Israel’s options for stopping Hamas’ rockets
Jul 11, 2014
July 11, 2014
Number 07/14 #04
Today’s Update looks at Israel’s military and strategic options as “Operation Protective Edge” enters a fifth day. With Israeli air strikes targeting Hamas’ command and terror infrastructure in Gaza, rockets are still being fired deep into Israeli territory – including reports some fell close to Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona. There are also reports that rockets have been fired into northern Israel from Lebanon.
Significantly, Khaled Abu Toameh reports that the firing of rockets is not limited to Hamas and other Islamist groups. Fatah – Israel’s nominal peace partner – has boasted that some of its members in Gaza have also been involved in firing rockets. Abu Toameh notes that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded Israel stop its air strikes on Gaza but made no such demands on Hamas – which is part of the unity government and is therefore supposedly required to cease carrying out terror attacks. Politically, Abbas has responded to Operation Protective Edge by accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza and is considering requesting membership of the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Blogger Elder of Ziyyon highlights the absurdity of this outrageous allegation.
Both Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon have called for patience, warning that the military response will not be over quickly. The challenge Israel is contending with is that the nature of the engagement has changed too. According to Ynetnews’ Yossi Yehoshua, Hamas has adapted the tactics it used in the previous conflicts of 2008 and 2012 to counter Israeli plans, including by firing barrages of rockets to overwhelm the Iron Dome anti-missile system, and sending terrorists into Israel via the sea. Meanwhile, following its past practice of trying to minimise civilian casualties, Israel is warning residents of operations in their vicinity via leaflet drops and telephone calls. But as Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin writes, Israel will not receive any credit from “human-rights groups who hold them to a standard that would prohibit virtually any form of self-defense against the terrorists.”
With the latest outbreak of hostilities being the third such encounter in six years, Israelis are debating whether ground troops should be sent into Gaza to put a stop to Hamas’ machinery of terror once and for all. Herb Keinon notes that whatever the government decides, it won’t have much time because the international community has a low threshold when Palestinian casualties start to mount. He writes that “what will go unreported is that the imbalance in these figures is partly because while Israel invests billions of dollars to protect its citizens, Hamas uses civilians to protect its rockets. But those pictures and that scorecard all have an accumulative impact.”
The other strategic challenge Israel faces is deciding on an exit strategy, especially in the absence of a credible third party to mediate a ceasefire with Hamas. US President Barack Obama has reportedly offered to mediate a ceasefire, in an attempt to repeat America’s efforts during the last extended conflict in November 2012. Israel’s Ministry of Defence has issued a primer which canvasses the views of three veteran military experts, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, Dr. Eitan Shamir, and Col. (Res.) Yehuda Wegman on Israel’s options and the associated cost benefits.
In our first article, Professor Hillel Frisch, senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, calls on Israel to temporarily retake Gaza so it can destroy the terror infrastructure there. He argues that Israel must adopt the strategy it employed 10 years ago to successfully end terror in the West Bank. He also warns that Israel must not grant Hamas a victory on the West Bank by agreeing to limit operations against Hamas’ members there, which risks undermining Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. To read this article, CLICK HERE.
Next, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz looks at some of the “what ifs” that might affect the Israeli government’s strategic thinking. He opposes retaking Gaza, and is wary of even sending ground troops into Gaza, arguing that so far the Iron Dome anti-missile system is effectively dealing with the rockets from Gaza and only a major increase in Israeli casualties would justify the risk. To read this assessment, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Ynetnews’ Nahum Barnea sees Hamas’ firing hundreds of rockets at Israel as a gamble on the belief “the Israeli government is bluffing” and will not send in ground troops. Whatever Israel ultimately chooses to do, Barnea suggests that when the current hostilities end and the post-mortem begins, the key question that will be asked is “did it happen because [Netanyahu] threatened Iran, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority too much, and did too little, or because Hamas lost its ability to listen and understand the decision making process in Israel?” To read this analysis, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Egypt’s government is watching the situation carefully and letting it be known through off the record comments that it holds Hamas responsible for the violence.
