Some 160 Israeli warplanes participated in an operation to bomb underground tunnels in Gaza believed to hold fighters of the Hamas group following an elaborate deception plan.
The bombing on the night of May 14 is estimated to have caused over 200 Palestinian casualties and extensive damage to buildings rendering some 2000 civilians homeless, Israeli and international media reported.
The ‘deception’ was the announcement of a ground operation by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) on the morning of May 14, with troops assembled along the border with Gaza. “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza strip,” IDF said in a Twitter post.
The problem was that there was no ground invasion. Yes, the IDF had deployed troops along the border, but they did not cross into Gaza.
The IDF’s “announcement” was intended to drive Hamas fighters into the tunnel and then bomb the tunnels. When the news of Israeli ground incursion came out, Hamas and Islamic Jihad sent their first-line of defense into the tunnels to start taking up positions. These were the anti-tank missile teams and mortar squads meant to strike at incoming Israeli ground forces. Once they were out of the tunnels, they were exposed to Israeli aircraft. This led to a speculation that the IDF’s tweet was intentional.
The tunnels, often referred to as “Gaza Metro,” crisscross from the Gaza strip, are among the world’s most densely populated areas. They had been built in the years after the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, also known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. It was a network of dozens of kilometers of tunnels that crisscrossed Gaza and provided safety from Israeli aerial incursions.
"What we were targeting is an elaborate system of tunnels that spans underneath Gaza, mostly in the north but not limited to, and is a network that the operatives of Hamas use in order to move, in order to hide, for cover," Reuters quoted Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus as saying.
According to the IDF, in this air campaign, which lasted nearly 40 minutes, some 450 missiles were dropped on 150 targets in northern Gaza, particularly around the city of Beit Lahiya. Nearly 80 tons of explosives were reportedly used in the attacks.
IDF spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said that in addition to the aerial assault, Israeli tanks, artillery cannons and infantrymen on the Gaza border conducted accompanying barrages at Hamas operatives — specifically anti-tank guided missiles and rocket-launching teams — who came out during the assault to conduct attacks on Israeli targets.
He clarified that the ground troops remained on Israel’s side of the border and did not enter the Gaza Strip, despite earlier claims to the contrary by the IDF.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said early Friday morning as the IDF pummeled Gaza and Palestinians barraged the south with rockets throughout the night that Israel's military campaign against Hamas in Gaza "will continue as long as necessary.”