‘A well informed American official told me that the Israeli leadership is known to be considering flooding Hamas’s vast tunnel system before sending in its troops… Such an act could mean that Israel was prepared to write off the hostages still in jeopardy…’
Middle East Eye has a similar report, currently unconfirmed – see below.
By If Americans Knew staff:
Award-winning veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has published a long report, THE MYSTERIES OF OCTOBER 7. Insider sources describe how a planned Hamas commando raid aimed at seizing IDF soldiers turned into a “prison break” from the Gaza ghetto, and Netanyahu’s response.
A decade ago, while on a trip to the Middle East, my wife and I were sharing a pizza dinner in a Jerusalem hotel with an American journalist and a photographer who had just returned from a reporting visit to Gaza City. An anchorman for one of America’s television networks and his wife joined us. The journalist and photographer chatted at some point in Arabic with our waiter and that chatter prompted a middle-aged gentleman in a suit and tie who was dining alone to approach our table and ask if he could join. He explained that he was a US Army intelligence officer, a colonel, assigned to the American consulate in Jerusalem and his mission was to report on Gaza. The only problem, he said, was that he was not allowed to actually travel to Gaza and so when he overheard the journalists talking about their visit there, he wanted to know more.
We invited him to join, and the colonel got what was in effect a briefing on the deprivation and despair that the reporters had found.
Gaza and Hamas—the Islamist group that has led the territory since 2007—remain murky, confounding subjects today. Why did Hamas stage an early morning raid on October 7 in what turned out to be a series of unguarded kibbutzim in Israel south? Why were only a few Israelis Israeli soldiers on duty that morning?
We in the media do not know the full story. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is saying nothing about Israel’s failure to defend its citizens, although a number of leading generals have publicly apologized for their lapse, and Hamas has insisted that the mission it authorized was solely aimed at the capture of a few Israeli soldiers to be used for a possible prisoner exchange. Hamas operatives began the operation early on the morning of October 7 by blowing up the unguarded fences separating Gaza from Israel.
Hamas also has claimed that the bulk of the mayhem was caused by other terrorist groups and the aggrieved citizens of Gaza who flooded across the downed gates and fences, with no Israeli soldiers to stop them. It has been widely reported that Israel, at the instigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was financing Hamas, via funds supplied by Qatar, in the belief that a strong Hamas would make a two-state solution, long sought by some in Washington, unlikely.
That is where we are today. Israel is now in the process of turning Gaza City into rubble, via constant bombing, and is also planning to begin a ground invasion in the near future. A well informed American official told me that the Israeli leadership is known to be considering flooding Hamas’s vast tunnel system before sending in its troops, many of whom have had only a few weeks of training in the maneuvers and coordination required for the invasion. Such an act could mean that Israel was prepared to write off the hostages still in jeopardy.
Where the estimated two hundred-plus hostages are is an open question. Israel is only talking about the end of the Hamas regime, and Hamas has so far released four hostages. Two elderly Israelis were released yesterday, with no known demands.
The release was the second in three days. The first involved two Americans, a mother and her teenage daughter, who appeared to be in good health. All four were given over to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The American official told me that the Israel leadership expects more to come soon. The releases could be a sign that the Hamas leadership is feeling pressure because of the incessant bombing, which is widely assumed to be a precursor to an all-out Israel ground attack. They could also be a sign that Hamas is not going to let the Israeli bombing dictate its hostage policy. There have been secret talks about a larger release of Israeli prisoners since the first United Nations relief trucks began flowing from Egypt into southern Gaza, where up to a million hungry and thirsty refugees were waiting.
Hersh goes on to say: “A long-standing expert on Middle Eastern politics” surmised:
“The goal of the Palestinian operation,” he told me, “was exactly what happened—a shocking and inspired military operation that humiliated the Israelis and shook them to their foundation. Hamas military commanders had a map of bases [inside Israel] and wanted to take computer servers with all of the potentially compromising information they contained and would probably have sent them to Iran for analysis.”
Another Hamas goal, I was told, was to take Israeli Army prisoners and force Israel to trade for the release of thousands of Gazan and West Bank prisoners, break the siege of Gaza, and continue to compete with the Palestine Liberation Organization that was initially designated by the 1993 Oslo Accords to control the West Bank and Gaza. “A further bonus of a successful attack,” the expert said, “would have been to stifle the ongoing normalization talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel.”
The Qassam wing of Hamas initiated the attack by launching rockets to distract the Israeli military and then disarmed the electronic system that provided round-the-clock surveillance of the fence around Gaza. The Hamas fighters who poured through the destroyed fence were soon followed by local residents of Gaza City who, in their ongoing anger at Israel, were eager to join in on the assault, as were members of other resistance groups in the Gaza Strip. The expert said he was told that attacking the all-night dance party—260 young Israelis were slaughtered that morning—was not part of the initial plan, but no one is denying that, planned or not, the murders at the dance party and in the Israeli settlements ultimately are the responsibility of Hamas.