- Giora Eiland writes that neither Operation Protective Edge nor Israeli Arab and Palestinian anger over the murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir will lead to a third intifada because the Israeli Defence Forces has learned to manage the triggers for such mass uprisings. Israelis disgusted by the murder have been paying condolences to the youth’s family. Veteran Australian Jewish community leader Isi Leibler, now living in Israel, argues that the reaction and condemnation by most Israelis to the murder stands in stark contrast to the Palestinian response after the murders of Israeli teens Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel.
- David Horovitz chides the Obama Administration’s Coordinator for the Middle East, Philip Gordon, for lecturing Israel to make peace during a conference in Tel Aviv which was halted because of rockets coming from Gaza.
- Negotiations to conclude a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which are supposed to be finalised by July 20, have hit a fresh stumbling block.
- Natan Sharansky warns of dark days for the Jews of France.
- A German Neo-Nazi is set to serve on a key European Parliament Committee.
- A Pakistani terror group has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State that Sunni Islamist terror group ISIS has declared in parts of Iraq and Syria.
- AIJAC’s Sharyn Mittelman offers vital context in today’s Canberra Times to explain why Israel has no choice but to confront Hamas.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
By Professor Hillel Frisch
July 9, 2014
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 253
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: It is time for a full-scale offensive against Hamas and the other Islamist-Jihadist groups in Gaza. Israel should take over Gaza temporarily; destroy the terrorist infrastructure as much as possible, to the point where Israel will then be able to minimize future damage to its cities by limited military actions against the Hamas infrastructure. In short, Israel should adopt the highly successful anti-terrorist strategy it employed in the West Bank over the past decade. This will not completely end terrorism from Gaza, nor will it fully alleviate the plight of Israeli communities adjacent to Gaza, but it will considerably reduce the threat to Israel’s major population centers.
Israeli military strategy towards Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) has been vastly different from its strategy towards Gaza. Israel assessed correctly in the second intifada that the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Judea and Samaria was easy to penetrate because of its relatively low density of population, but difficult to contain because of its size and the length of the green line (over 300 kilometers long). Gaza, by contrast, was easy to contain but difficult to penetrate because of its small size and high density of population, especially its very large refugee camps.
Israeli moves, consciously or unwittingly, expressed these differences. In 2002, Israel engaged in two massive offensives against Yasser Arafat’s PA, its security forces, Fatah and the other terrorist organizations. It temporarily took over the big Palestinian towns, and has been “mowing the grass” ever since through daily preventive arrests of terrorist operatives across the entire area. This policy, coupled with security cooperation with more pliant PA security services under Muhammad Abbas’ rule, has had a dramatic effect. Terrorism in Judea and Samaria has declined to levels that prevailed before the first intifada and have remained low ever since.
In Gaza, Israel took a different path. Because Gaza was difficult to penetrate, but presumably easy to contain, Israel decided to withdraw unilaterally. The results, as we all know, were much more problematic. Improved rocketry eroded the assumption that Gaza could be contained. Meanwhile, Israel has avoided a massive ground attack on Gaza on the assumption that it is not only difficult to penetrate Gaza, but that such a ground attack will have no lasting effects and might even make the situation worse.
Proponents of the status-quo thesis argue that a massive attack on Gaza to destroy the military infrastructure of Hamas will lead to its “jihadization”; to a Gaza controlled by a variety of small Jihadist groups at Hamas’ expense. Unlike Hamas today, these groups will not be a stable “strategic address.” They neither will be deterred nor subject to pressure to desist from terrorist activity.
Is the status-quo thesis valid or is it now the time to engage in a full-scale offensive against Hamas and the other Islamist-jihadist groups in Gaza?
