No Cause for Celebration

This morning’s Ynet carried an AFP banner photograph of a Palestinian child brandishing a semi-automatic weapon as Gaza celebrated its “victory” over Israel in the recent war of attrition. 

In its never ending campaign of deception, Hamas seeks to persuade war weary Gazans that it was all worthwhile, that the borders will now be open to free trade and that an airport and seaport will be constructed.

The inability of the Palestinian leadership to face facts and come to terms with the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East will continue to lead them down a path paved with delusion, frustration and disappointment.

Gazans have paid an incredibly high price for having once again chosen to rain rockets down on Israel’s cities and kibbutzim. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed and much larger numbers injured. They and their families will bear the physical and emotional scars of this war for the rest of their lives.

They say it will take up to 10 years to repair the damage caused to infrastructure, homes and commercial properties in a war that lasted just 50 days.

Meanwhile, the mood in Israel is not one of celebration. While the rockets and the mortars have ceased and air raid sirens are no longer sending us rushing to our shelters, there is nevertheless a sense that the outcome of Operation Defensive Edge was not clear-cut or decisive and that this could have been just another round in a never ending conflict.

People are looking at Israel’s military and civilian casualties and are wondering what has really been achieved and at what a price in both human and material terms. Hamas was not forced to surrender unilaterally much to the disappointment not only of many in Israel but also of Egypt’s military rulers.

Israel cannot afford to return to the status quo ante. Next time Hamas will have more sophisticated rockets and other weaponry and will be better placed to target Israel’s civilian population.

Had not Amir Peretz faced down skeptics and pushed for the development of the Iron Dome rocket interceptor system during his term as Minister of Defence, the current war would have turned out very differently. Israel would have had no alternative other than to launch a ground offensive and many more soldiers would have lost their lives.

It is significant that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not bring the proposed current ceasefire to his Cabinet for approval. Had he done so, he would not have found the majority he needed.

Now all will depend upon the outcome of indirect negotiations scheduled for next month. Israel cannot afford to accede to Hamas’ demands for an airport and seaport without placing the nation in serious danger. Were the Palestinians to agree to Israel’s demand for a demilitarized Gaza Strip, it would be another matter. However, that isn’t about to happen. 

If any progress is to be made, it will have to take place in a much broader political context in which the Palestinian aspiration for statehood is addressed and Israel’s legitimate security concerns are met.

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“We reject this State that calls itself Israel”

On Saturday 2 August 2014 George Galloway, MP for Bradford West, attended a political party meeting of the far-left in Leeds, Yorkshire. With the Palestinian flag draped behind him, he proclaimed:

We have declared Bradford an Israel-free zone. We don’t want any Israeli goods. We don’t want any Israeli services. We don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or the college. We don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford, even if any of them had thought of doing so. We reject this illegal, barbarous, savage state that calls itself Israel. And you have to do the same.

(With respect, having visited Bradford frequently, I think it hardly unlikely that any Israeli tourist would wish to add it to the list of places in the UK worth visiting!)

It is that same maverick George Galloway who visited Iraq in 1994 and delivered a speech to Saddam Hussein, which concluded with the words: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”

According to a 2011 census, Bradford’s population is close to 30% Asian or Asian British. It has the third highest percentage of South Asians of any city in England and Wales. Given the number of Muslims living there, Mr. Galloway’s remarks about Israel will no doubt have been well received by many of his constituents. However, he has a problem.

It is reported that Israeli water treatment company “Mapal” has provided its technological solutions to Anglian Water, supplying around 6 million homes, and Thames Water supplying around 14 million customers in the London area. What is Mr. Galloway going to drink when he is at Westminster representing Bradford West?!

However, that is not the point. As Europe’s Muslim population continues to grow, politicians will increasingly be challenged to define their position on the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Defending Israel is not going to be popular and that will impact, as it already has, upon Europe’s relationship with the Jewish State.

