By now I had thought our ground forces would have entered Gaza, but the operation remains on the edge of happening.
As I approach Shabbat and find I still have many preparations to attend to, I want to share only a very brief overview of what is transpiring with regard to the pros and cons of going in and what we do once we start the ground war. We’re Jews. So we have as many opinions on the subject as we have commentators and analysts.
In the end, it seems to me we must go in on the ground because Hamas is stepping up the rocket launchings, and while – thank Goodness – no one one our side has been killed, there have been injuries at this point, at least a couple of which are serious.
Mordechai Yemin, an IDF soldier from Itamar, was seriously wounded by mortar shells yesterday while he was in the Eshkol Regional Council, near Kerem Shalom. We are being asked to pray for his full recovery: Mordechi Chai Ben Bracha Yehudit.
And…rockets are aimed now at the airport. Not something we can tolerate.
Hamas is being defiant. We must act decisively.
Netanyahu – either very prudent or over cautious, depending on your perspective – has to deal with many factors. In no way should we imagine that his job is anything but horrendous, as he weighs heavy issues. All of those who write to me with notions of what we “must” do are advised to consider what we are facing. We don’t have a professional army. The IDF is composed of our boys. Our sons and grandsons and brothers and fathers and friends. That some of them may – or in the end, inevitably, must – die to protect the country is accepted. But it’s heart wrenching – in times like this we think like one extended family. And the more extensive the operation, the greater the losses will be. What is a reasonable “trade-off” for the sake of the country, and what is excessive and foolish?
With all of this anguish, however, a good portion of the Israeli populace, I would say, is eager to see us go in and give Hamas what it deserves. The people want to see strength.
On the one hand, we are told that the presence of a whole network of tunnels makes it imperative that we go in. There is no way that we can reach those tunnels by air. And they are so sophisticated – Yossi Melman calls them an “underground city” – that we cannot take out infrastructure and personnel and weaponry sufficiently without sending in ground troops. What makes the tunnels more dangerous is that – as I have written before – some of them travel under the border into Israel, making it possible for terrorists to enter Israel for kidnappings and various terror incidents.
Another reason we must go in is because Hamas is embedding itself in hospitals and schools (nothing new), making it impossible to reach them from the air.
And yet, those same Vietcong-inspired tunnels make matters more dangerous for ground troops, as they can be surprised from behind by those who are hiding in tunnels. There are some who say that the fact of the tunnels means we shouldn’t sent our boys in. That it would be a booby trap.
There are those – such as Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, former National Security Advisor and former head of research for military intelligence – saying that if we go in at all, it is not worth it unless we take over Gaza and really wipe out the entire terror network and leaders. Otherwise Hamas will recoup and it will not have been worth the effort and the lives, as in two years or three, Hamas will be attacking us again. He says it would take from three days to two weeks to take Gaza, and that we’d have to remain for six month to a year.
Avi Dichter former Shin Bet director, says something similar as well. We need to switch from a tactical to a strategic campaign that will last a year or two, he says. Capture thousands of terrorist leaders and operators, and defeat terrorism. This is different from going in to destroy weaponry that can be replenished. (My own question here is whether the fact that Egypt is blocking the smuggling tunnels would significantly reduce the ability of Hamas to replenish its weapon supply. They manufacture some of their own weapons now, but the best are supplied by Iran.)
I will note here that these suggestions involve only a temporary takeover of Gaza. There is very little inclination to rule over Gaza indefinitely, with 1.5 million hostile Arabs, for whom we would be responsible.
And there are those – e.g., Mordechai Kedar, an academic with knowledge of the Islamic world and considerable intelligence savvy – who insist we absolutely shouldn’t send in our boys because Hamas is laying a trap, and that there are other ways to handle matters.
One of the things Kedar suggests is that we cut off all electricity and fuel to Gaza, something which some of my readers have been asking me about.
My response has been that there is an attitude in the Israeli government that we must be careful to never be accused of collective punishment of the civilian population of Gaza. Aside from the fact that it may not be legal according to humanitarian international law, it would serve us very badly from a PR perspective and cause us to lose the support we have. What is envisioned is a headline that says, for example, that three people on respirators and five premature babies in incubators died because Israel cut off electricity and the hospital where these patients were did not have a working generator.
What’s being said is that the government’s legal advisors (which may primarily mean the attorney general) advise against cutting off of electricity. But my own suspicion is that our prime minister, who is so inordinately concerned about world opinion, would, himself not go this route.
