Yet another significant Gaza flare-up

Gaza under Israeli attack (Photo: AP)

Update 05/19 #02

This Update is dedicated to the aftermath of the major battle around Gaza that took place last weekend. It was the worst such violence since the 2014 Gaza war and saw 690 rockets fired into Israel, 4 Israelis killed, and at least 23 Palestinians, most of them members of terrorist groups, killed in Israeli counter-strikes.

We lead with Israeli security correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai, who says the Israeli counter-strikes achieved the objective Israeli security forces sought – particularly restoring Israeli deterrence against Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the group which initiated this round of violence. He discusses the tactics Israeli used to achieve this – including targeting the homes of Hamas and PIJ commanders, hitting Hamas’ cyber-headquarters, and hitting some terror leaders directly in targeted killings, all without damaging the legitimacy of its actions by causing excessive civilian casualties. Yet he warns that deterrence is fleeting and another round is inevitable at some stage as long as Hamas rules Gaza. For his full analysis,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is Times of Israel Palestinian Affairs reporter Avi Isscharoff, who is more pessimistic that the next round of escalation from Gaza has been at least delayed. He notes that it was Hamas that practically begged for a ceasefire, after initially boasting that the fighting would not stop until Israel made significant concessions on Hamas demands for greater outside access to Gaza. He notes that Israel made no such concession, yet Hamas realised it needed to back down – not least because the holy month of Ramadan was beginning. Yet Issacharoff argues the conditions that led to this round of fighting have not changed and will soon lead to another round. For the details of his discussion,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, we offer a glimpse of what it is like to be under Hamas rocket bombardment, as Jerusalem Post reporter Tovah Lazaroff goes to the hard-hit Israeli city of Ashkelon. She speaks to Miriam Gottlieb, a woman who was lucky to survive a direct hit on her apartment in a strike which killed a man seeking shelter in the building’s doorway. Gottlieb and other residents of the same street provide some insights into the sort of psychological trauma provoked by such attacks, even when one is physically unhurt. For this poignant look into the real effects of the rocket attacks on ordinary people,  CLICK HERE.

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IDF objectives reached but Gaza still a major threat

Ron Ben Yishai

Ynet.com   06.05.19

Analysis: Israel stood strong in the face of Hamas pressure, and resisted a ceasefire, under adverse conditions; a lesson Hamas will remember before renewing fire the next time its demands are not immediately met

This round of fighting ended, for the first time since the 2014 conflict with Gaza, with Israel achieving its objectives.

This is evident by the fact that Hamas begged for a ceasefire, for a full 24 hours, before Israel agreed to one. This will be one lessoned well remembered, by the Palestinian factions.

The Israeli objective in this round was to reinstate Israel’s deterrence in the eyes of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. It appears this objective was achieved.

• Hamas needed a ceasefire in place before the start of Ramadan and that, was the catalyst for an agreement, and not any Israeli need to protect the Eurovision song contest.

• Israel preserved the legitimacy of its actions in Gaza by targeting military objectives even when bombing homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders.

• The political and military arms in Israel worked in complete unison and without leaking to the media, in stark contradiction to earlier rounds of fighting.

Deterrence is a fleeting commodity. It can only be tested over time and it would be wrong to assume Israel’s problems from Gaza are over, but it seems Israel’s military may have weakened some of the appetite, on the part of the terrorists, to resume shelling in a matter of weeks.

In this round of fighting, the IDF came prepared with a list of high-quality targets. It also had a planned schedule of escalation, to respond to the militants’ actions, including attacking their cyber capabilities and hitting their attack drones. Some of IDF’s actions are still under wraps.

It is safe to say the IDF was in control of the pace and extent of the escalation of fighting. That gave the IDF the upper hand in dictating events. But there was also a preparedness to pinpoint targets with lethal force. Military commanders did not hesitate to hit terror leaders and their immediate surroundings.

Targeted killing in Gaza (Photo: EPA)

There had been criticism of the IDF in the past, for bombing empty buildings and bases and avoiding causing fatalities. This time it appears, any restrictions the IDF may have operated under, were lifted.

The fact that the Israeli air force targeted the homes of terror commanders, was also a factor in Israel’s superiority, at the end of this last round. Though the commanders themselves, were underground, and their families were given ample time to escape, the homes, themselves, were considered by Israel, military targets. This was evident for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to see, and making the terrorists and their families, homeless, was considered an added bonus.

Israel also changed its earlier tactic, this time around, by targeting Islamic Jihad militants regardless of how Hamas might react. The Iranian backed organization paid a heavy price, sending a clear message to its leadership.