Returning to Mr. Galloway; if he were not the biased, bigoted person that he is, he would surely sit down with Israelis and hear their views on the Middle East conflict. However, that is not about to happen. Already back in October last year he walked out  of an Oxford University debate declaring: “I don’t debate with Israelis.”

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Why Does Hamas Fight?

Why Does Hamas fight?

Every time Hamas fights, the West pressures Israel to give them a concession to stop. This encourages Hamas to keep fighting rather than to negotiate, strengthens them in their ability to fight, and harms Israel in the long run. Israel has generally given in.

But not this time. The cost for Israel to continue this game is too high. Any circumstance in which Hamas is strengthened will result in the death of more Israelis and Israel is obligated to prevent that.

The way to bring peace to both peoples and promote prosperity for the people of Gaza is to completely nullify any hope that violence will result in progress. Moves toward peace must be met with improvement for sure. Yet moves toward violence must result in increased suffering, not betterment.

This is why ceasefire talks continue to fail.

In spite of growing antisemitism and the threat of boycotts, Israel will not give in, because it cannot give in. It is that simple. The next flare-up of this conflict may well see rockets strike Ben Gurion Airport, the Towers in Tel Aviv, or Hotels in Jerusalem and terrorism resulting in terrible carnage. It is not an option for Israel to offer concessions and to hope that Hamas decides not to exploit them as they have every other time.

For the US to help bring peace, it must not only avoid pressuring Israel to make concessions, but it must demand of our allies very publicly that they also refrain from pressuring Israel as well. Hamas must see that support for Israel will not be undermined if they continue fighting. Israel’s obligation–not merely its “right”–its obligation to defend itself must not only be defended in public by our President and Secretary of State, but actively supported. Otherwise, the fighting and the suffering will go on.

 

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Why the US Opposes Israel on Gaza

During a recent interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, President Obama argued that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s high approval ratings among Israelis make him less willing to “engage in risky and divisive political endeavors” and therefore a hindrance to progress in peace negotiations. Yet, we know that to be generally untrue. Political weakness, not strength, prevents leaders from taking actions that might be unpopular. Popular leaders both have more ability to weather a storm of criticism and more ability to convince populations that needed but unpopular actions should be done. President Obama is certainly not unaware of this.

What does he mean then when he says that a strong and popular Netanyahu is “less inclined to engage in risky and divisive political endeavors?” It certainly hasn’t meant that Bibi is less capable of arguing against positions of members of his cabinet who are pushing him. He’s even been applauded by the Israeli opposition leadership in regard to his actions in Gaza and has the support of around 90% of the Israeli Jewish electorate for his conduct of this conflict. The Israeli people generally trust him to do the right thing. What this means for Netanyahu is that the population is more inclined to support him if and when he takes risks. Thus, right now, PM Netanyahu is precisely in a position from which he can make hard decisions for peace, the opposite of what President Obama appears to argue.

However, what President Obama means when he says that Netanyahu is less like to “engage in risky and divisive political endeavors” is that PM Netanyahu is less likely to be pressured by America and Europe to take steps that Netanyahu believes are wrong and are dangerous and risky for Israel. There is little doubt when this happened recently. We know dates, in fact. It happened over the weekend of July 25-27, when Sec. State Kerry and then President Obama himself reached out to PM Netanyahu to put pressure on him to agree to concessions demanded by Hamas in order to achieve a ceasefire. Netanyahu’s response to the US was to tell the US to “not ever second guess me again (on Hamas).” It also has happened over the past few days when Israel refused to agree to similar concessions demanded by Hamas.

Both the Obama Administration and PM Netanyahu likely believe that any likely alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza will be worse, but their assessments of what that understanding necessitates in the aftermath of this conflict differ. The United States would like to negotiate the end of the naval blockade and the weakening of border restrictions with the belief that the goal is to improve prosperity in Gaza under Hamas’ rule, knowing that doing that will result in the strengthening of Hamas politically and potentially militarily, but believing that to be the best of only bad possible outcomes. This policy is also one supported by Qatar and Turkey.

Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority all disagree with that plan, believing that in the least Hamas must be weakened politically and militarily after this conflict. Israeli doves would like to see Israel pursue peace with the Palestinian Authority and believe that a Hamas controlled Gaza is an impediment to the establishment of a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Therefore, in the least, they would like to see the Palestinian Authority strengthened, perhaps taking over border control in Gaza as well as supervising funding transfers and the distribution of goods that enter Gaza. Notably, this puts Israeli doves in direct opposition to the ceasefire plan proposed by America.

The vast majority of Israelis, left and right, believe that Israel cannot live with the consequences of Hamas both remaining in power and growing in strength. In fact, it appears that Israelis can no longer tolerate living alongside Hamas as it was before this conflict, able to construct tunnels, fire rockets across the nation, and disrupt Israeli lives substantially. They are less willing to live alongside a potentially much more disruptive and deadly Hamas a year from now with relaxed border controls in place.

Those whose lives are actually on the line, Israelis on both sides of the political spectrum, the Egyptians, and the Palestinian Authority all believe that no concessions that would strengthen Hamas politically, much less militarily, can be allowed as a result of this conflict and that the worst case scenario that can be allowed is for Hamas to remain armed and in power with the blockade continuing and the borders remaining sealed.

Because the US policy position concerning Gaza appears to be that border controls should be eased, the United States opposes Israel’s position on Gaza.

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A Letter to Baroness Warsi

Dear Lady Warsi,

I have read of your decision to resign from the UK Government in protest at Britain’s policy on Gaza. You say that Britain’s policy on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is “morally indefensible”.

Seeing the destruction in Gaza, the dead being paraded through the streets and the injured being rushed to hospital, I can empathize with your distress.

I too am appalled by the loss of life in Gaza and particularly by the death of hundreds of innocent children. I share the pain of their families, perhaps even more so than you, because my son, Jonathan, was killed by Islamic, Hezbollah terrorists. I know what it is to lose a son.

There are some who argue that the number of Palestinian deaths is “un-proportional” to the number of Israelis who have been killed in the present round of fighting. I agree. As rockets rained down on our cities and kibbutzim, we huddled in our concrete bomb shelters, which our government demands that we build as a condition for receiving building permits.

I cannot help but wonder how many Palestinian lives could have been saved if Hamas had used its steel and concrete to build bomb shelters rather than using these precious materials to construct underground tunnels for the purpose of infiltrating Israel and killing and kidnapping our civilians.

Our detractors argue: “Gaza is a prison. Gaza is under siege.” They are right. (Incidentally, not only Israel strictly controls the import of goods to Gaza. Egypt adopts a similar policy. I wonder why.) I would love the people of Gaza to have a seaport and an airport of their own. However, I have the right to know that they will not be used to import sophisticated weapons to destroy my country.

If the people of Gaza are really interested in peace, why would they possibly object to a demilitarized Gaza as a condition for lifting the blockade and opening their borders?

There is something I don’t understand. Why did Hamas intimidate journalists to the extent that they did not dare file reports showing “activists” firing rockets on Israel’s civilian population? We saw plenty of heart-rending pictures of dead Palestinian children, but why did we never see any wounded or dead Hamas fighters even though we know that close to 1,000 of them were killed over the past month?

It is as if there was a deliberate intention to paint a picture of innocent Palestinians being killed without cause by brutal Israelis. Where there is no context, there is no truth.

I understand that, as a Muslim, it is particularly painful for you to see your fellow religionists being killed. Perhaps you can use your influence to persuade their leaders to make peace with Israel rather than seeking to destroy her. Then we shall not have to suffer the loss of innocent lives.

