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How were Hamas militants able to carry out an unprecedented attack against Israel?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

How did Hamas fighters plan and carry out such a large attack and keep it secret until the end?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah. You think about the different aspects of this attack - the paragliders, the fighters getting over or around walls. The scale of the attack likely took months to plan, and Israel's security forces had all that time been focused heavily on Hamas.

MARTIN: So to try to understand this, we have NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre on the line with us now. Greg, good morning.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So you're joining us from Sea Island, Ga. And you're there because you're attending a conference of current and former national security officials. I'm sure this wasn't on the agenda to begin with, but what are you hearing there?

MYRE: Well, Michel, a real sense of shock. Current officials are staying pretty tight-lipped, but the former officials say they're just stunned for a number of reasons. I think, first of all, how did all these weapons get into Gaza? The Hamas arsenal has always seemed to have limits in the past, and yet Hamas has fired hundreds, perhaps even a couple thousand rockets into Israel this time.

Second, how did Israel's domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet, not know about these plans? There's sort of this long-standing belief that the Israelis can listen to almost any phone call or communications in Gaza. It has a large number of Palestinian informants working for them there. And how come the Israeli military wasn't better positioned when this attack began? Israel normally has a very robust force in southern Israel just outside Gaza.

MARTIN: So yes, those are all the questions we have. Can we answer any of those questions at this point? I mean, do we know anything about how did they do this in such large numbers at such scale and with such coordination?

MYRE: Right. Well, remember, Gaza is a small territory, maybe five miles wide, 25 miles long. And Israel has this very sophisticated border fence that even includes an underground wall to guard against Hamas militants digging a tunnel under the fence, as they've done in the past. But as our colleague Daniel Estrin has reported, militants cut through the fence or blasted through the fence in multiple points. And in the past, just a single breach would have been considered a major failing.

And Israeli soldiers at the border have written on social media that militants overtook their base, killing soldiers, and that there were fewer troops there because it was a holiday over this weekend. And there's also talk of what role Hamas' main patron, Iran, might have played. We know they've had this very close relationship for many years, but not clear what Iran did, if anything, at this point.

MARTIN: So Greg, you've covered the region and you've covered this conflict for many years. Can you tell us a bit more about how Hamas has developed these capabilities?

MYRE: Yeah, the Palestinians first launched a major uprising in 2000 against the Israeli occupation, and that's when Hamas began firing these rockets. They were crude, homemade weapons. They traveled just a few miles, very inaccurate. I remember the Israeli military saying, at the end of the day, Hamas fired 10 rockets and five hit Israel. Well, what about the other five? A couple apparently didn't make it out of Gaza, a couple probably landed in the Mediterranean Sea.

So Hamas was even cutting down light poles and using them as their launching tubes. So a lot of these rockets were just made in auto repair shops. But bit by bit, Hamas got better. They got technical help from abroad. And these parts have been smuggled into southern Gaza through these tunnels to Egypt. Now they have this huge arsenal capable of hitting deep inside Israel.

MARTIN: Greg, before we let you go, it's early days, but what should we be looking for as this continues?

MYRE: The big question is whether Israel will send ground troops into Gaza, something they've done only reluctantly and briefly in recent years. Now, I was in Gaza in 2005 when Israel pulled out 8,000 Jewish settlers, literally dragging some of them from their homes, and they withdrew the military as well. And ever since then, Israel has kept constant watch on Gaza, but the fighting has been mostly long distance, Hamas rockets coming out of Gaza, Israeli airstrikes going in. Gaza is a densely packed urban landscape, and Israeli troops risk being ambushed in cities and towns. But given this unprecedented attack by Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing domestic pressure to take very strong action against Hamas.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thank you.

MYRE: Sure thing, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATUREBOY FLAKO'S "GELIS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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