Today is Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year. A day on which we mourn for the destruction of our Temples, and for the many calamities that have befallen us.
One speaker I heard this morning spoke about the fact that this is not our history – it is our memory. Our Jewish past lives within our hearts.
But it is not enough to carry these memories, if we do not learn from them. We have a long way to go, to be all that we are called on to be. We have a great deal of work to do within our larger community, reducing animosities and avoiding extremism.
On Friday afternoon, an infantry soldier with the Givati Brigade was shot dead by a sniper at the Gaza fence. He was Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, and he would have been 21 in two weeks; his was the first IDF fatality at the fence since 2014.
His parents were vacationing in Italy when they received the news, and rushed back to Israel. His girlfriend wrote on her FB page:
“My dearest love, my fighter. The heart burns and the tears don’t stop. Who would have thought you’d be gone so quickly?
“You were never scared, no matter what was in front of you. My Aviv, we had a million plans ahead of us and we were counting the days until we’d be together again…” (Emphasis added)
According to one source, Aviv was part of a patrol at the fence that was managing a riot – which diverted attention from the snipers, who were behind the rioters. We need to remember that just days ago, an IDF soldier was wounded by a grenade thrown at IDF forces at the fence. This has been a lethal escalation of activity at the fence.
Aviv was wearing a bullet-proof vest, but the bullet pierced it. At first it was said that the vest might have been faulty.
But today other news was released: After an initial investigation, the IDF believes that the bullet came from an armor-piercing Iranian-produced rifle, a replica of an Austrian Steyr rifle.
The type of vest Aviv was wearing does not provide protection from this weapon. In light of prior activity at the fence, there had been full expectation that his ceramic vest would provide sufficient protection in the event of hostilities.
Talk about lethal escalation!
The IDF responded with a series of intense attacks inside Gaza later on Friday. In all, some 60 sites were hit, including: three Hamas battalion headquarters, command infrastructure, and weapon supplies.
After the first sortie, projectiles were launched from Gaza – including one rocket that landed in an open field and two that were taken down by Iron Dome. This promoted additional IDF sorties of greater ferocity. Four terrorists were killed in the process, as well as well more than 100 injured.
One would have thought War! For sure, this is war.
But Hamas then turned to Egypt and called for a ceasefire to be arranged. Very quickly, they had had enough. Egypt warned Hamas that if there were any retaliation for the IDF strikes, then the IDF would move into Gaza “in two hours.”
Hamas remained quiet and an informal ceasefire was in place by midnight on Friday.
Last week Egypt had been applying pressure on Hamas with regard to the incendiary devices. There had even been announcements regarding Hamas intentions to pull back on the incendiary balloons. At one point there was said to have been an agreement reached between Israel and Hamas: we would not attack them if they worked with seriousness to curtail the balloons.
But then the sniper killing of our soldier, and other major unrest at the fence, intervened.
So, where are we, with regard to this highly unstable situation?
How much do we tolerate?
It is clear that Hamas does not simply seek quiet – for if that were the case, they would have it. Yet, they are not luring the IDF into a full war in Gaza, as had been expected, but stepping back each time we are on the brink.
Some suggest that some of the deterrence Israel had lost has been regained with the operation Friday night – witness the speed with which Hamas sought a ceasefire. Time will tell.
Others say that it is not Hamas, but other factions, that are causing the problems now – from incendiary balloon launchings to the lethal sniper fire. (The presence of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh at the border at the time of the sniper shooting is offered as evidence that Hamas leadership was not aware that it was about to take place.) I am not certain this is so, as it seems most likely that Hamas would have been the group that secured the sniper weaponry from Iran, and there are multiple reports about Hamas’s direct involvement with the balloons and kites.
But even if this were the case, it would be an unacceptable state of affairs that could not be tolerated.
Several analysts suggest that the killing of an IDF soldier was considered a
big “win” for Hamas, because of the deaths (140) and injuries (thousands) of Gazans at the fence over the last few months.
Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh says that Hamas will continue to try to keep the conflict with Israel on a slow-burning fire, without letting it flare into a full war. This is a very risky business ‒ as misjudgment by Hamas leadership could finish it – but one that Abu Toameh suggests is important for them. They made big promises when they began the “March of Return,” and have nothing to show for it, and no way to justify the casualties.
A plus for Hamas has been the fact that they have now brought Gaza back into the center of international awareness.
What they are seeking is a lifting of the blockade, which will not happen. They say the “March of Return” will continue until it does. In the interim they are now making more modest requests – such as opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing and PA payment of salaries. And I’ve just read that Israel may open the crossing next week if everything stays quiet.
Perhaps the biggest irony is the offer made by the Trump “peace team” to Hamas, to fund a huge rehabilitation in Gaza in return for cessation of all violence and release of Israelis.
One might think this would solve Hamas’s problem. But no…totally as expected (by us here in Israel, at any rate), Hamas announced it will have no part of this offer. They will not deal with the US. What has been proposed offends their “resistance” ideology and would, in truth, undercut their very raison d’être.
Bottom line: we have not seen the last of the border unrest yet. Israeli decision makers are undoubtedly considering the best moves in light of various possible scenarios.
We will go into Gaza if it is deemed necessary to do so. I think Hamas has that message now.
But it still must be determined when it is necessary and what is in Israel’s best interest. None of the problematic factors that would be relevant if there were a military incursion have gone away.
One of the most problematic of those factors is the need to focus on the north, with its on-going unrest of major proportions.
We have, in the main, managed to stay out of the cross-faction tensions in Syria, but we were involved, in the last couple of days, in a very unusual operation that aimed to save the lives of Syrian civil defense workers and their families, some 800 people in all. The workers, called White Helmets (see photo) were at immediate risk as regime forces closed in on them.
The group was trapped in a small area of land in Quneitra. They made their way to the border with Israel, starting at about 9 PM last night, and the IDF opened the gates and let them in. After they were provided with food, water, and necessary medical care, they boarded buses that were waiting for them; the convoy of buses was escorted to Jordan by IDF, Israeli police and UN personnel.
This extraordinary humanitarian operation was done by Israel at the request of the US and European nations.
The White Helmets are humanitarian first responders who operated in rebel areas where there were no government services and aerial attacks were frequent. They are known for daring search and rescue operations and have saved thousands of civilians from under rubble. The Syrian government accuses them of colluding with the rebels, thus their lives are at risk when the government forces move in.
Jordan, which has refused to take any more Syrian refugees, agreed to take these families at the request of European nations and with guarantees that they would be resettled in the UK, Germany and Canada by October.
This is a true good news story. One of the Israelis involved in the operation said it was “one of the most moving operations. There were lots of children.”
And what of the PA these days? We have been hearing less about them, as, indeed, news focus has been on Gaza.
Now Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, has declared that because of the “steadfastness” of the PA and the Palestinian people, Trump’s peace plan has been “frustrated,” While it is not quite dead, he said, it would have “unpredictable consequences,” and would “undermine the sovereignty of states” in the region.
The PA, not to be totally overshadowed in the press by Hamas, here is demonstrating that it, too, is a force of “resistance.”
It seems obvious that it is not only threatened by Hamas, but by talk of a regional Arab agreement, which would, in point of fact, not threaten the sovereignty of any of the states involved.
Where will the “peace team” be going from here?