May 7, 2015
Number 05/15 #02
This Update features two stories about the situation in Hamas-controlled Gaza and the dilemmas this poses for Israel. Plus, it also includes an article with some fascinating statistics exploring Israel’s near-miraculous economic transformation over the past 30 years.
The first story explores Israel’s Gaza policy dilemmas, written by former Haaretz Palestinian affairs reporter Danny Rubinstein, now an academic. He begins by exploring efforts to reconcile Fatah and Hamas and asks whether Israel should support them – but concludes that Hamas will never give up on-the-ground security control of the strip. He then notes that while Israel has an interest in Hamas’ commitment at the moment to maintain quiet, Hamas’ economic situation is dire, and it might collapse of its own accord. For Rubinstein’s complete discussion, CLICK HERE.
Next up is Israeli academic expert Shaul Bartok discussing the significance of the return to command of Mohammed Deif, the head of Hamas’s military wing who was reportedly injured or killed in last year’s Gaza war. Deif, Bartok notes, is a unifying figure whose standing is enhanced by his survival seemingly against the odds, which is portrayed as divine intervention, and also one with extensive experience in terrorism and producing innovative means to attack Israel. He stands for militancy and alignment with Iran, as opposed to some of the political leaders who want to move closer to Saudi Arabia, but will be unable to do so as long as Deif heads the military wing. For all of Bartok’s analysis of Deif and his return, CLICK HERE.
Finally, we feature a piece from Israeli columnist Dror Eydar calling attention to Israel’s extraordinary economic and social achievements over recent decades. Among other statistics he cites are: a three decade increase in GNP of 900% and a per capita growth of 400%; 860% rise in the value of exports; sharp falls in deficits, nation-debt and security spending as a percentage of GNP, and vast growth in foreign currency reserves. He also discusses some less material signs of Israel’s success as a society – such as high rankings on various indexes of the best places to live or of human development, as well as straight polls of citizen happiness. For all the details, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Israel has a new narrow coalition government, with a 61-seat coalition (out of 120 knesset memnbers) formed overnight just before the legal deadline. This comes in the wake of a decision by departing Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman to resign and refuse to allow his Israel Beitenu party to join the new coalition. Much more on the new government in the next Update.
- Much is being written about the Salafist/ISIS challenge to Hamas in Gaza. Here is a good summary of the issue – in the wake of a Hamas allegedly destroying a Salafist Mosque and a bomb attack on a Hamas Security headquarters.
- A good factsheet on Hamas’ efforts to re-arm and prepare for a new round of conflict with Israel.
- Khaled Abu Toameh on the plight of Palestinians outside Israel and those who are victims of the PA and Hamas – whom no one seems to care about.
- Much attention is being paid to a new report from the left-wing Israeli NGO “Breaking the Silence” based on anonymous soldier testimony. Important context and criticism of that report comes from NGO-Monitor, former AP Journalist Matti Friedman, blogger Elder of Ziyon, and the media monitoring NGO Honest Reporting. Plus, former senior IDF legal officer Lt. Col. (res.) David Benjamin has offered a detailed refutation of claims that IDF actions in Gaza violated the laws of war, detailing both what happened and IDF procedures.
- Tel Aviv experienced a violent demonstration by Ethiopian-Israelis on Sunday, protesting the beating of an Ethiopian soldier by police and other injustices for their community. Some excellent comments on their plight – in the wake of the inspiring efforts to bring them to Israel in the 1980s – come from Israeli columnists Michael Freund and Boaz Bismuth. Meanwhile, Israeli PM Netanyahu met with the victimised soldier, Demas Fikadey, and gave a moving speech in the Knesset on the need for Israel to do more for its Ethiopian-Israel citizens.
- Some interesting material on Israel’s strategy in dealing with the Syrian conflict and the threats manifesting on the Syrian border from former General Yossi Kuperwasser and security affairs journalist Ron Ben Yishai.
- Two demonstrations, in Israel and Gaza, demonstrate some fundamental realities.
- An Israeli aid worker in Nepal described what it is like to rescue a trapped person, days after they were buried alive.
