In my last posting I discussed Israel’s failure to be tough enough – to create an environment of deterrence – with regard to terrorists residing in Judaea and Samaria, and inside of Israel. I noted to myself then that I needed to follow up with a similar discussion with regard to the terrorists of Gaza – Hamas, primarily, but also Islamic Jihad and other smaller groups.
And here we are! We are in the midst of a situation – in some measure a result of our failure to be sufficiently tough – that is not to be tolerated.
Yesterday (Monday) at about dawn, a long range missile (believed to be a J-80 with a 125 kilo warhead and a range of 100 km) was launched from the Rafah area in the south of Gaza.
Aimed at the Sharon area, the central portion of Israel’s coastal plain north of Tel Aviv, it was not intercepted by the Iron Dome – reportedly because it does not travel in a straight trajectory. This, in and of itself, is worrisome.
The missile achieved a direct hit on a home in the moshav farming community of Mishmeret, levelling the house, starting a fire, and injuring seven people in the extended British-Israeli family and one neighbour. Two young children, one only a year old, were hurt. A number of those injured had to be hospitalized, and mother, Susan Wolf, may yet require surgery. Three of the family’s four dogs died, a fourth, Phoebe, showed up alive, to the family’s great delight.
Daniel Wolf, one of the grown children of the family, described the mad rush to the shelter, which is what saved them. It was a “miracle,” he said:
“We are in shock, but the most important thing is that we are all okay. It was traumatic. After the explosion, there was silence, dust, and screaming. Destruction everywhere.”
The IDF stated that only Hamas and Islamic Jihad had missiles of capacity to do this sort of damage. Hamas declared that no rocket had been fired on purpose: it was an “accident.”
Give us a break! In October, rockets shot from Gaza destroyed a home in Be’ersheva; Hamas claimed the rockets had been accidentally launched because of a bolt of lightning. Earlier in March, two rockets from Gaza were launched towards Tel Aviv; Hamas said this was “by mistake.”
Now the IDF held Hamas responsible.
Within short order, preparations for responding to this attack had been initiated: two armor and infantry brigades were mobilized to the Gaza front and a limited number of reserve troops were called up.
It appeared that a serious response was forthcoming, although it was slightly delayed because Netanyahu was in Washington DC (more about this below), and long distance consultations were required. By about 5 PM, an Israeli response had begun, as the Air Force initiated a heavy barrage of attacks on terrorist sites across Gaza: military compounds, rocket launching positions, a “secret headquarters,” etc.
Netanyahu, who is both prime minister and defence minister, was in direct communication with top IDF brass from Blair House, the official White House guest house, and approved every hit.
What quickly became apparent as I tracked the reports, however, was that infrastructure and buildings were being hit, but no Hamas leaders or persons of military significance. Never mind no key leaders, no rocket builders (for Hamas is building rockets on a regular basis), no militia trainers, no key militia groups, no one from Intelligence, etc.
The kicker was when I picked up news from two sources about the fact that the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh had been hit, but that we “knocked on the roof” first. This refers to a technique in which a round not containing explosives is shot against the roof first, to warn those inside that an attack is coming.
Haniyeh may not have been in that office, in fact, it is my understanding that he had likely fled already. But we gave him a warning, in case???
This is the man who had declared: “The gun is our only response to [the] Zionist regime. In time we have come to understand that we can obtain our goals only through fighting and armed resistance and no compromise should be made with the enemy.”
There was a time when we did targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders – notably founder Sheikh Admed Yassin and leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi.
What do we make of this, this response restrained by political correctness? It is not going to create deterrence.
Amos Yadlin, former IDF Intelligence Chief and director of the Institute for National Security Studies, has said that the only way to halt Hamas violence is by attacking in a “much more painful” manner.
Indeed. Our restraint has brought us to the current situation. The “much more painful” response should have come last year, when incendiary balloons were sent into Israel to burn up our nature preserves and farmland in the south, and our children in the Gaza periphery were suffering respiratory problems because of the toxic smoke of the burning tires.
Every time that we demonstrate restraint, we invite further escalation.
Before continuing with the chronology of the events of the last two days, I want to take a brief look at the broader context of what’s going on with regard to Hamas’s escalation of violence at this time.
- It should be noted that this is a progression: the nightly violence at the fence, which had abated for a while, has been increasing, and the launching of balloons, which had stopped for a period, now includes balloons with explosives as well as incendiary devices.
It is very likely more than coincidental that this violence occurred very briefly before March 30 (this coming Shabbat!), touted as the anniversary of the “Great March of Return,” when massive demonstrations are being called for.
