Gaza: Israeli disinformation to media lured Hamas into tunnels - report
- Early Friday, it was widely, incorrectly reported that Israeli ground forces had advanced into Gaza.
- Some observers blame the confusion on a military ploy to lure militants into the tunnels under Gaza.
- More than 150 Israeli jets went on to intensely bombard the tunnel system, known as "the metro."
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Reports in the international media that Israel had entered Gaza to battle militants are being viewed by some as the result of a ploy to lure the fighters into defensive positions that made them targets for Israeli airpower.
On Thursday, news that Israel Defense Forces troops were massing at Israel's border with Gaza was widely reported. Then, early Friday in Israel, an IDF statement prompted news outlets to widely report that an invasion had begun. However, it gradually became evident that an attack did take place but did not involve Israeli troops entering Gaza.
Nir Dvori, a military reporter for N12, one of Israel's leading news networks, described the original IDF statement as disinformation meant to prompt Gaza's fighters to enter the tunnel system, known by the IDF as "the metro," to prepare for street battles in the enclave.
"The IDF makes Hamas think that a ground operation is beginning, which causes the organization to bring in all its fighters, including the Nahba, the special force of Hamas, to go down into the tunnels and prepare for combat," Dvori wrote.
"Then for 35 minutes, 160 planes hover over Gaza and drop 450 bombs, which are over 80 tons of explosives, on the entire Gaza 'metro.'"
In London, Michael Stephens, a Middle East specialist at the Royal United Services Institute, echoed that conclusion. He told BBC Radio 4's World at One news segment that it was "a very smart tactic to make Hamas move into the tunnels and get all their preparation ready so that the Israeli military could target them."
The move marks a major escalation amid this week's violence between Israel and Palestinian militants. The region is facing its worst violence since the 50-day war in 2014. The Israeli military has bombarded Gaza with airstrikes, and Hamas - the group that controls Gaza - and other militant groups have fired more than a thousand rockets toward Israel.
The Israeli media has noted the possibility of a disinformation strategy in the Friday-morning attack, with The Jerusalem Post publishing an article with the headline "Did IDF deception lead to massive aerial assault on Hamas's 'Metro'?" and the Israeli newspaper Haaretz publishing another titled "Israeli Army tells foreign media it has ground forces in Gaza - then apologizes for misleading them."
Foreign correspondents and reporters had received a WhatsApp message at 12:17 a.m. that seemed to inform them that Israeli ground troops were in Gaza. But then, two hours later, the IDF started to disassemble the message.
Felicity Schwartz, a Wall Street Journal correspondent covering Israel and the Palestinian territories, wrote:
To be clear, @LTCJonathan told me directly, "there are ground troops in Gaza." That was the basis for a first story saying so. He retracted that statement two hours later and I changed the story to reflect that, and that is noted in the text and will be corrected. https://t.co/8HRBjBwTYW— Felicia Schwartz (@felschwartz) May 14, 2021
The IDF has blamed the confusion on a translation error, but Dvori was among those skeptical of that account, describing it as "not a mistake, but a planned ploy whose role is to help eliminate Hamas."
Dvori noted that Israeli security officials had previously threatened that the tunnel system used by militants in Gaza would one day become their "mass cemeteries."
A frustrated Daniel Estrin, NPR.'s correspondent in Jerusalem, expressed frustration, told the New York Times: "If they used us, it's unacceptable. And if not, then what's the story - and why is the Israeli media widely reporting that we were duped?"
Insider has approached the Israeli Embassy in London for comment.
Instead of the ground invasion, Israel relentlessly bombarded targets in northern Gaza from the air and with artillery, forcing families to flee, some still dressed in their celebratory outfits to mark Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
At least 122 Palestinians have been killed this week by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, including 31 children, according to local health officials. The attacks have come in response to rockets indiscriminately fired by militants with Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory, which is home to more than two million people.
Israel has reported seven people have died, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.
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