Update from AIJAC
This Update features two pieces on the state of the current Hamas-Israel confrontation around Gaza, and the current strategies of the two parties – five years after the last major Gaza war, and during a week in which Israel found yet another Hamas cross-border terror tunnel. We also offer a unique insider’s perspective on the Bahrain “Peace to Prosperity” workshop, held in late June, to promote Palestinian welfare and development from a key participant in the conference.
We lead with a discussion of Hamas’ current “post-tunnel” strategy for attacking Israel, written by Israeli strategic analyst Yaakov Lappin. With Hamas realising that the offensive tunnel plan, on which they spent a great deal, has been defeated by Israeli technology, Lappin says Hamas’ plans now focus on building and using rockets so intensely that they can attempt to overwhelm Israel’s “Iron Dome” defence system, and on training a naval commando capability to strike from the sea. All are targeted at attacking the Israeli “home front” – its civilian areas – but Lappin notes that the IDF has not been idle and has its own plans to counter these Hamas efforts. For Lappin’s full discussion, CLICK HERE. Also looking at Hamas’ post-tunnel strategy is columnist Shlomo Eldar, who also notes some other new threats from Hamas, such as drones.
Next up is another Israeli security writer, Yoav Limor, whose focus is on the Israeli calculations vis-a-vis Hamas five years after the last major conflict. He notes that Hamas is remaining relatively quiet because Israel has succeeded in deterring the organisation even though it has not changed its bellicose worldview. However, he argues that Israel is also keen to avoid another conflict – not least because it is difficult to see a better situation resulting from one – and is keen to reach a longer-term ceasefire arrangement with Gaza, while undertaking intelligence operations to remain ahead of Hamas’ plans. For the rest of what Limor has to say, CLICK HERE.
Finally, we bring you the perspective on the Bahrain workshop on Palestinian welfare of Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, an academic management specialist who served as a moderator at the conference. Sonnenfeld takes on the many who say talking about economic development is useless without reaching a political agreement first – pointing to both academic research and his own experience at the conference to back up his argument. He lists numerous positive experiences from the conference which he argues suggest it projected a “spirit of hope.” For this insider’s perspective in full, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- Israeli terror experts Yoram Schweitzer and Aviad Mendelboim discuss how Palestinian Islamic Jihad may be trying to drag Gaza into a war with Israel regardless of what Hamas may want.
- More interesting post-Bahrain comment from American columnist Benny Avni, former Israeli diplomat Zalman Shoval, and former American diplomat Ambassador Richard Schifter.
- A report that weapons inspectors in Iran have found radioactive particles at an alleged nuclear warehouse in Teheran that Israel identified last year.
- A transcript and audio of an enlightening ABC radio interview about the Iranian nuclear problem with former weapons inspector David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security.
- An excellent piece arguing the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran never really worked from Australian academic and frequent AIJAC contributor Dr. Ran Porat.
- An interesting piece from the New York Times on Israel’s bizarre energy dilemma – having so much natural gas they are not sure what to do with it.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Oved Lobel on some new revelations from inside Hamas about the organisation’s modus operandi.
- Ahron’s Shapiro’s detailed dissection of the problems with the recent Channel 10 “Body Hack” episode about Gaza.
- Naomi Levin on new revelations from the BBC about the UK Labour party’s antisemitism crisis.
- Sarah Jacobs discusses the conspiracy theories and antisemitism that crops up repeatedly in comments about the Iranian crisis on Australian mainstream media websites.
The discovery of the latest cross-border Hamas tunnel this week stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel is a reminder of the fact that Hamas will soon lose this attack capability.
The tunnel was discovered during the construction of Israel’s underground barrier, which is designed to block the path of Hamas’s diggers. The subterranean wall uses sensors that send alerts to the Israel Defense Forces if Hamas attempts to dig in Israel’s direction.
Since the end of the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, the IDF has discovered 18 cross-border tunnels, using advanced detection systems, and more recently, through the construction of the underground wall.
The 40-mile-long barrier is due to be complete by the end of this year. When it will be done, armed terror squads from Gaza are expected to lose the ability to sneak under the Israeli border to conduct killing and kidnap missions in future wars.
