CNN

Hamas operatives used secret phone lines under Gaza to plan Israel attack over 2 years, sources say

Oct 24, 2023, 3:27 PM

Intelligence shared with the United States suggests a small cell of Hamas operatives planning the d...

Intelligence shared with the United States suggests a small cell of Hamas operatives planning the deadly surprise attack on Israel communicated via a network of hardwired phones built into the network of tunnels underneath Gaza over a period of two years, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Mandatory Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters/File

(CNN) — Intelligence shared with the United States suggests a small cell of Hamas operatives planning the deadly surprise attack on Israel communicated via a network of hardwired phones built into the network of tunnels underneath Gaza over a period of two years, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The phone lines in the tunnels allowed the operatives to communicate with one another in secret and meant they could not be tracked by Israeli intelligence officials, the sources told CNN.

During the two years of planning, the small cell operating in the tunnels used the hardwired phone lines to communicate and plan the operation but stayed dark until it was time to activate and call on hundreds of Hamas fighters to launch the October 7 attack, the sources said.

They avoided using computers or cell phones during the two-year period to evade detection by Israeli or US intelligence, the sources said.

“There wasn’t a lot of discussion and back and forth and coordination outside of the immediate area,” one of the sources said.

The intelligence shared with US officials by Israel reveals how Hamas hid the planning of the operation through old-fashioned counterintelligence measures such as conducting planning meetings in person and staying off digital communications whose signals the Israelis can track in favor of the hardwired phones in the tunnels. It offers new insight into why Israel and the US were caught so flat-footed by the Hamas attack, which saw at least 1,500 fighters pouring across the border into Israel in an operation that killed at least 1,400 Israelis.

CNN has not seen the specific intelligence but spoke to sources familiar with it. The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment and the Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

CNN previously reported that a series of strategic warnings from US and Israeli intelligence agencies did not lead officials from either country to anticipate the events of October 7.

The Israel Defense Forces colloquially refers to the tunnels built by Hamas over the last fifteen years or so as the “Gaza metro.” The tunnels make up a vast labyrinth that is used to store rockets and ammunition caches, as well as provide a way for militants to move about unnoticed. The IDF also says it contains vital Hamas command and control centers.

Yocheved Lifshitz, an 85-year-old grandmother who was one of two hostages released by Hamas on Monday, said after she was kidnapped, she was taken into the network of tunnels and slept on a mattress on the floor in one of them.

According to the sources briefed on the Hamas assault, the small cell waited until just before the attack was launched to prep a larger group of fighters above ground to carry out the specific operation. One of the sources said that though ground unit commanders and fighters were being trained for many months and kept at a state of general preparedness, they were only informed of the specific plans in the days leading up the operation.

“That’s how you compartment and keep something that’s tight,” the source added, noting that’s what happened in this case.

One of the sources said some of the training above ground was observed but did not ring major alarm bells. The thinking was, “oh they always train people like this. It didn’t look different,” the source said.

A third source familiar with the latest intelligence said Iran has helped Hamas develop their operational security tactics over the years, though US intelligence does not believe Iran played a direct role planning the October 7 attack itself.

Israel was aware that Palestinian militants had been using hardwired communication systems prior to the October attack.

It encountered what appeared to be a similar kind of communication system when the Israeli military raided the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank this summer, according to an Israeli official. When Israeli troops moved in as part of what was dubbed “Operation Home and Garden,” the Israel Defense Forces discovered secure, hardwired communication lines and closed-circuit surveillance cameras to give advance warning of Israeli troop movements.

At the time, the IDF said it had struck a joint operational command center used by militant cells in Jenin, noting that it was used for “advanced observation and reconnaissance.” It was, the IDF said, a “hub for coordination and communication among the terrorists.”


The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

CNN

The interior of Singapore Airline flight SG321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Bangkok's ...

Jessie Yeung, Manveena Suri and Alex Stambaugh, CNN

‘All hell broke loose’: Passengers on Singapore Airlines flight describe nightmare at 37,000 feet

Passengers on a Singapore Airlines flight hit by severe turbulence described a sudden, dramatic drop.

9 hours ago

Workers started erecting the eight feet tall black screen on May 21. (Kyodo News/Getty Images via C...

Lilit Marcus, CNN

Japanese town overrun with tourists puts up view-blocking barrier near Mount Fuji

The Japanese town of Fujikawaguchiko has erected a giant black net to block views of Mount Fuji, a reaction to the town’s huge popularity on Instagram and other social media platforms.

22 hours ago

AI could offer ‘enhanced opportunities’ to interfere in 2024 election, DHS warns as a voter cas...

Sean Lyngaas, CNN

AI could offer ‘enhanced opportunities’ to interfere in 2024 election, DHS warns

Artificial intelligence tools for creating fake video, audio and other content will likely give foreign operatives and domestic extremists “enhanced opportunities for interference” as the 2024 US election cycle progresses, the Department of Homeland Security said in a recent bulletin distributed to state and local officials and obtained by CNN.

1 day ago

Chuck Perkins's 1980 carving of a cheetah went on a long journey to find its way home. (Courtesy Ce...

Sydney Bishop, CNN

After 15 years, a social media post helps reunite a family with a long-lost heirloom

A social media post helped a family be reunited with a family heirloom - 15 years later.

2 days ago

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may face internation...

Nadeen Ebrahim, CNN

Hamas and Israeli leaders may face international arrest warrants. Here’s what that means

The International Criminal Court prosecutor is seeking international arrest warrants for top Hamas officials and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on allegations of war crimes.

2 days ago

Target said its lower prices will aim to “collectively save consumers millions of dollars” on h...

Jordan Valinsky, CNN

Target is cutting prices on up to 5,000 items to lure back inflation-wary shoppers

Target has slashed prices on more than 1,500 popular items beginning immediately.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Hamas operatives used secret phone lines under Gaza to plan Israel attack over 2 years, sources say