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Israel’s Post-Gaza War Debate/ New Golan Threat

Sep 5, 2014

Israel's Post-Gaza War Debate/ New Golan Threat

Update from AIJAC

Sept. 5, 2014

Number 09/14 #01

This Update features some comment from Israel from the intense debate currently swirling there about the outcome of the Gaza war. It also includes some new analysis of the strategic implications of the fact that the al-Qaeda-linked group, the al-Nusra Front, now controls Israel’s Golan border with Syria, and has kidnapped or chased off the UN peacekeepers there.

First up is former Israeli national security advisor and senior general Yaakov Amidror who takes on the sense of frustration expressed by many in Israel that the war did not end with a decisive toppling of the Hamas regime. Amidror argues that many of those feeling this way are suggesting a variety of methods that Israel could have used to do so that would not have worked or else had very extensive downsides. He explains that the only choice was seizing complete control of the strip – and dealing with the considerable costs and then occupying it for an extended period – or seeking lesser goals and that, having prudently chosen the latter, Israeli measures taken to achieve these goals appear sensible. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE. A more critical view of the way Israel pursued its limited objectives during the conflict comes from counter-terrorism specialist Dr. Boaz Ganor.

Also commenting on the internal Israeli debate about whether a more clearly decisive outcome to the war was possible is top Israeli security affairs journalist Ron Ben Yishai. He says the key to understanding the outcome of Gaza is to look at the issue over the medium to long term and not give in to the desire for “immediate emotional satisfaction – a ‘picture of victory’ or at least a declaration of surrender by the terrorist leaders.” He then reviews the complex realities of a regular military fighting against “activist militias using guerilla and terrorist tactics” and what has to be done to finally defeat such an organisation, and stresses that Israel has the time to deter implacable enemies like Hamas and then wait for the current regional trend toward Islamist extremism to gradually fade. For Ben Yishai’s detailed analysis of the realities and dilemmas of fighting terror groups like Hamas, CLICK HERE.

Finally, we offer an analysis of the strategic threat to Israel emerging on the Golan Heights in the form of the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front’s control of the frontier, as well as Israel’s preparations to deal with this threat. Written by of the Times of Israel, the piece deals with Israel’s efforts to install early warning systems to prevent infiltration from Syria, as well as the difficulty created by the collapse of UNDOF, the UN force that has guarded that Golan border since 1975, and which has seen Fijian and Philippines peace keepers coming under attack or captured by al-Nusra in recent days. The piece also includes an assessment from Israeli counter-terrorism expert Boaz Ganor of al-Nusra’s intentions. For the full story on worrying recent developments in the Golan Heights, CLICK HERE. Another excellent assessment of the al-Nusra-Golan problem comes from Amos Harel of Haaretz.

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Misplaced frustration

Yaakov Amidror

Israel Hayom, Sept. 2, 2014

Operation Protective Edge, which ended after 50 days of fighting and without the toppling of the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip, has left many people frustrated.

This feeling stems from two reasons: the first is the Jewish tendency to see the glass half empty — we never seem to be happy with what we have. Many times it is that feeling that pushes us to do better and the Gaza campaign is no exception, so Gaza’s rulers should be well aware of the fact that in this case, our glass is three-quarters full. The second reason is a gap in expectations. Many were under the impression that Israel had set out to topple the Hamas government in Gaza, or that is should have at least declared it to be an operational objective. This mistaken impression can be attributed to the fact that no one explained how such a mission could be accomplished.

I have explained in the past that once Hamas’ terror tunnels were destroyed, the government faced two options, and that it had to choose between seizing control of the Gaza Strip, as a way of ousting Hamas, or gradually intensifying the military campaign until a cease-fire agreement was reached.

The various statements calling to “cut off the snake’s head,” “deal Hamas a surprising blow” or “bolster Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ position,” were nothing but empty slogans that failed to explain how those goals should be achieved. After all, the military did not need the public’s advice on how to carry out the operation on the ground or how to target senior Hamas operatives.

