20 July 2015
This video clip released yesterday by the military wing of Hamas shows, the group says, then Israeli army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz within its fighters’ sights one year ago.
Gantz and other senior Israeli officers are seen touring an area near the boundary fence with Gaza during last summer’s Israeli assault.
The clip comes from a longer video released by the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades recounting an operation last year in which its fighters infiltrated from Gaza into present-day Israel, attacked a military outpost and ambushed a patrol killing at least two Israeli soldiers and injuring several others.
It is unclear why Hamas fighters did not attempt to target Gantz on this occasion. It may be that they did not have the right weapons with sufficient range in place, or other operational reasons. But the UN Human Rights Council’s independent inquiry in to the Gaza assault notes that Qassam fighters did apparently try to target Gantz during other visits to boundary areas.
The longer video, below, is called Behind the Lines: Abu Mutaibiq Outpost.
The 35-minute video, in Arabic, recounts the 19 July 2014 attack on an Israeli military installation nearKissufim, on the Israeli side of the boundary fence with Gaza, from the perspective of the Palestinian fighters.
It includes personal testimonies of some of the participants – their names are not given – and a realistic and at times graphic reenactment of battle scenes. All of the reenactments are labeled as such, so there is no confusing them with real footage, such as that of Gantz.
According to the video, a group of nine Qassam fighters infiltrated Israeli lines via tunnels.
Their target was an installation – which they call “Abu Mutaibiq” – which housed Israeli military surveillance and communications equipment. The nine fighters broke up into three groups, one for demolition and two to provide security and engage the enemy.
In addition to sabotaging the Israeli equipment, the men then lay in wait for six hours to ambush an Israeli military patrol.
The reenactment shows the fighters attacking the patrol with rocket-propelled grenades. They then engage in close combat in which Hamas claims that it killed a total of eight Israelis, destroyed two vehicles and disabled a third. The Palestinians also captured two Israeli rifles.
However, according to Israel, only two of its men were killed. One, Major Amotz Greenberg, was a high-ranking officer in the reserves.
The Palestinians say they lost two of their fighters: Ahmad Nathmi Saada was killed in close combat and Hasan al-Khamisi was killed in an Israeli strike after the fighters had withdrawn back to Gaza. A third fighter was injured, according to the video.
The video is notable for several reasons. It shows that one year after the Israeli assault on Gaza, the military wing of Hamas is maintaining the media and public communications strategy it conducted during the war.
Its social media and communications strategy was key in rallying domestic Palestinian and broader regional support. It depicted the Palestinian resistance as a highly trained force capable of effectively confronting Israel using clever tactics and strategic surprise to make up for a vast deficit in equipment and technology.
After less than 24 hours, Behind the Lines already has more than 120,000 views on YouTube and has received wide coverage in Arabic-language media.
Palestinian resistance groups are necessarily secretive, so this video also aims to put a human face on some of the fighters who engaged Israel in battle.
In the opening scenes, for instance, it shows one fighter preparing for battle, putting together his kit, saying his prayers and speaking about parting from his family. He says he feels privileged and lucky to have been chosen for such an elite mission.
A lot of effort was put into the production and the battle scenes, complete with stunts and special effects, are quite realistic.
The tunnels were indeed the big strategic surprise of the 51-day-long Israeli assault. Palestinian fighters were able to use them numerous times to carry out operations behind Israeli lines.
Israeli propaganda, faithfully echoed in the reporting of The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren, presented these as “terror tunnels” whose purpose was to attack kindergartens and Israeli living rooms.
This was also the justification Israel offered for its massive ground attack into Gaza in which it killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians in several notorious massacres, including the one in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza city one year ago today.
But the independent inquiry published in June by the UN Human Rights Council concluded that “the tunnels were only used to conduct attacks directed at IDF [Israeli army] positions in Israel in the vicinity of the Green Line, which are legitimate military targets.”
The Behind the Lines video presents the Abu Mutaibiq operation very much in this mold. Indeed, in its press release on the operation last year, Qassam stated that its men had the opportunity to attack Israeli civilian “settlements” in the area, but chose not to.
According to the UN inquiry, 2,251 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, were killed in the Israeli assault. Of about 70 Israelis killed, all but six were soldiers.
Message to Israel
The video also undoubtedly aims to send a message to Israel. The shorter clip – purportedly of army chief Benny Gantz – seems calculated to draw the attention of Israeli media, which has indeed given it prominent coverage.
Another key element of the shock value for Israel is the freedom with which the Palestinian fighters apparently moved around behind Israeli lines. The video includes, for instance, Israeli surveillance footage showing the Palestinian fighters who carried out the attack returning to Gaza unhindered.
The goal may be to send a psychological message to Israel that its fighters, including its most high-ranking commanders, are still vulnerable to Palestinian forces that remain intact and ready a year after the assault.
Dena Shunra provided additional research.