Israel’s latest conflict with Hamas: How did it happen and what happens next?
May 14, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
A major conflict between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza has been ongoing this week, after Hamas launched a large-scale rocket barrage against Israel on Sunday evening following weeks of tension in Jerusalem. Since then, at least 1750 rockets have been launched toward Israel from Gaza, with some 300 landing within Gaza. Seven Israelis have been killed, as have more than 100 Palestinians – though Israel says at least 60 of them are fighters from terrorist groups, while many of the civilians are known to be victims of Hamas rockets that fell short. Meanwhile, there has also been unprecedented violence in some Israeli cities by Arab and Jewish mobs over the past few days, resulting in many injuries and arrests.
Earlier this week, AIJAC published a factsheet that explained what’s behind the current outbreak of major conflict, which we recommend as a starting point. A slideshow version is here,
This Update looks at how things got to this point, and what may happen now.
We first provide readers with a summary of what has happened since Sunday and what people are saying about it, from BICOM. It is only up to date as of yesterday afternoon – but is still highly useful.
Our first analysis piece comes from Haviv Rettig Gur of the Times of Israel, who addresses what Hamas believes it has accomplished by launching the current war. He says it set out to seize leadership of the Palestinian national movement from Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement by posing as defenders of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque – and appears to have largely succeeded. He says Hamas’ ability to incite some Israeli Arabs to set out to commit violence in Israeli cities is another unexpected shock and part of the group’s larger effort to seize Palestinian leadership – though he also reports on the pushback from most Israeli Arabs. For Rettig Gur’s must-read analysis, CLICK HERE.
Next up, Israeli Arab affairs analyst Oded Granot looks at the military conflict since Sunday. He argues that, despite Hamas’ political achievements amongst Palestinians, Hamas will now be starting to regret its gamble in starting this war as Israeli attacks on Hamas personnel and infrastructure take out much of its capabilities in Gaza. Hamas is now seeking a ceasefire, Granot notes, but Israel will be reluctant to agree to one until it has done even more to reduce Hamas’ capabilities and deter future attacks. However, a large-scale ground operation would be necessary to finish this task, he says, and will likely be avoided as too costly. For Granot’s full discussion of the current strategic situation, CLICK HERE. For more on Israel’s need to establish deterrence against future attacks, see strategic analyst Eran Lerman.
Finally, veteran Palestinian Affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh looks at Iran’s extensive role in empowering Hamas to carry out its current wave of attacks. He details how both Iran and the Palestinian terror organisation have acknowledged Iran’s essential role in enabling it to fire so many missiles at Israel, after years of denying it, and how the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal was used as cover to facilitate arms smuggling. Abu Toameh says the current war should be seen as part of Iran’s larger war to attempt to eliminate Israel. For his detailed reporting on the essential Iranian role, CLICK HERE. Abu Toameh also had an excellent analysis of the radical weakening of PA President Mahmoud Abbas as a result of Hamas’ gambit in launching the current war.
Readers may also be interested in…
- Palestinian human rights activist and Jerusalem resident Bassem Eid explains that, contrary to Palestinian and media claims, the property dispute over some houses in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah is not at the root of the current conflict. More info on the Shwikh Jarrah court case and controversy is here and here.
- Strong comments from Israeli Arab writers Jalal Bana and Yoseph Haddad about the Arab mobs rioting in some Israeli towns. Plus, a warning how dangerous these events are for israel’s future from Jerusalem Post editor Yaakov Katz.
- A report on the Arab and Jewish Israelis now uniting to demonstrate against the communal violence.
- A couple of pieces – here and here – on the severe challenge being faced by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, which is stopping most of the rockets hitting populated areas, but not all.
- Gaza facing electricity and water shortages due to both border closures and Hamas rockets hitting internal infrastructure.
- Strong comments on media and left-wing double standards on Israel from British writer Brendan O’Neill.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- AIJAC’s media releases – on the rocket attacks by Hamas, and on Australian PM Scott Morrison’s statement on the conflict.
- AIJAC research associate and academic Dr. Ran Porat being interviewed on SkyNews TV regarding the current situation in Israel.
- Video of Ambassador Dore Gold offering a review of the situation in Israel in an AIJAC webinar. A short excerpt in which he explains that the violence on the Temple Mount has been far from spontaneous is here.
