An IDF promotional map showing the tunnels found in 2014

Ten years ago today, Israel embarked on what has now become the second most extensive military campaigns against Hamas in Gaza. Known as "Operation Protective Edge," this campaign was a monumental defensive response to the relentless barrage of rocket and mortar attacks launched by Hamas against Israeli civilians. In the weeks preceding the operation, Israel endured a terrifying onslaught of thousands of rockets and mortar shells, targeting areas with population densities three times greater than those in Gaza. The defensive nature of Israel's actions was unequivocal.

Prelude to Conflict: Operation 'Brother’s Keeper'

By June 2014, Israel's Defense Forces (IDF) were already engaged in Operation ‘Brother’s Keeper’ in Judea and Samaria, aiming to locate and rescue three kidnapped Israeli teenagers. Concurrently, Hamas and other terrorist factions escalated their rocket fire, inundating southern Israel with a staggering 250 rockets in just three weeks. Faced with this intolerable threat, the IDF had no choice but to act decisively.

The international world, as it has for the most part each time Israel has been forced to engage the Qatar and Iran backed terror group or their rivals, Palestinian Islamic Jihad after they have attacked the Jewish State, pressured Israel to tame their response. The Israeli leaders, taking their queue from public opinion polls decided that the rocket fire warranted a more broad approach to muting their ability to fire rockets. Many in Israel would argue that after the events of October 7th, the country did not do enough, while others have said that it was the terms of ceasefire for the 2014 Gaza War that Israel agreed to, that gave Hamas the ability to carry out the worst atrocity to happen to the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

The Outset: Airstrikes and Iron Dome

On July 7th, 2014, the IDF launched a series of precision airstrikes targeting Hamas’ weapon caches, rocket launch sites, and terror infrastructure. Air raid sirens wailed across Israel, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as rockets from Gaza rained down with alarming frequency—one every ten minutes. The reach of Hamas' rockets was underscored when one struck Haifa, in northern Israel. Throughout the operation, the Iron Dome missile defense system heroically intercepted hundreds of these deadly projectiles, safeguarding countless lives.

Civilian Casualties and Ceasefire Violations

Tragically, on July 14th, Hamas rockets injured two young Israeli girls, ages 11 and 13. While the IDF tirelessly worked to protect its citizens, Hamas cynically used Gaza’s civilian population as human shields, launching rockets from mosques, clinics, and even UN schools.

A brief ceasefire on July 15th, spurred by international diplomatic efforts, saw the IDF suspend its operations. However, Hamas flagrantly violated this truce, launching nearly 50 rockets that evening, killing an Israeli civilian near the Erez Crossing. This was one of eight ceasefire breaches by Hamas during the operation, each one met with restraint by the IDF.

Despite images depicting extensive damage in Gaza, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey announced on November 6, 2014, that Israel took “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and prevent civilian casualties” during the Gaza conflict. A team of senior U.S. officers was dispatched to study Israel’s tactics. UN satellite photo analysis from the war revealed that 72 percent of the damaged areas in Gaza were within two miles of the Israeli border. Even Hamas admitted that Israel is very concerned with Palestinian civilian casualties. In a training pamphlet that was found on the body of Hamas fighter, the fact that Israeli forces restrict their fire to protect civilians and how to exploit this made up one of the sections. 

Ground Offensive: Unveiling the Tunnel Network

On July 17th, after Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel via underground tunnels with the intent to attack a kibbutz, the IDF initiated the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge. The primary objective was the destruction of these cross-border tunnels, a critical threat to Israeli security. Within 24 hours, the IDF began neutralizing these subterranean pathways.

The Battle of Shejaiya stands out as one of the most harrowing confrontations. On July 20th, an IDF armored personnel carrier (APC) was hit by an anti-tank missile, killing seven Israeli soldiers. One of them, Oron Shaul, remains in Hamas captivity to this day, a painful reminder of the ongoing conflict.

Although Israel did not seek this war, it inadvertently prevented a potential terrorist massacre within its heartland. It was the first time that the world was given proof that Hamas had constructed a network of sophisticated tunnels beneath the border, designed to funnel hundreds, if not thousands, of terrorists, many on suicide missions, into Israel under the cover of night. Their objective was to inflict unprecedented casualties on innocent civilians, aiming to leave Israel severely wounded.

Continued Rocket Fire and the Battle of Hospitals

Despite ongoing hostilities, the IDF established a field hospital at the Erez Crossing to treat wounded Palestinians, showcasing its commitment to humanitarian principles even in wartime. However, Hamas’ exploitation of civilian infrastructure continued unabated. On July 23rd, terrorists used the Al-Wafa hospital to launch rockets at Israel. After ensuring the evacuation of the hospital, the IDF targeted the militants hiding within.

By the end of July, over 3,000 rockets had been fired at Israeli civilian areas. On August 1st, Hamas once again shattered a ceasefire, leading to the abduction and killing of an Israeli soldier.

Final Days and Key Strikes

A brief 72-hour truce on August 5th allowed IDF ground forces to withdraw after dismantling the majority of Hamas’ tunnel network. Yet, Hamas resumed rocket fire, prompting renewed Israeli airstrikes. On August 21st, the IDF eliminated three senior Hamas operatives responsible for numerous terror attacks, including the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit.

Tragically, Hamas rocket fire claimed the life of a four-year-old Israeli child and continued to inflict casualties on Israeli civilians. A final ceasefire was eventually brokered towards the end of August, bringing a tentative end to the hostilities. Israel mourned the loss of 68 soldiers, each one a hero in the defense of their nation.

Operation Protective Edge by the Numbers

  • 4,500 Rockets: Over 4,500 rockets fired at Israel.
  • 32 Terror Tunnels: The IDF destroyed 32 terror tunnels, 14 of which infiltrated Israeli territory.
  • 5 Infiltrations: Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israeli territory five times during the operation.
  • 692 Interceptions: The Iron Dome Aerial Defense System intercepted 692 rockets aimed at Israeli civilians.
  • Casualties: Hundreds of Hamas terrorists were injured or eliminated.

Israel suffered 74 fatalities during the war. The Iron Dome system intercepted 735 rockets fired from Gaza, preventing a significantly higher Israeli death toll. If Hamas had accepted the Egyptian ceasefire proposal on July 15, as Israel did, Palestinian casualties would have been fewer than 200. Instead, over 2,100 Palestinians died by the time Hamas agreed to a final ceasefire on August 27. Therefore, Hamas was responsible for more than 1,800 Palestinian deaths.

Operation Protective Edge was a testament to Israel's resolve and right to defend its citizens against the unrelenting threat of terrorism. Ten years later, it is apparent that this resolve has only grown. As we reflect on the decade since, and as we witness each and every day since October 7th 2023 when the current war began, the sacrifices and bravery of the IDF and the resilience of Israeli civilians continue to inspire a nation committed to peace and security.

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