The July-August 2014 war in Gaza created some very unpleasant surprises for Hamas, which thought it could risk another war with Israel and come out the winner (to the Arab world at least). Hamas knew that Israel had been working at discovering and countering Hamas tactics, but Hamas was confident they had enough new tricks to stay ahead of the Israelis. Hamas quickly discovered that the Israelis were a lot quicker and better coordinated than in the past. This time around the Israelis learned more from their earlier clashes with Hamas and Hezbollah.
This has happened before, to both the Israelis but mainly to the Arabs. It was only after that war ended that Hamas learned details of what they were up against. It turned out that Israel had managed to create an effective and reliable “Battlefield Internet”. This has been the goal of military communications experts for over a decade. The United States was long the leader, but in mid-2014 Israel was the first to demonstrate a Battlefield Internet that consistently worked under combat conditions. This breakthrough development was largely ignored by the media but military leaders worldwide are paying attention.
One of the first uses of the Battlefield Internet came early in the war when Hamas attempted to use their scuba equipped “naval commandos” to make an underwater assault on an Israeli seaside base just north of Gaza. The Hamas commandos were quickly spotted by Israeli sensors monitoring offshore waters, which automatically sent the contact information to the new Israeli Battlefield Interne. This automatically sent the alert (along with location and other data) to land, naval and air vehicles within range. That meant that before the Hamas men hit the beach they were being tracked by an Israeli tank gunner, an armed UAV overhead and a nearby warship. The closest infantry unit sent troops to the beach the Hamas men appeared to be moving towards. The five Hamas men refused to surrender to the Israeli troops waiting for them on the beach and in a brief gun battle all five were killed. One Israeli soldier was wounded and this (and the fact that the Hamas men made it onto the beach) was, by Arab standards a victory. A week later Israel released details of what had happened to the Hamas frogmen.
What the Israelis have done with the Battlefield Internet is link everyone involved (pilots, UAV operators, tank commanders and infantry unit commander, plus people at C4i Teleprocessing Branch that managed the flow of data) so all can all see was what each other was seeing of the Hamas commandos. These multiple views eliminated the uncertainty often present when only one view was available. It made all the Israelis involved more confident and that led to speedier interpretation of the situation and decisive action to deal with it. This capability also reduces the risk of friendly fire.
Hamas soon discovered that many of their other new tactics, like dozens of deep tunnels into Israel and numerous new ideas for hiding and launching rockets from residential areas and public buildings (schools, hospitals and mosques) were not only known to the Israelis but were captured by Israeli aerial video cameras and quickly destroyed by other Israeli forces who instantly had that information and were able to take action. This was happening much faster than Hamas expected and it caused a bit of panic among Hamas leaders and their subordinates. Hamas also discovered that the Israelis had better information on where the Hamas leaders were hiding out and a lot more of these fellows were getting killed than during past conflicts. Again it was the Battlefield Internet that gave the Israelis an extra, unexpected, edge. Hamas also found that their attempts to force Israel to kill a lot more Palestinians during efforts to halt the rocket attacks were compromised by Israeli warnings to civilians (often via telephone) to get out when the rockets hidden in their building were about to be destroyed by smart bombs or missiles. The Israelis also proved more adept at avoiding civilian casualties in general. The saddest aspect of all this was that Hamas had been warned.
The Battlefield Internet comes out of more than a decade of research into the subject and the C4i Teleprocessing Branch is another post-2006 reform that merged communications and computer operations into one organization that provided both those services throughout the armed forces. With that merger is was easier to implement the Battlefield Internet, which needed close and instantaneous transfer of data (voice and data) wirelessly over a network all combat forces had access to.