- Articles by Judy Maynard and Ahron Shapiro debunking a highly controversial report by the NGO Human Rights Watch accusing Israel of Apartheid.
- Judy Maynard on how even the European Parliament has woken up to the incitement in Palestinian textbooks used by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
Rocket fire continues amid internal unrest
BICOM, May 13, 2021
A rocket hits a building in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikvah.
- Over 1,600 rockets have been fired towards Israel in the last three days, with over 130 rockets fired since midnight.
- The majority of the rockets have targeted Israeli communities close to the Gaza Strip. A five-year-old boy sustained critical injuries when a rocket hit an apartment in Sderot, died from his injuries last night. He had been in the shelter but was hit by shrapnel that broke through the window. His mother is in critical condition.
- Dozens of rockets did reach as far north as the Jezreel Valley as well the Tel Aviv area. As a result, incoming flights to Ben Gurion Airport have been cancelled, including BA flights from London today.
- In Petah Tikva, nine people were injured from rockets that hit three residential buildings. Two sustained moderate injuries and the others sustained light injuries. Several cars were damaged.
- The IDF confirmed that yesterday morning 21-year-old Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib was killed as a result of an anti-tank missile fire at his jeep in Netiv Ha’asara on the Gaza border.
- Seven Israelis have been killed in the last three days. The Hamas-run Health Ministry says the death toll in Gaza stands at 87, including 17 children, though a majority of the fatalities are thought to be Hamas operatives.
Six-year-old Ido Avigal, who died from shrapnel wounds after a direct hit on his home in Sderot, in southern Israel, on Wednesday.
- So far IDF fighter jets have struck over 650 military targets, including a 14-story building in the southern Gaza Strip. The building housed Hamas military intelligence offices, and communication rooms. Prior to the strike, the IDF warned civilians in the building, and provided them sufficient time to evacuate the site.
- The IDF has also carried out several targeted killings against senior Hamas operators, including those responsible for research, development and manufacturing of rockets. Overall, 16 high-ranking Hamas military officials have been killed.
Jewish-Arab violence inside Israel:
- There were violent clashes last night between Jews and Arabs at various locations across the country, with dozens of civilian and police officers injured. The police arrested more than 400 suspects throughout Israel.
- In the Israeli-Arab city of Umm el-Fahm a Border Policeman sustained moderate injuries from gunshots. In the riots there, a firebomb was thrown at police who were standing near the police station.
- In the Mahane Yehuda open-air market in Jerusalem, a 24-year-old Arab man was stabbed by Jews. He sustained moderate injuries.
- In the mixed Jewish Arab city of Akko, a 30-year-old Jewish man was attacked with stones and bats and sustained critical injuries.
- In Bat Yam, a Jewish mob attacked an Arab driver last night and severely beat him causing life-threatening injuries.
What the leaders said:
- President Reuven Rivlin called last night on all the leaders and people of influence in the Jewish and Muslim communities to take steps to stop the unrest throughout Israel. Rivlin said: “We are abandoning ourselves to a war that can only be called a civil war … now is the most important time to let the army do its job without interference and to let the police be in charge of law and order in the streets, at a time when missiles were falling on Israel’s cities.”
- Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “What is happening in Israel’s cities over the past few days is unacceptable. We have seen Arab rioters set fire to synagogues and vehicles and attack police officers. They are attacking peaceful and innocent citizens. This is something that we cannot accept; it is anarchy. Nothing justifies this and I will tell you that nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews….To the citizens of Israel I say that I do not care if your blood is boiling. You cannot take the law into your own hands. You cannot grab an ordinary Arab citizen and try to lynch him – just as we cannot watch Arab citizens do this to Jewish citizens. This will not happen. This is something that I am certain is shared by most citizens of Israel. We are in a fight on two fronts, on one front against Hamas and we are all united and Hamas is firing missiles and rockets that hurt Jews and Arabs alike. Let us come together and do the task that is necessary for us as citizens of our state – to restore governance, eliminate this anarchy and maintain and restore the security and quiet that we all deserve.”
- Leader of the Islam Raam Party Mansour Abbas said last night that the mob attacks and the riots were regrettable and ought to trouble everyone, Arabs and Jews alike. He called on all the politicians and the leaders, the mayors and the religious clerics to set all their disagreements aside and to do everything to stop the raging tide of violence and insanity.
