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Anatomy of An Attack: The Palestinian Tunnel Raid

Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has an outstanding detailed description of the attack by Palestinians at Karem Shalom that resulted in two Israeli soldiers killed and one, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, kidnapped and spirited into the Rafah area of Gaza.

It was zero-dark-thirty on Sunday morning when Popular Resistance Committees and Hamas terrorists emerged from a tunnel that originated about 500 meters inside Gaza and extended 300 meters into the Israeli side of the security fence, behind the security tower, tank and armored personnel carrier targets of the attack. The tunnel was nearly a full kilometer in length and a major undertaking requiring planning, coordination and time. This is an important aspect that will come into play again.

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From the tunnel, the group of PRC and Hamas terrorists emerged, though this time attacking military targets rather than civilians. They split into three teams. One team used a shoulder-launched anti-tank missile that hit the IDF tank, killing two and injuring one. The other two teams targeted the armored personnel carrier (which was empty) and security tower, injuring the two men manning the tower. With Gilad Shalit in hand, the Hamas & PRC terrorists blew a hole in the security wall and escaped back into Gaza.

That the PRC/Hamas (Izzadin el-Kassam)/Saladdin Brigade/Army of Islam collaborators claimed that the attack was in response to the recent Israeli assassinations of PRC leader Jamal Abu Samhadana and fellow PRC terrorist Abu Yusuf Qoqa, was always curious. Tunnels do not appear in short order response, especially those nearly a full kilometer in length. The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center hits this point squarely.

The PRC, an organization directed by Hamas, announced that the attack had been carried out by joint PRC-Hamas-Army of Islam forces in retaliation for the deaths of two senior PRC terrorists, Jamal Abu Samhadana and Abu Yusuf Qoqa, and for the deaths of the members of the Ghalia family. (In our assessment, it would take a number of months to dig a tunnel that long and therefore it is not plausible that the attack was related to the events which took place during the past month.) [Emphasis added.]

Israel killed Samhadana only two weeks before the PRC tunnel attack, and had noted at that time the high amount of weapons smuggling going on in the Palestinian terrorist arms build-up. The head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service noted that “11 tons of explosives, more than 3 million bullets, 430 rocket propelled grenades and 10 shoulder-fired missiles” were known to have made their way into Gaza in early June. The tank damaged in the attack was a Merkava, with one of the finest armor protection in the world. Clearly, the missile fired at it was newer technology smuggled into Gaza. Recall the Russian-built AT14 Kornet shoulder fired anti-tank missiles that penetrated the M1-A2 Abrams’ armor in Iraq.

This is likely part of the ‘new capabilities’ that Hamas promised recently. Abu Abdullah, Izzadin el-Kassam’s commander, recently warned of a “unique response” to Israel and went so far as to declare Hamas’ new capabilities, admitting this to be their principal objective during the recently abandoned informal cease-fire with Israel. Abdullah told Aaron Klein, “In the last 15 months, even though the fighters of Hamas kept the cease-fire, we did not stop making important advancements and professional training on the military level. In the future, after Hamas is obliged to stop the cease-fire, the world shall see our new military capabilities.” Now that Hamas has determined themselves “obliged to stop the cease-fire,” the tunnel system and the effective anti-tank missiles are certainly part the “new military capabilities” for a terrorist group once relegated to attacking the mighty Merkava tank with RPG’s and roadside bombs.

Israel holds Hamas’ Damascus -based and -protected leader Khaled Meshaal directly responsible for this attack and others and has, as a result, placed him squarely back on their hit list and declared him to be a target for assassination. Israel’s Mossad had attempted to assassinate Meshaal in 1997 when two Mossad agents were caught after injecting him with poison. Israel bartered the antidote for the dying Meshaal in exchange for the return of their two captured agents.

As part of Operation Summer Rain, one important mission is to scour the border area for more tunnels that lead under the security fence and destroy the network of underground attack routes likely constructed during the cease-fire and many surely after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

While the tunnel system will surely be largely destroyed before the IDF leaves Gaza, the anti-tank weapons will remain hidden throughout Gaza, along with any other new weapons capabilities Hamas has amassed.