The existence of the Israeli Battlefield Internet was not really a secret, but details of how it operated and how effective it was in action were. Thus months before the July war began Israel revealed that because of new technology and weapons the air force could now hit more targets in 24 hours than it did in 33 days (during the 34 day war with Hezbollah in 2006). For Hamas Israel pointed out that it would now hit in less than 12 hours the number of targets it took seven days to find and attack during the week-long 2008 war with Hamas. This was all part of a technological revolution the Israeli armed forces has been undergoing since the 1990s. Since the 2006 war with Hezbollah those changes have been accelerating. This statement did not disturb Hezbollah or Hamas because they knew the Israelis were always improving their technology. What was underestimated was the extent of this particular improvement.
Another surprise was how the Battlefield Internet improved Israeli intelligence efforts. Israel always had some formidable intelligence collection capabilities. Israel satellites, UAVs and manned recon aircraft collect data that leads to the identification of enemy bases and weapons storage sites. This, for example, enabled the Israeli Air Force to quickly destroy most of the long range rockets in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2008. The Israeli Air Force demonstrated a lot of changes less than two years after the 2006 war when, in Gaza, dozens of targets taken out within three minutes by Israeli warplanes. The new automated systems included everyone (air, ground and naval). In addition to using more sensors (ground, air and naval) all these were linked together electronically so that when a potential threat was detected every tank, infantry unit, artillery, aircraft or ship within range was alerted and provided access to video or other sensor data. Israel has long been the leading developer and supplier (for their own forces as well as export) sensor and computerized command and control systems. All this enabled more targets to be found, and attacked, more quickly.
The objective of all this was to increase the speed and accuracy of smart bombs and missiles hitting targets the army wanted taken out. In the last few years this also meant new display technology and software that enables a commander to identify and designate a target with a few taps on a touch screen. Israel is also using cell phone size devices for this and constantly upgrading the crypto (that keeps the enemy from making sense of these communications) used. The goal now is to further streamline and speed up so ten times as many targets can be hit as was the case in 2006. Since 2008 the standardization and communications have been further improved so that you no longer need air force officers with ground units to get air support quickly.
After the 2006 war Israel realized two things; its military was still superior to Arab forces and its military was not as superior as Israel believed it was. The major Israeli deficiency was communications. What the Arabs, or at least Iran-backed Hezbollah, had done was learned to move faster and more resourcefully than the Israelis expected. What really shocked the Israelis was that although they could spot and track these Hezbollah moves they could not get artillery, aircraft or ground troops moved quickly enough to take out a lot of identified targets before the enemy managed to change position. All the different levels of Israeli headquarters and combat units could actually communicate with each other, but not fast enough to hit a target that had been identified and located but was not staying put long enough for the completion of all the procedures and paperwork required to get the strike order sent to the unit best able to carry it out.
The solution was new technology and procedures. Since 2006 Israel has built a new communications system that is faster and able, according to Israeli claims, to hit a lot more targets than the 2006 era forces could manage. Much of the solution had nothing to do with radical new hardware but to simply standardizing the procedures everyone had long used to call for fire, or to deliver it. Now commanders at all levels can see the same data and call for and receive fire support quickly in addition to everyone seeing the same information. Thus when a target is identified the bombs, shells or ground attack follows quickly. Everyone was shown how easy, and damaging it was to underestimate the enemy. In training exercises the “enemy” is controlled by Israeli troops with ordered to be imaginative and try real hard to not get spotted and hit. It’s been amazing what these “enemy” troops come up, and necessary to keep this secret so that the real enemy does not find out.
In 2014 the Israelis suffered more military deaths (over 66) than earlier wars with Hamas but only six Israeli civilians died (one of them a foreign worker from Thailand). Hamas won’t admit what damage was done to its military resources but it was far greater than in the past and that included nearly a thousand Hamas personnel and an extensive network of tunnels under Gaza that was supposed to limit Hamas casualties. The Hamas leadership took much heavier loses than Hamas expected and the losses to key Hamas people (leaders, technical experts) were also much higher. Hamas can declare victory all they want, but compared to past battles with Israel, Hamas got the worst of it this time. To make the defeat even more painful, many former Arab supporters (like Egypt) cheered the damage done to Hamas.