- Isi Leibler writes about the heroic actions, in the face of overwhelming odds, of Soviet Jewish leaders, many of whom are now passing away.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- A new AIJAC factsheet correcting some common myths about the growth of Israeli settlements.
Should it wait for Hamas to collapse? Conquer Gaza? Promote Ramallah-Gaza reconciliation?
In recent days reports have surfaced regarding efforts to bring about reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Is such reconciliation possible? And what is the goal of the governments in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo?
The recent efforts included a statement by Ramallah spokesman Ehab Bessaiso that the prime minister of the Palestinian national consensus government, Rami Hamdallah, and a group of ministers were about to visit Gaza. He did not give a date, nor the names of the ministers. Such a visit took place more than two weeks ago and ended with great embarrassment. Prime Minister Hamdallah decided to travel to a conference in Indonesia instead of Gaza, and his ministers who traveled from Ramallah to Gaza left disappointed.
Now the new UN Envoy to the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov, is trying to promote reconciliation. Such reconciliation is necessary to accelerate efforts to rebuild the Strip and take Gaza and its 1.8 million residents out of the cycle of wars that has devastated the enclave thrice in the last eight years.
But reconciliation is a moot point for one simple reason: Hamas wonât give up control of Gaza – specifically of the security forces. Hamas is only willing to cede control of civilian affairs to the government in Ramallah. âHamas wants us to pay the salaries of its people in Gaza without having any responsibility as to what happens there,â one of the spokespeople in Ramallah said recently.
Meanwhile, violence between Hamas supporters and opponents in Gaza is escalating. Over the weekend, youths who call themselves âThe April 29th Movementâ held a demonstration in Gaza, calling for reconciliation, but it ended in clashes with police.
Policymakers in Israel appear to have accepted the fact that reconciliation is impossible and that Hamas will continue to rule the Strip. Last week Israeli media reported that Mohammed Deif, who was thought to have been assassinated by Israel in the summer 2014 Gaza war, had returned to lead the Hamas military wing and that relations were tense between him and the political leadership in Gaza which is inclined to adopt a long-term truce with Israel.
Many in Ramallah believe that Israel supports continued Hamas control of Gaza. This could well be true. Clearly, despite the ongoing military preparations to attack Israel, such as digging of more assault tunnels – Hamas seeks to maintain the truce put in place at the end of the war last August, at least for the coming year. That is why it has been preventing, by and large, the firing of rockets at Israel. Given the political struggle between Jerusalem and Ramallah, Israel is likely happier with a weakened Palestinian Authority than with one empowered by receiving control of Gaza.
But the Israeli position is also inconclusive. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has demanded time and again that the new government (which will probably be installed next week) clearly declare its intention to bring down Hamas. There is no doubt that Israel is capable of conquering the whole Strip in a short time. But the problem is not of capability, but rather of willingness to do so. And that willingness is missing.
A correct reading of the political map indicates that the only option for ending the Hamas reign in Gaza is to let it collapse. Politically, Hamas is besieged and isolated. Egypt considers it a terrorist organization and has been blocking the Rafah crossing between the Strip and the Sinai, which is a vital lifeline for Gaza and its impoverished residents. Hamas is attempting to forge ties and obtain aid from other Arab countries, but the only country willing to do so is Qatar, and it is unclear how much longer that support will last. Turkey helps out a bit, but Hamas attempts to get assistance from Saudi Arabia and Iran have not been very successful. Ideologically, Hamas, as a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, is considered an enemy of both Tehran and Riyadh.
Hamas does not have the money to pay its 40,000 employees. This month, between 50 and 65 percent of their salaries were cut, with the minimum set at NIS1,000 (about $250). Hamas chiefs are accusing Ramallah of preventing the payment of salaries, and UN envoy Mladenov is continuing his efforts to guarantee payment for the civilian government clerks in Gaza, most of them employees of the education and health systems hired by Hamas in recent years. How long can Hamas hold on? Hard to say. What is clear for the time being is that Hamas is not angling for another war, not yet. Given the regionâs instability, that, too, is a lot.