The answer is the latter; it is time for a full scale offensive. Israel should take over Gaza temporarily – destroy the terrorist infrastructure as much as possible, to the point where Israel will then be able to minimize future damage to its cities by limited military actions against the Hamas infrastructure. In short, Israel should adopt the highly successful anti-terrorist strategy it employed Judea and Samaria over the past decade. This will not completely end terrorism from Gaza, nor will it fully alleviate the plight of Israeli communities adjacent to Gaza, but it will considerably reduce the threat to Israel’s major population centers.
Maintaining the status quo, by contrast, is increasingly dangerous. After two rounds of punishing limited offensives, one can surmise that the strategic address argument hardly works. More worrisomely, Hamas is aiming at linking Israeli moves against the Hamas infrastructure in Judea and Samaria to the escalation in rocket strikes against Israel.
Were Israel to implicitly accept this linkage – and it might be doing so already by curtailing its moves in the West Bank against Hamas to cajole the organization into agreeing to a lull – this would not only directly threaten the security of Israelis but also the longevity of Abbas’ PA.
Were Israel to accept this linkage, Hamas could kidnap, kill and build-up its infrastructure in the West Bank under the threat that Israeli moves against Hamas will provoke massive rocket attacks. Hamas would essentially be calling the cards in the West Bank, undoing the achievements of the 2002 offensive. Hamas infrastructure would pose a direct threat to the PA; a complete change in the balance of power between Israel and Hamas. Yet, this is what the return to the “status-quo” threatens to bring. In politics, there is rarely a prolonged status-quo, certainly not in a conflict as bitter as between Israel and Hamas.
The future ramifications of agreeing to the linkage might even be more severe. With the rising power of the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’ organization and the threat it poses to Jordan’s security, it is absolutely vital to maintain an Israeli free hand against all terrorism in West Bank.
Other arguments made in favor of the status-quo can also be questioned. A Hamas weakened by direct Israeli assault and threatened by other Jihadist groups, might be willing to be a more pliant strategic address just as was the PA after the 2002 ground offensive.
A weakened Hamas will also facilitate Israeli intelligence penetration in Gaza. At present, Hamas counter-intelligence has partially succeeded uncovering informants. The smaller Jihadist groups do not possess these capabilities nor will they be likely to possess them in the more fluid situation that will prevail in Gaza after the assault.
Even if Hamas were overwhelmed by other Jihadist groups they might spend more time fighting each other than against the Zionist enemy, as we see today in Syria. The Syrian regime has recently made major gains in large part because the ISIL is as busy fighting al-Nusra and other groups as it is against the Syrians. In Gaza, it will probably be little different. Certainly, these organizations will not have the capabilities of Hamas. They will hardly enjoy the same level of tactical support from Iran as Hamas enjoyed in the past.
A jihadist Gaza also will strengthen Egyptian-Israeli cooperation to counter the threat and might even garner the support of the Europeans worried by the Jihadi rise in Iraq and Syria, the increasing participation of European citizens in these battlefields, and the obvious ramification that their participation will have in increasing terrorism in Europe itself.
Israel should capitalize on these opportunities to strike hard against Hamas. It’s time to replicate in Gaza the success of the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank, even if the costs will be greater and the gains less spectacular.
Prof. Hillel Frisch, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is a professor of Political Science and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University. He specializes in Palestinian affairs; Israeli Arabs; Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East; Palestinian-Jordanian relations; and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan.
BESA Centre Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family
Back to Top
By David Horovitz
Times of Israel
July 9, 2014
Day two of Operation Protective Edge has so far seen more and deeper Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, and a call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the IDF to intensify its attacks on Hamas and other terror targets in Gaza. Here are 10 points worth bearing in mind as the conflict develops.
