A senior Israeli military intelligence official acknowledged on Tuesday that only several hundred Hamas operatives out of a total that he put at 16,000 were killed during this summer’s 50-day war in Gaza, leaving the group’s fighting force largely intact.
The official, briefing reporters at military headquarters here on the condition of anonymity, in line with army protocol, added that the militant groups in Gaza were believed to have held on to 2,500 to 3,000 rockets, about a third of the stock they had before the fighting began on July 8. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and some smaller groups launched about 4,000 rockets, and the Israeli military estimates that it destroyed another 3,000 before a cease-fire halted the fighting a week ago.
Although Hamas leaders have presented the struggle as a victory for their organization, Israel has “good evidence” that Hamas and Islamic Jihad “suffered a huge, even dramatic hit,” the intelligence official said, arguing that success cannot be measured in numbers. He said that senior commanders were killed, probably thousands of operatives were wounded and significant damage was done to the groups’ military infrastructure
Of the rockets fired by Hamas, 875 fell inside Gaza, according to the official — some of them fired at Israeli ground forces who had entered the Palestinian coastal territory, some that were aimed at Israeli territory but misfired. The official said he believed that still others were fired intentionally at the local Palestinian population, “from what I saw in the systems.”
A big difference between this conflict and Israel’s last ground invasion of Gaza, in 2008-9, he said, was that most sites used to fire rockets were concealed underground, and operatives were able to move through an extensive tunnel network from the insides of homes to launch sites and back again, remaining unseen and hard to reach.
On the contentious issue of Palestinian casualties, Israeli intelligence says it has confirmed the deaths of 341 Hamas operatives, 182 members of Islamic Jihad and 93 other militants who belonged to smaller groups or whose affiliation is not yet known. Another 706 of the 2,127 Palestinians killed have so far been identified by Israel as civilians, while 805 more casualties — 38 percent of the total — are listed as “unknown,” not yet categorized by Israel as either civilians or combatants. The United Nations and other monitoring groups say up to three-quarters of the Palestinians killed were civilians.