From the Hamas point of view, the expert added, “no matter what the Israelis do” in response to the slaughter triggered by Hamas—attack in force with ground troops or continue the saturation bombing of Gaza City—the October 7 raid was one from which the Israeli Defense Force cannot recover. The expert told me that “Israel calling in the US to make threats and send carriers and make threats only makes Israel look weaker.” The expert added that the Hamas leadership understands that Israel may have to invade Gaza on the ground in the immediate future, and declare victory no matter how many casualties are incurred, if only to reassure its traumatized population.
The expert said that the critical issue for the Israeli military today, in the view of the Hamas leadership, is that a planned Hamas commando raid aimed at seizing IDF soldiers “turned into a prison break.” News of the unchallenged penetration of the initial Hamas attackers quickly spread throughout Gaza, and spontaneous groups of Gazans and hastily formed martyr hit teams poured through the downed fence. The result, said the expert, turned “the operation into a catastrophic success.”
Hersh writes: “The goal of the Palestinian operation,” he told me, “was exactly what happened—a shocking and inspired military operation that humiliated the Israelis and shook them to their foundation.
Hamas military commanders had a map of bases [inside Israel] and wanted to take computer servers with all of the potentially compromising information they contained and would probably have sent them to Iran for analysis.”
More than 200 hostages were carted off—one can see their abduction in various videos that have emerged—on the backs of a motorcycle or a bicycle or jammed into autos, and now are believed to be scattered in underground tunnels or in private homes throughout Gaza. Their fate may never be known.
There are scores of videos providing evidence of what clearly was a fly-by-night attack that succeeded because of a stunning Israeli Defense Force failure that thus far has not led to the punishment of a single Israeli army officer. That possibility—that the initially limited Hamas goal turned into the horror that took place essentially because of the IDF failure—has yet to be acknowledged by Israel’s military and political leadership.
The Israeli public is rattled as never before with questions about the ability of the Israeli government to protect its citizenry. In return, they are subjected to braying and bellicosity by their prime minister who, unlike his senior generals and the head of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency, has refused so far to publicly take responsibility for the military and intelligence failures on October 7. A recent public opinion poll in Israel showed that Netanyahu has the support of 29 percent of his country.
Seymour Hersh has been a staff writer for The New Yorker and The New York Times. In 1970 he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his exposé of the massacre in the Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai. Since then he has received the George Polk Award five times, the National Magazine Award for Public Interest twice, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the George Orwell Award, and dozens of other accolades.
Israel plans to flood Hamas tunnels with nerve gas, source says
Delayed ground invasion part of campaign to keep element of surprise in multi-pronged attack, source tells Middle East Eye
By David Hearst, reposted from Middle East Eye
Palestinian groups expect Israel to flood Hamas tunnels with a type of nerve gas or chemical weapon under the surveillance of US Delta Force commandos as part of a surprise attack on the Gaza Strip, a senior Arab source familiar with the Palestinian groups told Middle East Eye.
Israel and the US hope to achieve the element of surprise in order to penetrate Hamas tunnels, rescue an estimated 220 hostages, and kill thousands of soldiers belonging to Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades, the source said, noting that the information they received came from a leak originating in the US.
Middle East Eye cannot independently verify the information in the leak.
“The plan hinges on the element of surprise so as to decisively win the battle, using internationally forbidden gases, particularly nerve gas, and chemical weapons. Large quantities of nerve gas would be pumped into the tunnels,” the source said.
The source added that the US Delta Force will oversee “large quantities of nerve gas being pumped into Hamas tunnels, capable of paralysing the bodily movement for a period of time between six and 12 hours.
“Inhaled or absorbed through the skin, most nerve gases can kill in anywhere between one to 10 minutes by crippling the respiratory centre of the central nervous system and paralysing the muscles around the lungs.
Symptoms of exposure to the agent include nausea and violent headaches, blurred vision, drooling, muscle convulsions, respiratory arrest and loss of consciousness.
“During this period, the tunnels would be penetrated, the hostages rescued and thousands of al-Qassam soldiers killed,” the source added.
US Department of Defense Spokesperson Sabrina Singh commented on the leak saying, “This is not true and this reporting is inaccurate.”
MEE reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response by time of publication.
The US is coordinating with Israel ahead of its expected invasion of Gaza, with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin holding near-daily phone calls with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, to discuss operations.
Senior US military officials with knowledge of urban warfare have also been dispatched to Israel.
The source said that Israel’s delay in its ground invasion was misinformation aimed at gaining the element of surprise in a multifaceted attack that will include Israeli commandos landing in northern Gaza and along the coast.
The operational details of the attack have already been agreed upon, according to the source.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel had agreed to delay its expected ground invasion to allow the US more time to place air defence systems in the region.
Netanyahu said later on Wednesday that Israel is preparing a ground invasion but gave no indication of timing or other details.
David Hearst is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He is a commentator and speaker on the region and analyst on Saudi Arabia. He was the Guardian’s foreign leader writer, and was correspondent in Russia, Europe, and Belfast.
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