Some had tried to be clearer, speaking of the need to “dissect the Strip” or “seize Gaza’s command and control centers and its weapons manufacturing sites,” but these suggestions did not take into account Gaza’s unique nature. “Dissecting” the Strip would only be the prelude to a wide-scale ground operation — otherwise there would be no point to it. Gaza’s north is relatively independent from its south, and the move would have made Israeli soldiers vulnerable from all directions. As for seizing the various command and control centers and weapon mills in Gaza — that would be impossible without first seizing control of most of its urban areas, as these sites are scattered across the Strip.

Once it was decided not to seize control of the Gaza Strip, that rule should have been upheld adamantly. That is why it would have been wrong to heed the demands for a wide-scale ground operation, which might have produced heroes and headlines, as well as several Hamas casualties, but it would have contributed nothing to the operation’s results — maybe even the opposite.

Such a move could have caused more harm than good. Had we chosen to embark on a ground operation only to eventually withdraw the troops as part of an agreement, and after having suffered multiple casualties, everyone would have asked why we decided to go into Gaza in the first place, and Hamas would have declared a victory over said withdrawal.

Israel made sure to reiterate the truth: The operational objective — other than eradicating the terror tunnel’s threat — was striking an agreement based on the principle of “quiet will be met with quiet.” Once it was made clear that Hamas had set its sights higher, demanding things like an airport and a seaport, Israel did the right thing by saying that if the negotiations were about more than a truce, then it too had a demand, namely the full demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. After all, if we were to discuss more of Hamas’ demands, it was only fair to discuss more of Israel’s demands as well.

Had the cabinet ordered the IDF to seize control of the Gaza Strip there is no doubt it would have executed that order in full and without hesitation, but there is no doubt that the decision that was eventually made was legitimate; some would say prudent and wise.

I do not wish to debate which of the two moves would have been better, or whether this was a choice between two evils. The important thing to remember is that once the decision was made, those making it were wise to stand their ground and refrain from zigzagging between options, which would have been a big mistake.

I am not frustrated by the results of Operation Protective Edge because I understand Israel’s objectives: dealing Hamas a debilitating blow, eradicating the terror tunnels, and rejecting any change in the status quo that defines Israel’s relations with Gaza and the limitations imposed on the Strip.

Having achieved all of this, I have no problem with the operation’s results — although I also have no doubt that we need to start preparing for the next Gaza campaign.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror is a former national security adviser and a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

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Debunking claims of failure in Gaza

Ron Ben Yishai

Analysis: The recent Gaza conflict has already been called World War III: an asymmetric battle between western democracies and guerrilla warfare and terrorism. They can always claim to have won. But we can beat them, and we’re on the right track – it just takes time.,   09.02.14

The disappointment and even humiliation felt by large portions of the Israeli public after each round of fighting in Gaza (and Lebanon) has repeated itself.

It’s been said that the public is suffering from manic-depression; it swings pendulum-like between expressions of strength, solidarity and intense elation, and depression the day after. This time, it seems that this phenomenon has only intensified.

According to surveys, the majority of Israelis assume that what happened after previous rounds will be repeated. There are many who wonder if we and our children have a future in this country, in this region.

The sense of security among residents of southern communities along the Gaza border fence is close to zero, with many refusing to return to their homes. Perhaps this is a transient thing, but this has never happened before in the 66 years of Israel’s existence, and is therefore worrying.

It is evidently not hard to figure out what’s behind this feeling. Any civilian looking at the casualties on our side, at the 50 days of the war and especially the emotional and material damage suffered by the home front, will ask what we have achieved: a ceasefire without an expiration date?

Our political and military masters tell us that Hamas was badly beaten, both militarily and politically, lost more than 1,000 soldiers and almost all of its military capabilities; nor does it have the ability to replenish its rockets and missiles or recreate its assault tunnels, that we and the Egyptians are sitting on the border crossings.

Fine, we say, but will that benefit us? Hamas did not stop firing rockets and mortar shells at a murderous rate and number until the very last minute; the population in Gaza did not rise up against them, and the terrorist leaders who climbed out of their holes are declaring that they will be back to fight us. In effect, the Israeli deterrence has not been reinforced – the next round is only a matter of time.

