Archive for July 11, 2014

Hamas bites the hand that feeds it

July 11, 2014

Hamas bites the hand that feeds it, Al Monitor, Ben Caspit, July 11, 2014

Israeli fire-fighters extinguish a fire that broke out after a rocket hit a petrol station in the southern Israeli city of AshdodIsraeli firefighters extinguish a blaze that broke out after a rocket hit a gas station in the southern Israeli city Ashdod, July 11, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Avi Roccah)

[Israel] continues to supply electricity, water, vital products, food, cash and medicine to Gaza. This is a totally insane situation, whereby a statelike entity fires hundreds of rockets daily at its neighbor and at the same time continues to suck that neighbor’s nipples for everything it needs for its sustenance. This kind of a situation is possible only here, in our neighborhood, IDF officials opine.

Israel is aware of the fact that any regime vacuum in the Gaza Strip will draw in more extreme forces, which is why it battles an impossible fight of trying to stop the rocket fire from Gaza while preserving Hamas rule.

For nearly a week, Israel — or most of it — has come under a heavy barrage. Along with other terrorist organizations, Hamas has been launching hundreds of rockets day in, day out. Tel Aviv is being bombarded, as are the center of the country, the Sharon Plain region and Jerusalem and the communities in its environs. Considered safe only a year or two ago, all these places now fall within the Hamas’ range of fire. This organization’s genetic makeup contains a religious-divine edict and total commitment to annihilating the Zionist state. Hamas has been stockpiling these weapons, which are either homemade or have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip mainly from Iran and Syria via underground tunnels, the sea, Sudan or any other possible route. Monitoring this information for years, Israel had nonetheless demonstrated restraint. Addicted to quiet, it was willing to pay a price that no other country in the world would — namely, a routinely nonstop, low-keyed trickle of rockets and mortar shells on its southern towns and communities in what is known as the “Gaza periphery.” That was true as long as the fire was confined to that area.

Now that is no longer the case. The fire has spread throughout almost the entire country. In recent days, Hamas has been attempting to target Haifa in the north, barely succeeding to graze it. The lesson is clear: If you cannot defend the southern town of Sderot, it will not be before long when you are unable to defend Tel Aviv.

Since the outbreak of the current confrontation, Hamas has been trying to score an indelible operational achievement, which will allow it to return quietly to its burrows. This effort took place on a number of fronts. One of them was to mount a large hostage terrorist act through a tunnel the digging of which lasted for years. However, it was identified by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intelligence. It blew up into pieces (on July 7) on top of its occupants. The tunnel was to facilitate the infiltration of terrorists into the Israeli home front. They planned to raid a community or a military base in a bid to kill as many people as possible, try kidnapping others and then disappear. This attempt was scuttled. The following day, two offensives were mounted against kibbutz Zikim, which is located just a few hundred meters north of the Gaza Strip. A five-member Hamas navy commando detail swam ashore and charged the coastal kibbutz. Aided by drones and infantrymen, an Israeli naval force killed all members of the detail. The following day a similar attempt was made, which was also foiled.

In tandem, the rocket fire continued in full force. Hamas has been trying hard to target Dimona, the southern city that has been identified for several decades with the most iconic symbol of Israel’s regional supremacy: the nuclear reactor. All the rockets fired at the city were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system, which Israel developed in cooperation with the United States. Hamas also tried breaking a taboo by firing rockets at Jerusalem. In this case, too, all rockets were intercepted. The highlight of what Hamas had hoped to achieve was to directly hit Ben Gurion International Airport, which is only a 20-minute drive from Tel Aviv. Many rockets were launched in its direction, but they all missed their mark and were intercepted over the Dan metropolitan area. On July 11, Hamas fully acknowledged that it had tried — and that it would continue to try — targeting the airport. The organization knows that a successful attack would become major headlines in world media, thus dealing a serious blow to Israel’s economy, tourist industry and freedom of movement. At this stage, the Iron Dome system has the upper hand. The possibility of the infliction of damage to Ben Gurion International Airport plays a pivotal role in the considerations of the Israeli Cabinet whether to order a ground operation in Gaza so as to stop the rockets or whether to continue to hold back. The organization has also been firing at Tel Aviv for four consecutive days, but all the rockets have been intercepted above this trendy, carefree and liberal Israeli city.

All the while, Hamas is being dealt severe blows by the Israeli Air Force (IAF). More than 1,100 bombing sorties have been carried out to date, as a result of which some 100 Palestinians have been killed. Used as command posts and munitions depots, the homes of dozens of terrorists were destroyed from the air. Hundreds of tons of explosives were dropped on targets throughout the city. The IDF operates within the limits of international law. Every sortie and every target are approved ahead of time by a team of specialists from the office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) that is familiar with international law inside out. And that’s the reason why there has been talk in Israel in recent days about an intelligence debacle.