- Leader of the Religious Zionist Party, Bezalel Smotrich wrote on Twitter: “I just watched a video that I can’t post of Jews lynching an innocent Arab passer-by and I am shocked and ashamed to the depths of my soul. We are in difficult days, under attack, standing frustrated in the face of police impotence and distorted legal rulings. But how the hell can Jews be capable of being that cruel?! Awful”
Reaction from the International Community:
- UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has spoken to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and released a statement saying: “We are appealing for calm, an end to the Hamas rocket attacks, and a de-escalation of the violence on all sides which is costing lives.” Yesterday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Israel and the Palestinians to “step back from the brink” and called for both sides to “show restraint.” “The UK is deeply concerned by the growing violence and civilian casualties and we want to see an urgent de-escalation of tensions,” Johnson tweeted.
- US President Joe Biden confirmed to reports that he had spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu. “My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory,” he added.
- German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said: “The rocket attack on Israel is absolutely unacceptable and must end immediately. Israel has in this situation the right to self-defence. This escalation of violence can be neither tolerated nor accepted.”
- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spokesman said the secretary-general was saddened by “the increasingly large numbers of casualties, including children, from Israeli air strikes in Gaza and of Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza. “Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and calibrate their use of force. The indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards Israeli population centres is unacceptable,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Context: Israel is facing dual challenge: the unprecedented volume of incoming rockets and domestic strife between Jews and Arabs inside Israel.
- In three days Hamas has launched around 1,600 rockets. In the summer of 2014, Hamas fired around 4,000 rockets during a conflict that lasted 50 days – at its height, there were around 200 rockets in a day.
- As well as rockets and internal violence, there was also a shooting attack in the West Bank last night. Two soldiers were moderately injured but were able to return fire and kill the assailant.
- The targeting of Hamas weapons experts is aimed at depriving Hamas of the technological knowledge of being able to produce rockets in the future.
- The IDF has also targeted rocket launchers and warehouses, hoping to limit their capacity to fire longer-range rockets, though they are thought to still possess tens of thousands of short-range rockets.
- The death of the Israeli soldier killed by advanced Kornet anti-tank missile is the second time they have targeting an Israeli vehicle this week. It could be seen as a warning to the IDF against a ground incursion.
- Israel has asked US energy giant Chevron to shut down operations at the Tamar offshore platform. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s office said the request on Tuesday to halt operations at Tamar was given as an “extra precaution”. Hamas said on Wednesday that it had targeted the natural gas field.
- For further context on how the latest escalation in Gaza started, see yesterday’s Morning Brief here.
Looking ahead: With no cessation of violence yet in sight, the US is in dialogue with Israel and other regional partners in an effort to restore calm.
- The US is sending Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to meet with leaders from both sides in coming days.
In rocket war ‘for Al-Aqsa,’ Hamas has already won the Palestinian leadership
No matter how the fighting in Gaza goes, Fatah is sidelined and the Gaza-based terror group has made deep inroads into the Arab Israeli street
By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
Times of Israel, May 13, 2021
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh: Despite the blows the group is suffering, Hamas’ leaders believe they have achieved a great deal by making themselves the defenders of Jerusalem on the Palestinian street (adam yusof / Shutterstock.com)
Hamas’s latest rocket war is taking place in two different theaters: an explicit war with Israel and an unspoken battle with the rival Fatah faction for leadership of the Palestinian national movement.
It may lose the former, or at least find itself badly bruised by the time the fighting ends. It has already won the latter.
Hamas didn’t start the bouts of violence that led to this week’s fighting: the Palestinian protests against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions and against police restrictions at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, or the attacks on Jews in Jerusalem throughout Ramadan dubbed by Israelis the “TikTok intifada.”
But it has egged on the chaos at every turn, issuing pronouncements in support of more clashes and sending organizers to inflame the protests into violent confrontations.
The violence reached a psychological fever pitch in the clashes Monday between Israeli police and stone-throwing Palestinian rioters inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It was in that encounter that Hamas began reaping the fruit of its efforts.