1. Israel has no need to send in ground forces
Unless Israel wants to reconquer Gaza and reassert control over 1.6 million Palestinians who hate it, its interest does not lie in bringing down Hamas. To quote ToI’s resident wry humorist Benji Lovitt, “That would be like divorcing your crazy wife, then taking her back after seeing her get fired and develop a crack addiction.” Its interest most emphatically does lie in creating the new reality sought in Operation Protective Edge — “zero shots fired or attacks launched from the Gaza Strip,” to quote Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
In the past, that might have necessitated a major ground incursion. In 2008-9′s Operation Cast Lead, Israel sent ground forces into Gaza to try to thwart the rocket fire because, as the IDF’s Southern Commander at the time, Yoav Galant, noted this week, it didn’t have a missile defense system. Today it does, and Iron Dome’s performance as of this writing is proving extremely effective. So long as Israeli casualties are prevented by the rocket shield, there is no domestic time pressure on the Israel Air Force as it goes after Hamas and other terror groups — their leaders, command centers, training facilities, weapons stores and rocket launchers.
In the skies above Gaza, Israel enjoys near complete supremacy. Not so on the ground, where troops would be entering territory with which Hamas is intimately familiar, and where it has prepared all manner of fatal surprises. Fatalities and injuries would be inevitable, creating the opposite dynamic to the one sought by Israel: Israeli public pressure for an end to the conflict would grow, as would Hamas’s determination to keep fighting and firing.
2. Having said all of which…
If Hamas attacks — whether rocket fire, infiltrations, or other acts of terror — start to take Israeli civilian casualties, the likelihood of a ground offensive will grow.
3. Israel can do more to encourage Gazans’ pressure on Hamas to end the conflict
How about turning off the electricity in areas where rockets are manufactured and from which rockets are being fired.
4. Finding needles in mid-air
Iron Dome’s success rate in the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense was said to be some 82%, making it what one analyst called the most effective, most tested missile shield the world has ever seen. If anything, its performance appears to be still more impressive this time.
5. About that world-berated security blockade
Hamas has managed to smuggle in and home produce thousands of rockets, including hundreds that can reach the center of Israel and beyond. This, despite Israel’s internationally lambasted efforts to maintain a security blockade on the Gaza Strip. One shudders to think about what would be fired at Israel right now were it not for that security envelope. More accurate missiles, carrying heavier warheads. And doubtless too, we would be facing more sophisticated missile systems, capable of multiple launches and decoy fire, to challenge even the most effective, most tested missile shield the world has ever seen.
An international community ostensibly committed to keeping people alive might want to reflect on that. Even those in the international community who seem to care rather more about some lives than others. Without the blockade, Hamas would have killed many Israelis, and Israel would likely have resorted to still more desperate measures to try to keep its people safe, likely spelling more loss of life in Gaza.
6. Are you sure you have our backs?
The United States has been trying to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, as part of its failed efforts to broker a peace deal with Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. The current flareup should have the Obama administration asking itself a few questions in this context. Here are two: Can it really be confident that its best security arrangements would effectively protect Israel in this unpredictable region, particularly given the failure of many of its policies in places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan? And, should it really still be countenancing a Palestinian unity government that rests on the support of Hamas?
7. And yet…
Given that most Israelis regard Abbas as a rather better alternative to Hamas, and would rather like Gazans to internalize that they’d be better off with him too, the Israeli government should be doing what it can to encourage Abbas to end the appalling Fatah-Hamas “reconciliation” process, and should be seeking to resume constructive Israeli-Palestinian contacts.
8. The Tel Aviv bubble effect
For Channel 2′s main evening news Tuesday night, anchorwoman Yonit Levi braved the outbreak of hostilities and traveled down south to present. But her heart was still in Tel Aviv.
She asked Yair Lapid for his take on the unfolding operation. We’re mighty Israel and they’re a collapsing terrorist organization, the finance minister replied, fairly casually.
A surprised Levi wondered how he could be so lackadaisical, when Tel Aviv had just come under fire. Tel Aviv?! What do you have to say to the residents of central Israel? she asked.
Lapid was thoroughly unmoved.
The residents of the south, he responded, had been suffering like this for years.
