How is this Gaza conflict different from other Gaza conflicts?
By Ben Sales
SDEROT, Israel (JTA) — In a little more than a week, Israel has endured more than a thousand rockets.
Yet the only Israeli death so far from Hamas’ attacks was a civilian killed Tuesday by mortar fire while visiting soldiers near the Erez border crossing into Gaza.
In many ways, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge — its third Gaza operation in six years — is much like previous Israeli campaigns in the territory. Israel has used airstrikes to exact a toll on Hamas and has massed troops on the Gaza border, threatening a ground invasion.
So far, Israel has conducted nearly 1,500 airstrikes over Gaza, with more than 190 Gazans having died as of Tuesday.
With only a single Israeli fatality so far, this conflict has been like no other in the country’s history. Despite Hamas rockets that travel farther than ever, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted 90 percent of the rockets heading toward population centers, and early-warning sirens and shelters have protected residents.
Iron Dome was first used during Israel’s 2012 conflict with Hamas, though the system has added batteries and been more fully developed since. In that conflict, six Israelis were killed, five of them from rocket fire.
The protective shield provided by Iron Dome has allowed most Israelis to continue their daily lives. And even amid discussion of a cease-fire, it has given the army breathing room to continue its mission.
“We are striking Hamas with increasing strength,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Cabinet meeting July 13, addressing Israeli citizens. “Regarding civil defense, one needs not only an Iron Dome but iron discipline as well. You have shown this up until now. This could yet take a long time, and we need both your support and your discipline.”
Israel’s goal in this conflict is to destroy Hamas’ rocket stocks and launchers while reasserting the Israel Defense Forces’ military deterrence. Meanwhile, the Israeli home front has been guarded by Iron Dome. Within seconds of when a rocket is launched, Iron Dome identifies the type of missile fired, maps where it came from and where it will land, and — if necessary — fires a missile to knock it out of the sky.
The missile defense system has managed to intercept about 90 percent of its targets.
“If anyone hit 9 of 10 in the majors, he would be cast in gold and sent to Cooperstown,” Eran Lerman, deputy chief of Israel’s National Security Council, told a Jewish Federations of North America delegation Monday, referring to America’s Baseball Hall of Fame.
Lerman hailed Israel’s “remarkable ability to defend ourselves technologically.”
Experiencing loss of life from war has been central to the Israeli experience. Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day, is a solemn occasion for the country. Civilian and military deaths have been a key part of the calculus of when to begin and end military campaigns.
With Protective Edge, Israel has so far experienced a new kind of conflict.
But Amichai Cohen, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, wrote that Iron Dome could lead to more blame being assigned to Israel because its civilians are less exposed to harm than is Gaza’s population.
“Given the real, yet much smaller threat that rockets pose to Israeli civilian lives after the invention of Iron Dome, there is a real question of whether the IDF’s freedom of action has been curtailed,” Cohen wrote in an email sent out Monday by his institute. “Is the IDF, in effect, penalized for this life-saving technology?”
One place that doesn’t benefit from Iron Dome is Sderot, a city in the western Negev that has been absorbing Qassam rockets from Gaza since 2000. Because Sderot is only about a half-mile from the Gaza border, Iron Dome doesn’t have time to intercept the rockets. Residents have 15 seconds from the time of a warning siren to run for shelter.
Speaking to leaders of North American Jewish community federations who came to show solidarity with the city, Sderot’s mayor, Alon Davidi, encouraged the Israeli army to fight until it eliminates Hamas’ offensive capabilities. He said that the long-range rockets now being fired into the rest of the country have made millions of Israelis understand what Sderot has had to endure.
“All of the country feels what it means to want to save your life,” Davidi said. “In Tel Aviv they have two minutes. We have 15 seconds. We have a joke: If we lived in Tel Aviv we could take a shower and make coffee” before seeking shelter.
“We pray the army can do the job and succeed with the operation,” he added.
Many Israelis would likely welcome the respite from running to bomb shelters that a cease-fire would provide. But Talia Levanon, head of the Israel Trauma Coalition, said that if this operation ends like Israel’s last in 2012, there will hardly be a break in the conflict for Sderot.
“Whether it’s called an operation or it’s called a war, we need to seek shelter with my children and grandchildren,” Levanon said. “Right now we speak of a cease-fire. We’ll wait a year or two years for it to happen again. We’re always licking the wounds of the previous operation and preparing for next time.”
