Nearby, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz arrives at the Golani command post to approve operational plans a moment before the forces enter Gaza. Not far away, the fighters are waiting impatiently. "Come on," they say, "let us go in already."
The Golani infantry brigade is not used to being left out of any battle, and the pressure is leaving its mark.
Colonel Yoav Mordechai, who was the commander of Golani's 13th Battalion during Operation Summer Rains in Gaza after Gilad Shalit's abduction and is considered one of the brigade's symbols, arrives at the area. I had joined his armored personnel carrier in that operation and we were hit with insane fire. It was the first major operation after the disengagement from Gaza, and the IDF had underestimated the extent of the resistance.
Mordechai estimates that the forces have not encountered that friction because they have yet to go in as deep as they had at the time. But all this could change soon: The moment they reach their targets within the Strip, the risk will grow. Standing in one place is dangerous. The forces' challenge inside the area is clear: To avoid attacks and kidnappings like the ones Hamas tried to carry out during Operation Cast Lead.
Since the IDF launched the ground stage of Operation Protective Edge on Thursday night, it has already reached quite a few achievements as part of its main goal: Destroying Hamas' terror tunnels. Over the weekend, the IDF completed the first phase of its mission by locating 13 offensive tunnels at a heavy price, which left a number of soldiers killed and wounded.
This is an important accomplishment, but it's not irreversible. The tunnels could be restored if they are not dealt with regularly.
Despite the price the IDF is paying in human life, one could say that the main goal of the operation, which was limited to being with, is being achieved: At least five strategic tunnels, with exits in Israel, have already been located and destroyed.
For the first time since the beginning of the operation, it's safe to say that Hamas has lost strategic assets: The army estimates that each of the five tunnels was dug for at least four years in great depth and at a high cost.
In addition to the five tunnels which reached Israeli territory, the forces uncovered eight other tunnels directed at Israel. A total of 34 pits of potential tunnels have been unearthed so far.
Despite the success in locating the tunnels, Hamas appears undeterred so far. The IDF will have to explain how nine terrorists managed to infiltrate through a tunnel in broad daylight and progress about 300 meters into Israeli territory before being exposed. They could have stormed Kibbutz Be'eri, but eventually chose to attack a force with an antitank missile, killing a soldier and an officer.
The failure does not only apply to the infiltration but also to the fact that almost the entire force managed to return to the Strip with only one terrorist killed.
And that's not all: On Saturday, a tunnel was located near Kibbutz Nirim when two terrorists emerged from it. They were killed by special forces. In addition, Hamas sent an explosive motorbike towards IDF soldiers, as well as a booby-trapped donkey in a separate incident. Its men also fired antitank missiles and have already killed a number of Israeli fighters.
The friendly fire issue has been considered a problem for many years. In Operation Cast Lead, four of the 10 fallen soldiers were killed in friendly-fire incidents.
Although Operation Protective Edge isn't over yet, we must ask ourselves: How is it possible that the underground city which has been built under our noses – and under the Gaza Strip – hasn't been dealt with until now? And why haven't the state's leaders been working to remove this strategic threat?
Since the IDF launched Operation Protective Edge, Southern Command chief Sami Turgeman has been demanding a ground operation to destroy the terror tunnels. The rapid uncovering of these tunnels in the past two days raises the following question: How could the cabinet members afford to approve the operation against the tunnels only after the 13 terrorists entered the area near Kibbutz Sufa through a tunnel on Thursday?
The political echelon chose to delay the inevitable, and it’s a shame. This threat could have – and should have – been removed a long time ago.