A Look Inside Israel’s ‘Fortress of Zion’ Military Command Beneath Tel Aviv

It was slightly previous midnight on Friday, and Israel’s Supreme Command Post was racing to finish as many strikes as doable within the closing 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 enormous screens, a three-dimensional diagram of a high-rise constructing with one of its residences marked in pink popped up. On one other display screen, a stay video from the air circled above a constructing in Gaza that appeared loads 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 Army command put up deep underground beneath its headquarters within the coronary heart of Tel Aviv. It is designed to command the type of high-tech air wars which have supplanted floor invasions fought by tanks and infantry battalions.

The newest 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 essentially the most fortified and secretive installations within the nation — an effort to showcase Israel’s navy and technological prowess but in addition to counter criticism over civilian casualties.

The first noticeable factor upon coming into the bunker is the silence. None of the drama and tragedy of battle is obvious, and folks seem alert, centered and calm.

The command put up 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 businesses into one database and interprets it into operational phrases.

It is a spot the place individuals are measured by the quantity of authorised targets — warehouses, tunnels or weapons that the navy can assault. When a senior officer approves one, it’s added to a “Targets Book” that the chief of employees critiques as soon as a month.

Over the final 20 years, the “targets” have more and more been individuals — like senior Hamas figures.

The navy 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 indicate 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 head of the Intelligence Division’s Targets Branch, recognized as Lt. Col. S. as a result of the navy doesn’t enable the intelligence officers to be named within the information media, stated he didn’t assume troopers turned coldhearted by decreasing individuals to “targets.”

Another commander working within the bunker stated, nevertheless, “You can’t kill someone without something dying in you, too.”

Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, a former director of operations for the Israeli navy, stated he understood that the gap from the battlefield and the remedy of individuals as “targets” may create indifference to human lives.

“This is part of the commander’s challenge,” he stated, to make sure that the operation is efficient and “to know that there are human beings at the other end.”

Israel additionally frequently accuses Hamas of hiding its amenities and weapons inside or close to civilian buildings, successfully utilizing civilians as human shields.

During common instances, 300 to 400 troopers work there across the clock. When Israel determined to launch its air assault on Gaza, hundreds from navy headquarters above floor joined the bunker. Also current had been members of intelligence businesses just like the Mossad and Shin Bet, Israel’s home intelligence company, and Foreign Ministry and police representatives.

For 10 days, they commanded operations from the bunker. Most of them scarcely left.

Inside the nerve middle, about 70 individuals had been arrayed on completely different ranges so that everybody may see the screens on the wall. Most had been in navy uniforms and beneath 25, and people out of uniform had been principally older.

They sat at tables with computer systems, landline telephones or extra obscure communication gadgets. Some of their keyboards fed information into the wall screens — an in depth breakdown of assaults carried out and injury accomplished 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 middle additionally had a map with areas of floor forces and navy plane all through the Middle East.

In the hours simply earlier than cease-fire, it was clear that Israel was wanting to deal highly effective closing blows to Hamas. One display screen 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 employees’s order to stop hostilities. But nobody was going residence. The put up 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 vitality, meals and water to operate even when its occupants can’t get to floor stage for a very long time.

It is an extension of an previous command put up, nicknamed “the pit,” that was expanded a number of instances however was deemed too small and gloomy and had electrical energy and sanitation issues.

More necessary, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, the present director of operations for the navy, stated, “Over the years, the Israel Defense Forces’ needs have changed.”

The enormous floor wars of a long time passed by gave approach to extra frequent however smaller operations — often called the “war between the wars.” And that shift meant relying extra on know-how and a digital community to pool intelligence, General Haliva stated.

The bunker is linked through know-how to a different underground command put up for Israel’s political leaders close to Jerusalem, the Air Force’s underground headquarters and the Shin Bet’s command middle.

The complicated features a health club, a synagogue, a kitchen and eating rooms, and a bed room for friends with a row of clocks from completely different elements of the world, Tehran amongst them. There can be 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 non-public bed room for the chief of employees with easy furnishings mirrored all through the bunker.

Various navy 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 nearly steady stream.

Some efforts had been made to present the windowless bunker a nice ambiance, embellished with footage of scenic locations within the nation and a well-known quote by Israel’s discovered father, David Ben-Gurion, that reads: “In the hands of this army, the security of the people and the homeland will now be entrusted.”

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