In contrast to previous conflicts, this time around Israel is unable to seriously strike at the long-range rocket arsenal that Hamas has stockpiled. The Second Lebanon War in 2006 began with an accurate and deadly airstrike against all of Hezbollah’s long-range rocket stockpiles, which were concealed inside private residences across southern Lebanon. On that first night, most of them were destroyed while inflicting only minimal damage to human lives. Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 started with a similar move. This time around, Operation Protective Edge was not initiated by Israel; quite the contrary. Israel was dragged into it after the kidnapping and killing of three teenagers in Hebron and the escalation in its aftermath, including an increase in the number of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. Naturally, a similar gambit was not in the pipeline.

Yet, there is another difference: This time, as senior IDF intelligence officials note, Hamas concealed the rockets in places that are hard to target from the air. These rockets can be found in mosques and multistory buildings in especially heavily populated areas. Knowing that striking the rockets in these locations could lead to the loss of many civilians, Hamas is waiting for this photo opportunity. In fact, it’s praying for one, instructing Gaza residents not to evacuate their homes despite Israeli warnings before destroying them. Hamas needs such a photo of civilians buried alive under the rubble of their homes to arouse public opinion and turn the tables upside down to renew its legitimacy and restore its standing in the Arab public opinion.

Hamas has a hard time accomplishing these objectives, the IDF contends. First, the world is fed up with gruesome photos. The events in Syria and Iraq have somewhat blunted its senses. When thousands, including women and children, are being massacred, another photo of a demolished house in Gaza will not make much of a difference. And there’s something else: The international community has lost its naivete in the past year. The jihadists leaving the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and Germany to join the ranks of the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS) in Syria and then returning home have helped the Europeans to understand the threat of radical Islam and the futility of trying to engage in a dialogue with these forces, whose monstrosity they now understand.

In the first few days, Hamas tried disseminating harrowing photos from Syria as if they had been taken in recent days in Gaza. Not everybody across the Web fell for this. Israel is now equipped with the right tools as well as with “talk-back responders” who can put up a good fight and provide the real facts.

On July 10, the Israeli Cabinet convened for seven hours. The topic at hand was what everyone has been talking about, namely whether Israel will realize that it has no choice and will mount a ground military operation in Gaza. Such an operation could exact a heavy price not only from the Palestinians but also from the Israelis. At times of war, we are not authorized to report from the meetings of the Cabinet. What is clear, however, is that there are disagreements. As chairman of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu constantly preached for a ground incursion into Gaza to bring down Hamas rule. Now that he serves as prime minister, he realizes that life is more complex. He knows that one day we might all miss Hamas, the way we now miss Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi and — having been acquainted with IS — also Osama bin Laden. Israel has already killed many of Hamas’ military and political leaders, yet each time a more radical figure replaced them.

Paradoxically enough, Israel has no interest today in toppling Hamas. It knows that the vacuum that will be created will turn into a magnet for a more radical organization. And that’s why, as a high-ranking Israeli diplomatic official told me this week, Israel pounds Hamas with one hand while helping it with the other. It continues to supply electricity, water, vital products, food, cash and medicine to Gaza. This is a totally insane situation, whereby a statelike entity fires hundreds of rockets daily at its neighbor and at the same time continues to suck that neighbor’s nipples for everything it needs for its sustenance. This kind of a situation is possible only here, in our neighborhood, IDF officials opine.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on for more than 100 years, but its current format began in 1947, when the United Nations voted with a great majority for the partition of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and its division between Jews and Arabs. Back in the day, the Jewish population was 600,000 strong. Almost defenseless with very few weapons and ammunition, it was pitted against some 1.3 million well-equipped and armed Arabs. Standing behind Israel back in those days were the 6 million Jews who had just been murdered in the Holocaust. Standing behind the Arabs were all the Arab states and their regular armies. The Jews said “yes” to the partition plan whereas the Arabs said “no.” On the day after the proclamation of Israel’s independence, five Arab states invaded it, and that was on top of the local gangs that had long been fighting the Jews.