At the same time we’re told that we could topple Hamas if only we had a determined prime minister and defense minister and a courageous and creative chief of staff, who would devise the right strategy and give the right commands to the IDF.

They simply prevented the biggest and mightiest army in the region from winning and eliminating once and for all what is a wretched local militia which is inferior in equipment, technology and fighting spirit.

This is, in essence, the rational basis for the sour atmosphere prevalent among many. It utilizes the facts, but, I believe, hastily and therefore incorrectly interprets what our eyes are seeing and especially what our ears are hearing right now.

Too many of us demand immediate emotional satisfaction – a “picture of victory” or at least a declaration of surrender by the terrorist leaders. We do not have the patience to wait and judge the outcome of the fighting and the subsequent political campaign over the medium and long term.
But the main reason for the deep plunge in morale could be a misunderstanding of the characteristics of the asymmetrical war against fanatical Islam which we are currently waging, alongside almost all Western democracies. Some are calling it World War III.

Chronic cancer

This war takes the form of violent clashes between the regular armies of nations and military organizations and activist militias using guerilla and terrorist tactics.

States have an obligation to provide physical security for their citizens, entire territory to protect and often a commitment to humanitarian values ​​and international law; militias and terrorist and guerrilla groups have only one mission – to physically and mentally exhaust the democratic population through death and destruction until we surrender to the terrorists’ demands.

A secondary mission of these groups is to create for themselves a solid base of operations within a population that is helping them either forcibly or voluntarily.

They have almost no safety or welfare obligations toward the civilian population from whose territory they are operating. On the contrary; the population used as human shields.

Their only obligations are to the religious or political ideal (or both) in whose name they act and to the leaders they obey without question, whether through the charisma and myth associated with those leaders, the military and religious authority they project, or the fear they instill in their subordinates. The main comparative military advantage that fanatical terrorists have is the motivation of their people.

The asymmetry is also reflected in the methods of warfare and chosen weaponry. Militia fighters are assimilated among non-combatant civilians and “evaporate” when they encounter the superior firepower, movement, protection and fighting skills of regular army units.

But they reappear to tail the national army when it enters their territory, particularly if that area is densely built and if it has static positions. At the same time they keep up the strategic attacks, including suicide bombings and use of high-trajectory weapons.

Because they have a fanatical motivation that is extremely difficult to undermine, as well as foreign sponsors, and a submissive non-combatant population to provide shelter and sustenance, terrorism has the ability to regroup after a hard blow.

Global experience proves this almost without exception. Terrorists are like chronic cancer waiting for an opportunity to return, revitalized and even more destructive. It is possible, therefore, for it to go on for years undefeated; in the same way, there is no picture of victory.

It is unlikely that Hamas or Hezbollah will emerge humiliated from their holes and waving a white flag, even they are dealt a decisive blow.

In fact, quite the reverse takes place: terrorist leaders, who are in hiding during and after the fighting, come out of their bunkers immediately after the fighting ends to put on an impressive “victory performance” using the best tools that public relations technology can offer.

The survivors

I will never forget the huge, red banners hanging in Beirut at the end of the Second Lebanon War of 2006, proclaiming in three languages ​​the “divine victory” of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

This was while the ruins of Dahiya were still smoldering in front of me and Bint Jbeil and Maroun al-Ras, like so many villages in southern Lebanon, were completely destroyed.

There is no connection between the performance and the bleak reality, but firing rockets after a truce has been declared, belligerent claims of achievement against a “cowardly enemy” and the triumphant displays allow Nasrallah, and Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashal of Hamas to survive as leaders of their organizations, preserve the loyalty of their people and maintain some popular and regional legitimacy.

Does this mean that an army cannot defeat guerrillas and terrorism? Is the sword eternally triumphant? The unequivocal answer is that one can win against guerrillas and terrorism, and democracies or quasi-democratic states have indeed done so in this century.

For instance, the Tamil ​​rebels in Sri Lanka were brought to surrender in 2009, Russia has managed to almost completely quell the Chechen Muslim fanatics, and Israel managed to defeat suicide terrorism in the Second Intifada.

