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Hamas practiced in plain sight, posting video of mock assault weeks earlier than border breach

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Lower than a month earlier than Hamas fighters blew by way of Israel’s high-tech “Iron Wall” and launched an assault that would depart greater than 1,200 Israelis {dead}, they practiced in a really public gown rehearsal.

A slickly produced two-minute propaganda video posted to social media by Hamas on Sept. 12 reveals fighters utilizing explosives to blast by way of a reproduction of the border gate, sweep in on pickup vans after which transfer constructing by constructing by way of a full-scale reconstruction of an Israeli city, firing computerized weapons at human-silhouetted paper targets.

The Islamic militant group’s live-fire train dubbed operation “Sturdy Pillar” additionally had militants in physique armor and fight fatigues finishing up operations that included the destruction of mock-ups of the wall’s concrete towers and a communications antenna, simply as they’d do for actual within the lethal assault final Saturday.

Whereas Israel’s extremely regarded safety and intelligence providers had been clearly caught flatfooted by Hamas’ skill to breach its Gaza defenses, the group seems to have hidden its intensive preparations for the lethal assault in plain sight.

“There clearly had been warnings and indications that ought to have been picked up,” stated Bradley Bowman, a former U.S. Military officer who’s now senior director of the Middle on Army and Political Energy on the Basis for Protection of Democracies, a Washington analysis institute. “Or possibly they had been picked up, however they didn’t spark obligatory preparations to stop these horrific terrorist acts from taking place.”

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The Related Press reviewed and verified key particulars from dozens of movies Hamas launched during the last yr, primarily by way of the social media app Telegram.

Utilizing satellite tv for pc imagery, the AP matched the situation of the mocked-up city to a patch of desert outdoors Al-Mawasi, a Palestinian city on the southern coast of the Gaza Strip. A big sign up Hebrew and Arabic on the gate says “Horesh Yaron,” the title of a controversial Israeli settlement within the occupied Palestinian West Financial institution.

Bowman stated there are indications that Hamas deliberately led Israeli officers to imagine it was getting ready to hold out raids within the West Financial institution, quite than Gaza. It was additionally doubtlessly important that the train has been held yearly since 2020 in December, however was moved up by practically 4 months this yr to coincide with the anniversary of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.

In a separate video posted to Telegram from final yr’s Sturdy Pillar train on Dec. 28, Hamas fighters are proven storming what seems to be a mockup Israeli navy base, full with a full-size mannequin of a tank with an Israeli flag flying from its turret. The gunmen transfer by way of the cinderblock buildings, seizing different males enjoying the roles of Israeli troopers as hostages.

Michael Milshtein, a retired Israeli colonel who beforehand led the navy intelligence division overseeing the Palestinian territories, stated he was conscious of the Hamas movies, however he was nonetheless caught off guard by the ambition and scale of Saturday’s assault.

“We knew concerning the drones, we knew about booby traps, we knew about cyberattacks and the marine forces … The shock was the coordination between all these programs,” Milshtein stated.

The seeds of Israel’s failure to anticipate and cease Saturday’s assault return at the least a decade. Confronted with recurring assaults from Hamas militants tunneling underneath Israel’s border fence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a really concrete answer — construct a much bigger wall.

With monetary assist from U.S. taxpayers, Israel accomplished development of a $1.1 billion mission to fortify its current defenses alongside its 40-mile land border with Gaza in 2021. The brand new, upgraded barrier features a “sensible fence” as much as 6-meters (19.7 ft) excessive, festooned with cameras that may see at nighttime, razor wire and seismic sensors able to detecting the digging of tunnels greater than 200 ft beneath. Manned guard posts had been changed with concrete towers topped with remote-controlled machine weapons.

“In our neighborhood, we have to shield ourselves from wild beasts,” Netanyahu stated in 2016, referring to Palestinians and neighboring Arab states. “On the finish of the day as I see it, there will probably be a fence like this one surrounding Israel in its entirety.”

Shortly after daybreak on Saturday, Hamas fighters pushed by way of Netanyahu’s wall in a matter of minutes. And so they did it on the relative low-cost, utilizing explosive expenses to blow holes within the barrier after which sending in bulldozers to widen the breaches as fighters streamed by way of on bikes and in pick-up vans. Cameras and communications gear had been bombarded by off-the-shelf industrial drones tailored to drop hand grenades and mortar shells — a tactic borrowed instantly from the battlefields of Ukraine.