Against all odds, the young Israel prevailed during its war for independence. So what has happened since? Despite seven wars, Israel continued to develop by leaps and bounds. Today, it’s one of the most developed economies in the world. Its gross domestic product is just shy of the European figures. The standard of living is sky-high. It enjoys modern, high-quality medicine that is sought after the world over. Its high-tech industry blazes new paths and is considered an immense and leading growth engine by any standard. Having progressive agriculture, unique developments are being introduced. Israel is home to the Weizmann Institute, one of the most reputable scientific institutions in the world as well as to the Technion (Israel Technology Institute), with its sterling reputation within academic circles all over the world. Israel enjoys one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, demonstrating particularly low birth mortality. Tel Aviv has emerged as one of the trendiest, chic and modern cities in the world, a beloved magnet for the GLBT community. Israel is the only country in the world that has developed a system that intercepts low-trajectory rockets. Launching satellites into space, it is at the cutting edge of developing unmanned aerial vehicles.

Across the border — in Gaza, for example — hate reigns supreme. During those dozens of years, the Palestinians have nurtured their victimhood, fueling hate and incitement. They have repeatedly tried to harm Israel and bring about its destruction through wars, terrorism and propaganda.

As I am writing this, reports keep flooding my cell phone. Since this morning, dozens of rockets have been fired at Israel. A major fire broke out at a gas station. A house in the south took a direct hit, but the family, having gone into the safe room, was spared. Four rockets were intercepted over Tel Aviv. Air-raid sirens wail throughout the country, yet the Israeli public accepts the situation with relative equanimity. These are ordinary people who, half-smilingly, have come to terms with this existence. They know this is not a battle between peoples or between armies. What we have here is a battle between civilizations. On the one hand, we have a nation that sanctifies life. On the other, we have a population with a segment that sanctifies death. When we prevail — and that has happened quite a few times since 1948 — they go back home to plan their next assault. If they ever win, even once — perish the thought — they will simply slaughter us. This is the whole philosophy in a nutshell and that is the reason that compels us to always and forever win.

 

 

Iran Still on Track for 2015 ICBM Flight Test

July 11, 2014

Iran Still on Track for 2015 ICBM Flight Test, Washington Free Beacon, July 11, 2014

Mideast Iran Army DayA missile on display at an Iranian Army parade / AP

The Free Beacon reported in November Iranian missile technicians secretly visited North Korea as part of joint development of a new rocket booster for long-range missiles or space launchers.

The secret missile cooperation took place at the same time nuclear talks took place in Geneva, according to U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports.

The cooperation involved groups of technicians from the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG), that is building Iran’s liquid-fueled missiles that traveled to Pyongyang.

The work involved a new, 80-ton rocket booster being developed by the North Koreans for use on a new long-range missile or space booster.

U.S. officials said the rocket could be used to deliver nuclear warheads.

 

Iran is continuing work on a long-range ballistic missile that could be flight-tested by next year despite the latest Pentagon report to Congress on Tehran’s military that omitted earlier references to the looming ICBM threat.

“The 2014 Iran Military Power report confirms that Iran could have an ICBM capability by 2015,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

“We have known this since well before the Obama administration,” Rogers said. “This unchanging fact is one of the reasons I have been and continue to be concerned about the administration’s efforts to dismantle our missile defenses.”

Rogers said that suggestions that somehow the danger of Iran’s developing long-range missile capabilities has diminished, or that the Pentagon report has altered U.S. intelligence assessments “is untrue.”

Greg Thielmann, a former State Department intelligence analyst, told Insidedefense.com that the omission represented a significant shift in assessments of the Iranian missile program.

Thielmann, now with the liberal Arms Control Association, said the language change means the U.S. intelligence community is “losing confidence” in its earlier prediction that the Iranians could test an ICBM by 2015. He accused advocates of missile defense of using the estimate to “pump up the Iranian threat.”

Thielmann, in an interview, stood by his assertion that the omission is significant. “I think that 2015 number is growing a little moldy,” he said. “They’ve made the same prediction for three years and there’s little or no evidence of movement in that direction” of an ICBM flight test.

Rogers stated that the comments by arms control activists about the supposed change in the missile threat estimate were misguided and based on a lack of access to intelligence reporting.

The use of the omission by arms controllers “shows why it is a mistake to rely on so-called ‘experts’ who don’t have access to the intelligence policy makers see and use every day,” Rogers said.

“The debate about the ballistic missile threat to the United States deserves facts and not the disarmament community’s biases and fantasies,” he said.

A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment on the language changes in the report on Iran’s ICBM program.

The United States and NATO have deployed advanced missile defenses in Europe on ships and will build a land-based missile interceptor base in Eastern Europe to counter the threat from Iran’s missiles.

The rush to deploy defenses has been based in part on the threat posed by Iran’s growing missile force—a threat repeated by senior U.S. intelligence officials to Congress in several recent appearances.

