Before I begin, I wish to thank the many people who write to me. Please know that I read all comments; I trust you understand that it is not always possible to respond.
And then I want to share material taken from my website:
“The Temple Mount: Whose Is It”
I urge you to read it and share it widely.
It is not only highly informative, it provides a perspective that is relevant to much of what I have been discussing with regard to Islamist intentions and our need to stand strong for our rights. When I wrote recently about the Hamas incitement during the Jerusalem Flag Parade, I noted that Israeli Arabs were urged to go up to the Temple Mount. It is all of a piece.
My last posting on June 15th was a bit of a cliff-hanger. The Jerusalem Flag Parade had proceeded – and it was exceedingly important that it had taken place in spite of threats from Hamas of renewed rocket launchings. (Launchings which, in the end, never materialized
However, what did happen during the course of the day, even before the parade had begun, was that several incendiary balloons were launched into Israel causing at least 20 fires.
When I posted, there had not yet been a response from Israel. This, I wrote, would be a test of the seriousness of the new government.
In the early hours of June 16th, the response came. The IDF released a statement indicating that fighter jets had struck Hamas military targets in Khan Younis and Gaza City. Reports were that the sites hit belonged to Hamas’s military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades.
But was this a decisive blow that had been delivered, one that would deter Hamas from further balloon launchings? We’d hit this way many times before in similar sorties. Empty sites are damaged or taken out. No one is injured or killed, and Hamas seems to absorb the damage and shrug it off.
Later that same day came commentary from Ron Ben-Yishai (emphasis added):
“It would be an understatement to say that Israel’s lacklustre response early Wednesday to Hamas launching incendiary balloons throughout the entire day before is not in line with its security officials and IDF commitments following the 11 days of fighting in the Gaza Strip last month.
“Following the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire in late May, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on television to tell Israel that ‘what was will be no more.’ In other words, the days of turning the other cheek to Hamas were over.
“But actions like Wednesday’s retaliatory airstrikes against what are essentially empty Hamas training facilities have long ceased from keeping Gaza’s terror groups up at night.
“Before the latest campaign, Israel’s government and the IDF would show restraint against the launching of incendiary balloons and riots along the border fence…
“But this restraint was seen by Hamas as weakness. And in a place like the Middle East, the smallest sign of that can be a death blow to deterrence…
“Although Israel’s response Wednesday to the balloons was rather quick in coming, its total impact was limited and simply not good enough.
“The airstrike authorized by Gantz and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was far from the deterrence that Israel’s leaders boasted about after the fighting ended.”
So how do we rate the new government? It gets maybe a C-. There was a response, but an insufficient one. The fact that it was insufficient was made obvious very quickly as there were more incendiary balloons launched on Thursday. And Thursday night Hamas fired machine guns towards communities near the Gaza border. It is as if they were thumbing their noses at us, which is very definitely not a good thing. Israel did not respond a second time.
Ben-Yishai qualified the weak response in a couple of different ways. One thought he offered was that Israel may be reluctant to be drawn into another war now, even one of short duration. But if Hamas senses this reluctance, won’t we pay for it down the road? More seriously, this is also the case with regard to Hezbollah and Iran. We are being watched, and we cannot afford to behave as if we are hesitant to properly defend ourselves.
Additionally, Ben-Yishai referred to the possibility that Israel wants to avoid interfering with Egypt’s efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire that would halt the re-arming of Hamas. There may be something to this, although Egypt’s involvement is more extensive than negotiating a ceasefire (see below).
All this said, there were creative alternatives that might have avoided another war while at the same time securing deterrence and dispelling any impression of weakness.
Ben-Yishai suggested one:
“…had IAF fighter jets been scrambled the moment the first incendiary balloon touched ground, with Israel delivering a very stern and public warning to Hamas, it is possible Sinwar would have got (sic) the message and called off his units.
“If the Hamas leader in Gaza failed to understand the message, a single direct strike on a high-value Gaza target could have shown the terror groups that as far as Israel is concerned, the rules have changed.
“Under the new rules, even a solitary incendiary balloon will be met with immense and precise firepower.”
Then there is David Israel of The Jewish Press, who pointed out that Bennett in 2018 said: “…these [balloon launchers] are not children, and anyone who uses a killing tool should be treated as a terrorist…
“…I will not give up until we adopt a new policy, stop shooting near the terrorists, and shoot the terrorists.”
But the Bennett of 2021 is not following this policy. David Israel suggests that this is precisely what needs to happen (emphasis added):
“…in an anonymous IDF base near the Gaza border, excellent female soldiers are attached 24/7 to monitor screens from which the entire strip is visible. They know the whole area by heart and alert the Air Force and the IDF Command every time someone there comes out of his hole in the ground and tries to harm Israel. The skies over the Gaza Strip are full of Israeli drones that transmit information to those female soldiers in real-time…
“The problem is that the Bennett-Lapid government, just like the Netanyahu government, is deterred from using the excellent deterrents in its possession…
“If Bennett-Ganz-Lapid had killed a squad or two of balloon-fliers, the nightmare would have ended… Eliminate the balloon fliers. The IDF has a lot of armed drones that can do this today.”