Yet Hamas’s military wing still has a complex network of defensive combat tunnels, which run under Gaza. This “underground city” enables terror cells to move around out of sight of the Israeli Air Force, and transfer personnel and weapons around the Strip, particularly in the event of an Israeli ground offensive. It seems safe to assume that the IDF is busy mapping out these tunnels, too, and that it is developing ways of turning them into death traps in a future conflict.
Since the end of the 2014 conflict, enough cement has entered Gaza to build 16 Burj Khalifa skyscrapers in Dubai—the tallest building in the world. That cement has largely gone underground, feeding Hamas’s war machine.
Gaza’s soft sandstone made it possible for diggers to make rapid progress during the peak days of the tunnel project. The tunnels contained rails, electricity, ventilation, communications lines and oxygen tanks—tanks that were originally sent to Gaza for hospital use.
The tunnels are a symbol of Hamas’s priorities: The military build-up always takes precedent over investing funds in Gaza’s civilian population.
Shifting to other attack methods
Hamas is, however, a learning organization, and it appears to have realized some time ago that time is running out on the attack tunnels.
As a result, it and other terror factions in Gaza have doubled down on other offensive capabilities.
Foremost among these is the rocket arsenal. Unlike Lebanon, Gaza is not known to have guided rockets at this time, but the size of the Gazan rocket arsenal is growing, and the threat is one of sheer quantity.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the 15,000-strong terror faction (compared to the 35,000-strong Hamas), has also been investing heavily in expanding its own rocket arsenal and was able to overtake Hamas in possessing the largest quantity of projectiles in Gaza.
Both organizations receive Iranian money—some $100 million in the past two years, according to Mossad chief Yossi Levi—and Iranian technical know-how. They convert these into a sprawling domestic-arms industry that produces Gaza’s rocket arsenal at home, without the need to depend on smuggling.
Hamas uses every component at its disposal for rocket manufacturing, even salt for propellant needed during the initial launch phase. The combined arsenal of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad exceeds 20,000 rockets.
During a recent escalation that erupted in May following a PIJ sniper attack, Gazan terrorist factions fired 690 projectiles at southern Israel in a mere two days and tried to overwhelm the Iron Dome air-defense system.
Iron Dome nevertheless performed well, intercepting 86 percent of rockets heading for populated areas. Still, Gaza’s factions were able to concentrate their fire in a lethal manner. Four Israelis were murdered in the escalation, including one whose vehicle was hit with a Hamas anti-tank missile. Such weapons have also become a focus area for Gaza’s factions.
Both organizations are also trying to create armed drone fleets. PIJ used one such drone in a failed effort to bomb an IDF tank during the May escalation; this incident is an indication of the growing importance of this attack method.
Israeli home front the primary target
Hamas, meanwhile, is working on an ability to launch sea-based attacks using terrorist commando cells.
These activities are all presumably occurring under the watchful and piercing eye of the IDF, which is preparing accordingly.
According to Brig. Gen. (res.) Shachar Shochat, former Air Defense Command chief, non-state actors have placed the Israeli home front as their prime target.
The dispersion of rocket launchers in built-up civilian Gazan areas forms an additional challenge. An ongoing cat-and-mouse game of solutions and challenges is underway.
The May escalation also contained a hint of Israel’s overwhelming offensive capabilities.
The Israeli Air Force, for its part, struck more than 350 terror targets across Gaza in retaliation, killing approximately 30 Hamas and PIJ operatives, and destroying many high-value enemy targets that were embedded within civilian neighborhoods. The combination of quality intelligence and precision firepower is designed to deal with the asymmetric challenge from Gaza.
Meanwhile, Israel’s ground forces, who have not set foot in Gaza in five years, are preparing a range of new abilities in case they are called to enter the Strip the next time that warning sirens begin going off in Israeli cities.