In 2007, what Israel did, however, was reduce the amount of electricity sent into Gaza without cutting it off completely, and government lawyers at that time said this was legal. This, then, might be the way to go – it would fall to Hamas to decide how to allocate available electricity and if hospitals were deprived it would be the fault of Hamas. But I don’t know that Netanyahu is about to be convinced of this.
Please know: At about dawn we were hit by three rockets coming out of Lebanon. Another reason why we must act now.
May Shabbat bring us peace. And may the Almighty endow our leaders with the wisdom to make the best decisions they can.
Hat Tip: BB
Yet another factor in the current conflict is the willingness – indeed the eagerness – of Hamas to promote a PR advantage by putting its civilians in harm’s way.
This is not a new tactic. Israel goes to the extraordinary lengths of warning Gaza residents of a house that an attack on that house is about to take place, so that they can leave in time. Most often it is done by phone calls with an Arabic message. But there is also something called “roof knocking” which is launching of a small explosive device to warn that a large attack is imminent.
Hamas is encouraging the residents not only to stay, but to go up on the roof. You see here an article about Sami abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, admitting that they are doing this:
For Hamas, it’s a win-win. Either the house – which is likely either a house where weapons are stored or the home of an Hamas leader or both at the same time – does not get hit, as the strike is aborted by the Air Force. Or, civilians are killed and it becomes a PR gain for Hamas – as the number of civilians killed increases.
For the residents themselves, who go up on the roofs, either they are confident that Israel will not strike them, or they are content to be “martyrs” for the cause.
This situation is possible because Israel is dealing with an enemy with no respect for human life, while we Jews have ultimate respect for human life. This reflects an enormous moral advantage on Israel’s part, even as it sometimes generates an apparent PR or strategic disadvantage.
There will be, as the conflict progresses, a growing disparity between number of Palestinian Arab civilians (or presumed civilians – remember that Hamas exaggerates!) killed and the number of Israeli dead. At present, thank Heaven, we have had no one killed.
Thus it is imperative that people understand the reality in terms of the difference in how Hamas and the Israeli government are handling the situation.
Israel uses Iron Dome batteries to deflect incoming rockets, at least part of the time. (There are an insufficient number of batteries to be place everywhere.)
And Israel makes shelters available, especially in areas that have been most at risk for rocket attacks. Some of the shelters are decorated, to minimize the trauma of children, which is a great concern. In some cases huge sewer pipes have been brought in to use as shelters. There is an attempt, when kids must be inside shelters for prolonged time, to provide facilities and games to ease their way.
Credit: Getty/Uriel Sinai
Credit: Dima Vazinovich/Flash90
Government announcements go out imploring residents to heed instructions and to stay close to shelters. There are warning sirens (although, of course, of short duration near the border). We have Israeli residents in the south who are spending their whole nights in shelters.
Take a look at how this group of Israeli kids is handled to allay their fear during a rocket alert:
Compare this, my friends, to what Hamas is doing, and make sure as many as possible understand this situation.
As to Hamas, every analyst is making it clear that its behavior is wrought of desperation and not strength.
Hamas has confronted a series of frustrations and failures recently, including the way in which the IDF hit Hamas infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, and rearrested Hamas prisoners released in the Shalit trade – all in the course of the operation to find our kidnapped students. In addition, Hamas’s relationship with Egyptian president Sisi is not good, so it is not likely that there will be significant support from him. (An Egyptian diplomat has just criticized Hamas leadership as having made irresponsible decisions.) While Arabs across the area (as well as Iran) are so focused on Iraq and ISIS, the Syrian civil war and other major crises that Gaza draws very little attention from them. Hey, even ISIS is not supporting Hamas, saying that the time for confrontation with Israel is not yet.
Hamas, feeling isolated, strategically weakened, and short on funds, apparently figured it had nothing to lose. Its aggressive behavior towards Israel was designed to draw attention and support from the Arab world, and, hopefully, ultimately funds.
But its plan is not working out as its leaders had hoped. They are taking a beating of a sort that they never anticipated, and they are truly eager for it to stop. But there is a catch: Arab Muslim culture is honor-shame based. They don’t do surrender well because of the shame it brings upon them. They would only be able to agree to a ceasefire if they could point to something that allowed them to say they had “won.”
