One year after Operation Pillar of Defense, life for residents of Israel’s south has returned to some form of normalcy. Hamas, who suffered a severe blow during the operation, has not started a new round of rocket attacks since then. But they are using the quiet to rebuild their weapons stockpiles and ready themselves for the next attack. Captain Srulik Vaknin gives us an inside look.
“This was the first year that the children here began classes without us having to accompany them to school,” said Cpt. Srulik Vaknin, IDF (Zahal) Operations Officer for the Gaza region, one year after Operation Pillar of Defense. ” We knew that in Gaza they were taking advantage of this opportunity to attack, we were ready and prepared, but at eight o’clock the bells rang and children came to class, almost like in a normal country,” he says with a flash of shock in his eyes.
Many children in southern Israel did not know what the first day of school felt like without rockets falling on them. Many have grown up with this sad reality, but this last September when school started, they could feel excited for the first time.
In November last year, the IDF (Zahal) launched Operation Pillar of Defense, with the clear objective of undermining Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and curbing the constant rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. The blow to Hamas was hard: The IAF destroyed hundreds of rocket launchers, weapons factories, tunnels, barracks, intelligence infrastructure and other terrorist targets.
“Since then, the situation has calmed down and the daily attacks have ceased. But we must not get confused,” warns Cpt. Vaknin. “This is just a momentary silence.”
The calm, he explains, is for two main reasons: firstly, Hamas suffered a severe blow during the operation. On the other hand, Hamas leaders know that as long as they avoid attacking Israeli civilians, Israel will not attack them. This gives them time to rearm and prepare for the next wave of violence. “That’s the nature of a terrorist organization, playing on the thin line of tolerance,” Cpt. Vaknin says. “Hamas knows that Israel will not attack without a reason. They constantly provoke us, trying to measure our patience and waiting for us to react.”
This trend explains the nature of Hamas’ attacks on Israel in the last year. Just as the ceasefire was declared, there was a significant rise in the number of infiltration attempts across the border. “This was in part to measure whether we are prepared to maintain the ceasefire, and a little to provoke us and to have something to be proud of,” Cpt. Vaknin says. The IDF (Zahal) blocked every infiltration attempt, and the number of attempts consequently dropped in the months following. The 33 rockets fired from Gaza, says Cpt. Vaknin, were a ‘show of strength’ for a variety of terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip trying to make their presence known.
Across the border, Hamas is constantly preparing. They have significantly enhanced their intelligence capabilities, both in terms of hardware and techniques. “They record everything, and try to guess each of our next steps,” Cpt. Vaknin explains. “So our strategy is to be like a phoenix, reinvent ourselves every day, improving our tactics, our technology and our intelligence.”
“We can not underestimate the enemy,” Cpt. Vaknin says. “This is not a group of protesters at a demonstration. This is a terrorist organization with a significant military arsenal supplied by Iran.”
Gazan terrorists prepare to launch rockets toward Israel
Hamas uses tunnels to smuggle weapons into Gaza. Only last month, the IDF (Zahal) discovered a 1.7-mile-long tunnel connecting the Strip to Israel. These type of tunnels are used to carry out attacks on Israeli communities along the border, and kidnap soldiers, as in the case of Gilad Shalit. “Underneath Gaza, there is an extensive network of interconnected tunnels – it’s an entire underground world,” says Cpt. Vaknin, explaining the tactics of the terrorist organization.
“We met our goal: civilians in southern Israel live a normal life,” Cpt. Vaknin says. “This means that we have to work harder, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Terrorists launch rockets at Israel from civilian areas in the Gaza Strip
Hamas is walking a fine line between provocation and tolerance, using the time to rearm and try to hit us when we least expect it. Hamas has a clear objective: the destruction of Israel. Therefore, despite the momentary quiet, we will not lower our guard.