It was just a little previous midnight on Friday, and Israel’s Supreme Command Put up was racing to finish as many strikes as attainable within the remaining hours earlier than a cease-fire with the Palestinian militant group Hamas was to take impact at 2 a.m.
On a wall coated with big screens, a three-dimensional diagram of a high-rise constructing with one among its flats marked in crimson popped up. On one other display screen, a stay video from the air circled above a constructing in Gaza that seemed quite a bit just like the one within the diagram.
This room is the nerve heart of a bunker dubbed the “Fortress of Zion,” a brand new Israeli Military command publish deep underground beneath its headquarters within the coronary heart of Tel Aviv. It’s designed to command the form of high-tech air wars which have supplanted floor invasions fought by tanks and infantry battalions.
The most recent battle with the Palestinians was the primary time the sprawling facility was used throughout wartime. It was additionally the primary time the military allowed overseas journalists inside one of the vital fortified and secretive installations within the nation — an effort to showcase Israel’s army and technological prowess but additionally to counter criticism over civilian casualties.
The primary noticeable factor upon getting into the bunker is the silence. Not one of the drama and tragedy of battle is obvious, and other people seem alert, targeted and calm.
The command publish is constructed for operations primarily based closely on intelligence and carried out from the air or by small teams of particular forces. It compiles info from disparate companies into one database and interprets it into operational phrases.
It’s a place the place persons are measured by the variety of accepted targets — warehouses, tunnels or weapons that the army can assault. When a senior officer approves one, it’s added to a “Targets Guide” that the chief of workers opinions as soon as a month.
During the last twenty years, the “targets” have more and more been folks — like senior Hamas figures.
The army is properly conscious of the criticism of its ways, and the lack of harmless lives, which have drawn condemnation from inside and outdoors the nation.
One senior officer, aiming to point out that Israel had tried to reduce civilian deaths, factors to detailed aerial pictures of an operation that he mentioned had been canceled as a result of its goal was a Hamas facility close to a Gaza hospital for Covid sufferers. He mentioned many others had been equally canceled out of concern for civilian casualties.
The top of the Intelligence Division’s Targets Department, recognized as Lt. Col. S. as a result of the army doesn’t permit the intelligence officers to be named within the information media, mentioned he didn’t suppose troopers turned coldhearted by lowering folks to “targets.”
One other commander working within the bunker mentioned, nonetheless, “You may’t kill somebody with out one thing dying in you, too.”
Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, a former director of operations for the Israeli army, mentioned he understood that the gap from the battlefield and the remedy of individuals as “targets” might create indifference to human lives.
“That is a part of the commander’s problem,” he mentioned, to make sure that the operation is efficient and “to know that there are human beings on the different finish.”
Israel additionally frequently accuses Hamas of hiding its amenities and weapons inside or close to civilian buildings, successfully utilizing civilians as human shields.
Throughout common instances, 300 to 400 troopers work there across the clock. When Israel determined to launch its air assault on Gaza, hundreds from army headquarters above floor joined the bunker. Additionally current had been members of intelligence companies just like the Mossad and Shin Guess, Israel’s home intelligence company, and Overseas Ministry and police representatives.
For 10 days, they commanded operations from the bunker. Most of them scarcely left.
Contained in the nerve heart, about 70 folks had been arrayed on totally different ranges so that everybody might see the screens on the wall. Most had been in army uniforms and beneath 25, and people out of uniform had been largely older.
They sat at tables with computer systems, landline telephones or extra obscure communication gadgets. A few of their keyboards fed knowledge into the wall screens — an in depth breakdown of assaults carried out and injury finished to Hamas.
Israel estimates that it destroyed 15 to 20 p.c of Hamas’s rocket arsenal and a few weapons manufacturing amenities. It claims to have killed about 200 Hamas operatives and eradicated 30 p.c of the tunnels beneath Gaza used for sheltering militants, housing command techniques and transferring weaponry round.
The nerve heart additionally had a map with places of floor forces and army plane all through the Center East.
Within the hours simply earlier than cease-fire, it was clear that Israel was desirous to deal highly effective remaining blows to Hamas. One display screen tracked rocket launches from Gaza and a attainable hit on a kibbutz in southern Israel.
At 2 a.m., the commander echoed the chief of workers’s order to stop hostilities. However nobody was going house. The publish stays on fight alert till Israel determines that the delicate cease-fire will final.
“Fortress of Zion” took 10 years to design and construct. Dug deep into the earth, it is protected against quite a lot of threats, together with nuclear assaults. It has sufficient power, meals and water to operate even when its occupants can’t get to floor stage for a very long time.
It’s an extension of an outdated command publish, nicknamed “the pit,” that was expanded a number of instances however was deemed too small and gloomy and had electrical energy and sanitation issues.
Extra essential, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, the present director of operations for the army, mentioned, “Over time, the Israel Protection Forces’ wants have modified.”
The large floor wars of a long time passed by gave strategy to extra frequent however smaller operations — often called the “battle between the wars.” And that shift meant relying extra on know-how and a digital community to pool intelligence, Basic Haliva mentioned.
The bunker is linked by way of know-how to a different underground command publish for Israel’s political leaders close to Jerusalem, the Air Drive’s underground headquarters and the Shin Guess’s command heart.
The advanced features a health club, a synagogue, a kitchen and eating rooms, and a bed room for company with a row of clocks from totally different elements of the world, Tehran amongst them. There may be additionally a lounge with meals and nonalcoholic drinks — the one spot the place troopers can use their cellphones.
One flooring is occupied by the military’s excessive command, together with a personal bed room for the chief of workers with easy furnishings mirrored all through the bunker.
Varied army and intelligence departments feed the nerve heart with info and have a consultant bodily current. The mixed operation permits for a lot of strikes in an nearly steady stream.
Some efforts had been made to offer the windowless bunker a nice environment, adorned with photos of scenic locations within the nation and a well-known quote by Israel’s discovered father, David Ben-Gurion, that reads: “Within the arms of this military, the safety of the folks and the homeland will now be entrusted.”