Thus, even today, Hamas leaders said they would stop launching rockets if Israel would release those prisoners who had been traded for Shalit and were re-arrested very recently. In their dreams. Then too, they are attempting to succeed at a major terror attack, which would, in their eyes, make them look like “winners.”
Netanyahu has said we are not interested in a ceasefire right now, and he has instructed the IDF to escalate its efforts. We have hit 800 targets in Gaza, although many more remain. And now, finally, it is not just the homes of terrorist leaders that are being hit: it is the terrorist leaders themselves. Reports are that we dispatched Iman Siam, who was head of rocket operations for Hamas. Then there were three Islamic Jihad leaders, one of whom is Alaa Abed a-Nabi, a senior officer responsible for Islamic Jihad’s rocket operations.
Peter Lerner, IDF spokesman, said on TV a little while ago, that these guys cannot expect to be involved with launching rockets at us and then think they can just safely get in their cars or on their motorcycles. It’s about time!
At this moment in time, it does appear that our ground forces are on the verge of going into Gaza. By the time you read this, it may well have happened.
Four brigades are at the border with Gaza and one or two more are still to come.
As of last night, IDF Chief of Staff Gantz had approved all plans for a ground incursion.
And we have sent messages by phone to 100,000 residents of Gaza, in Beit Lahia, Beit Hanoun, and Absan, telling them to leave the area immediately.
But, incredibly (or not so incredibly), Hamas has told them not to leave.
There you have it, folks: on a very large scale. Human shields.
A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, has told Times of Israel that:
“’Today, we’re not interested in a Band-Aid. We don’t want to give Hamas just a timeout to rest, regroup and recharge batteries, and then next week or in two weeks they start again to shoot rockets at Israel. Such a quick-fix solution is not something we’re interested in.’
”The current airstrikes at Gazan targets aim to ‘deplete and dismantle Hamas’s ability to attack us,’ the official said. Because of the ‘new strategic reality in his region,’ Israel needs to make sure that the terrorists’ ‘ability to replenish and rearm their stockpiles of weapons is more difficult than it was in the past. We’re dulling their sword, and we’re making sure their ability to sharpen that sword again is more difficult.’”
If that is what we are about to do, I say Baruch Hashem. And may the Almighty watch over our fighting boys. Because it’s frightening, for their sake, and I do not pretend otherwise. They, however, are eager and ready to go. Do not think otherwise!
Again today, in the course of writing this, I had to take a break because the siren was sounding warning us of a rocket incoming. I went to the safe place in my apartment, and after the siren stopped, my windows rattled. I knew this had been caused by an explosion. Now I’ve learned that four rockets were shot at Jerusalem. Two were intercepted by the Iron Dome (and that is perhaps what caused my windows to shake) and two landed in an empty field.
I felt no fear during this time, but when it was over I felt an enormous sadness – that we should have to endure this. Not much longer, I pray.
Whatever the rhetoric, there is considerable caution about the ground operation we may be about to embark on. The traps that await our soldiers in a very densely populated area are many.
But many believe that there is no way to accomplish what must be accomplished solely from the air. Weapons caches are hidden in civilian areas, so that they cannot be reached from the air. And there is, as well, a network of tunnels that are intended for incursions into Israel, that cannot be identified from the air.
What is said to be key here is that goals be carefully and realistically defined. The term used is the need for “an exit strategy.” We have to be able to say, OK, we’ve done what we needed to do, and we can leave. The concern is that we might get entangled in a way that leaves goals unclear or allows Hamas to claim “victory” because it appears we couldn’t accomplish what we set out to do.
I do know that the IDF has been planning and training for this possibility for a long time.
And there are even those who are predicting a very major effort, as Yuval Steinitz did the other day, that involves a temporary takeover of Gaza.
I’m not included in military planning sessions, needless to say, and so I cannot tell you what will transpire next. I have laid out the possibilities and the issues, to the best of my ability. And now we will see…
One other point here that I think is extremely significant with regard to our need to be tough right now. Yes, we have to dismantle or severely reduce Hamas’s ability to hit us again at at time of their choosing.
But deterrence in a broader sense is also critical now. At our north, there is Hezbollah and ISIS, and other jihadist groups. Right now they are not interested in taking on Israel, because they are otherwise occupied. But that does not mean they do not have intentions of hitting us at some future point. Our message to them must be one of resolve and strength. They must understand what awaits them if they challenge us.