The latest Pentagon report on Iran’s military, dated January 2014 but released by the Pentagon this week, states that Iran since the late 1980s has been working to build ballistic missiles to counter regional threats and to project power.

“Iran has a substantial inventory of missiles capable of reaching targets throughout the region, including Israel, and the regime continues to develop more sophisticated missiles,” the report said.

The controversy over the report’s assessment, however, is based on the statement that “Iran has publicly stated it may launch a space launch vehicle by 2015 that could be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile ranges if configured as a ballistic missile.”

The sentence replaced a more explicit statement in last year’s report that said “with sufficient foreign assistance, Iran may be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015.”

However, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in February confirmed for the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran’s ICBM capability was still on track for possible testing in 2015.

Asked his assessment of the Iranian ICBM program, Flynn said, “I think when the Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] talked about our assessment being in the 2015 timeframe, given the development that we’ve seen, that’s accurate.”

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Jan. 29, the same month the Iran report was produced, that “Iran would choose a ballistic missile as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons.”

Clapper said Iran is making progress on its space launch vehicles and when combined with plans to deter the United States and its allies have given Tehran “the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile.”

Anthony Cordesman, a military affairs expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said estimating foreign missile programs is difficult.

“The basic problem with any estimate of a missile development is the definition of capability,” he said in an email. “If the issue is booster range, you can have a much earlier date in year than a reliable, tested missile with a functional warhead.”

By ignoring accuracy and reliability, missiles can be considered deployed years earlier, he said.

“Given the fact that this is mid-2014, and Iran has not shown it even has a suitable booster, it makes little sense to talk about 2015,” Cordesman said. “However, this only, highlights the fact that any date that is not tied to some meaningful definition of ‘ICBM’ is itself meaningless.”

Additionally, an effective ICBM threat must be directly linked to the question of payload—with a nuclear warhead producing the most serious threat.

“When would Iran be capable of developing a reliable ICBM missile with a nuclear warhead?” Cordesman asked. “All in all, the intelligence community should never have made such an ill-defined and largely meaningless prediction in the first place.”

The Free Beacon reported in November Iranian missile technicians secretly visited North Korea as part of joint development of a new rocket booster for long-range missiles or space launchers.

The secret missile cooperation took place at the same time nuclear talks took place in Geneva, according to U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports.

The cooperation involved groups of technicians from the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG), that is building Iran’s liquid-fueled missiles that traveled to Pyongyang.

The work involved a new, 80-ton rocket booster being developed by the North Koreans for use on a new long-range missile or space booster.

U.S. officials said the rocket could be used to deliver nuclear warheads.

The idea that the Pentagon has dialed back estimates of Iran’s long-range missile develop also are contradicted by a report published in July 2013 by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, the Pentagon’s premier missile intelligence center.

“Iran will likely continue to pursue longer range ballistic missiles and more capable [space-launch vehicles], which could lead to the development of an ICBM system,” the report said, noting that “Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015.”

The latest Pentagon report states that Iran is continuing to develop technological capabilities useful in building nuclear arms and long-range missiles that could be used as nuclear delivery vehicles.

However, the report then notes Tehran’s agreement to a joint plan of action with the United States and several European states that calls for limits on Iran’s illicit nuclear program.

“Iran continues to develop its anti-access and area denial (A2AD) capabilities to control the Strait of Hormuz and its approaches,” the report said. “Tehran is quietly fielding increasingly lethal symmetric and asymmetric weapon systems, including more advanced naval mines, small but capable submarines, coastal defense cruise missile batteries, attack craft, and anti-ship ballistic missiles.”

The report repeated language from last year’s report that Iran has adopted a defensive military doctrine designed to deter attacks, survive initial strikes and retaliate.

It stated that Iran appears to have moderated its strategic messaging that boasted of growing military capabilities under the regime leader Hassan Rouhani.

But the report warned that “Iran’s covert activities appear to be continuing unabated in countries such as Syria and Iraq.”

“Despite Iran’s public denials, for example, other information suggests Iran is increasingly involved, along with Lebanese Hezbollah, in the Syria conflict,” the report said. “The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) remains a key tool of Iran’s foreign policy and power projection, in Syria and beyond. IRGC-QF has continued efforts to improve its access within foreign countries and its ability to conduct terrorist attacks.”

The two-page unclassified summary of the Pentagon report was first disclosed by InsideDefense.com. A copy was obtained by the Free Beacon.

