How Hamas is taking on the Middle East's most powerful army — and holding its own

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Aaron Schachter: 27 dead among Israeli soldiers might not sound like a lot when compared with the more than 600 dead among Palestinians in Gaza. But as Shira(?), this is already one of Israel's bloodiest conflicts in years. So how has Hamas been able to inflict so many casualties? The World's Chris Woolf has been looking into that and first, Chris, really how does the scale of this conflict compare? Chris Woolf: One figure really sums it up in that this is already worse than all the previous conflicts in Gaza combined since the evacuation in 2005. If you try and think of a US analogy, you remember the US conflict in Mogadishu in '93, the Black Hawk Down battle, and how politically traumatic that was? Israeli casualties already exceed the number that the US suffered in that fight. Schachter: What is Hamas doing differently this time around? Woolf: I'm sure historians will be debating the details for years but the broad outlines seem relatively clear - basically they're fighting. They're standing their ground where before they've cut and run, shoot and scoot. There was one officer who told the Wall Street Journal that "I have to admit, we faced good fighters from the other side. Terrorists, but good fighters." They've been able to do this in a strategic sense because they've been able to draw the Israelis in to fight on Hamas' terms, in positions of their choosing where Israel loses its technological edge - urban, close quarter combat. Schachter: You make it sound like, in a way, Israel got suckered in. Woolf: Not really. In a sense they got drawn in by the rocket attacks and, perhaps more importantly, these infiltration tunnels that haven't been getting a lot of press. But dozens of Hamas fighters have been getting out and into Israel using these tunnels that have been constructed over several years and launching raids on Israeli targets, civilians on the other side of the frontier. It's not clear how much Israel has been surprised by this. One IDF officer told (??) that he's been to this place before, where the big battle was on Sunday and he says it's like nothing they've ever seen before. They were surprised by how Hamas was fighting with missile traps and IEDs everywhere. Schachter: I'm wondering about the weapons that might be being used now in Gaza. We know that the rockets that they're firing at Israel are more advanced than they've been before. Any indication over whether the weaponry inside Gaza is different somehow? Woolf: Yes, they've got more of it and they've got weapons with longer range. But perhaps more importantly what's become apparent is this enormous infrastructure that they've got underpinning it and it's literally underground. It appears to be a massive network of tunnels and bases, all interconnected, all reinforced. This is where Hamas has its war bunkers, this is where Hamas' leaders and families are hiding out and this is how they're being able to keep going. They'll wheel out the rockets from one of these positions, they launch them and get the fighters and the launch equipment back undercover, often before Israel has a chance to respond. That's another thing that's completely new. Schachter: That's very reminiscent of the tactics used by Hezbollah in their fight against Israel in 2006. Woolf: Right. It's clear that they've been studying what Hezbollah achieved and I think this probably suggests that they are hoping to achieve a victory like Hezbollah is perceived to have achieved, at least in parts of the Middle East, in being able to stop the Israeli Defense Forces in 2006 in that conflict in Lebanon and it would be an enormous coup for Hamas to be able to pull of something similar in the current conflict. Schachter: So all of this you're saying suggests that future casualties could go up for the Israeli army? Woolf: Yes, unless Israel is prepared to hand Hamas that kind of propaganda victory we were just talking about. But more importantly, perhaps the casualties amongst Palestinians and particularly Palestinian civilians are going to be mounting as well, simply because a lot of these Hamas positions have been prepared, at least according to the IDF, deliberately in densely populated areas - next to hospitals, mosques and schools - the kind of thing that will be damaged if this fighting intensifies. Schachter: The World's history and defense specialist, Chris Woolf.