Israel on its part should have evacuated residents from border settlements, to safety. Civilian movement should have been restricted, to prevent casualties. There is no shame in these steps. Lives could have been saved.

More Iron Dome batteries should have been deployed. The terrorists fired scores of rockets at once, which ensured some would make it through the defense system, resulting in direct hits and civilian casualties.

Iron Dome intercepts a rocket from Gaza (Photo: AFP)

And finally, it must be said that even if a deterrence has been restored, to some degree, the Gaza situation is set to blow up in our faces if it is not addressed.

Hamas must be removed and replaced by a leadership focused on its people’s needs and not obsessed with the destruction of Israel and this remains the ultimate objective that must be achieved.


An escalation that achieved nothing, and a ceasefire that won’t hold for long

The understandings that ended this flareup are precisely the understandings that held before it started. The border protests won’t stop, and neither will the incendiary balloons

By AVI ISSACHAROFF

Times of Israel, 7 May 2019, 5:54 am  3

A car bursts into flames after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod on May 5, 2019. (Flash90)

At some point on Sunday evening, the Hamas leadership began to realize that it should seek a ceasefire with Israel.

It may be that Israel’s massive bombardments made the difference — the strikes on Hamas ammunition stores; the targeted assassination of Hamed Hamdan al-Khodari, the man responsible for channeling funds from Iran (according to the IDF and the Shin Bet); the destruction of several multi-story buildings in the heart of Gaza. All of this gradually prompted the organization’s heads to internalize the repercussions of continuing the fighting, and all this at a time when Hamas’s Gaza chief, Yihya Sinwar, was in Cairo, disconnected from the Strip.

The message that was being conveyed from the various mediators — the UN, Egypt, even Qatar — was that Israel was not rushing to seek a ceasefire.

It may be that Hamas had overreached. The assumption in its leadership was that Israel would rush to put an end to this round of fighting, or perhaps might even refrain from a forceful response to the initial rocket fire, because of the sensitivities relating to the upcoming Memorial Day, Independence Day and Eurovision events.

From the Israeli side, the message to the mediators, and the message that was sent to the media in all the various security briefings, was quite the opposite: Even if the confrontation continued into Memorial Day and Independence Day, even into Eurovision, Israel had no intention of stopping.

The remains of what the IDF says was the Hamas terror group’s cyber unit in the Gaza Strip, which was destroyed in an Israeli Air Force strike on May 4, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

It may be, however, that what most influenced Hamas to push for a ceasefire was the realization that otherwise Gaza would spend the first days of Ramadan under attack.

Several leading figures in the organization briefed reporters in Gaza to the effect that Hamas had no intention of stopping the fighting until Israel agreed to dramatically change the Gaza reality — such as by opening a safe sea route from Cyprus to the Strip. But these declarations turned out to be empty. After firing almost 700 rockets and mortar shells, killing four Israeli civilians, and sustaining some 30 Gaza fatalities, many of them terrorists, ultimately Hamas realized that there was a limit to what it could achieve, militarily or economically, at this stage. And that the best that could be done was to try to get back to where things stood before the opening of this round of violence.

These, then, are the understandings that were reached by the two sides via various mediators, mainly the Egyptians, on Sunday evening, according to Palestinian sources: Hamas and Israel mutually halt their fire; and the same concessions that were agreed within the framework of the previous understandings, several weeks before Israel’s election, were restored — namely the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone, an increase in the entry of supplies into Gaza, and the continuation of the transfer of Qatari money into the Strip via the UN. That’s all. The border protest will continue. So, too, apparently the incendiary balloons. Everything as it was.

The “achievement” that Hamas reached this time was a readiness by Israel to resume talks on various humanitarian projects that are supposed to be carried out in Gaza, including improvements to the electricity and water infrastructure.

And thus an agreement was reached to stop the fighting for now, while paving the way to the next escalation. This may happen in the next few weeks. Maybe after the end of Ramadan.

For even after the ceasefire, all the elements that destabilize the situation between Israel and Hamas continue to exist: 1. The Palestinian Authority refuses to take responsibility for the Strip and does quite a lot in order to create economic distress there. 2. Islamic Jihad continues to try to drag the area into war by competing with Hamas and through the lack of authoritative leadership by its new chief, Ziad Nakhaleh. 3. Israel, on the one hand, refuses to talk to Hamas, but talks to it indirectly on the other hand. And furthermore does not rush to provide significant strategic solutions for the Strip — solutions that might prevent the next escalation, or at least put it off further.