It would take too long to explain why and how the asymmetric victories were achieved, as well as in another half dozen or so recent cases. But here are the most prominent components that enabled these countries to prevail
1. A constant presence in the area from which the guerrillas and terrorists are operating, including among the civilian population, allows the army to conduct effective counterterrorism operations and hold on to its achievements.

2. Superiority intelligence and freedom to conduct military operations to fight terrorism in that territory (like the IDF in the West Bank and the Americans in Iraq in recent years, until Obama decided to get out).
3. Controlling the perimeter, in other words, close monitoring and maintaining the boundaries of terrorists’ living and operational area thwarts smuggling and thereby prevents the buildup of weapons and munitions.

4. The primary factor: Time. It takes years to perform all of the above.

We have time

Operation Defensive Shield of 2002 did not in itself lead to the victory against suicide terrorism. It was just an indication of the turnaround in intelligence superiority and operational freedom that the IDF and Shin Bet still enjoy until today. Israel endured at least four hard years after the start of Defensive Shield. It was the same in Chechnya and Sri Lanka.

The problem is that remaining and controlling an area and its population demands an unbearable price in blood and in money.

In the case of terrorism that was rooted out in Judea and Samaria, the heart of Israel and the settlements were in real and immediate danger, which justified the risk.

Israel maintains a presence in this area to this day because of the settlements, and especially because the price demanded in human lives and economic cost is not high.

This is not the situation in Gaza or in Lebanon, where there is a religious fanatical enemy who is not ready to give up its armed struggle and negotiate.

Keeping a hold on these areas and controlling the population for years under these conditions exacted a heavy price that became unbearable. So, after pointless and bloody wars of attrition, the State of Israel withdrew from both areas.

As a strategic alternative to a presence in the field, the Israeli government is utilizing a system of short bursts of fighting, during each of which the IDF deploys some of its capabilities with high intensity, thereby restoring the deterrence that had eroded since the previous round.

The strategic assumption is that the cumulative effect of these rounds of fighting will eventually lead to a turnaround – that is long-term calm and perhaps even acceptance of Israel’s existence. One might also call this thrifty method of fighting “steadfastness and a frustrated enemy.”

This is not a new invention. David Ben-Gurion conceived of it, claiming that if we won enough times in combat, we would frustrate the enemy.

The deterrence that was achieved would cause them to understand after a certain number of years the futility in trying to throw us into the sea. Indeed, this is what happened with Egypt and Jordan, and with Mahmoud Abbas.

History teaches us that eventually even violent Islamic extremism will gradually fade, and give way to a more enlightened and less bloodthirsty ideology.

In the past, this evolution has taken decades or even hundreds of years – in our era, the timeframe will be much smaller. But one must understand that in any event, winning and obtaining that image of victory in Gaza would exact a price in blood, in Israel’s economy stability and in diplomatic isolation far in excess of any temporary emotional satisfaction we would receive.

The entry of an IDF armored column into central Gaza City was accompanied by an aerial bombardment and massive shelling to avoid heavy losses to the troops.

The mission would have been carried out, however, even had thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands, including children and the elderly, being killed, wounded and left homeless.

What happened in Saja’iyya was just a small sample. And all for the dubious pleasure of sinking into the swamp of terrorism after six months, and fleeing two years later with our tails between our legs.

No, I am not pessimistic. To put it simply, I’ve been in this movie before, here and in other parts of the world; I have seen this scenario played out several times.

It’s not a game

My conclusion is that we need patience and endurance; we need to stop seeing Arab terrorists as an enemy easily scared into submission by the sight of an oncoming Merkava tank. There were mistakes and failures during Operation Protective Edge of all kinds and types – tactical and strategic, political and military, before the war and in its wake.

We need to investigate these deeply and produce the correct conclusions. For the meanwhile we can cautiously say that Protective Edge was managed carefully and responsibly by the political and military hierarchy according to the “strategy of rounds.”

