Our government’s premature willingness to stop the attack on Hamas yesterday was distressing and infuriating. Several people confessed to me that they found it nauseating.
And I understood.
Over the course of many months, we have tolerated too much aggression emanating from Gaza: the fires started in the south, in our national parks, with wanton destruction of flora and fauna, and on our farmland; the rioting at the fence, with grenades and firebombs thrown at our soldiers; the attempts to break through the fence and enter sovereign Israel; the toxic smoke from burning tires that caused respiratory problems for our children near the border.
Our response has been insufficient: we did not deliver the appropriate message of strength to Hamas, and in the end our government did not adequately provide protection to all of Israel’s citizens.
Additionally, just last week, we agreed to allow Qatar to bring into Gaza $15 million, ostensibly to be utilized to pay civil workers their salaries, which were being withheld by Mahmoud Abbas. This was to be done on a regular basis, at least for six months.
Then late Sunday there was a violent incident in Gaza, during which terrorists unfortunately came upon an elite Israeli special unit doing intelligence gathering (not seeking to kill). In the ensuing battle – which involved air support to help our elite forces move out – we lost one very brave officer, and they lost seven people, including a terror commander.
The thousands of Arabs attending the funerals of those who had been killed yelled for revenge, and Hamas began to attack. By late in the day on Monday there was a barrage of more than 400 rockets within an hour.
What is more, a bus was attacked with an anti-tank missile.
It was clear that they meant business. The attack was excessive to what Hamas might have done for a brief show of retaliation. They might have tempered their attack significantly, considering that just days before we had permitted in those Qatar funds – without our OK they would not have gone through. But, no, they hit to the maximum, utilizing rockets of sufficient power to travel some distance, targeting civilians without discretion. One kindergarten was bombed but no one was hurt because of the decision that day to close.
And so we began to attack back, with the bombing of some 70 targets. Those targets, or the main ones, were listed by the IDF.
At first glance, the list is moderately impressive. Certainly taking out tunnels is a good thing to do. But what began to become apparent is that we were destroying empty buildings. We killed no one.
An argument can certainly made for avoiding deaths of innocent civilians, however…
One of the highlights of our attack was on the Al-Aqsa TV headquarters in Gaza City. Al-Aqsa TV is Hamas affiliated and linked to terrorist activities. For years it has actively promoted murder of Israelis. Roughly an hour before the building was hit, the station was playing a music video:
“Write ‘death, death, death to Israel’ with flowing blood,
“And with the bleeding body cause death, death, death to Israel…
“…The soldiers of Muhammad have started to return.”
But even here, we hit only the building, providing a warning to allow the people to run out first. That warning is called “knocking.” Something similar to a bomb, which does not explode like a bomb, is dropped from a plane onto the roof of the building. Occupants of the building, hearing it and understanding what is about to happen, flee.
Palestinian Media Watch caught this on video:
And so we could see that even when a building that is the workplace of persons who incite for and advocate killing of Israelis is targeted, we shy away from killing them. This situation raised unsettling questions: Is our government that fearful of being criticized by the international community? Is there something else going on?
I had been calling this the beginning of a war. But this was hardly a war.
And then there was this report (emphasis added):
“Despite the ongoing firing of rockets by Hamas terrorists at communities in the south, Israel has not closed the Kerem Shalom crossing – and trucks carrying fuel, food, and fertilizer passed the crossing into Gaza as they would on any normal day.
“Footage of the trucks passing through the crossing was taken by Yoav Zeitun, a military reporter for Yediot Acharonot, who posted the footage on social media.”
Speculations about Israel’s ability to separate civilian needs from the actions of Hamas are not relevant here: this is enraging and pathetic.
Then late yesterday (just about the time my posting was completed) came a call from Egypt for a cessation of hostilities, and the immediate acceptance by Hamas.
For a time there was some question as to whether Israel would agree to this.
It was way too soon to have yet delivered the message to Hamas that had to be delivered. Terrorists groups such as Hamas understand power. In simple terms – they must be afraid of us. We have lost all deterrence because they are no longer afraid.
The most immediate concern is Hamas, but a more overriding concern has to do with our neighbors to the north – most notably Hezbollah. They have been watching, and they have not seen Israel demonstrating strength. This empowers them.
A Security Cabinet meeting was called to discuss Israel’s position. News that was leaked from that meeting was confusing, with different sources making different claims. What I culled from those reports was a sense that there were those dissenting – certainly Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), and also Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Beyit Heyehudi) and Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin (Likud). The fact that there was dissention was emphasized by the fact that the prime minister never took a vote.