The delicate dance of mutual deterrence
Five years removed from Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, the current assessment in Israel is that Hamas is restrained and deterred from engaging in a broad military conflict. Regardless, the next round of fighting is almost inevitable and won’t resemble its predecessors.
by Yoav Limor
Israel Hayom, 2019-07-07
Gaza protesters clash with IDF forces along the security barrier | Archives: EPA/Atef Safadi
Five years removed from Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, the current assessment in Israel is that Hamas is restrained and deterred from engaging in a broad military conflict.
This assessment has been reinforced in recent weeks. Although Hamas has orchestrated the cross-border arson campaign and violent border protests, it has also sought to temper tensions out of concern that the situation could spiral out of control. The (temporary) understandings mediated by Egypt and the UN’s special envoy to the region are indeed bearing the desired fruit: The past week was among the quietest in months along the Gaza frontier, with nearly zero incendiary balloons and just one relatively calm border demonstration (6,900 participants and only a handful of explosive devices) on Friday.
This quiet is an illusion – if money and goods aren’t allowed to enter Gaza, things will quickly revert to fire and violence – but it does indicate that Gaza is strongly deterred. Were Hamas not deterred, it would have launched another military campaign a long time ago to extricate itself from Gaza’s civic and economic distress, and the terrorist organization’s failure to rehabilitate the coastal enclave since Operation Protective Edge ended in the late summer of 2014. It could have sparked another war, for example, via an underground tunnel, which would have also given it a much desired public relations coup.
Hamas is refraining from doing so because it knows it is losing assets with every passing day. Since Protective Edge, the IDF has detected and destroyed 17 underground terror tunnels. Most significantly, though, the army has already completed building 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the underground border barrier (out of the 68 kilometers, or 42 miles, planned in total). Meanwhile, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the new surface fence has been built and the underwater sea barrier is already finished. The IDF intends to complete the entire barrier by the end of 2019, which is supposed to completely eliminate the tunnel threat from Gaza.
This deterrence, however, isn’t just a one-way street; it also affects Israel. From the moment violence from Gaza erupted anew in late March 2018, Israel has stringently avoided steps that could lead to a military imbroglio in Gaza. It has restricted itself to immaterial terrorist targets, taken pains to avoid harming civilians, and has repeatedly exhibited a willingness to retaliate in moderation to the bevy of provocations perpetrated by Gaza’s terrorist groups, which in previous periods would have earned a far more severe Israeli response.
This primarily stems from the understanding among the country’s political and military leadership that any broad campaign in Gaza – the cost in lives and money notwithstanding – will end, in the best case scenario, at the current starting point; and in the worst case will end in a much worse situation, where Israel will have to rule (and fund and care for) Gaza and its people; or otherwise risk the humanitarian situation there deteriorating to the point of requiring deep-rooted international intervention.
Israel prefers an arrangement
Israel, therefore, prioritizes an arrangement with Hamas. It’s doubtful one can be reached in the coming months – among other things because of the upcoming election in Israel, which intrinsically hardens positions and reduces the chances for compromise; but also because of the disagreements over core issues – from money and energy sources, to the bodies of IDF soldiers being held by Hamas. Thus the forthcoming period, despite the state of mutual deterrence, will remain tense and require the IDF to maintain a high-level of readiness in case of an escalation.
It’s clear to both sides that the next round of fighting won’t resemble previous ones. Israel doesn’t want a prolonged, frustrating war that culminates in public resentment and anger. It will probably start any campaign by pulverizing the enemy’s assets and personnel. Hamas, too, has shown it has learned the lessons of 2014. The large number of rockets (490) it successfully fired at Israel within a short time frame in May, which claimed the lives of four Israelis, indicates that its plan is also to focus maximum firepower in the hope of attaining maximum diplomatic points in the shortest time possible.
Overt and covert activity
To enter the next round of fighting with the upper hand, Israel has carried out a variety of operations, clandestine and public. The failed intelligence-gathering operation in Khan Yunis last November was just one example of Israel’s covert efforts.
The purpose of these efforts is to stay at least a step ahead of the enemy and help the country’s leaders make the most informed decisions possible, even if those decisions aren’t immediately popular in the eyes of the public.