Here’s What Hamas And Israel Think ‘Victory’ Looks Like In Gaza

July 11, 2014

Here’s What Hamas And Israel Think ‘Victory’ Looks Like In Gaza, Business InsiderArmin Rosen, July 11, 2014

(Is Israel’s goal merely a return to the status quo so that it can dance the same dance again and again with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, IS and Fatah? — DM)

Gaza air strikeSmoke rising over the Gaza Strip after an Israeli strike, REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Israel and Hamas have vastly different objectives in their conflict in the Gaza Strip.

At least publicly, Israel is defining victory as a return to the status quo. Today, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu convened his first question and answer-type press conference in over two years. Instead of using the occasion to announce a ground operation or even an intensified aerial campaign, Netanyahu said: “The military strikes will continue until we can be certain that the quiet has returned to Israeli citizens.”

On a conference call with reporters earlier today, Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., echoed this, saying “the goal is essentially to restore quiet to Israel.”

Israel already has a template for an acceptable outcome in Gaza. During the last major escalation in 2012, Israel destroyed nearly the entirety of Hamas’s Iranian-made long-range Fajr 5 rocket arsenal and secured a ceasefire that held for over 18 months — 2013 saw only 40 total rocket attacks, half as many as took place last Monday alone.

With no real appetite for a full-scale invasion and possible blowback from a protracted ground war — ranging from international condemnation to added chaos in Gaza in the event of Hamas’s violent overthrow — Israel’s goals are probably the same as the last time around. They want to stop the rocket fire and destroy long range rockets that can hit major population centers.

Israel is already advancing towards that objective, with Israeli TV reporting that the Army believes one third of Hamas’s long-range arsenal has been used or destroyed.

Their destruction is the closest Israel can get to its version of victory. One of the more overlooked aspects of the long-running war between Israel and Hamas is Israel’s acceptance of a baseline level of violence against communities along the Gaza border. Towns like Sderot are attacked far more frequently than more central areas and are vulnerable to mortar attacks that the Iron Dome system can’t intercept.

Attacks deep in the Israeli interior represent a much graver problem for Israeli policymakers, and Hamas knows it. As a Stratfor report noted today, Hamas will sometimes launch Fajr 5s without a payload, sacrificing destructive power for range and psychological impact. The Syrian-made and Iranian-supplied Khaibar 1 is difficult to aim but carries up to a 330-pound warhead nearly 100 miles. There was a red alert in Lod earlier today, the town where Ben Gurion International Airport is located, and Hamas has fired rockets towards Dimona, home to Israel’s nuclear reactor.

Destroying the long-range rockets precludes the possibility of a strategic tipping point for the Israelis: an attack on a piece of vital infrastructure that would have to be treated as the tripwire for a much larger operation.

For Hamas, the definition of victory is less intuitive. Hamas is a radical militant organization with a religiously based ideology; as such, it does not have the same objectives, structure, responsibilities or basic view on the world that a conventional state might have. It can lose equipment, soldiers, and infrastructure, and still “win.”

That’s arguably what’s going on right now.

As Beirut-based analyst Michael Young explained in Now Lebanon, this war has allowed Hamas to show off new weaponry, deepen its ties to Iran, and politically isolate its main domestic ally: the suddenly even-more-hapless-looking Mahmoud Abbas, the aging and dubiously president of the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas may very well be acting in its own rational interests here. The more Israeli bombardments it survives, the more entrenched the group becomes. The more improbable its extermination seems, the more the reality sinks in that the Palestinian Authority, and perhaps, eventually, the Israelis, will have to deal with them as a legitimate political entity, whether they disarm or not.

In this conflict, Hamas is reasserting itself as an indelible fact of life in the region at a time when the group appeared to be at its very weakest. There’s even a chance the Palestinian unity government survives this — after all, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has beenhesitant to condemn Hamas’s rocket bombardment, and explicitlycompared Israel’s Gaza offensive to the Holocaust. He knows Hamas will survives this, and he knows that he’ll have no choice but to accommodate them or co-opt their message.

Hamas isn’t just acting rationally here. It’s also closer to its concept of “victory” in this confrontation than Israel is.

IAF Hits Rocket Launcher, Hamas Gathering

July 11, 2014

IAF Hits Rocket Launcher,

Hamas Gathering in GazaLatest Israeli airstrikes target launcher used to fire rockets at Tel Aviv and a gathering of Hamas terrorist in Gaza City.

By Elad Benari, CanadaFirst Publish: 7/11/2014, 11:10 PM

via IAF Hits Rocket Launcher, Hamas Gathering – Defense/Security – News – Arutz Sheva.

 

Light flare over Gaza after airstrike Flash 90
 

The Israel Air Force (IAF) on Friday night launched several airstrikes in Gaza, hitting the launcher from which rockets were fired towards Tel Aviv earlier in the evening.

