March 29, 2009:
As expected, Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has made substantial changes to its fighting forces in light of the beating they took during the 22 day war with Israel last December-January. As soon as the fighting ended (with the January 18th ceasefire), Hamas began an investigation into why they lost so badly.
Hamas thought they were invulnerable to Israeli attack. By placing so many of their military and government facilities in densely populated residential neighborhoods, they believed any Israeli bombing or shelling would cause high, and politically unacceptable, civilian losses. But the Israelis used surprise, more precision than expected, and innovations like calling civilians in the target area and telling them to get out before the bombs hit nearby. As a result, most of the 1,300 Palestinian dead were Hamas personnel, and nearly all the damaged structures were those used by Hamas.
The Palestinians cranked up the spin machine anyway, and accused the Israelis of war crimes and genocide. But Israel responded with a media campaign featuring aerial videos of Hamas fighters setting up mortars and rockets next to schools and residential neighborhoods. This didn't stop the usual alliance of leftists, anti-Semites and Islamic radicals from calling Israel names. But the mud didn't stick nearly as much as in the past. It's as if the Israeli campaign was seeking to humiliate and discredit Hamas, as much as it was to destroy military and government assets.
Hamas was satisfied with their propaganda campaign, but not with the performance of their combat leaders. Hamas has over 10,000 armed men available, but most of them were useless because of poor leadership and training. Thus over 40 senior Hamas military leaders have been dismissed, and hundreds more lower ranking ones retrained, and reviewed (for their suitability to leading men in combat.)
Hamas is also working to get more powerful anti-tank missiles (modern Russian models, preferably) from Iran, and train their fighters to use them against Israeli armored vehicles (especially the tank size armored D9 bulldozers). Hamas is also developing new tactics, and instituting more training for their fighters. Better communications systems are being developed, and better protection for the Hamas leadership.
Dozens of senior Hamas officials were killed by smart bomb attacks. The families of these Hamas leaders often died as well. Israel ignored Hamas attempts to protect its leaders by surrounding them with women and children in residential areas. What dismayed Hamas the most was Israel finding the location of their officials. Even before the ceasefire took effect on the 18th, Hamas death squads were rounding up the usual suspected (members of rival Fatah, and anyone else unlucky enough to be suspect) for torture, mutilation or execution. The UN did not pay much attention to this, as it has been going on for over two years in Gaza. In that time, over 400 Fatah members have been killed by Hamas death squads, and many more Fatah (and any other Hamas rivals) tortured, wounded or jailed. Hamas apparently didn't realize that there were other ways to get target locations, besides informants on the ground. But all they understood was informants, so Hamas went after informants, and Hamas felt better after. But the bombings continued.
Israel destroyed most of the smuggling tunnels that bring weapons (particularly long range rockets for attacks on Israeli civilians) into Gaza. Israel wants Israeli or American sensors and technicians prowling the Egyptian border to detect all the tunnels, and for Egyptian border guards to destroy them. Hamas opposes this (as do many Egyptian officials, especially the ones who benefit from the bribes of the tunnel operators). Negotiations continue, as does the smuggling.
Ultimately, Hamas found that hiding their senior leadership in hospitals or orphanages offered the best protection from Israeli attack. Weapons and key items of military equipment could also be stored there. Hamas apparently exercised some restraint, in to what degree they took over these institutions for military purposes. Someone in Hamas began doing the math, and realized that, at a certain point, a hospital full of weapons and Hamas personnel stopped being a hospital to Israeli commanders, and became a prime target. This tactic will continue.
Israel believes that Hamas had about 3,000 rockets in late December, and that during the 22 day campaign, about 700 of those rockets were fired in the general direction of Israel, while Israeli air (mostly) and ground forces destroyed another 1,300. That leaves Hamas with about 1,000 rockets, and dozens of functioning smuggling tunnels to Egypt through which components for replacement rockets can be moved. Iran has been shipping thousands of new (larger and longer range) rockets to Gaza. These are shipped into Sudan and then smuggled (via bribes to Egyptian border guards and police) into Egypt, then through the tunnels into Gaza. Hamas wants to kill lots of Israelis next time around, both soldiers and civilians.
Hamas claimed that Israeli bombs and troops did $1.9 billion worth of damage. It was probably closer to a few hundred million dollars. There were only about a thousand smart bombs used, and many of these were small ones (like the new U.S. 250 pound SDB, which Israel recently received). Hamas claimed that 5,000 homes were destroyed (and 20,000 damaged), along with 16 government buildings and 20 mosques. There are about 147,000 buildings in Gaza. Israel may take another media shot at Hamas by releasing photos of what was actually destroyed, and let Hamas try to dance away from their lies. But that may not be necessary, as Hamas is already the growing target for ridicule in the Arab world. If Israel was trying to get Hamas exposed as a bunch of tyrants, genocidal liars and blowhards, they seem to have succeeded. Hamas is expecting another round of fighting, and expects to do much better.