By Seymour Hersh
October 14, 2023
It’s been one week since the horrific Hamas attacks on Israel took place, and the shape of what is to come from the Israeli armed forces is clear, and uncompromising.
Over the past week Israeli jets have conducted around-the-clock bombing of non-military targets in Gaza City. Apartment buildings, hospitals, and mosques were torn apart, with no prior warning and no effort to minimize civilian casualties.
By the end of the week Israeli jets were also dropping leaflets telling the citizens of Gaza City and its surrounding areas in the north that those who wished to survive had better start going south—walking if necessary—25 miles or more—to the Rafah border crossing leading to Egypt. As of this writing, it was not clear whether financially stricken Egypt will allow a million immigrants, many of them committed to the Hamas cause, to cross. In the short term, I have been told by an Israeli insider that Israel has been trying to convince Qatar, which at the urging of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a long-time financial supporter of Hamas, to join with Egypt in funding a tent city for the million or more refugees awaiting across the border. “It’s not a done deal,” the Israeli insider told me. Israeli officials have warned Egypt and Qatar that without a landing site, the refugees will have to “go back to Gaza.”
One possible site, the insider said, is a long abandoned chunk of land in northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, near the border crossing from Gaza, that was the site of an Israeli settlement known as Yamit when the peninsula was seized by Israel after its victory the Six-Day War of 1967. The settlement was evacuated and bulldozed by Israel before Sinai was returned to Egypt in 1982. The Israeli hope is that Qatar and Egypt will take the refugee crisis off its hands.
Israel’s obvious contempt for the well-being of the citizenry of Gaza amid the forced migration of more than one million starving human beings has captured the world’s attention and led to increasing international condemnation, much of it aimed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
And so the next stage must come soon. Here is what I have been told, in my conversations in recent days with officials from Israel and elsewhere, including officials I have dealt with in Europe and the Middle East since the Vietnam war, about the Israeli plan for the elimination of Hamas.
The major issue for the Israeli war planners is a reluctance, despite the mobilization of more than 300,000 reservists, to engage in a door-to-door street battle with Hamas in Gaza City. One veteran of the IDF, who served in a high post, told me that half of the Israeli Army has been engaged for the past decade or more in the protection of the increasing number of small settlements scattered in the West Bank where they are bitterly resented by the Palestinian population. “The Israeli planners don’t trust their infantry,” the insider said, nor their willingness to go to war but what could be a disastrous lack of combat experience.
With the starved-out civilian population forced to leave, the Israeli operational plan calls for the Air Force to destroy the remaining structures in Gaza City and elsewhere in the north. Gaza City will be no more. Israel will then begin dropping American-made 5,000-pound bombs known as “bunker busters,” or JDAMs, in the flattened areas where Hamas fighters are known to live and manufacture their missiles and other weapons underground. An improved version of the weapon, known as GBU-43/B, depicted by the media as “the mother of all bombs,” was dropped on a suspected ISIS command center in Afghanistan by the US in April 2017. An early version of the weapon was sold to Israel in 2005, allegedly for use against Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities, and the improved, laser-guided version was authorized for sale to Israel by the Obama administration a decade ago. (Israel bought 1,000 much smaller, GPS-guided bunker busters in 2021.) Even then, the Israeli insider told me, Netanyahu and his advisers understood that Netanyahu’s support for Hamas was dangerous, like “keeping a tiger as a pet.” “He would eat you in a minute.”
The current Israeli war planners are convinced, the insider told me, that the upgraded version of JDAMs with larger warheads would penetrate deep enough underground before detonating—thirty to fifty meters—with the blast and resulting sound wave “killing all within one-half mile.”
The insider said it was his understanding that the Hamas leadership wanted some civilians to stay put because of their need for “human shields.” The new Israeli plan of forced exit means “at least the people would not all be killed.” The concept, he added pointedly, dated back to the early years of América’s Vietnam War, when President John F. Kennedy’s administration authorized the Strategic Hamlet Plan that called for the forced relocation of Vietnamese civilians in contested areas to hastily built housing in areas thought to be controlled by the South Vietnamese. Their deserted lands were then declared to be Free Fire Zones where all who stayed could be targeted by American troops.
The systematic destruction of the remaining buildings in Gaza City will start within days, the Israeli insider said. The bunker-buster JDAMs could come next. Then, in the planners’ scenario, I was told, the Israeli infantry will be assigned to mop-up operations: searching out and killing those Hamas fighters and workers who managed to survive the JDAM attacks.
Asked why the Israeli planners thought the Egyptian government would agree, even if under pressure from the Biden administration, to accept the more than one million refugees from Gaza, the insider said: “We’ve got Egypt by the balls.” He was referring to the recent indictments of Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey and his wife on federal corruption charges stemming from his business dealings with senior Egyptian officials, and the alleged passing of intelligence about persons serving at the US Embassy in Cairo. Egyptian President Abdul Fatta el-Sisi, who seized power in a 2014 coup, ousting the elected Muslim Brotherhood, is a retired general who headed Egyptian’s military intelligence service from 2010 to 2012.
Not everyone shared the assumption that all would go well after the JDAM attacks, if they take place. One former European intelligence official who served for years in the Middle East told me, “The Egyptians do not want Hamas coming into Egypt, and they will do the minimum.”
When told of the Israeli plan to utilize JDAMS, he said that “a city in rubble is just as dangerous as at any time. The talk of JDAMS is the talk of people who don’t know what to do.
Hamas is saying, ‘Bring it on.’ They are waiting for this.” Using JDAMS “is the talk of a leadership that has been knocked off its feet. This was a carefully planned operation and Hamas knew exactly what the Israeli reaction would be. Urban warfare is awful.”
The official predicted that the Israeli bunker-buster bombs would not penetrate deep enough: Hamas, he said, was operating in tunnels built 60 meters underground that would be able to withstand the JDAM attacks.
Told this, the Israeli insider acknowledged that underground rocks and boulders would limit the capability of the rockets to penetrate deeply, but the underground surface in Gaza City is sandy and would offer little resistance, especially if the JDAMs were released from the highest point possible.
The insider also said the current planning calls for the JDAMs attack, if authorized, to come as early as Sunday or Monday, depending on the efficacy the forced expulsion of Gazi City and south proceeds, with a ground invasion to follow immediately.
* This article was automatically syndicated and expanded from Seymour Hersh – Substack.