A second airstrike targeted a gathering of Hamas terrorist in the Sajaiya neighborhood in Gaza City. Palestinian Authority media reported that several people were wounded in the attack.

The airstrikes are a part of Operation Protective Edge, which was in its fourth day on Friday.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Friday afternoon that the operation will continue until rocket fire from Gaza terrorists stops.

“The pace of attacks in this operation is double that of Operation Pillar of Defense and the military strikes will continue until we can be certain that the quiet has returned to Israeli citizens,” declared Netanyahu, who made clear that “no terrorist target in the Gaza Strip is immune, but it must be pointed out that Hamas’s leaders, commanders and activists are hiding behind the residents of Gaza and they are responsible for any injury to them.”

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said on Friday that the operation will be widened as necessary.

“They made a mistake in Gaza in deciding to exert force against us. They understand that it was a great mistake. At this stage we are using all of our offensive means. On the other hand, we know there are civilians (in Gaza), Hamas has turned them into hostages,” said Gantz.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)

‘In the end, we will have to go in’

July 11, 2014

‘In the end, we will have to go in’, Israel Hayom, Lilach Shoval, July 11, 2014

At this time no one can hedge when or how Operation Protective Edge will end, but a ground incursion seems unavoidable • Eradicating the robust terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip cannot be done in one fell swoop, military officials say.

Israeli tanks deployedIsraeli tanks deployed on the Israel-Gaza Strip border | Photo credit: AFP

Without a trick up its sleeve or a fell swoop, Israel will have to bring ground forces into Gaza. Although a ground operation tends to become complicated and lead to casualties among the troops, the brilliant deterrent move from Operation Pillar of Defense cannot be done again without an incursion. It is impossible to threaten again without following through on the threat, since the threat then loses credibility. Army officials say that to maintain deterrence, Israel will be required to prove that it does not fear a ground operation in the Gaza Strip and bring troops inside, even if in a limited manner.

It has been a few days since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, and neither side can tell how much longer it will go on, or how it will end. Army officials are increasingly talking about how Israel will have no alternative but a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip, even a small and limited one.

There are many reasons for this. The first is that unlike 2008’s Operation Cast Lead and 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, Operation Protective Edge did not begin with a warning strike, such as the killing of a high-ranking figure or the destruction of Hamas’ long-term capabilities. This time, there was a gradual deterioration. It went from the kidnapping and murder of the three boys in Judea and Samaria to the army’s operation to find their bodies, with the terrible internal state of affairs in Gaza as a backdrop. All these things led Hamas to escalate its rocket fire at Israel.

What made Hamas finally take off the gloves this week was the killing of several of its operatives in a tunnel rigged with explosives that they had prepared in the Kerem Shalom area. On Monday evening, after several days of sporadic rocket fire and disregard of rebel groups, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Israel.

The decision to begin the operation was delayed for several days because the top security echelon wanted to avoid being dragged into a operation in Gaza of a larger scale than it had planned. Even after the decision was made to begin the operation, Israel, in an effort to keep a way open to end the operation quickly, announced a policy of “stages of using force” according to which Israel’s response would escalate according to Hamas’s action.

Hamas tried to surprise Israel in almost every way possible in an attempt to create a “picture of victory.” Among other things, it sent a special force of divers to infiltrate into Israel near Kibbutz Zikim to perpetrate a terror attack. Members of Hamas’ special forces also tried to use a tunnel rigged with explosives in Kerem Shalom. In addition, they launched shoulder-fired Strela and Igla missiles at Air Force aircraft. Their purpose in doing all this was to create a “picture of victory.” All their attempts failed.

In addition, Hamas fired rockets at Tel Aviv, later expanding its range of fire almost to Haifa in the north and Dimona in the east, hoping to strike the strategic “textile factory.” The rocket fire at these ranges confirmed Israel’s fears that Hamas had managed to smuggle working M-302 rocket into the Gaza Strip.

Just four months ago, Israel sent a vessel 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away from Israel’s shores to prevent 40 of those rockets from reaching the Gaza Strip. It is very doubtful that Israel’s intelligence services could say with certainty that Hamas in Gaza had similar rockets in its possession.

Another problem is that Israeli intelligence has only partial information about the location of the long-range rockets, which makes it difficult to destroy them. The second limitation preventing the Air Force from attacking them is that some of these rockets are being kept near innocent civilians, and harming them would compromise Israel’s legitimacy for the operation in Gaza.