- Hamas is in dire economic straits, and there have been signs of unrest within the population of Gaza, with demonstrations protesting high cost of living, unemployment and taxes.
Hamas has been putting down the demonstrations with extreme measures, but may also be using tensions with Israel to distract the populace from domestic concerns.
Additionally, there is the hope that destruction in Gaza wrought by Israel in retaliatory strikes will result in stimulating world sympathy and an outpouring of funds.
- Hamas leaders are very mindful of Israel’s current situation, and eager to undercut Netanyahu’s diplomatic victory in Washington. Perhaps they also hope to have an impact on the upcoming elections.
- The feud with Fatah may also play into what is going on. Hamas has blamed its economic difficulties on Fatah, and may be seeking to appear to be the more resolute Palestinian Arab faction.
- Lastly, I note that Iran, from whom Hamas takes orders, may have had a hand in promoting this violence.
Within two hours after Israel began retaliation in Gaza, Hamas unleashed attacks on southern Israel, launching some 30 rockets and mortar shells. But then, at about 9 PM, Hamas declared that it had accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, which would begin at 10 PM.
Response in many quarters of Israel was one of incredulity and outrage: it was way too soon to accept a ceasefire. It had such a sense of déjà vu: Hamas initiating hostilities and Hamas then determining when to end them.
What readily became apparent, however, was that this was a one-sided Hamas declaration. And in any event, rockets continued to be launched from Gaza for some four or five hours after that declared ceasefire, and Israeli retaliations continued.
Then the violence halted from the Gaza side, and we held our retaliation as well.
By morning, news sources were speaking of an “uneasy calm” that seemed to be holding. It was unofficial – there was no agreement.
An unnamed “senior Israeli official” declared late this afternoon (Tuesday) that “No ceasefire was reached with Hamas; we are prepared to do even more.” According to this official, “We attacked last, and they did not respond.”
Today, Netanyahu reiterated this position ‒ that Israel is prepared to do even more. An additional reinforcement of troops at the Gaza border was done this afternoon, along with an additional limited reserve call-up. These are actions that speak of a certain seriousness of intentions.
Netanyahu was in Washington to address the AIPAC convention, as he does every year. When news of the Hamas attack reached him, he cancelled his talk, but remained long enough to meet, as had been planned, with President Trump and to participate in Trump’s historic signing of an official US proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. (See more below)
He had intended to leave after that ceremony, but remained behind for hours for those direct consultations.
Before boarding his plane at Andrews Airforce Base, he stated:
“Hamas needs to know that we will not hesitate to enter [Gaza] and take all the necessary steps needed without any connection to anything, to any date, but rather only to Israel’s security.”
We must hope that he holds to this.
I have read that once he did board the plane, the prime minister was still in direct contact with the military here. When he arrived home, early this afternoon, he headed straight for the Defence Headquarters in the Kirya in Tel Aviv, for meetings with Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and other defence and security officials.
From the Kirya he also delivered remarks to the AIPAC convention by satellite.
As I write, news has broken that a rocket has been launched from Gaza in spite of the unofficial ceasefire. And guess what? Hamas says they didn’t do it – it must have been a “rogue individual.”
These guys are a laugh a minute.
Israel warns that fighting may begin again very soon.
Binyamin Netanyahu is well aware of the degree to which his political future rests upon the public response to how he handles Hamas. He walks a fine line: I seriously doubt that it would be his preference to go to war with Hamas now, because there is concern that casualties might have a negative effect on how he is seen. On the other hand, the public is in no mood to tolerate concessions or weakness.
It seems to me that a couple of things are of paramount importance. One is to make no idle threats that will not be followed up with appropriate action. The other is to decide what the end goal of actions should be: Is taking out Hamas truly what we want now, and, if not, what do we hope to achieve.
If some ceasefire is arrived at, no matter how informally, I see it as absolutely essential that it include all violence at the fence, launching of balloons, etc. The residents in the south are demanding this, with considerable justification.
It is a pity that the signing of the US proclamation of Israel sovereignty on the Golan was overshadowed by the military news, for this was an historic and significant event. I will return to this for additional analysis of its implications.
Here I share a portion of Netanyahu’s remarks:
“It took us 50 years to get this. This sets an important principle in international life: when you start aggressive wars, and you lose territory, don’t come and claim them afterward.
“We have historic foundations on the Golan Heights. When you put a shovel in the ground you uncover magnificent synagogues that we are restoring there.”