to use a small drone-like plane,
although it carried no weapons or explosives.
Reconstituting those capabilities would take time, he said,
adding that this war had been more successful than previous
ones in 2012, 2008-9 and 2006 in knocking Hamas backwards.
But he still referred to "the next escalation" with Hamas,
seeming to accept that another conflict in Gaza was all but