Danny Rubinstein lectures on Arab issues at Ben Gurion University and Hebrew University, and is a columnist on Palestinian economic issues at Calcalist.
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Israel Hayom, April 30
Any remaining doubt surrounding the rumored death of Hamas military commander Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri (Abu Khaled), otherwise known as Mohammed Deif, dissipated on Wednesday when he was confirmed to still be alive.
Deif, who was born in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in 1965, was drawn to religion from an early age and became a member of the Muslim Brotherhood before eventually joining Hamas. In May 1989, he was convicted and sentenced by Israel to 16 months in prison for his involvement in the terrorist group’s military activities. With the establishment of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, Deif became further involved in Hamas’ military operations as the protege of Yahya Ayyash, dubbed “the Engineer” by Israel, until the latter was assassinated in 1996. It was Deif who replaced Imad Akel, after his death, as commander of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza.
Throughout the years, as Israel succeeded in eliminating Hamas’ military leaders, primarily in the West Bank, Deif rose to become the pre-eminent organizational and professional authority within the group’s military hierarchy. Following the assassination of Salah Shehadeh in July 2002 in an Israeli airstrike that also killed 14 of his relatives, Deif was officially appointed leader of Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank and Gaza.
Deif has survived five assassination attempts, and the legends of his audacity and talent for evading Israel’s wrath have afforded him an aura of mystique, similar to that of Yasser Arafat in the past. The most recent attempt on his life came on August 21, 2014, toward the end of Operation Protective Edge. His death would have been the pinnacle of Israel’s military campaign and would have delivered a severe morale blow to Hamas. But Deif, who had already been seriously wounded in previous assassination attempts, managed — it appears — to escape this time as well; although he was likely wounded.
In every one of Israel’s wars in Gaza (operations Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge), Deif broadcast a victory speech to the people in which the main message was patience in the face of the crimes committed by the occupation (referring to Israel), including the killing of women and children, for instance his wife and two children who were killed in the most recent attempt on his life.
The last of these victory speech recordings was released on July 29, 2014, following the infiltration attack at the Nahal Oz outpost, in which five IDF soldiers were killed. Deif warned Israel of another Holocaust and boasted of the rousing victory achieved by Hamas’ fighters.
Deif is a unifying figure within Hamas. His vast organizational experience in soldier abductions and suicide terrorist attacks, which have left hundreds of Israelis dead since 1995, make him a venerated figure among the Palestinian people and within the organization. Among his operational designs are home-made mortars with independent trigger mechanisms; underground infiltration and attack tunnels with which to kill and kidnap Israeli civilians and soldiers to be used as bargaining chips; a naval and airborne force; and forging ties with other Palestinian organizations as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Islamic State in Sinai. Because of Deif, Hamas enjoys complete coordination with the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad.
The significance of such tight coordination between the various organizations includes closer ties with Iran, which provides essential assistance for the purpose of enhancing infrastructure and strength. This approach by Deif is not new. In fact, it began in the 1990s. Questions over the prudence of such an approach, however, often spark rivalries and divisions within Hamas. The “moderate” stream in Hamas wants to move closer to Saudi Arabia and the money and support it can provide, but as long as Deif maintains his grip on the military wing it will neither alter its current policies or stop evolving into a standardized army with him as its commander.
Israel’s failure to eliminate Deif is depicted on Hamas websites and Facebook pages as divine intervention. The man is a symbol of the resistance, and the symbol is neither dead nor defeated by the Jews. For Hamas, his survival highlights Israeli helplessness and the rout it suffered in Gaza. “We will win or die a holy death” — this was and continues to be Hamas’ battle cry and is most strongly identified with Deif, Hamas’ military commander in every confrontation with Israel over the past 13 years, who is willing to keep fighting until the final campaign for the liberation of Palestine.
Prof. Shaul Bartal is a scholar in the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University.
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Israel Hayom, May 1
Ever since the Israelites made their way out of Egypt, the Jews have tended to complain, and we always will — but let us take a look at the numbers. Where were we in 1984 and where are we today? Guess what, we have a lot to be proud of.