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Why Hamas Is A Bigger Challenge For Israel Now Than In The Past


Palestinian militants have lost hundreds of fighters in Gaza and hundreds more civilians have been killed. 56 Israeli soldiers have died. That's many more than were killed in 2009, the last time Israel invaded Gaza. A reporter, Christa Case Bryant, of the Christian Science Monitor has been looking into what's different about this war. She joined us from Jerusalem. Welcome.


MONTAGNE: Now, clearly what seems to be different in the broadest sense is that Hamas is a far stronger military force than it was five years ago. And you have broken down in what ways - where would you begin?

BRYANT: Well, I think the most important thing to look at is the tunnels because that's really provided Hamas with a great strategic advantage that it did not have in 2009. And it mirrors exactly the strategy of Hezbollah in 2006, when Israel fought a one month war in Lebanon.

MONTAGNE: Right. We have been - we have been hearing about this extensive and sophisticated tunnel network that Hamas has built up. Tunnels that come right into Israel, right into fields and villages. How did Hamas get all the building material in when Israel has been controlling the border for years and one thing it's been keeping out, or thought it was, was cement.

BRYANT: Well, some of it actually was Israeli supplied cement. They did ease the restrictions on building supplies after the 2012 conflict because that was part of the cease-fire agreement. But the other and more important avenue for all these materials to get into Gaza was through the smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border and when Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was in power for a year, from July 2012 to 2013, it was almost, it was virtually like a highway one Israeli security official told me and so Hamas was able to replenish its weapon stocks and get building supplies, get the supplies it needed to make rockets at home. And even though when Morsi was ousted last summer, the Egyptian military shut down almost all of those tunnels, at that point Hamas was pretty self-sufficient.

MONTAGNE: And so, they've got these tunnels and they also have apparently new weapons.

BRYANT: Yes. That's another game-changer. I would say that's second-most important after the tunnels. So what we've really seen here is Hamas came out of the gate with a shock and awe campaign to really hurt the Israeli mentality with as many heavy blows as it could in the early days of the conflict. It used very long-range rockets, far longer than we've seen before, it launched a Maritime raid on Israeli goods, it had these underground tunnel infiltrations into Israel proper which we've never seen before. And once Israeli ground forces entered Gaza they encountered much stronger resistance from the Hamas fighters than in 2009. And they were equipped with anti-tank missiles and RPG's that were much more accurate. And so all of this together copies the doctrine of Hezbollah, which is the Shiite militant organization in Lebanon, with whom Israel fought a very difficult war in 2006. Hamas copied Hezbollah but it actually went even farther than Hezbollah did. The tunnel network it has is more sophisticated. Hezbollah even though it's a much stronger organization never succeeded in carrying out a wartime infiltration of Israeli territory through a cross-border tunnel. Hamas has now done that four times in about two weeks.

MONTAGNE: And the impatience of that are what?

BRYANT: Right. So the implication is that it doesn't just matter how well Israel deals with Hamas because Hezbollah is watching very closely to see how Israel is able to cope with these various different tactics, which Hamas has copied from Hezbollah and in some cases even implemented in a more sophisticated and challenging way for the Israeli army. So the stakes are quite high.

MONTAGNE: Reporter Christa Case Bryant of the Christian Science Monitor joined us from Jerusalem. Thank you very much.

BRYANT: Thank you. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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