The political, legal, and humanitarian constraints were what limited the IDF from reaching its full operational capabilities. And it was the long-term strategic thinking that prevented an unnecessary and costly occupation of the Gaza Strip.

It’s doubtful whether such a move would have been the final blow to Hamas, but it would have crippled Israel’s economy and its international standing.

This is why the complaints against the hesitation and apprehension of Defense Minister Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Gantz were silly.

Mainly, we must remember that the actual results of a campaign or a war in the 21st century are not measured like a soccer game – by the number of goals scored by each side or how entertained the fans were by the performance.

Success and failure, at this time, are measured by the endurance of the ceasefire agreement and by the ability to reinforce and maintain deterrence for years to come.

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A different sort of dangerous: The new jihadi threat from Syria

A very wary Israel watches as an al-Qaeda offshoot wrests control of the Quneitra crossing area from Assad’s forces

Times of Israel, September 1, 2014, 9:19 pm

The Islamic State, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, is a cancer that should not be allowed to spread. It advances a “genocidal agenda” and “no civilized country should shirk its responsibility to help stamp out this disease.”

For the past week, the Israeli army has watched as a different strain of that same malady set up camp along the border, hoisting the black al-Qaeda flag over the Quneitra crossing on the Golan Heights. Israeli farmers have been ordered back from the border, as the ongoing fighting has occasionally spilled over.

And although it’s probably wrong to speak of ideology, however odious, as disease, because the cure can be overly aggressive, there is no doubt that the fall of Quneitra, for now — Assad’s forces are battling to take it back — represents a significant milestone en route to the destabilization of a border region that has been largely tranquil since US secretary of state Henry Kissinger pushed Israel and Syria to sign a disengagement agreement on May 31, 1974.

In the wake of this destabilization in the Golan, the defense establishment has grappled with two central questions: Who does Israel want to see emerging as the victor? And what should be done in the meantime?

The army, concerned primarily with the reality that has taken shape in the Golan — less so with the geopolitical implications of jihadist instability versus a triumph of the Syrian-Hezbollah-Iran axis — has re-hauled its deployment in the Golan Heights.

Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the commander of the IDF General Staff, ordered a major shift last fall. He relieved Division 36, one of the army’s only conscripted armored divisions, of its duties in the Golan Heights — the threat of a Syrian ground assault seems to have expired — and assembled, on the sloping plateau, a newly reconfigured regional division. These troops are focused not on ground maneuvers and firepower, the ingredients necessary to win wars, but rather on perimeter security.

The Bashan Division, operational in its new capacity since early 2014, is staffed with rotating infantry troops — the Golani Brigade hustled back from Gaza last week and took up its posts — along with greater surveillance and a much-improved fence.

“In the past, our primary threat was the Syrian army,” a regional officer told The Times of Israel during a 2013 tour of the border. “We knew it very well: when they wake up, what their days look like, the formation of their troop deployment.”

Today, he said, the primary danger, as far as his division is concerned, is of cross-border infiltration.

Therefore, the surveillance teams along the Syrian border, he continued, were the first to receive what the army calls a “multiple-sensor system” — a newly operational mechanism that synchronizes an array of radar and optical findings into one concrete warning. “It’s a huge advance,” he explained, and added that “it’s the only one in the country.”

The border fence itself, which is still under construction and is similar to the fence along Israel’s southern border with Egypt, is dug deep into the ground. “The old one,” the officer said, “could be knocked over with one kick and easily crossed with a ladder.” The new one is protected by an anti-personnel ditch, is impassable to throngs of people, and is strong enough to detonate an incoming anti-tank missile before it reaches its target.

The irony in the construction of the fence is that it was spurred on by a 2011 Nakba Day demonstration along the Syrian border, in which hundreds of Palestinians living in Syria rushed the border fence and, amid stone-throwing and Israeli fire, managed to cross the border and reach the Druze town of Majdal Shams.

The troops on the border were seen to have acted wisely in using their firearms in a discriminating way, killing four protesters, but concern about the violation of Israeli sovereignty and the way an intifada along the border could shift the focus of the war in Syria, hastened the construction of the fence.

