Let me begin with a video of something I described last night from the Shloshim ceremonies at the Great Synagogue. This is Lt. Col. Shai Abramson, Chief Cantor of the IDF, singing with choir in prayer for the soldiers of the IDF:
For strength. (And with thanks to Linda O.)
I have joked about how I would have to put a posting out every two hours, in order to keep my readers abreast of events. But, in truth, it is no joke. At best, in a communication such as this one, I can only summarize. And so I ask, please, that you excuse any accidental omissions of significance.
Today the Security Cabinet met once again to discuss the issue – according to media reports – of whether the war should continue or be terminated. The decision, thank Heaven, was to continue:
“The IDF has been instructed to ‘continue to forcefully hit Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and to complete the job of neutralizing the terror tunnels,’ a senior diplomatic official said Wednesday. (Emphasis added)
“According to the official, speaking after a four-hour security cabinet meeting, the IDF operation has led to ‘significant achievements on the ground’ and is hitting at the ‘strategic apparatus’ that Hamas has invested in for years.”
Every time the Cabinet meets to debate the continuation of this important effort, I ask myself – with no little concern and agitation – why they think they have to have this discussion yet again, since it’s obvious that we must continue for the security of the people, and that the nation is fully behind the effort.
One reason – which I’m not claiming is necessarily a good reason – is because of the incredible international pressure being put on us.
This is a very difficult war to win, because we are dealing with an amoral and heartless enemy that is content to promote the death of its own civilians so that they might be used as PR fodder against Israel. And oh how the world – with the complicity of a great deal of the media – buys into this. The vast majority of you know precisely what I’m referring to.
We are in the right. We have the most moral of armed forces in the world. But it matters little to the world, and we must continue to operate while being accused of killing babies.
There are two specific issues I want to look at with regard to this. The first is UNRWA. UNRWA is blatantly complicit, no matter what mask they don as a humanitarian agency that only takes care of poor “Palestinian refugees.”
I have alluded before to my research on UNRWA and its relationship with Hamas, done for the Center for Near East Policy Research. What was crystal clear when I did that research was that UNRWA was in bed with Hamas. So much was this the case that Hamas controlled the UNRWA schools in Gaza – with recruitment for Hamas going on in the high schools, and ceremonies to mark the “martyrdom” of Hamas terrorists held on UNRWA school grounds.
Now UNRWA schools in Gaza are in the news. Three times in this war, UNRWA officials have found rockets hidden in their schools. Declaring themselves totally bewildered as to how they got there, UNRWA official then returned them to Hamas.
More pertinently, there have been a handful of incidents in which UNRWA schools were hit, or people using UNRWA schools were killed or wounded. It goes without saying that a cry goes up each time, charging that the IDF shoots at schools and kills innocent people inside those schools. In each instance the IDF has investigated. Once, it was found that Israel hit only an empty building, in another case that Hamas mortars were involved.
See here, for example:
Most recently, there has been the charge that 15 people sheltered in an UNRWA school were killed by Israeli shelling. The incident is still under investigation, but what the IDF says is that mortar bombs had been fired from the vicinity of the school and IDF troops shot back. Certainly they cannot – should not – sit still and allow themselves to be targeted without attempting to take out the source of the fire.
Just as certainly, Hamas “militants,” when lobbing mortar bombs at the IDF from next to a school know full well that by doing this they are putting the civilians inside the school at risk. Hey, a headline that says, “Israel kills civilians sheltered in a school,” is a big win for Hamas.
As a result of civilian injuries and deaths, there are demands daily from the international community that Israel call a halt to stop the heartbreaking damage. British Prime Minster Cameron, while speaking of Israel’s right to defend herself, warned that Israel was losing the support of the world.
It is because of this pressure that the Security Cabinet – urged on, I have no doubt, by Netanyahu – votes regularly for short ceasefires that are unilateral (Hamas keeps going even as we hold fire inside of Gaza). This is said to be to allow civilians a quiet time to go out and get supplies and such – and does not involve our work on destroying tunnels. The attitude of the government is that this does not really harm our efforts and buys some international good will because we show we care about the civilians.
We had a four hour ceasefire today, and have said that even as we continue, we will do this every do often.
However, I want to share the criticism of this policy voiced by MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud):
“All this walking towards humanitarian ceasefires…is a big mistake…Last weekend we were already in a state that Hamas was on the verge of breaking, we saw large groups of Hamas members who turned themselves in – and it happened because we attacked them without stopping.