The Bahrain Conference: What the Experts and the Media Missed
By Jeffrey Sonnenfeld Fortune, June 30, 2019
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair talks with Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, at the U.S.-led “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, Bahrain on June 26, 2019. (BNA Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Amid the constant recycling of commentary about the recent Democratic Party candidate debates, you might have thought the world was riveted only by this intra-family food fight. If you didn’t read or hear anything about last week’s Bahrain economic summit, you are not alone.
But while U.S. media largely ignored this event, the global media saw something remarkable and historic unfold. The summit, organized by the U.S. government and hosted by Bahrain’s crown prince, showcased different voices with new ideas and the economic resources to bring to life dreams of progress in Palestine.
Over 300 top delegates came from 30 countries, from Australia and Argentina; Dubai and Delhi; Nigeria and Norway; and even such unlikely pairings as Saudi Arabia and Qatar or Greece and Turkey. The explicit purpose was to reverse the sequence of the past 50 years of peace efforts (e.g. Oslo, Paris, Annapolis) – that is, to share an economic vision before delving into divisive political real estate battles. (I served as a volunteer moderator at one panel during the summit.)
White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner unveiled a $50 billion economic plan, one whose implementation would be predicated on a future political peace agreement. His plan gives the opposing parties a chance to visualize what the quality of life could be like when tensions subside. Drawing on the remarkable economic-development successes in other countries that have been torn by past political violence, including Bangladesh and South Korea, the proposal details highly specific uses of grants, low-interest loans, and private investment intended to double the size of the Palestinian economy, create one million new jobs, reduce Palestinian unemployment from 30% to single digits, and reduce Palestinian poverty by 50%.
Roughly 190 specific projects in the Bahrain plan would aim to increase export revenue from 17% to 40% of Palestinian GDP; ensure reliable electricity; double the drinkable water supply; connect more schools to high-speed data services; increase women’s participation in the workforce; and generate a 500% increase in foreign direct investment. The plan would boost investment in key industries such as tourism, agriculture, digital services, housing, and manufacturing; it would also provide for infrastructure enhancements such as a $5 billion high-speed highway connecting Gaza to the West Bank. While many of these projects echo goals of earlier development plans from the World Bank and other organizations, this is the first plan that aims to comprehensively integrate these efforts—and to adequately fund them.
U.S. business leaders, including Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, were present to give these plans their endorsement. They and dozens of other executives cited the proposals as attractive investment opportunities, with very reasonable financial targets, in an environment where the rule of law could help them thrive.
A hush fell over the Four Seasons banquet hall in Manama during Wednesday’s closing panel, led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Top officials, diplomats and business leaders, including the host, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, watched approvingly as foreign affairs and finance ministers from the Gulf Coast countries joined Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa on stage. The minister proclaimed: “Israel is a country in the region and it is there to stay, of course. As much as Camp David was a major game-changer…if this succeeds, and we build on it, and it attracts attention and momentum, this would be the second game-changer.”
Absence made hearts grow fonder
Much media coverage focused on who was not present in Bahrain. The Palestinian Authority called for a boycott of the conference. Hamas, which effectively rules the Gaza Strip, condemned it. And due to Israeli political turmoil, the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not send a delegation. But if anything, this event demonstrated that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” In the absence of Palestinian and Israeli politicians who have been frustrating each other for decades, and with no risk of the event being packaged as a campaign rally for Netanyahu, who faces upcoming elections, dialogue and comity could grow.
To cynics, the absences provided ammunition to condemn the conference. Opponents allied with both the Palestinians and Israeli sides have argued that diplomatic agreements must precede economic ones. More specifically, many oppose the Bahrain approach because it doesn’t provide for a so-called two-state solution that creates a sovereign Palestinian nation.
Jared Kushner addressed this mindset in his opening comments on Wednesday, saying, “Enough of the old broken record” of handwringing over how things cannot change. Schwarzman told the attendees that “it is important to think big and to have a dream.”
