Israeli 'Disinformation' Campaign to Lull Hamas Preceded Gaza Strikes

Careful planning, including extensive intelligence gathering and a "disinformation" campaign to lull Hamas into thinking an attack was not imminent, preceded Israel's dramatic assault on Gaza, according to a reputable Israeli newspaper.

"Long-term preparation, careful gathering of information, secret discussions, operational deception and the misleading of the public - all these stood behind the Israel Defense Forces 'Cast Lead' operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which began Saturday morning," Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid reported.

The intelligence missions targeted Hamas's "permanent bases, weapon silos, training camps, the homes of senior officials and coordinates for other facilities," the paper said, citing "sources in the defense establishment."

Meanwhile, to mislead the Islamist Sunni group's leadership, "Israel continued to send out disinformation in announcing it would open the crossings to the Gaza Strip and that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert would decide whether to launch the strike following three more deliberations on Sunday -- one day after the actual order to launch the operation was issued," the paper said.

Such preparations marked a dramatic departure from Israel's assault on Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon in July 2006, which quickly bogged down amid unexpectedly stiff resistance, analysts said.

Among the fiercest critics of the Lebanon campaign then was Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, notes my CQ colleague Jonathan Broder, who has reported on and in the Middle East for three decades, beginning with the Associated Press and Chicago Tribune.

"Barak was very critical of Israel's lack of intelligence-gathering and other important preparations before the 2006 war against Lebanon, which resulted in Hezbollah's emerging victorious in the minds of many Arabs and the perception of Israel's deterrent capacity being badly damaged," Broder commented for me "The precision of Israel's attacks against Hamas leaders and their installations this time shows that Barak was not going to make the same mistake."

But if Israel goes ahead with an anticipated ground assault, says James Abourezk, a Lebanese American former Democratic Senator from South Dakota, it will encounter "pretty stiff resistance."

Hamas has about 25,000 fighters in Gaza, said Abourezk, who frequently leads citizen tour groups to Syria.

"So Israel might not launch a ground incursion because Hamas has some pretty tough fighters in there."

On the other hand, "Israel can do pretty much anything it wants" because of its firm backing from the United States in general and the Bush administration in particular, he said.

The White House and State Department have blamed Hamas's rocket attacks on Israel for precipitating the crisis.

"The violence will keep going until the U.S. puts a stop to it," Abourezk said.

Today Bush administration officials said they were working hard to restore a ceasefire in Gaza.

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