Yedioth Ahronoth’s Palestinian affairs correspondent Elior Levy shed light Feb. 13 on the work of Hamas’ observation units along Israel's borders with the Gaza Strip.
The newspaper quoted Israeli security and military sources as saying that Hamas is following every movement of Israeli soldiers near the border, with the mission of observation and control units being to monitor any strange Israeli movements on the borders, be it by land, air or sea, and relay them to the operations room of Hamas’ military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Hamas’ observation posts are deployed along the eastern border with Israel, namely east of the cities of Rafah and Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, in Maghazi and Bureij in central Gaza, in Shajaiya east of Gaza City, and in Jabaliya, Beit Lahia and Beit Hannoun in northern Gaza.
Levy’s article included audio clips of members of the observation units reporting to other Hamas groups all field events near the border.
Al-Qassam Brigades have developed monitoring points along the Gaza border. They also mobilized more members along the border and reinforced their units on the border with technological capacities to help them monitor the Israeli army’s moves on land, sea and air, Levy reported.
Wasef Erekat, a Palestinian military expert in the West Bank and former artillery unit commander of the PLO, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas’ observation units are necessary to compensate for their modest land, sea and air capabilities compared to Israel. However, Hamas has only ground observation units and focuses its attention on ground surveillance and the naked eye to gather information. [Hamas’] field posts may be considered defensive and not offensive since the latter needs information [from deep inside the Israeli border], which is not available to the movement. With its monitoring sites spread along the Gaza Strip, Hamas cannot cover the entire border. So the Israelis still have gaps to operate from, and this is a weakness in Hamas’ monitoring system.”
Hamas spokesmen refused to talk about this military issue, as it is confidential. But Al-Monitor took a field tour along the border with the Gaza Strip to look at Hamas’ observation sites. The units are deployed along the border from north to south. A unit is stationed in primitive watchtowers on sandy hills; another is in vehicles moving along the border. A third unit is on the ground in the heart of the Strip, a fourth along the seacoast.
All of Hamas' monitoring members gather details on the latest developments on the ground for the war room.
Mohammed al-Braim, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, told Al-Monitor, “The observation units play a pivotal role in setting the scene for the resistance operations and defining targets in preparation for any military confrontation with Israel. They help the resistance by giving an accurate field position assessment based on its information on land, air and sea, and by identifying the Israeli plans in Gaza. Israel thus targets these observation units along the Gaza borders in every confrontation, which pushes the resistance to search for alternative means to collect the required information about Israel's movements on the ground.”
Perhaps Israel’s awareness of the seriousness of these Hamas observation units and security points along the Gaza border pushes it to try and deceive Hamas’ monitoring members by showing fictitious field moves intended to convey inaccurate information to al-Qassam Brigades' operations room, causing interference with its operational decisions. This represents a serious challenge to the Hamas monitoring system in terms of differentiating between correct and misleading information.
Mohammed Abu Harbeed, an expert in security affairs in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas possesses a security information infrastructure provided by its observation units whose members are trained to gather information. They use motorcycles and vehicles to move around and share information with the military operations room by primitive means, either face to face or through messages on papers. Some information that needs to be quickly shared may, however, be lost through these slow means. Yet these units try to steer clear from technical methods such as mobile phones and the Internet, fearing that Israel might hack them.”
Abu Harbeed noted, “There are hundreds of observation unit members, along with the residents of the border areas, who provide them with security information.”
Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Hamas has clearly sought to develop its means to monitor the borders and focus on its observation sites. It began these operations from small tents hidden behind dunes and later built proper structures with armed fighters, cameras and other surveillance means, then moved on to build watchtowers and buildings that are very close to the border.
Military expert and retired Gen. Yusuf al-Sharqawi told Al-Monitor, “Observation sites are an essential focal point for the resistance operations rooms in order to carry out their attacks, but their weakness is that Israeli intelligence has spies who may uncover observation unit members and thus sabotage their efforts. In addition, Israel possesses very advanced technological and technical capabilities that exceed those of the resistance.”
Saeed Bisharat, editor-in-chief of Al-Hudhud news network focusing on Israeli affairs, told Al-Monitor, “The amount of security information provided by Hamas’ monitoring sites makes Israel unable to surprise it in light of the growing work of observation units, which employ a large number of information carriers and processors, who share with the movement’s military and political leadership every detail the Israeli forces surrounding Gaza do or say.”
It seems clear that Hamas’ observation sites deployed along the borders represent a security system for monitoring and control that provides the movement with an extended amount of data that is updated day by day and operates in a professional and trained manner, and with a broad and secret intelligence system, despite its apparent weaknesses.
As soon as any round of escalation begins in Gaza between Hamas and Israel, the movement will vacate the watchtowers so that the Israeli response does not cause human losses in their ranks. This also prevents its security personnel from moving in cars and motorcycles, with the goal being the security of the monitors — even though Israel still manages to find and kill them.
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