I have drawn my title, as many of you will surmise, from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah (Yermeyahu), who asked, Can the leopard change its spots? What he was referring to was the idea that people don’t really change.
I believe sometimes people can change, but it takes hard work and sincere intention.
Frequently, there is a superficial impression of change, when deep down the person is the same.
The leopard I had in mind when drafting the title was Prime Minister Yair Lapid. And I will come back to him very shortly. But first things first, and news of a terror attack always comes first. No need to change the title; it still fits.
Please share this news broadly:
Last night (Saturday night) at about 1:30 AM, a terrorist took aim at innocents in the vicinity of the Old City, near the Kotel. There was shooting at a bus stop on Ma’aleh Shalom Street, which leads directly from the Kotel. The terrorist waited for a bus to pull up and then shot into it, as well as shooting at people nearby.
Subsequently he shot at people at the entrance to the parking lot of King David’s Tomb on Mt. Zion, just outside the walls of the Old City.
Eight people in all were wounded. One woman, pregnant, had to undergo an emergency C-section to save her baby. She had been shot in the abdomen!
Please, absorb this fact if you can. What sort of sub-human does this? And it is hardly the first time. (I never refer to terrorists as “animals” because animals behave better.)
Early reports said both mother and baby were in serious condition.
Among those wounded were four members of a Hasidic family from Williamsburg, Brooklyn (US citizens), who had come as tourists. The father is in serious condition, sedated and on a respirator.
First reports indicated the possibility of two terrorists operating, but in the end there was only one – an Israeli Arab living in eastern Jerusalem. Israeli security agencies including the Shin Bet and the police were said to have quickly identified the perpetrator, even before they had apprehended him. Identified how? According Hakol Hayehudi, the terrorist had served prison time for his involvement in causing a death in a clan war in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem.
After evading an intensive manhunt that went on during the night, the terrorist, with his gun still in his possession, hailed a cab and turned himself in at a police station.
As the Jewish Press pointed out: “… the terrorist will receive a guaranteed monthly salary from the Palestinian Authority and be able to study for advanced college degrees while in an Israeli prison.”
We’re talking about the sub-human who shot a pregnant woman in the abdomen.
Reports indicated that the terrorist was not known to be affiliated with any terrorist group; however, three members of his family, including his mother, were taken into custody. Once again we see that these terrorists do not truly operate “alone.”
Jewish Press also reported on the fact that Arabs in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat were shooting fireworks in celebration of the attack.
Hamas put out a statement saying the attack was “heroic,” and calling it “a natural response to the occupation’s daily crimes against our people, our country and major Muslim and Christian sites.”
Let us turn now to Yair Lapid, and the entire question of whether Operation Breaking Dawn, our brief battle with Palestinian Islamic Jihad last week, indicates that he has changed.
There was a great deal that was astounding about Israel’s success, and I shared this sense of victory in my last posting. What was particularly impressive was that neither Lapid nor Defense Minister Gantz bluffed. They talked tough and there was follow-through. Follow-through that was devastating to PIJ – top leaders taken out. This time it was not just empty buildings, as had been the norm in recent battles.
Yes, we took out launching sites and rocket storage areas, headquarters and rocket manufacturing sites. But we also decimated the PIJ leadership. Impressive, indeed. Lapid and Gantz were on board for this approach and must not be denied credit for their involvement in this success.
In this posting I return to the subject for a second look, drawing on a number of analyses and commentaries. The victory was marvellous, without question. However, it was not quite as simple as it appeared at first blush.
The IDF on this occasion managed to proceed with air attacks without a hit on Hamas sites. This was an IDF-PIJ battle.
There is no question but that PIJ is the most volatile of the Gaza terror groups, and the one most directly allied with – receiving funding from and taking direct orders from – Iran. This group not only operates in Gaza, it is seeking to increase its influence in Judea & Samaria. Weakening it, and Iran’s reach in our territory, is to our benefit.
But how much credit do Lapid and Gantz get for this? There are two security/military elements that fell into place, making what happened possible. One was the stunning intelligence provided by the Shin Bet, so that it could be determined where the PIJ leaders were. The other was the breath-taking accuracy of our missiles, so that – as it was explained – if a terrorist was in his kitchen in his apartment on the 10th floor of a 20-floor apartment building, we would be able to get him in a pinpoint hit without collateral damage.
The plan for going after the PIJ leaders took several months to refine. It was most certainly being refined in its particulars before Lapid became prime minister, and perhaps before Bennett was, as well. When it came together, it was the Shin Bet and the IDF that brought news of the possibilities to Lapid.
In a democracy it is the role of the political echelon to determine whether to move in a particular military direction. Lapid and Gantz met the challenge when the possibilities were presented to them, and gave the order to go for it. There is no denying this.
But it is not as if Lapid went to the IDF and instructed them to find a way to hit PIJ. It is the reverse: the IDF told him what they were ready to do. Clarity on this is important.
In the euphoria of the first days after this battle, it was being said that PIJ was so diminished that it was finished, at least for the medium-range future. (No one says “never.”) But I am not that optimistic.