What was clear, however, is that Netanyahu was determined to accede to the call for a cessation of fighting.
There has been no official announcement of a “ceasefire.” Rather, what came out from the Cabinet was an announcement that the IDF had been instructed to respond according to what was happening on the ground.
What this amounts to is a policy referred to as “quiet for quiet.” And it puts Hamas in control! If they start up, we attack. If they stop, we stop. There is no deterrence in this, as Hamas does not see that it has anything to fear.
It was particularly galling to learn last night that crowds of Gazans were out in a number of locations to celebrate “the victory of the resistance.”
While down in Israel’s south there were demonstrations from some very angry citizens, who said Bibi had to go.
Yossi Kuperwasser, a retired brigadier general, and former head of IDF Intelligence, gave a briefing last night, and said this:
“This is a battle over what kind of rules we will have from now on.” There is an issue of “pride” among the Palestinian Arabs, who want to make sure “they leave a mark.”
Competing factions are encouraging each other “to be more committed to the launching of rockets.”
The attack by Hamas, which was unprecedented, puts pressure on the Israeli government to decide whether it will continue with the same pattern of “short flare-ups followed by a temporary quiet, or whether Israel should do something more profound and change the situation in Gaza.”
Israel must learn, said Kupperwasser, that all of the factions have “ample amounts of rockets” and this is something that
“Israel cannot tolerate for a long time, and at the end will have to do something about.”
Kupperwasser says Iranian weaponry is still being smuggled through tunnels from Egypt.
“We do not control the Egyptian border and that is the Achilles heel of this system.”
It sounds as if we are losing ground with current policies.
But it need not be an “all or nothing” approach that Israel takes. The fact that Israel is not prepared right now (and likely with good reason) to go into Gaza and totally defeat Hamas, does not mean we have to pull back and accede to Hamas’s insistence on setting the rules. A strong and prolonged action that destroys large caches of Hamas weaponry would set them back. We know where those caches are located. That would be more effective, more damaging, than hitting empty buildings. But of course there would likely be some collateral damage – which is a consequence of war.
There is also an urgent need for Israel to spell out consequences and set limits.
Not: if they stop, we stop.
Rather: If they refrain from all hostilities at the border, and all launching of incendiary devices, we will hold our rockets – but if they do not, we will attack again. And then, do it!
And perhaps this, which is a matter of national honor: A linking of our behavior to the readiness of Hamas to return the bodies of our two soldiers and the two civilians they are holding.
I must note here that information from a reliable source came to me last night regarding the likelihood that there is pressure from the US government for Israel to refrain from continued bombing. This is because “quiet” is desired for the release of the “peace plan.”
Should this be the case, it would follow that our prime minister would accede to that request (demand?). He has a well-earned reputation for caving in instances such as this.
I do not excuse this, however. The current interests of the US government – which is essentially very friendly to Israel – and the Israeli government may simply be different now. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to respond to our national interests.
Today brought another startling shift in the situation as Avigdor Lieberman has announced that he is resigning as minister of defense.
He said his decision was prompted by the ceasefire (emphasis added):
“What happened yesterday, the ceasefire, together with the deal with Hamas, is a capitulation to terror. There is no other way of explaining it….
“What we are doing right now is buying quiet for a heavy price with no long-term plan to reduce violence toward us. To put it lightly, our response to the 500 rockets fired at us was drastically lacking.”
“I could not remain [in office] and still be able to look residents of the south in the eyes.”
He also revealed that he had opposed other Netanyahu policies, most notably allowing the $15 million in funds from Qatar to go into Gaza:
“I opposed it. The prime minister needed to write an executive order for it to go above my head.”
Perhaps the most shocking information provided by Lieberman – although not really surprising given the inclinations of Qatar – was that the money went first to the families of Hamas members killed on the Gaza border in clashes with the IDF and then to funding for rockets to fire at Israel.
If this is true, how do we deal with the fact that Netanyahu has apparently turned a blind eye to it???
I say Kol Hakavod to Minister Lieberman for his courage in speaking out and taking a stand. He says the government must be dissolved as quickly as possible. Presumably his party will be leaving the coalition.
Minister Naftali Bennett has declared that if he is not now appointed minister of defense, his party will leave the coalition. Netanyahu has no intention of giving this post to Bennett, whom he mistrusts. He has declared that he will assume the position himself – not a positive state of affairs.
He will not want to call elections now, because he knows he is weak. Whether he can hold out, and how, remains to be seen.