A Look Inside Israel’s ‘Fortress of Zion’ Military Command Beneath Tel Aviv
It was just a little previous midnight on Friday, and Israel’s Supreme Command Submit was racing to finish as many strikes as doable 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 lined with big screens, a three-dimensional diagram of a high-rise constructing with one of its residences marked in crimson popped up. On one other display, a dwell video from the air circled above a constructing in Gaza that appeared quite a bit just like the one within the diagram.
This room is the nerve middle of a bunker dubbed the “Fortress of Zion,” a brand new Israeli Military command submit deep underground beneath its headquarters within the coronary heart of Tel Aviv. It’s designed to command the type 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 international journalists inside one of probably the most fortified and secretive installations within the nation — an effort to showcase Israel’s army and technological prowess but in addition to counter criticism over civilian casualties.
The primary noticeable factor upon getting into the bunker is the silence. None of the drama and tragedy of warfare is obvious, and other people seem alert, centered and calm.
The command submit is constructed for operations primarily based closely on intelligence and carried out from the air or by small teams of particular forces. It compiles data from disparate companies into one database and interprets it into operational phrases.
It’s a place the place individuals are measured by the quantity of accredited targets — warehouses, tunnels or weapons that the army can assault. When a senior officer approves one, it’s added to a “Targets Ebook” that the chief of workers evaluations as soon as a month.
During the last 20 years, the “targets” have more and more been folks — like senior Hamas figures.
The army is nicely conscious of the criticism of its techniques, and the loss 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 stated had been canceled as a result of its goal was a Hamas facility close to a Gaza hospital. He stated 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, stated he didn’t assume troopers turned coldhearted by decreasing folks to “targets.”
One other commander working within the bunker stated, 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, stated he understood that the gap from the battlefield and the remedy of folks as “targets” may create indifference to human lives.
“That is half of the commander’s problem,” he stated, to make sure that the operation is efficient and “to know that there are human beings on the different finish.”
Israel additionally usually accuses Hamas of hiding its amenities and weapons inside or close to civilian buildings, successfully utilizing civilians as human shields.
Throughout common occasions, 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 Wager, Israel’s home intelligence company, and International Ministry and police representatives.
For 10 days, they commanded operations from the bunker. Most of them scarcely left.
Inside the nerve middle, about 70 folks had been arrayed on completely different ranges so that everybody may 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 units. Some of their keyboards fed knowledge into the wall screens — an in depth breakdown of assaults carried out and injury performed to Hamas.
Israel estimates that it destroyed 15 to twenty 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 programs and transferring weaponry round.
The nerve middle additionally had a map with areas 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 desperate to deal highly effective remaining blows to Hamas. One display tracked rocket launches from Gaza and a doable 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 residence. The submit 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 a spread of threats, together with nuclear assaults. It has sufficient power, meals and water to operate even when its occupants can not get to floor degree for a very long time.
It’s an extension of an outdated command submit, nicknamed “the pit,” that was expanded a number of occasions however was deemed too small and gloomy and had electrical energy and sanitation issues.
Extra vital, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, the present director of operations for the army, stated, “Through the years, the Israel Protection Forces’ wants have modified.”
The large floor wars of a long time passed by gave solution to extra frequent however smaller operations — generally known as the “warfare between the wars.” And that shift meant relying extra on know-how and a digital community to pool intelligence, Normal Haliva stated.
The bunker is related through know-how to a different underground command submit for Israel’s political leaders close to Jerusalem, the Air Pressure’s underground headquarters and the Shin Wager’s command middle.
The advanced features a gymnasium, a synagogue, a kitchen and eating rooms, and a bed room for visitors with a row of clocks from completely different components 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 ground 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 middle with data and have a consultant bodily current. The mixed operation permits for a big quantity of strikes in an virtually steady stream.
Some efforts had been made to offer the windowless bunker a pleasing environment, adorned with footage 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.”
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