Arab culture is an honor-shame culture, which means that defeat (shame) is tolerated badly. Thus the likelihood of their striking out again to prove their strength, preserve their honor. It might be that they will make a good deal of noise and then not carry through with threats. But there is no certainty of this.
If they are to attack again, they need a rationale for doing so. What looms as the most significant possibility for a renewed PIJ rocket attack is the matter of what they claim were the terms for the ceasefire.
According to the terrorists, Israel agreed to release two prisoners: Khalil al-Awawdeh, a hunger-striking prisoner, and Bassem al-Sa’adi, whose detention in Jenin began the escalation. Israel adamantly insists that there was no such agreement. In fact, a military court on Thursday extended al-Sa’adi’s (pre-trial) detention.
The Egyptians who were negotiating the ceasefire, however, had said they would make their best effort to get the terrorists released. This “best effort,” in the eyes of the PIJ, means getting it done – that is, PIJ expects this as the final phase of the ceasefire. They said their willingness to stop launching rockets was predicated on this expectation.
Last week, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland – no friend to Israel – dispatched a team to Ofer prison to meet with Sa’adi. Wennesland tweeted that the ceasefire was still “fragile.”
This week, a delegation from Egypt – headed by Egyptian Intelligence Chief Abbas Kamel – is due here to discuss the prisoners.
Israel, according to various reports, is ready to meet with Kamel (it would be highly inappropriate if not impossible to refuse to do so) and have a general discussion, perhaps about the conditions of the prisoners.
This situation must be watched carefully in coming days. It is imperative that Israel not cave under Egyptian pressure, or make concessions to keep Gaza quiet. That would be to undermine recent achievements.
Last Tuesday, PIJ Secretary-General Ziad Nakhaleh, who had been attending meetings in Iran at the onset of Operation Breaking Dawn, gave Israel one week to release the prisoners, or “we will not hesitate for a moment to resume the fighting.”
Lastly here we look at the role of Hamas in this situation. It is clear that this terror group, still smarting from its conflict with Israel in May 2021, preferred not to enter into a new round now. Thus did it avoid involvement in the recent Israeli-PIJ battle.
Israeli leaders, for their part, were also reluctant to enter into battle with Hamas, which would have meant a more prolonged and intensive conflict. And so the IDF was careful to avoid hitting Hamas installations or key personnel, which would have pushed Hamas into entering the fray. One of the reasons Lapid was so eager to end fighting after three days (“We accomplished all our goals.”) was to get out before Hamas was aroused to fight.
There are differing opinions regarding whether this was a good thing. Some analysts congratulate Israel for being able to weaken PIJ considerably without having to take on Hamas.
But there are others who are critical, for what has happened is that Hamas, the strongest terror element in Gaza, has been rendered stronger still with the weakening of PIJ. The situation was a Hamas win.
One of the factors that makes this disturbing is that the terms of the last ceasefire with Hamas, in May 2021, stipulated that Hamas was responsible for maintaining quiet in Gaza. Hamas had failed to honor its commitment. For some time, even before 2021, it had been the Israeli norm, whenever rockets were launched from Gaza – no matter which group launched them – to hold Hamas responsible. Hamas was recognized as the controlling element in Gaza.
Now this principle has been abandoned.
Ah, but we are still not done: Hamas, having stayed out of the fray (there is disagreement about whether this group quietly encouraged others to fight), and having refrained from inciting Israeli Arabs to riot, expects rewards from Israel. Such rewards might include a larger number of Gazans granted Israeli work permits, thus bringing cash back into Gaza, and expanding the number of goods permitted through the crossings. These rewards would make Hamas even stronger.
Wrote Alex Fishman in YNet: “Gaza rulers sat in the background, knowing that not intervening will grant them lucrative thank you gifts from Israeli officials… Now Hamas will claim its prize for its role in Israel’s success.”
And then, coming full circle, we look at what Yair Lapid said one day after the end of Operation Breaking Dawn. Speaking to the residents of Gaza, he declared:
“There is also another way. We know how to protect ourselves from anyone who threatens us, but we also know how to provide work, livelihood, and a life of dignity to anyone who wants to live in peace by our side.
“There is another way to live. The path of the Abraham Accords, of the Negev Summit, of innovation and economy, of regional development and joint projects. The choice is yours. Your future depends on you.”
Oh, look, I said to myself, Yair Lapid’s spots have not changed. Having rendered Hamas stronger in Gaza, and having decided not to hold Hamas responsible for PIJ terror, he now expects the people of Gaza to overthrow their repressive and militant leaders in favor of a life of innovation and improved economic situation?
Or was he speaking indirectly to the leaders of Hamas, imagining, like a good leftie, that he could lure them from their militancy?
The spots of Hamas have not changed. This is a certainty, whether Lapid recognizes it or not. Their reluctance to join the fight did not signal moderation but self-protection. They are playing it smart, amassing their weapons, and laying their plans for when the time is right.
I wonder how Lapid internalized Hamas’s praise of yesterday’s terror attack.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner.