Besides the tactical lessons, which include the solution to detecting Hamas terror tunnels, improved intelligence, and preventing amphibious infiltration, the question which still lingers beyond all else is what to expect from the IDF during next war against the terror organization which has reigned over the Gaza Strip for nearly a decade.
The three main operations conducted against Hamas (Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge) have all, arguably, returned Israel to the exact same position in which it found itself on the eve of all three operations. Hamas has rearmed itself, increased its creativity and its determination to fire its last rocket appears not to have diminished in the slightest.
The architects of all three operations expected that Hamas would be delivered a blow that would leave it severely weakened and deterred. Yet Hamas it is still breathing. Now, with Avigdor Lieberman as the new defense minister, this policy can change with the outbreak of another war under the direction of the present government given Liebermans’ multiple callings for the total decimation of Hamas rather than its mere weakening.
“The key word is decisiveness. Every conflict must end decisively.That is my directive,” Lieberman recently said during a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting. It is a doctrine which could find itself at odds with that of Netanyahu or IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot according to whom a new and prolonged wallowing in Gaza by the IDF is much worse than a number of blows which normally achieve peace for a number of years.
Either way, the investigations of Protective Edge have already been translated in the IDF into practical lessons for the field. While the overall picture is encouraging, it is unknown whether it will necessarily translate into reality during the next round of fighting.
This was one of the IDF’s achilles heels during the latest Gaza operation. The Shin Bet and intelligence agencies found difficult throughout to locate the sites from which rockets were being launched or the hideouts of senior Hamas officials.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement managed to launch more than half of their entire rocket arsenal without the IDF identifying their launching spots. Only toward the end of the operation did the higher echelons of the organization suffer following an assassination attempt which partially succeeded as it claimed the lives of senior Hamas officials and seriously wounded the leader of its military wing, Mohammed Deif.
The second shortfall was strategic. Their forces in battle enjoyed access to quality and unprecedented intelligence. The successful and meticulous compartmentalization of Hamas and its effective exploitation of its population as a human shield brought about relative success, forcing the Israeli intelligence community to review its strategies, the results of which will be assessed during the next round.
The IDF drew lessons regarding the Hamas attack tunnels which proved traumatic for the Israeli population and which claimed soldiers’ lives on both sides of the border in 2014. More recently another truth was exposed relating to Israel’s post-war claim that it had destroyed the tunnels during the operation.
The two tunnels which were discovered a few weeks ago near the Gaza border were dug, as it turned out, before Protective Edge.
In addition the fact that Hamas began digging and investing more of its budget in the tunnels, convinced the IDF of the necessity to train every ground troop to face the tunnel threat.
Above all, the elite Combat Engineering Unit which was responsible for blowing up the tunnels during the operation, has increased three-fold since its conclusion. Some of the improvisation that was undertaken to destroy the tunnels were consolidated into consistent fighting techniques. As a preventative measure which saw the investment of billions of shekels, the first success for a system of tunnel detection has already been recorded in recent months. However in the never-ending maneuver and counter-maneuvers between Hamas and the IDF, Hamas is also learning about the new system and seeking ways to circumvent it.
Another lesson taken from Protective Edge touches on the Hamas doctrine to take the fight to the enemy - a well-established Israeli doctrine. The IDF has not shied away from tough talk, warning that the defensive strike in the next war will be no less devastating that an offensive strike. This has been manifested by way of upgraded and improved capabilities of units stationed on the border charged with handling Hamas infiltration into Israeli territory.
The frontline defense will also have at its core an evacuation program for towns situated near the borders. This will also include greater protection at military entry points into the war zones at the border within Hamas’ fire range. Indeed many soldiers were killed at these points from rockets during the last war but effective cover will now be provided in such sensitive spots.
The navy has also been better equipped by way of sensor systems to be placed on the naval borders between Israel and Gaza in order to thwart attempts by Hamas commandos crossing into Israeli territory via an amphibious operation, as happened during Protective Edge.