Rocket roulette: A street of miracles… and a fatality

By TOVAH LAZAROFF

Jerusalem Post, 07/05/2019

MIRIAM GOTTLIEB stands next to a blown out window and section of a wall in her building, destroyed in Sunday’s rocket attack against Ashdod. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

“I felt like the building had exploded,” Miriam Gottlieb said

Miriam Gottlieb, 51, ran to the bed in her safe room, threw the comforter over her head, called her adult son and screamed after hearing the warning siren ring out in Ashdod on Sunday night.

A rocket landed just below her first-floor apartment, just hours before the midnight ceasefire went into effect. The force of the explosion was so strong that it uprooted a tree.

“I felt like the building had exploded,” the dark-haired, olive-skinned woman told The Jerusalem Post, as she described the harrowing moments of the attack.

Throughout her hometown of Ashdod, people returned to their normal routine on Monday, after an intense two days of violence between Hamas, PIJ and the IDF kept them running to shelters to avoid becoming the latest casualty of rocket fire from Gaza.

On Sunday, the rocket fire claimed four Israeli civilian lives. The last victim of the day, 21-year-old Pinchas Menahem Prezuasman, was killed in the Ashdod explosion as he sought shelter in the entryway of Gottlieb’s building.

The next day, the sidewalk by the explosion site was crowded as families returned to the dozens of apartments damaged in the blast. City and government workers were also present to assess the damage and to remove the debris and glass.

Red and white police tape was still strung around two apartment buildings that were the most damaged in the blast, as people talked about the dozens of miracles that occurred on the street and the lives that were saved – expect for Prezuasman, who was buried later that night in Jerusalem.

He had been driving on the street when he heard the siren and sought shelter, as Home Command instructed, but was fatally hit by a piece of shrapnel from the rocket.

Yigal Ben Hamu, who sells lottery tickets at a small convenience store down the street, said he saw Prezuasman attempt to seek safety.

Watching him from across the street, Ben Hamu himself wasn’t sure he needed to seek shelter and simply moved deeper into his store, never thinking that his street was in danger.

As Gottlieb swept debris from her floors one flight up, she could hear the murmur of conversations from the street below and the sound of clinking glass moving across the pavement. Every window in her apartment and a portion of some of the walls had been destroyed in the blast. A section of a mural of galloping horses was blown off the wall and was now strewn across the floor in one of her rooms.

Gottlieb returned to her apartment first thing the next morning, but even though the ceasefire was in place, she said, somehow she still feels more secure near the safe room that allowed her to survive the attack.

She feels that it was a higher power that swayed her to enter the safe room. After the explosion, Gottlieb felt her safety was so tied to the room that she was afraid to leave it. She took so long to emerge that a rumor had spread among her neighbors that perhaps she was seriously injured, or even worse.

Shattered glass on the porch of Gottlieb’s apartment with a view of the street below. (credit: Tovah Lazaroff)

“I was traumatized,” she said. “My chest was tight. I had lost control. I felt that the room had saved me so I was afraid to leave. I thought that as long as I stayed in there, I would be safe.”

When she left the room, she walked through an apartment filled with smoke and onto the porch. When she looked down on the crowded street below, it seemed like dozens of cameras were focused on her, as if she was suddenly some sort of celebrity.

“It’s a miracle,” someone called out.

Then rescue and medical personnel burst into her apartment. Her cell phone range incessantly, with calls from friends and relatives who had seen her on television or heard that the rocket fell on her street.

The site of the Ashdod rocket attacks that damaged Gottlieb’s apartment and the other units in the building. (credit: Tovah Lazaroff)

A mother of four adult children, Gottlieb had already been the victim of a rocket attack. During the Third Gaza War in 2014, a rocket fell on a synagogue across the street from her previous home.

“I hid in the stairwell, because there was no safe room,” she said. “The building shook. Glass flew. Car alarms went off.”

But the trauma from that attack paled in comparison to this, she said.

“I recovered,” she said. “But this – now it almost feels as if the rockets ‘are chasing me’ from place to place.”

Gottlieb is no stranger to disaster. Her first husband died in a car accident, and her second husband died of a heart attack just eight months ago. A decade before, her home was destroyed by fire.

But until the rocket fell outside her home, she felt as if she had been somewhat cavalier about the danger the rockets posed.

“In past times, I didn’t think anything would happen to me either,” Gottlieb said. “I thought it will fall here or there, but not near me.”

She said people have to take these rockets seriously, and shouldn’t dismiss them. “This isn’t a game. There is nothing like longevity. Don’t think that ‘this won’t happen to me.’”