In the wake of images of Israeli police firing tear gas into the mosque, Hamas issued an ultimatum: If Israel didn’t take certain steps by 6 p.m. that evening — the most important being the withdrawal of Israeli police from the Temple Mount — it would face Hamas’s retribution.
It was a public, humiliating demand, designed to be ignored. And ignore it Israel did, prompting Hamas to launch the first mass salvo of the new rocket war.
That context is vital. Hamas wanted a fight, and it wanted it over Al-Aqsa. It waited for the images of Israeli police apparently assaulting the holy site to make its move.
That’s because Al-Aqsa is no mere backdrop to this story. It is the heart of it.
The Palestinians are a people defined by the experience of displacement. Their historians speak of their national identity coalescing in the face of the pressure of Jewish immigration and Israel’s founding. In the sacred complex that sits atop the Temple Mount, which the Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, Palestinians find a source of religious validation for their story, an anchor of identity and dignity that no external political weakness or vulnerability can diminish.
That makes Al-Aqsa more than a place of prayer or ritual. It represents in the Palestinian telling a tangible promise of redemption.
Hamas has long understood that its path to dominion over the Palestinian political world must pass through that place. Nothing else unites or mobilizes Palestinians as it does.
A tree burning on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which Hamas has made the centre of the current conflict. The tree was set alight by fireworks launched by Palestinian rioters.
The rockets raining down since Monday “in Al-Aqsa’s defense” may have targeted Israelis, but, at least in the first day or two, battering Israel was at least partly a means to another end. The unspoken target was Fatah.
Missing in action
Late last month, Mahmoud Abbas announced the cancelation of the upcoming Palestinian elections, citing Israel’s lack of declaration that it would allow voting to be held in East Jerusalem. It was going to be the first election in 15 years, and Hamas had been preparing for it for months, even holding internal leadership races over the past few weeks.
Hamas rightly viewed the elections as a chance to strengthen its influence in Palestinian institutions and regain lost ground in the West Bank. (That, of course, is why Abbas canceled them.)
Frustrated, it now sought another avenue to achieve those goals.
Palestinian public opinion was set aflame by the images from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while decrepit old Fatah was scarcely seen or heard. Here was Hamas’s chance to attain the influence denied it by Abbas.
For two long days, Hamas fired rockets into Israel and absorbed painful retaliatory strikes in return. For two long days, Hamas officials could claim they were sacrificing in Al-Aqsa’s defense, while Fatah had scarcely responded to the crisis.
It wasn’t until Wednesday, in a speech to the PA leadership in Ramallah, that Abbas appeared to grasp the scale of Fatah’s rout.
“Jerusalem is the heart and soul of Palestine,” he declared. “There is no peace, security or stability except with the full liberation from the occupation and [Jerusalem’s] return to the Palestinian people and the Arab and Islamic people.”
Addressing Israel, the Palestinian leader most identified with decades-long security cooperation with the Jewish state suddenly struck a distinctly Hamas-esque tone. “We will be a thorn in your side,” he vowed. “We will never leave our homeland, we will never leave our country. Put an end today to your conquest of our country, today and not tomorrow…. We will stand firm more and more, until we achieve victory and liberation, and until we achieve the end of the occupation in all our occupied lands, especially Jerusalem.”
Strong words, but ones that came after two long days of Hamas dominating the news cycle, of Gazans enduring hundreds of Israeli airstrikes, of one faction seeming to stand tall against Israel while the other cowered in its Ramallah headquarters.
A better story
Fatah’s weakness is self-made. The movement is rife with corruption, internal squabbling and incompetence. But its main handicap in the Palestinian public discourse isn’t its institutional problems, it is its story.
Fatah is compromised in Palestinian public opinion by its long history of cooperation with Israel, of prioritizing stability and order — and its own privileged position in the West Bank — over any visible progress toward better days for the Palestinians. Where Fatah seems to offer only compromise and retreat, Hamas has never backtracked (at least in its rhetoric) from its full-throated vow to deliver a comprehensive victory for the Palestinians, untarnished by compromise with wicked Israel.
In Hamas’s telling of this conflict, the Israelis are usurpers, foreigners faking their attachment to the land and doomed by that inauthenticity to be expelled from it. Hamas speaks of Israel as a latter-day version of the colonialist French in Algeria, who was ultimately expelled back to France by the exertions and terrible sacrifices of Algeria’s National Liberation Front.