Snipers took out Israel’s refined roboguns by concentrating on their uncovered ammunition packing containers, inflicting them to blow up. Militants armed with assault rifles sailed over the Israeli defenses slung underneath paragliders, offering Hamas airborne troops regardless of missing airplanes. More and more refined do-it-yourself rockets, able to putting Israel’s capital of Tel Aviv, substituted for an absence of heavy artillery.

Satellite tv for pc photos analyzed by the AP present the large extent of the injury carried out on the closely fortified Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel. The photographs taken Sunday and analyzed Tuesday confirmed gaping holes in three sections of the border wall, the most important greater than 70 meters (230 ft) huge.

As soon as the wall was breached, Hamas fighters streamed by way of by the lots of. A video confirmed a lone Israeli battle tank speeding to the sight of the assault, solely to be attacked and shortly destroyed in a ball of flame. Hamas then disabled radio towers and radar websites, probably impeding the power of the Israeli commanders to see and perceive the extent of the assault.

Hamas forces additionally struck a close-by military base close to Zikim, participating in an intense firefight with Israeli troops earlier than overrunning the put up. Movies posted by Hamas present graphic scenes with dozens of {dead} Israeli troopers.

They then fanned out throughout the countryside of Southern Israel, attacking kibbutzim and a music competition. On the our bodies of a number of the Hamas militants killed through the invasion had been detailed maps exhibiting deliberate zones and routes of assault, in accordance with photos posted by Israeli first responders who recovered a number of the the corpses. Israeli authorities introduced Wednesday they’d recovered the our bodies of about 1,500 Islamic fighters, although no particulars had been offered about the place they had been discovered or how they died.

Army consultants informed the AP the assault confirmed a degree of sophistication not beforehand exhibited by Hamas, probably suggesting they’d exterior assist.

“I simply was impressed with Hamas’s skill to make use of fundamentals and fundamentals to have the ability to penetrate the wall,” stated retired U.S. Military Lt. Col. Stephen Danner, a fight engineer educated to construct and breach defenses. “They appeared to have the ability to discover these weak spots and penetrate shortly after which exploit that breach.”

Ali Barakeh, a Beirut-based senior Hamas official, acknowledged that through the years the group had acquired provides, monetary help, navy experience and coaching from its allies overseas, together with Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. However he insisted the latest operation to breach Israel’s border defenses was homegrown, with the precise date and time for the assault identified solely to a handful of commanders inside Hamas.

Particulars of the operation had been stored so tight that some Hamas fighters who took half within the assault Saturday believed they had been heading to only one other drill, exhibiting up in road garments quite than their uniforms, Barakeh stated.

Final weekend’s devastating shock assault has shaken political help for Netanyahu inside Israel, who pushed forward with spending large to construct partitions regardless of some inside his personal cupboard and navy warning that it most likely wouldn’t work.

Within the days since Hamas struck, senior Israeli officers have largely deflected questions concerning the wall and the obvious intelligence failure. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief spokesman for the Israel Protection Forces, acknowledged the navy owes the general public an evidence, however stated now just isn’t the time.

“First, we struggle, then we examine,” he stated.

In his push to construct border partitions, Netanyahu discovered an enthusiastic associate in then-President Donald Trump, who praised Netanyahu’s Iron Wall as a possible mannequin for the expanded barrier he deliberate for the U.S. Southern border with Mexico.

Below Trump, the U.S. expanded a joint initiative with Israel began underneath the Obama Administration to develop applied sciences for detecting underground tunnels alongside the Gaza border defenses. Since 2016, Congress has appropriated $320 million towards the mission.

However even with all its high-tech devices, the Iron Wall was nonetheless largely only a bodily barrier that might be breached, stated Victor Tricaud, a senior analyst with the London-based consulting agency Management Dangers.

“The fence, irrespective of what number of sensors … irrespective of how deep the underground obstacles go, on the finish of the day, it’s successfully a steel fence,” he stated. “Explosives, bulldozers can finally get by way of it. What was exceptional was Hamas’s functionality to maintain all of the preparations underneath wraps.”


Biesecker reported from Washington and El Deeb from Beirut. AP reporters Jon Gambrell in Jerusalem, Lori Hinnant in Paris, Beatrice Dupuy in New York, and Aaron Kessler and Fu Ting in Washington contributed.


Contact AP’s world investigative group at Investigative@ap.org.

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