I note that Israel has been using drones over Gaza for some time – at least since 2017, not only for surveillance but to release tear gas on squads launching incendiary balloons. The drones are also used to shoot at targets associated with the balloon squads. In one case I discovered, the (empty) car of a squad leader was destroyed.
But we see that the current methods are insufficient. Yet the government, says David Israel, is deterred from taking that next step. Deterred by the vile press response that would ensue? (“Israel kills teenagers playing with balloons.”) Or by additional charges brought to the ICC? Or what?
We have got to do better!
The involvement of Egypt in the mess that is Hamas-run Gaza requires a closer look. The Egyptians despise Hamas, which is a Muslim Brotherhood spin-off. The Brotherhood threatens Egyptian stability; terrorists from Gaza attempt to infiltrate into the Sinai.
Repeatedly, Egypt has stepped in to negotiate Israel-Hamas ceasefires. I myself have exceedingly limited expectations with regard to all of the positive results that are being projected upfront with regard to that Egyptian involvement: Hamas will be prevented from re-arming, Qatari money will not get in, etc. It always sounds good, and yet Hamas, which controls matters in Gaza, always manages to find a way.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry currently leads these efforts on behalf of Egypt.
Head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel, is also directly involved.
You see him here at the end of May, when he came to Israel with an entourage and met with then Prime Minister Netanyahu in his residence. Netanyahu insisted then on the return of Israel’s captives – bodies of two soldiers and two civilians.
Gabi Ashkenazi, who was then Israeli Foreign Minister, had travelled to Cairo for a meeting with Shoukry regarding details of the ceasefire. It was the first public visit of an Israeli foreign minister to Egypt since 2008. Ashkenazi, as well, indicated that securing the release of our captives held by Hamas was a priority. He said Israel would not allow Gaza reconstruction to move ahead without a solution in place for the captives’ return. Ashkenazi is no longer Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid is. So there is a question regarding whether he will he stand by this demand. But, as you will see below, it may be moot.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who visited Cairo on June 8, at Egypt’s invitation, indicated he would be interested in a “prisoner exchange.” This, quite obviously, is why Hamas has held on to the bodies and the Israeli civilians: to extract something from Israel. I would have preferred seeing Israel pummel Hamas sufficiently so that they would have been ready to relinquish the hostages. We should not be releasing terrorists as a matter of principle.
It remains to be seen what terms our new government will be willing to agree to. I shudder, but am always willing to be pleasantly surprised. Here too, Bennett has an opportunity to demonstrate his “right-wing” credentials.
With all of this, there is a good deal more. You didn’t expect simple here, did you?
Shoukry has visions of involving the Palestinian Authority – something that sits very well with Secretary of State Blinken. Shoukry is actually aiming for reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas, which would lead to unification of all Palestinian elements with the goal of facilitating negotiations for the “two-state solution”– “the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace.” Top leaders of Fatah and Hamas were in Cairo to discuss plans for this on June 8.
Here we go…
Many of you may be familiar with the expression “whack-a-mole.” It means assuming you have eliminated a problem only to have it pop up again and again. This is drawn from the alleged behavior of moles, who dig underground: If a mole pops up from a hole in one place, and you hit it on the head, presumably it goes underground and pops up from another hole.
For me, this is the “two-state solution.” We think we are rid of it but we never are.
Shoukry – with an eye to that “solution” – told Ashkenazi that there was a need to refrain from all practices that lead to escalation, especially in the Palestinian territories (translation: no Israeli building in Judea & Samaria – and there will be much to say on this score).
Egypt also asked Israel to consider the “particular sensitivity” associated with “east Jerusalem,” and the Al-Aksa mosque.
It is doubtful that Shoukry will be telling Abbas that incitement and payments to prisoners are counter-productive to peace.
In dealing with this we need a government that is strong in its sense of Israel’s rights, and prepared to stand for them. Ah, would that we had it.
With all of this, we still have a final zinger that just may significantly shift the dynamic, or maybe not:
Egypt is donating $500 million – a huge sum for this country – towards reconstruction in Gaza and is prepared to be directly involved in the reconstruction, rather than just allocating the PA to oversee it. In the last couple of weeks, Egypt has been sending into Gaza dozens of bulldozers, trucks and cranes, along with construction crews to operate the equipment.
What Egypt has made clear to Hamas, reportedly, is that there must be no hostilities during this time, no actions that invite an Israeli response. For this would potentially put Egyptian crews in the line of fire. Israel may be counting on Egyptian involvement to deter Hamas down the road. Nonetheless, I believe we should have responded to the balloons more forcefully.
Two the big questions remain. The first is with regard to how much the PA will be involved if Egypt is physically on site.
And then there is the question of what happens after reconstruction. There are two projections. One is that Egypt will remain permanently. This would be best for us. It is thought that Egypt’s re-entry into Gaza, the first since 1967, may be paving the way for a permanent presence. But does Egypt want this headache? In all the years from 1949 until 1967, when Egypt occupied Gaza, it never annexed it. There was no real eagerness to keep it.
The second thought is that Egypt is preparing this to give to the PA, so that it would be in control for purposes of that “two-state solution.” If this is envisioned, it is bad news on several counts. With it all, there would be a great likelihood that Hamas would promptly knock out the PA again, as it took out Fatah in 2007.