The Jews may have come in huge numbers, Hamas says, and may have seemingly unassailable military and economic and technological superiority, but in the end, no matter how high the cost in Palestinian blood and treasure — at least a quarter-million Algerians died in their independence war against the French — the usurpers will inevitably retreat in ignominy.
Alongside that anti-colonialism, Hamas is also a movement of religious pietism. It shares the Islamist distrust of Western ideologies, arguing that only a politics rooted in religion can repair and rebuild all that nationalism and Marxism have wrecked in the Arab worlds. If a benevolent God oversees a just history, Hamas argues, then to accommodate Israel is to deny God’s power and history’s moral arc.
People hold Hamas flags as Palestinians gather at the Dome of the Rock after praying on the last Friday of Ramadan, May 7, 2021. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
It’s a powerful combination of ideas and commitments, all the more so when stacked against the empty fecklessness of the Abbas regime. And it grants the Palestinians agency and mastery over their fate, promising them that they can win their deliverance by their own exertions and sacrifices.
The victory over Fatah is thus larger than this moment. It cuts across the deepest layers of Palestinian identity.
The war for Arab Israel
The shockwaves from Hamas’s new conquest of the Palestinian political arena were felt acutely in Israel, more acutely than most Israelis realize. As it secured its victory over Fatah, Hamas also opened another front in its war for the Palestinian narrative: For the first time in memory, it actively sought to export its message of persistent violence to the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The sudden spike in Arab-Jewish clashes in Israeli cities that followed the violence at Al-Aqsa caught everyone by surprise — not just Jewish leaders and Israeli law enforcement officials, but also the Arab Israeli community itself.
While rockets rained down from Gaza on Lod, Ramle and Beersheba, gangs of young Arab men, often brandishing Palestinian flags and Hamas emblems, began systematically assaulting Jewish passersby, vehicles and even homes. Synagogues and shops were torched, cars were set on fire, rock-throwing “ambushes” targeted Jewish drivers on highways in the south. A bus transporting IDF soldiers in the north found itself pelted with large stones, forcing the soldiers to disembark and fire warning shots over the assailants’ heads. Roving bands of vandals cut power lines to apartment buildings in majority-Jewish neighborhoods, leaving families in the dark.
An ambulance damaged in the violence Hamas succeeded in sparking in Israeli towns
Some rioters then posted their exploits on social media with messages about Al-Aqsa and Hamas.
It must be said: Not all the gatherings were violent, perhaps not even most. A precise count of the various types of protests isn’t yet possible, but many were peaceful demonstrations calling for an end to the fighting in Jerusalem and Gaza.
And another vital point of context: There were Jewish counter-protests and Jewish racist gangs who responded to Monday’s violence by taking to the streets beginning on Tuesday and attacking innocents just as brutally as their Arab counterparts.
But we are focused here on the Arab violence because we’re discussing Hamas’s influence. Where organized Arab gangs roamed the streets, one found explicit and full-throated support for Hamas.
Hamas hasn’t hidden these efforts.
In a speech Tuesday, Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh declared that Palestinians in Israel were working in concert with those in the West Bank and Gaza to defend Al-Aqsa. “Gaza and Jerusalem and the 1948 areas [i.e., Arab Israelis] are moving together,” he said.
A cartoon pushed by Hamas on social media showed a three-pronged Palestinian defense of Al-Aqsa. The three stripes of the Palestinian flag were wrapped around three signs reading “Gaza” (on the left), “West Bank” (on the right), and “Lands occupied in ’48” at bottom.
As Michael Milshtein, the former director of Palestinian affairs in the IDF Intelligence Directorate, noted of the cartoon, “Hamas is encouraging the conflagration in Israel’s Arab community, marking a shift of sorts in the movement’s strategy. For years Hamas clung to the approach of [founder] Sheikh [Ahmad] Yassin, who instructed to be considerate of the unique situation of the Arabs in Israel, and to be careful not to entangle them in [Hamas’s] friction with the state.”
“This time,” Milshtein wrote, “Hamas sees in Israel’s Arabs a central axis of its broader campaign against Israel and is pushing it toward clashes with the authorities.”