9. Be on guard for nasty surprises
For all the success of Iron Dome, and the failures as of this writing by Hamas to achieve what ToI’s Avi Issacharoff terms a “quality” terrorist attack, it’s a fool who’d write off Hamas’s capacity to wreak devastation. This is a cunning, resourceful organization, driven by religiously motivated hatred. We underestimate it at our peril.
10. The end game
And similarly, for all the apparent achievements in these early hours of Operation Protective Edge, a resort to force has its limitations, and bitter experience shows that wars and mini-wars often look like they’re going well in their early stages, before taking dramatic turns for the worse.
The current relative international apathy can turn in an instant into bitter criticism, and lead to strenuous efforts to force a ceasefire. A single misguided air strike can remake the climate, in a world where many opinion-shapers assume the worst where Israeli is concerned.
The key to a genuinely successful resort to force is knowing when, and under what conditions, to stop.
Back to Top
July 10 2014
There are two options, and both of them are unpleasant. The first option is that Hamas, in its despair, has chosen the Samson option.
If it is sentenced to be pushed against the wall, it will not be pushed because it doesn’t have any money to pay salaries or because it has lost its patrons in the Arab world, or because its members in the West Bank were seriously hit in the past few weeks and it has been abandoned by the Gaza street. Let it die with the Philistines.
The second option is perceived here, in Israel, as more realistic: The military wing members in Gaza conducted an intelligence assessment and reached the conclusion that the Israeli government is bluffing. The threats voiced by its senior ministers are empty threats.
If Hamas wants to reach any achievements at the end of this round, if it wishes to deter Israel from now on, it must prove to Israel how powerful it is. The missiles launched towards Tel Aviv are an opening move for negotiations.
In a nutshell, the Hamasniks had a conception. It has a factual basis: The majority in the cabinet, in the government and in the IDF echelon did not see any benefit for Israel in clashing with Hamas in Gaza, and sought to prevent a conflict. The prime minister and defense minister stood behind this policy.
When one side loses faith in the other side’s threats, the result is loss of deterrence. A dangerous process began, during which Hamas allows itself to go wild and the Israeli government, which is not trigger-happy, is forced to order an expansion of the military response, including the use of ground forces.
The government isn’t deluding itself that it will reach major achievements this way, but it must prove to itself, to its residents and to Hamas that it stands by its word. Credibility is the name of the game.
A day after this round ends, we will have to ask ourselves how did an enemy like Hamas stop believing the Israeli prime minister’s threats. Did it happen because he threatened Iran, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority too much, and did too little, or because Hamas lost its ability to listen and understand the decision making process in Israel? Such errors have been made by Arab elements quite a few times in the past.
For now, the Israelis can be satisfied with the preparations made ahead of the Hamas offensive. The two terror attacks Hamas tried to execute – one through a tunnel near Kerem Shalom and the other from the sea, near Zikim – were thwarted without any casualties among our forces; the missiles have so far not caused any deaths or real damage to property. The Tel Aviv Metropolitan area was attacked but wasn’t hit; as were Beersheba, Ashkelon and other cities. The Iron Dome system has a strategic meaning.
The IDF chief of staff visited the Gaza Division on Tuesday and approved plans. The question whether the infantry brigades deployed in the Gaza vicinity will enter populated areas in the Strip remains open. In Operation Pillar of Defense, almost two years ago, there was an impression of a ground operation, but the forces didn’t really enter the cities and refugee camps. Hamas sustained damage, but wasn’t battered. There wasn’t any real fighting.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman demanded in the cabinet meetings that things would be done differently this time: That the IDF would go in order to strike a decisive blow. He is willing to pay the price it entails – in soldiers’ lives, in the killing of civilians on both sides, in the difficult images which will be broadcast in the world.
Next time, he tells the ministers, the price will be heavier. Hamas won’t have 3,000 missiles, it will have tens of thousands. In the meantime, he is in a minority: The majority in the government strives for deterrence, not a decisive blow.