As a discussion facilitator, I attended virtually every second of the formal and informal elements of this event. I did not hear even passing anti-Zionist comments, as much as I would have expected them in an atmosphere where Israel’s historic critics outnumbered its allies. Instead, Arab leaders echoed comments like Kushner’s and Schwarzman’s. Negotiation experts talk of the importance of separating the emotions of people from the positions they take, and then separating divisive positions from issues where there may be common ground. The Bahrain summit seemed to accomplish that, and spirits soared over what was said and who said it.
Over many centuries, relations between Jews and Palestinians have fluctuated between long periods of violent conflict and peaceful coexistence. At this conference, prominent Palestinian business leader Ashraf Jabari, who heads a large clan in Hebron on the West Bank, explained how he has advanced bonds with Jewish settlers—even creating a business association for Palestinian and settlement businesses to work collaboratively. As he said on Wednesday, “I have no problem working with Israel. It is time to move on.” Smiling and nodding as he spoke were not only a dozen fellow Palestinian leaders but also the dozen Israeli business leaders present, including shipping magnate Shlomi Fogel.
Despite the well air-conditioned ballroom, Jabari’s brow glistened with sweat as he addressed the group. I went to shake his hand after he spoke and he gave me a bear hug. Since then, I’ve learned what he put at risk by being there and speaking out. Sadly, another member of the Palestinian delegation was arrested by the Palestinian Authority at a family event upon returning home; other delegation members saw their homes raided. “The Palestinian Authority does not want peace. They told the families of the businessmen that they are wanted for participating in the Bahrain workshop,” Jabari told the Jerusalem Post, adding that the workshop was “a big success and that’s why [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas is very worried.”
The Bahrain summit’s projection of a spirit of hope, from Palestinian and Israeli business leaders and their peers around the globe, provides a welcome response to the growing dismay among younger people in the region—and a counter to growing cynicism about the failures of Israeli and Palestinian political leadership. Weary of decades of violence, younger people are demanding change and are open to direct appeal from their Arab neighbors. The plans discussed in Bahrain offer younger people a path to become relevant and effective.
That’s especially true of the Palestinians, whose communal identity has been trapped for too long in the default position of “refugee.” A senior Saudi diplomat recently said Palestinian should stop thinking of themselves as victims, the better to empower themselves.
Mohamed Allabar of the United Arab Emirates, founder of Emmar Properties and one of the world’s biggest commercial builders, told the conference, “The younger generation will not let us continue trapped by our past. Palestinian people are our people. We get up every morning positive, and we want to do more…By generating jobs, income opportunities and filling gaps in delivering basic services, the private sector can help build momentum behind a fragile economy and instill hope in the people of the region.”
Conflict management experts, including Kurt Lewin and Herbert Kelman, have cautioned that the diversionary details of plan execution are less valuable than a shared vision of how life could be after a transformation. Before a political solution can be sold, all parties have to imagine a highly desirable scenario far better than the status quo.
Perhaps unschooled in this research, the New York Times in an editorial on Friday dismissed the Bahrain initiative as “big-dream plans divorced from reality,” echoing the historically unfounded cliché that diplomatic solutions must precede economic plans. What the Times overlooks is the failed history of “political solution first,” which so far has usually meant there will be no solution. There are myriad self-interested advocacy groups, international bodies, and politicians, unfortunately, who read from the same script.
People who witnessed the spirit of Bahrain feel otherwise. As former Obama administration Mideast peace envoy David Makovsky said to me at the event, “My hope is that after Bahrain…we’re not just saying we’ve put forth a compelling vision of an endgame, but we’re starting down that road to make it more tangible in the short term. Israeli-Arab cooperation has been going on for years under the table, but the table seems to be levitating, because it’s very crowded under there.”
It was under that levitating table that Palestinian business leaders joined with Arab leaders from around the Gulf Coast, along with Israeli, African, European and American sponsors. The self-interest of these leaders has been put on alert as confusion in the region gives way to pragmatism. Let’s hope leaders embrace the opportunities for regional vitality with economic resources and investments across the boundaries of religions and ethnicities.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is Senior Associate Dean and Lester Crown Professor of Management Practice at the Yale School of Management. He served as a moderator of the Bahrain “Peace to Prosperity” economic summit.