Hamas’s new assertion of control over the Palestinian cause isn’t the sole reason for the violence now spreading through Arab-Jewish towns, but it’s a major one. Many of the rioters are eager to be counted in what Haniyeh described on Tuesday as the “new balance of power” between a Hamas-led Palestinian nationalism and a confused, iniquitous Israel.
‘Hostages of Hamas’
The social media discourse among Arab Israelis, some of it conducted in Hebrew, is full of calls to reject this new pressure from Hamas.
“To my brothers, the Arabs of this land, we all know where we come from and who we are. It’s a vast distance from there to turning ourselves into hostages of Hamas,” pleaded one man. “I refuse to do that. Our grievances are just. Our rights are inalienable. But we’re also citizens of this state. What Hamas is doing is a war crime; what’s happening in Lod, Acre and other places is a crime against the country. Enough!”
“We’re Arab Israeli citizens and we must not become the playthings of Hamas or be dragged to the chaos that the extremists in our midst are trying to lead us to,” said Yoseph Haddad, an Arab Israeli coexistence activist and IDF veteran.
The sense that the Hamas narrative is making inroads this week into the Arab Israeli consciousness is palpable in the community. As in Jerusalem and the West Bank, here, too, Al-Aqsa is key. It is hard to rally around coexistence and integration, say many, when the clashes at Al-Aqsa overwhelm the senses.
As one Arab Israeli commentator put it, “The Palestinian nation is the most divided nation on Earth: Rival political movements, religious and secular streams that can’t stand one another, different territories and countries, rural and urban, Bedouin and peasants, diverse dialects and accents, and a clannish and tribal social structure. And then Israel comes along and strikes at the one thing that unifies them all: The Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is entering a new era. Fatah, still nominally in charge of a decrepit PA in Ramallah, has lost any influence it once had over the Palestinian agenda. Hamas, despite Gaza’s woes and regardless of the blows it sustains in the coming days or weeks, is now securely in the driver’s seat. And for the first time in a generation, Israel’s Arab citizens are on the front lines.
Hamas losing its upper hand
Hamas would sign a ceasefire deal in a heartbeat if it were offered the opportunity. Its members understand the balance of force in this latest round of fighting has begun to clearly lean in Israel’s favor, and their situation is getting worse by the minute.
By Oded Granot
Israel Hayom, 13-05-2021
The violence goes on: A rocket hit in the Israeli town of Givatayim
Abu Hamza, Islamic Jihad’s spokesman in the Gaza Strip, stood before the cameras, Wednesday, and said his organization was willing to fight Israel as long as necessary. “Our struggle will not cease,” he said. Despite Hamza’s boasting, there is no chance of that happening. Had Israel responded to attempts to mediate a ceasefire, and it’s a good thing it didn’t, Gaza’s terror groups would have signed a ceasefire deal yesterday.
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that according to those in the joint Hamas-Islamic Jihad command center in Gaza, the organizations have already achieved their public relations victory against Israel: They took the Jewish state by surprise, fired rockets at Jerusalem and succeeding in changing the path of the traditional Jerusalem Day Flag Dance that normally sees attendees march through the Arab Quarter of the Old City, and sending Knesset members running from the Knesset plenum at the sound of sirens. They have proven they have the impressive ability of launching over 1,000 rockets, hundreds of which targeted the center of the country and “bombed Tel Aviv.” They’ve killed several Israelis and wounded dozens, and they succeeded in achieving a direct hit on a military jeep in Netiv Haasara with an anti-tank missile.
Just as importantly, they believe they have succeeded in establishing the perception among Palestinians that it is Hamas and not the Palestinian Authority that is now defending the Al-Aqsa Mosque, leading the struggle for Jerusalem and efforts to “liberate Palestinians from the yoke of Israeli occupation,” and that they are the only ones capable of enlisting radical Arab Israelis to their efforts.
Another, no less important, reason Hamas would now quickly sign a ceasefire deal if it were offered the opportunity has to with the increasing understanding in Gaza that over the past day, the balance of force has begun to clearly lean in Israel’s favor. The perception of a Hamas victory is slowly dissipating, and their situation is getting worse every minute.
It’s not just the precise intelligence that allows for the targeted killings of senior Islamic Jihad and Hamas officials, including Bassem Issa, commander of Hamas’s Gaza City, those responsible for the launching of rockets into Israel, their cyber teams, and the direct hits on at least four cars with terrorists inside that have struck a nerve.