“The rule against terrorism is that if you do not pursue terrorism, terrorists will pursue you…Therefore this method of ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ breaks…is problematic. Hamas exploits the interval to organize itself and to continue its attacks. (Emphasis added)
“We currently have two options. We can either take the initiative and increase pressure on Hamas – and beat it until it begs for a ceasefire – or continue this on-and-off process and slowly fight it out.”
So what we’re doing, it seems, is continuing to fight while looking over our shoulder at the international community.
And I would guess that it is issues such as this that are what occupy the Security Council during those meeting and not “yes or no” decisions about fighting or not fighting. There are a host of nuances here.
Yet another major decision involves the question of when it really will be time to stop. Elkin says we have to fight until “they wave a white flag,” and we have to demilitarize, because no one else will.
Ze’ev Elkin does not fool around, and I rather like that. He is absolutely correct that no one but Israel would demilitarize.
I have shared with my readers many times the concerns voiced by analysts that Hamas is not the worst of what we might deal with, and that if Hamas is taken out some other jihadist group such as al-Qaeda would move in. This argues for leaving a severely weakened Hamas in place.
But I have been rethinking my opinion here, because I see that Hamas is better organized, more militarily prepared than had been expected. Allowing them to remain in a situation in which they might rebuild could be dangerous. What we’ve seen most recently is that Hamas, feeling beleaguered, is calling on Hezbollah to join the fight. Not going to happen tomorrow, as Hezbollah has enough trouble at the moment. But it does seem that eliminating Hamas from this equation might not be a bad move.
As Caroline Glick just wrote (source below):
“The longer our soldiers fight, the more we learn about the vast dimensions of the Hamas’s terror arsenal, and about the Muslim Brotherhood group’s plans and strategy for using it to destabilize, demoralize and ultimately destroy Israeli society.”
In line with this are arguments that have taken place in the Security Cabinet regarding the need to assassinate the Hamas leaders, such as Ismail Haniyeh, so-called prime minister of Hamas. Presumably we know where he and other leaders are hiding. And the notion of doing this, which would bring Hamas to its knees, is indeed attractive.
Lately, Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), who leans to the left, has been pushing for such assassinations. Seemed pretty surprising, coming from him – until it came clear why he favors this: He would like to see Abbas and the PA take over Gaza (thus paving the way for that “two state solution”).
Uh oh. This is a remaining reason for not taking Hamas out completely. Paving the way for a PA presence in Gaza would bring us a great many headaches of the diplomatic sort, and is not something we necessarily want to be involved with at all. Believe me, this is being discussed in the Security Cabinet as well. (It should be mentioned that Netanyahu vetoed the idea of assassinating Hamas leaders – choosing instead to demolish their houses, which strikes me as silly.)
I keep tabling this discussion about the end of the war energizing discussion of “negotiations” – because it has to be considered very seriously indeed. When the time is right, I will look in some detail at what we likely have coming down the road. I see the signs in many quarters.
So, if we don’t take Hamas out all the way – when do we stop? Right now there are still tunnels to attend to, although it is being said (I’m not entirely convinced, but maybe) that more have been found and we will be finished in some days or a week or two. After that? Leaving rockets in place seems a bad idea. And what if we want to pull out and Hamas is still strong enough to keep launching rockets? There is no resolution on this yet.
I want to touch here only very briefly on something that made big press in Israel the last couple of days. Truth to tell, I’m a bit weary of it:
Oren Nahari, reporting on Channel 1 here in Israel, claimed that a senior American official had given him a transcript of Obama’s phone call to Netanyahu, in which he demanded an immediate ceasefire. It makes Obama look particularly bad. Both parties have since denied that it is an accurate transcript – although what caught my attention was that the denial from the prime minister’s office was verbatim the denial from the US. (One gets the feeling protocol demands a denial.) My feeling is that if it is not a precise transcript, word for word, it reflects a tone that comes close to the truth of the interaction. Nahari stands by his story and defended it again in the last day or so.
You can see some of the purported transcript here:
Then I recommend Caroline Glick’s article, that looks at the same situation – what we need to do with Hamas and how Obama is pressuring Netanyahu (emphasis added):
“Obama is as involved in the Middle East as all of his immediate predecessors were. He is personally leading US policy on every front. Kerry is not an independent actor.
“The problem is that in every war, in every conflict and in every contest of wills that has occurred in the Middle East since Obama took office, he has sided with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, against America’s allies.
“Under Obama, America has switched sides.”
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