It cannot be done in one fell swoop

At the same time, Israel can take pride in its successes. Three years after the Iron Dome system intercepted its first rocket, the army already fully admits that it has strategic significance. Thanks to Iron Dome, of the hundreds of rockets fired at populated areas in Israel at a range of more than 10 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, only a few fell in urban areas.

In Operation Protective Edge, the Air Force’s aerial defense array reconstructed what it did during Operation Pillar of Defense. Seven Iron Dome batteries are deployed in the south of Israel, the center and the Judean Hills region.

Yet, as successful as it is, Iron Dome is a defense system that cannot be Israel’s winning ace in the Gaza Strip. Israel can continue attacking the Gaza Strip from the air, but it is important to remember that the number of targets that can be attacked without causing massive casualties among innocent civilians is limited, even if targets are “manufactured” during the fighting.

Without a trick up its sleeve or a fell swoop, Israel will have to bring ground forces into Gaza. Although a ground operation tends to become complicated and lead to casualties among the troops, the brilliant deterrent move from Operation Pillar of Defense cannot be done again without an incursion. It is impossible to threaten again without following through on the threat, since the threat then loses credibility. Army officials say that to maintain deterrence, Israel will be required to prove that it does not fear a ground operation in the Gaza Strip and bring troops inside, even if in a limited manner.

It seems at this stage that the ground incursion will be relatively limited and smaller than the one we saw in Operation Cast Lead. The security cabinet has allowed the army to call up 40,000 reserve troops. As of this writing, only part of that number was mobilized, and those who were called up were sent to replace regular troops in the north, south and center to free up the better-trained regular-army troops for the operation in the Gaza Strip.

It is also important to recall that a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip will not bring Hamas down. Although the incursion’s purpose is to claim a price from Hamas and apply pressure to it, Israel will try to make sure that the operation stays limited, and a limited operation will not topple Hamas from power. Army officials say that we must also consider that a ground incursion could also lead to trouble erupting in other areas, such as Judea and Samaria, where only recently we were painfully reminded of how explosive it was.

Defense establishment officials realize that the operation will not be able to end in military action alone. According to a senior officer, “There will not be a final bombardment after which they will wave a white flag. The military process must be combined with a political one. In claiming the price, the army needs to create conditions for the political echelon so that the political process will work.” The problem is that in the meantime, both sides are behaving as though they were under no pressure to end the operation by a specific time.

Obama’s Mixed Middle East Messages

July 11, 2014

Obama’s Mixed Middle East Messages, Commentary Magazine, July 11, 2014

Palestinians can be forgiven for thinking Obama’s mixed messages give them no reason to make their own hard decisions about embracing peace.

Israelis can also draw conclusions from America’s ambivalent attitude toward Hamas. While it’s not clear that any Israeli strike on Gaza will restore a sense of deterrence, Netanyahu would be wise not to base a decision about his country’s security on any assumptions about how to retain the good will of the Obama administration. Either way, they are very much on their own.

 

President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and offered to help mediate a cease-fire with Hamasthat was accompanied by a statement of support for Israel’s right to self-defense. But Israel is not jumping at the proposal. And, as much as Israelis would love for the rocket attacks from Gaza to stop, that reluctance is well founded.

It’s still not clear if the Israeli ground operation that many have suggested is inevitable will actually take place. In a rare press conference held today, Netanyahu played his cards pretty close to his vest, merely saying that he will continue Israeli operations against Hamas terrorist bases in Gaza “until all quiet is restored to Israeli citizens.” But the assumption is that while the characteristically cautious Netanyahu is deeply reluctant to send troops into Gaza—a move that would likely cause casualties on both sides to spike—he also knows that merely letting Hamas stop shooting and then declare victory is not in Israel’s interest either.

Though Gaza is being pounded hard by strikes aimed at silencing the rocket attacks that have rained down by their hundreds on Israel in the last week without causing a single fatality, Hamas may well emerge as the victor in this exchange if it is allowed to exit the conflict with its rocket arsenal and infrastructure intact. More importantly, if, thanks to U.S. diplomacy, Hamas is allowed to remain inside the Palestinian Authority government and strengthened by its stance defying Israel, then the result will make it even less likely that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will ever summon the will to break with the Islamists and make peace with the Jewish state.

The irony here is that even though Hamas is clearly losing the military battle in this contest of Israeli air power and missile defense against the terrorist rocket launchers, it believes it is winning the political battle. In its isolation after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and the sealing of the Gaza smuggling tunnels by the new military regime in Cairo, causing a severe cash-flow problem, Hamas was forced to embrace unity with Abbas’s Fatah. That exposed them to criticism from Palestinians who said they had given up the struggle against Israel but also offered the group a chance to strengthen its organization in the West Bank.