Alongside the terrorist organization’s institutions, buildings, and facilities that were destroyed, the Israel Defense Forces toppled multi-story apartment buildings that house, among other things, Hamas headquarters, offices, and weapons caches. This was the case with the Hanadi tower, which collapsed, and later the al-Jawhara tower, which housed, among other things, the offices of Hamas’ media outlet and its cyberwarfare unit. The same is true of the collapse of the Al Shorouk tower.
Gaza appears to be in a state of shock over the forcefulness of the Israeli response and the incessant airstrikes by the Israeli Air Force. Hamas would have liked to end this round for reasons mentioned above, but in the meanwhile, it has been forced to respond with massive rocket barrages at Israel’s center in the hope of incurring mass casualties.
Israel acted correctly when it rejected offers for a ceasefire and has succeeded in tipping the balance in its favor. Nevertheless, we cannot be confident the air strikes and assassinations of senior figures from the air will be enough to restore confidence among Israel’s residents or deterrence against Gaza’s terrorist groups in the long term.
For one thing, the heads of the terrorist organizations in Gaza are still largely hiding in command centers dug deep into the earth and situated directly under residential buildings in what is known as “Underground Gaza.” The same is true of their ammunition and weapons stockpiles. Assuming Israel has the necessary information, a strike on these targets would lead to mass casualties, something Israel has been trying to avoid. Ms. Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, has already warned Israel against “the possible commission of crimes.”
However, Israeli decision-makers are themselves still on the fence, and rightfully so, as to whether to issue the order for a ground operation, without which it won’t be possible to completely collapse the Hamas regime.
As a result, this current round of fighting may not be the last, and the next round of fighting will await the next Israeli government, which may succeed in consolidating a clear strategy that answers the question: What do we do about Gaza?
Oded Granot is a senior Middle East and Arab World commentator.
Iran’s Proxy War Against Israel
Gatestone, May 12, 2021 at 5:00 am
- Last year, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei admitted for the first time that his country was supplying the Palestinian terrorist groups with weapons….”Iran realized Palestinian fighters’ only problem was lack of access to weapons” — Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Reuters, May 22, 2020.
- The [earlier] denial exposes the extent of Iran’s scheme to deceive the international community not only regarding its supply of weapons to the Palestinian terrorist groups, but also concerning its plan to acquire a nuclear bomb and bolster its production of nuclear material.
- Iran… repeatedly violated the terms of the [2015 JCPOA] nuclear deal, according to the UN’s nuclear monitoring Atomic Energy Agency.
- Were it not for Iran’s financial and military aid, the Palestinian terrorist groups would not have been able to attack Israel with thousands of rockets and missiles.
- In the past, Iran used its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, to attack Israel. Iran is now using its Palestinian proxies to achieve its goal of eliminating Israel and killing Jews. This is a war not only between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist groups. Rather, it is a war waged by Iran against Israel.
- The Western powers that are currently negotiating with Iran about the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal are emboldening the mullahs and allowing them to continue their war of “kill[ing] all the Jews.”
Made possible by Iran: A map of the areas of Israel affected by one missile barrage from Gaza earlier this week.
The Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) organization announced on May 11 that its members fired a burst of “Badr-3” missiles into Israel, killing two women and injuring dozens others. The announcement was made by PIJ’s military wing, Al-Quds Brigades, after the group and other terror factions in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas, fired hundreds of rockets into Israel within 24 hours.
The “Badr-3” missile is an Iranian-made missile that appeared for the first time on the battlefields of the Middle East in April 2019, when the Iranian-backed Houthi militia used it during the fighting in war-torn Yemen.
The “Badr-3” missile carries an explosive warhead weighing 250 kg, and has a range of more than 160 km, according to Debka, an Israeli website that reports on military issues. “The missile explodes within 20m of target and releases a 1,400-piece shower of shrapnel fragments,” the website reported.
PIJ was the first terrorist organization to use the Iranian missile against Israel in 2019.
Until a few years ago, PIJ, Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups used to receive rockets and other weapons directly from Iran — smuggled in by sea or across the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. For some years now, however, according to Israeli intelligence sources, these terrorist groups have used years of experience with Iranian and other rockets to develop their own versions.
