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With conflict stopped, Israeli military touts successes

By Adam Levine
updated 9:30 AM EST, Thu November 22, 2012

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(CNN) -- The relentless pace of the Israeli airstrike on Gaza gave the country's military time to make a significant dent in the offensive capability of Hamas, the Israeli military said.

Over the eight day conflict, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) looked to deplete some of the estimated 12,000 rockets Hamas has in its arsenal and destroy tunnels that are said to be used to smuggle weapons.

The operation was not without human cost. Nearly 150 Palestinian and Israelis, though mostly Palestinians, were killed and many more were injured.

But the IDF said the operation allowed it to accomplish "its pre-determined objectives for Operation Pillar of Defense, and has inflicted severe damage to Hamas and its military capabilities," according to a media release sent soon after the cease-fire took effect on Wednesday.

The military gains were a factor in Israel agreeing to stop the airstrikes, according to the IDF.

"These operational achievements provided the underlying framework for this evening's cease-fire agreement," the IDF release said.

Hamas fired more than 1,500 rockets, according to the IDF statement. But if Hamas started the conflict with 10,000-12,000 rockets, as Israeli and American officials believe, than there is plenty of firepower left in Gaza.

Israel also said it destroyed "significant elements" of Hamas rocket launching capabilities, saying "hundreds" were targeted, including "dozens of long-range rocket launchers and launch sites."

While Hamas used rockets with far greater reach than those launched in previous conflicts -- like the Fajr-5 which can reach Jerusalem and Tel Aviv -- the fighting also demonstrated the capability of Israel's defense system.

The "Iron Dome" intercepted 84% of Hamas rockets fired toward Israeli civilian areas, according to the Israeli military. The IDF also said Hamas may have fired a lot of rockets but less than 7% managed to hit populated areas within Israel.

The Israeli operation targeted what the Israeli military said were command and operational control centers, senior-rank headquarters and bases.

The Israelis also said they did significant damage to the ability of Hamas to replenish its weaponry by targeting 140 smuggling tunnels, 66 "terror tunnels" and 26 weapon manufacturing and storage facilities. Hamas uses those tunnels to smuggle weapons in from Iran and Libya, according to Israeli and American officials. Iran's role in supplying Hamas with weapons was touted by a Hamas leader on Wednesday.

"I would like to say weapons that we have that helped us to withstand this aggression, part of it was manufactured in Gaza and part of it came from people who helped us and supported us. Iran had a role in this support in arming and training," Khaled Meshaal said during a press conference that aired on Aqsa television.

The United States has also pressed Egypt to shut down the Sinai tunnels, which are also a key source for delivering commercial goods into Gaza.

White House Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan visited the region to talk about dealing with smuggling and the security in the Sinai, a senior U.S. official told CNN's Jill Dougherty.

IDF listed seven "senior operatives" of Hamas who were targeted.

But the Hamas spokesman claimed Israel did more damage to Gaza's civilian infrastructure than Hamas' military capabilities.

"They wanted to destroy infrastructure of Hamas, today they claim to have done so," Meshaal said on Wednesday.

"I don't deny they have done so much. We could count how many buildings they have destroyed, and how many offices of the media they have destroyed, and how many children they have killed, and how many journalists and how many photographers they have killed -- just like you. We can count how many offices and how many buildings they have destroyed. This is their accomplishment. They have nothing else to show."

The preparation for a ground invasion, which never was launched, served as a dry run for Israel's military in the event an operation is ordered in the future, according to the Israelis.

"IDF soldiers, in regular and reserve military service, gathered in assembly areas and prepared for the ground operation. Their time was used for training and improving their operational capabilities," according to the IDF statement.

But the Israeli efforts were not without a huge cost. An "Iron Dome" missile costs at least $62,000, Israeli officials said. With approximately 500 fired over eight days, the cost of missiles is more than $30 million.

The "Iron Dome" was successful but is not a perfect shield, said one analyst.

"'Iron Dome' does have certain limits to the number of missiles it can engage," said Steve Zaloga, a military weapons expert with the Teal Group.

For all of Israel's declared successes, Hamas takes some lessons and victories from the battle as well. Most importantly, it does not take a lot of missiles to cause chaos.

"It doesn't take more than one or two of these things to land in a major urban center to cause political response, to cause panic and to maybe force Israel's hand into a ground operation," said Dan Goure, a missile defense expert with the Lexington Institute.

Another antagonist in the region, Iran, may see Israel's success as a cautionary sign should it look to Hamas to assist in retaliating if Israel strikes Iran's nuclear program, Goure said.

"Israel may be able to tolerate whatever retaliation Hamas or Hezbollah might do in the event of an attack on Iran. So Iran may have felt a little more vulnerable today than it did a week or two ago," Goure observed.

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