In the wake of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas operatives, Israel rounded up many of the group’s members on the West Bank. Hamas then stepped up the missile fire from Gaza that had never really stopped completely even after the latest cease-fire brokered by Egypt and the U.S. in 2012. But by starting what appears to be a new war, the Islamists have regained their credibility among Palestinians as the address for violence against Israelis, a quality that has always served as the principal credential for any party seeking their support.

That means Hamas gains ground—at least in a political sense—vis-à-vis Fatah no matter whether the Israelis invade Gaza. If the Israelis don’t strike back on the ground and a cease-fire leaves Hamas’s infrastructure and arsenal intact, it can claim victory. But even if the Israelis do attack and take out much of their armaments, they can also claim that they stood up to the Israelis and strengthened their claim of being a better exponent of Palestinian nationalism than Fatah in an environment that will have become more radicalized.

Where does the United States fit into this?

The problem with the president’s expressions of support for Israel is that they have also been accompanied not only by calls for “restraint”—which are rightly interpreted as a not-so-subtle demand that the Jewish state’s armed forces stand down—but by continuing ambivalence about Hamas’s presence in the PA government. Just this week Obama praised Abbas, who embraced Hamas as his partner in April, while pointedly snubbing Netanyahu. The U.S. has refused to cut aid to the PA even though U.S. law demands that it be shut down due to the Fatah alliance with Hamas.

While the Palestinians don’t need encouragement from the U.S. to cause them to embrace radical positions that make peace impossible, the mixed messages from Washington, including today’s offer of mediation with a group that even Obama’s State Department still classifies as a terror group, heightens Israel’s sense of isolation and makes it harder for the Jewish state to deter Hamas terror.

Deterrence is the key word here since the Israelis understandably have no appetite to a return to control of Gaza or even of toppling Hamas since they worry about which radical group would replace it. However, the goal of making it more difficult for Hamas to launch strikes such as the ones that have paralyzed Israeli life the past few days remains.

The Obama administration has strengthened security ties with Israel and been generous with military aid, a point that has re-emphasized the importance of the Iron Dome system. But it has accompanied that help with constant criticism and diplomatic maneuvering that has made it clear that Netanyahu cannot count on Washington’s support if he seeks to significantly weaken Hamas in Gaza.

Moreover, so long as the administration refuses to pressure Abbas to cut ties with Hamas, it is impossible to expect the so-called moderates of Fatah—whose members have joined in the launching of rockets from Gaza at civilian targets in Israel—to reject the Islamists or their determination to keep the conflict simmering. Indeed, it is a given that any cease-fire with Hamas will be followed by renewed American calls for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and other concessions. Rewarding Hamas for terror won’t convince either side to take risks for peace. In exchange for real peace, most Israelis would be willing to make painful sacrifices. But the latest bout of terrorism and the barrage of hundreds of rockets aimed at Israeli cities understandably make most citizens of the Jewish state reluctant to replicate the independent Palestinian state in all but name that exists in Gaza in the West Bank.

Palestinians can be forgiven for thinking Obama’s mixed messages give them no reason to make their own hard decisions about embracing peace.

Israelis can also draw conclusions from America’s ambivalent attitude toward Hamas. While it’s not clear that any Israeli strike on Gaza will restore a sense of deterrence, Netanyahu would be wise not to base a decision about his country’s security on any assumptions about how to retain the good will of the Obama administration. Either way, they are very much on their own.

House passes resolution to support Israel in face of rocket attacks

July 11, 2014

House passes resolution to support Israel in face of rocket attacks, The HillCristina Marcos, July 11, 2014

The House on Friday passed a resolution by unanimous consent to express U.S. support for Israel after rocket attacks from the terrorist group Hamas. 

Rockets launched into Israel were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system near parts of Tel Aviv. Israel’s Defense Forces said that it had hit 160 terrorist targets in Gaza overnight on Wednesday. At least 44 people died in those attacks, according to reports.

Violence in the Middle East has escalated recently after the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were found and a Palestinian teen was killed in an attack believed to be retaliatory.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the resolution supported the U.S. commitment to Israel.

“Today, the House reaffirmed its support for Israel to take all necessary and appropriate action to defend its citizens,” Royce said in a statement. “With these threats arrayed against Israel, we will continue [to] stand with the Israeli people.”

Outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the only Jewish Republican in Congress, said that the U.S. should condemn Iran for its role in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“I call on the Obama administration to dispense with the fantasy that Iranian President Rouhani is a reformer and acknowledge the Iranian regime for what it is: the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism and a driver of regional instability,” Cantor said.