Today, clearly, the main purpose of the 15-foot-high steel barrier has little to do with popular uprisings; it is the face of a potent Israeli deterrence set on keeping IS and al-Qaeda at bay.

The collapse of UNDOF

In that, the army may soon be stripped of a useful tool: UNDOF. The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, at first untouched by the war in Syria, has again come under direct fire in recent days. The 46-mile-long area of separation between Israel and Syria, the corridor manned by UNDOF, has been violated repeatedly by rebel troops.

Last week, armed rebels surrounded 72 Fijian UNDOF blue helmets, who were later rescued and evacuated via Israel, and seized 44 additional Fijian peacekeepers, who are still missing and have not been heard from, the UN said Monday.

During the past year-and-a-half, ever since 21 Philippine peacekeepers were abducted from their posts in the Golan in March 2013, it would seem that the UNDOF troops have been given more tools to ensure their safety and allow the continuation of their mission, which was meant to be executed during, and only during, times of tranquility.

The collapse of the highly regarded force, a distinct possibility, would not fundamentally change the picture on the Golan Heights, but it would increase the friction between Israel and the jihadi forces in the region.

Those forces, hardened by war, still seem far less savvy than Hamas or Hezbollah. They are not single-minded in their devotion to resistance first and foremost against the existence of the state of Israel and, therefore, have not equipped themselves accordingly, with weapons that target civilians and positions built amid civilian populations.

Additionally, the terrain works in Israel’s favor, with the Israel Defense Forces positioned on the high ground, along the line of the hills, on the Golan. The possibility of the region becoming akin to the Jordan Valley during the one-thousand-day period between the close of the 1967 war and September 1970, during which PLO terrorists repeatedly infiltrated into Israel, is certainly, regrettably, a possibility, if the organizations near the border choose to focus on Israel.

As to what outcome in Syria is preferable for Israel in the long run — Sunni jihadists, very much at war with each other; or Alawite-backed Shiite extremists — the defense establishment is likely torn.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, when asked last summer if the Israeli policy on Syria is akin to Kissinger’s quip during the Iran-Iraq War — it’s a pity both sides can’t lose — responded, at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy address: “Might be.”

He clarified: “The worst outcome in Syria is a chaotic situation… meaning a vacuum in which al-Qaeda elements, terror elements will come in and will challenge us, will challenge Jordan, will challenge the stability of the region.”

Maj.-Gen. (res) Uzi Dayan, a former deputy chief of the IDF General Staff and a former head of the National Security Council, said at around the same time, “What really frightens me is a ring of Muslim Brotherhood nations from Turkey to Egypt. That’s what I’m most concerned about.”

Others, like Amos Yadlin, see the glass half-full. The erosion of Syria’s “modern, formidable army,” he said during a 2013 address, is a “positive strategic development” that overshadows the dangers of dwindling state control on Israel’s northeastern front.

“The black headlines,” added the former head of Military Intelligence and current director of the INSS think tank, are actually good news for Israel, because, amid the five possible outcomes of the war — Assad survives; the war grinds on; Syria disintegrates along ethnic lines; a strong Sunni state emerges; the region collapses into a Somalia-like reality — Israel, in each instance, “is less threatened than… when I was still head of Intelligence.”

Al-Nusra Front priorities

Boaz Ganor, the founder and head of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terror at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, said this week that the threat of al-Qaeda at the border was neither more, nor less, dangerous than what previously existed. “It is just a different sort of dangerous,” he said.

He described the battles between jihadist leaders in Syria and Iraq today as “a situation of warlords,” and said that the jihadists’ perch along Israel’s border fence was “a problematic and worrying development.”

The chances of the al-Nusra Front turning its attention to Israel is increased both on account of proximity and the propaganda bounty inherent in an attack on the Jewish state, Ganor said. But, he stressed, the question is not whether the Nusra forces have the desire to do so, but where that desire stands on their priority list.

He suggested the jihadists’ next attempt would be on Jordan, where the ideology already exists and where the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian refugees already play a destabilizing role, followed by the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia.

“In the hierarchy,” Ganor explained, “those goals come before Jerusalem.”

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