Over the past 15 years, Iran became the most dominant weapon supplier to Hamas and PIJ. The major smuggling route was from Iran to Sudan, on to Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, and from there to the Gaza Strip. These weapons include long range rockets, mortar shells, anti-tank missiles, tons of standard explosives and raw materials for explosive production.
Last year, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei admitted for the first time that his country was supplying the Palestinian terrorist groups with weapons. “Iran realized Palestinian fighters’ only problem was lack of access to weapons,” Khamenei said in an online speech.
“With divine guidance and assistance, we planned, and the balance of power has been transformed in Palestine, and today the Gaza Strip can stand against the aggression of the Zionist enemy and defeat it.”
Khamenei went on to offer the reason why Iran was sending rockets, missiles and tons of explosives to the Gaza Strip: “The Zionist regime is a deadly, cancerous tumor in the region. It will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed.”
Khamenei’s admission shows how the mullahs in Tehran have been lying to the West for many years. In 2011, Mohammad Khazaee, the Permanent Representative of Iran to the United Nations, sent a letter to the President of the United Nations Security Council in which he vehemently denied that Iran was smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip:
“The Islamic Republic of Iran categorically rejects the allegations concerning the so-called smuggling of advanced weapons into the Gaza Strip, which are based on false and misleading information provided by the Zionist regime. Iran’s support for the peoples of Palestine has been of a moral, humanitarian and political nature.”
The denial exposes the extent of Iran’s scheme to deceive the international community not only regarding its supply of weapons to the Palestinian terrorist groups, but also concerning its plan to acquire nuclear weapons and bolster its production of nuclear material.
So while the Obama administration was sending $400 million of cash to Iran, the Iranians were continuing to supply rockets and missiles to their proxies in the Gaza Strip so that they could use them to destroy the “Zionist entity.”
In 2015, the Obama administration, the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany reached a deal with Iran, whereby it agreed to limit its nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Iran, however, repeatedly violated the terms of the nuclear deal, according to the UN’s nuclear monitoring Atomic Energy Agency.
The same Iran that lied about the smuggling of the weapons into the Gaza Strip also managed to deceive the US and the world powers regarding its willingness to adhere to the nuclear deal.
Iran continues to deceive the world about its weapons smuggling: A large shipment of Iranian arms bound for Yemen’s Houthis seized by the US Navy last week.
Last month, a report published by the Israeli Walla news website revealed that in 2006, Iran opened a route to smuggle missiles and ammunition to the Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip through Yemen and Sudan. The smuggling operations were led by Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was assassinated by Israel in 2010.
On April 9, Mahmoud Mardawi, a Hamas leader and former member of the group’s military wing, Izaddin al-Qassam Brigades, told the Al-Monitor news website:
“Hamas wants to explore all sources of military supplies from every country and movement, mainly from Iran. We will not stop knocking on doors to find parties to provide us with weapons.”
An arms smuggler who deals with Hamas told Al-Monitor that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sent weapons to the Palestinian terrorist groups through the Suez Canal all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, where Iranian ships dock off the coast of the Gaza Strip in Egyptian territorial waters. When night sets, he revealed, Hamas frogmen transport the weapons in closed containers.
Earlier this year, the secretary-general of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ziyad al-Nakhaleh, disclosed that Qassem Soleimani, the slain commander of Iran’s Quds Force, “personally” managed a complex operation to send weapons to the Gaza Strip. Nakhaleh said that Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone attack on January 3, 2020 near Baghdad International Airport in Iraq, traveled to several countries to supply weapons for the Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.
Were it not for Iran’s financial and military aid, the Palestinian terrorist groups would not have been able to attack Israel with thousands of rockets and missiles. Like their patrons in Tehran, Hamas and PIJ do not recognize Israel’s right to exist and are committed to its destruction.
In the past, Iran used its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah, to attack Israel. Iran is now using its Palestinian proxies to achieve its goal of eliminating Israel and killing Jews. This is a war not only between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist groups. Rather, it is a war waged by Iran against Israel.
The Western powers that are currently negotiating with Iran about the revival of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal are emboldening the mullahs and allowing them to continue their war of “kill[ing] all the Jews.”
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.