Hamas on Thursday released an intense video highlighting a real-time example of one of the biggest concerns Israeli military planners doubtlessly had for their invasion of Gaza.
The 84-second video is shot from a helmet-mounted camera. It shows a Hamas fighter hiding under the cover of bushes after popping out of a tunnel or hide as an Israeli Merkava main battle tank rumbles down a dusty road east of Gaza City's Al-Zaytoun neighborhood. The fighter makes a mad nine-second dash toward the tank and places an improvised explosive device (IED) fashioned out of a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) on the tank's hull next to the back end of its turret. He then runs back to the tunnel entrance and fires what Hamas said was an Al-Yassin-105 RPG at the tank.
He does all this while the business end of another Merkava tank is pointing in his general direction.
After the RPG is fired, there is a bright flash of fire on the tank. It is unclear whether the IED placed on the tank or the projectile caused the explosion.
The video continues as the Hamas fighter appears to scramble back down into the tunnel or hide around the 1:10 mark. It ends with one of the Hamas fighters later picking up a piece of metal, presumably indicating it is part of the tank.
Hamas on Telegram claimed the tank was destroyed. It is unclear, however, how badly damaged, if at all, the heavily armored Merkava was after this engagement. There is no imagery of a damaged or destroyed tank. The blast could have also been from the Merkava's Trophy active protection system activating and blast the RPG round out of the air before impact. What happened to the IED is unclear.
Regardless, the video shows the vulnerability of armor when not operating in concert with infantry forces in what’s known as combined arms maneuver. The Hamas fighter was able to run up to the tank unimpeded, then run back to the tunnel entrance and fire off an RPG. While there are other tanks seen in the video, no Israeli infantry appears visible, though it is possible there are some out of the narrow range of view such a camera has.
It also showcases the myriad problems tunnels pose to Israel that we raised in a story we wrote about the challenges of entering Gaza.
"There is likely what amounts to an entire city of tunnels and bunkers under Gaza’s surface," [chairman of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute (MWI) John] Spencer wrote [in a paper on the topic]. "As it did in 2014, Hamas should be expected to use tunnels offensively to maneuver attackers underground, keeping them both hidden and protected, to conduct surprise attacks. The group will also use them defensively to move between fighting positions to avoid IDF firepower and ground forces."
This is only made worse considering the complex and dense urban environment that makes up much of Gaza, where threats can pop out in tight areas where armor has limited room to maneuver or even detect the threat before it's too late.
Hamas has given journalists tours of its extensive tunnel networks under Gaza over the years.
Israel has lost 18 troops so far in its Gaza invasion, with Hamas claiming several attacks on Israeli armor. There were 11 Israeli troops from the Givati Infantry Brigade’s Tzabar Battalion killed and another four wounded Tuesday when a Namer armored personnel carrier was struck by a Hamas anti-tank guided missile, The Times of Israel reported. The Namer is a turretless derivative of the Merkava.
With an extremely volatile battleground and highly controlled information environment, we don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding the Namer attack, including whether it involved Hamas fighters emerging from a tunnel. Either way, that incident illustrates one of the many dangers Israeli armor faces against a well-armed, well-entrenched enemy, something else we noted in our report.
Given the likelihood of a long and bloody campaign in Gaza, Israel will lose more troops and equipment to Hamas fighters, many likely popping out of tunnels. Destroying those tunnels, as we noted earlier today, is a big goal of the invasion.
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