Let Israel do its job
By Gil Elan
As of this writing, Tuesday morning July 15, 2014, it is clear that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have rejected the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire that was to begin at 9 a.m. Israel time. Israel accepted the proposal, and refrained from attacking targets in Gaza for more than eight hours. In that time more than 50 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel. At that point Israel, now having full international legitimacy to stop the attacks on its citizens, renewed the precision airstrikes and is preparing for a ground assault.
The anti-missile system Iron Dome is doing an outstanding job of intercepting more than 90 percent of the rockets headed for populated areas. As of this afternoon the IDF has increased the intensity and quality of strikes against terrorist targets in Gaza, while making every effort to prevent civilian casualties. How did it start? What was Hamas thinking when it decided to rain rockets on Israel? That Israel’s reaction would be any less fierce than in the two previous Gaza wars? Knowing exactly what Israel does when even one rocket or mortar shell is fired, why would they launch hundreds, bringing on themselves so much pain and destruction?
To answer these questions we have to go back to June 12, when the three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank.
Within 24 hours the Israelis knew, from the forensic evidence in the “burnt car” that they had been shot and were probably dead. They also knew the names of the two Hamas terrorists who did it. And yet for the next three weeks, thousands of soldiers and Shin Bet agents searched almost every hill, house, well, cave and valley — especially in and around the city of Hebron where the car had been found.
So while it’s true that some of them were looking for the teens, either to rescue or retrieve, the IDF’s main mission was to utilize a unique opportunity to dismantle the political and terrorist infrastructure that Hamas had carefully and quietly built in the West Bank. It included political offices, terrorist recruitment and training bases, command and control centers, weapon and ammunition factories and stockpiles, and an elaborate network of underground spaces and tunnels under the city of Hebron.
During the operation more than 600 active members of Hamas were arrested, including 50 that had been released in the Gilad Shalit deal. Dozens of computers and hundreds of files were seized, together with substantial quantities of weapons. Some of the most significant seizures were very large sums of money that were deposited in local Arab banks, as part of an elaborate and illegal worldwide Hamas funding scheme.
The leadership of Hamas in Gaza and Qatar panicked. Realizing that they were losing their entire infrastructure and assets in the West Bank, and that Israel, even after the teens were found slain, was intensifying the operation against them, they decided to start what they thought would be a small tit-for-tat “skirmish,” in the South to force Israel to ease up in the West Bank.
Hamas fired two small rockets and one mortar shell into Israel. In the immediate response, the IDF killed the terrorists and their commander. Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets, triggering operation “Protective Edge.”
The objective of Operation Protective Edge, as defined by Prime Minister Netanyahu, is to restore long term quiet and security to Israeli civilians by seriously degrading Hamas and other terrorist groups’ capabilities in Gaza, while inflicting a significant blow to Hamas and the other organizations.
Lebanon: The three rockets fired last Friday from Lebanon into Northern Israel were answered immediately with pinpoint artillery fire that destroyed the launchers. Hezbollah was not involved. Shiite Hezbollah has no intention of opening another front in the North. Neither will Iran allow it to put the more than 40,000 rockets and missiles it has in Lebanon at risk — certainly not to help Sunni Hamas. Also — because Iran is convinced that with the expected failure of the P5+1 nuclear deal this week, Israel may now launch a military strike. With the extensive damage to Hamas in Gaza, those rockets in Lebanon are the only force projector Iran has left to either deter Israel, or be used in punishing retaliation.
The Israelis and their allies in the region (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.) know that the rockets and missiles in Lebanon must be neutralized before any strike on Iran is possible. There is nothing the Israelis would like more than to be given the justification to go into Lebanon with double the fire-power being used in Gaza today to eliminate that threat.
In the new Middle East, with ISIS gaining strength and support daily, with Hezbollah taking over Lebanon and Iran racing to have nuclear weapons, showing weakness is not a luxury Israel can afford. With the failed cease-fire attempt, and Hamas still holding a stockpile of more than 6,000 rockets, Israel has a job to do. It will not be short. There will be casualties and pain. But the alternative is much worse. Imagine ISIS taking over Gaza with all the rockets, mortars and terrorist tunnels still intact.
Let Israel do its job.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lieutenant Colonel (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East Analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org. DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed above the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.