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Michael Boyden
Hod Hasharon
Israel

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The Arab Summer and Its Implications

The primary split in the Arab world is between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The Arab Spring brought a second conflict to the fore, one between Nationalist Arab governments either led by Military Dictators or Monarchs on the one hand and Islamists mainly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. The conflicts in Egypt and Syria, let’s call them the “Arab Summer,” have dramatically altered the way nations in the Arab world interact with one another and with Israel, especially when the Sunni vs. Shia conflict is added to the mix. The region is now focused on a morphed conflict, Nationalist and Shia regimes vs. Sunni Islamist ones and the implications of that for foreign policy in the region are profound.

In negotiations between Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Islamist Hamas and Israel, for example, Arab Nationalist governments, once arrayed against Israel, are on the same side as Israel. The only nations in the Arab League in fact that are supportive of Hamas at the moment are the Sunni Islamist state of Qatar and Turkey now lead by the Islamist Erdogan Administration. Iran and Hizballah, certainly no big fans of Israel, are not happy with the Muslim Brotherhood’s actions against their ally in Syria which has led to the rise of the Islamic State. In Shia Syria and Iraq, there is no doubt that the Islamic State is far more of an immediate concern than anything going on with Israel. Importantly, this is also true in the Nationalist Arab states and that is also impacting how Sunni Nationalist states are relating to Israel right now. Just today, Imam Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared that Jihad against Israel can wait, because Jihad in Syria is more important.

The Kingdom of Jordan is fully allied with Israel regarding the Islamic State with Israel prepared to defend Jordan’s borders against threats and to use force even within those borders if necessary to defend the monarchy. Al Sissi controlled Egypt sees Israel as an ally against its enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood. There is little doubt that Saudi Arabia is not only in agreement with Egypt concerning its primary enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, but also sees the importance of Israel’s defense of Jordan in providing security for Saudi Arabia’s northern border against advancement by the Islamic State.

This means that when one looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one finds a situation that would have appeared entirely out of the twilight zone only a few years ago. The Palestinians are now on both sides of the active conflict in the Arab world, the Islamist vs Nationalist one. Not only is there now relatively limited criticism of Israel’s military action against Hamas in Gaza from Arab leaders, but there is even public ridicule of Hamas and often tacit approval of Israeli military actions. Egypt would greatly appreciate Israeli efforts that would lead to the removal of Hamas as the governing power in Gaza, but so would the Palestinian Authority and Saudi Arabia.

This also means that the United States is a difficult situation as it tries to mediate between strategic allies Qatar and Turkey on the one hand and Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia on the other. There are limited resolutions of the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza, even temporary ones, that have a chance of being acceptable to both sides, if there are any at all. Mediation often involves appearing to advocate for both sides, rather than advocating for neither side. This has resulted in the United States appearing to be siding with the Islamists by supporting portions of Hamas’ negotiating position.

The argument made by President Obama yesterday that the sealing off of Gaza cannot continue, even in the context of arguing against Hamas’ actions, is problematic in this regard because it puts the US directly at odds with both Israel and Egypt which are enforcing sealed borders. With Hamas remaining armed and in power, anything that smacks of a gain by Hamas in ceasefire negotiations will be problematic in the short term, strengthening Hamas politically, and anything that actually results in the strengthening of Hamas militarily such as better access to importation of weaponry, will harm Israel and possibly Egypt as well in the long term. Thus, an easing of the blockade at this point or anything related to opening borders will necessarily be opposed by Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Any good long term resolution of the conflict in Gaza that could promote security and prosperity for the residents there requires the removal of Hamas as the governing body of Gaza and the disarmament of any governing body that succeeds it. Any other resolution will almost certainly lead to us discussing the same issues within a couple of years as fighting resumes, only more intensely and with more casualties.

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When the War is over

There is a general feeling of frustration in Israel. Operation Protective Edge has not brought peace to our country. Approximately 119 Hamas rockets have been fired on Israel today. (The figure increases as I write these words) One hit a school, and fragments of another fell in the playground of a park in Ramat Gan.

More than 60 soldiers have been killed and many hundreds more wounded, some critically, in a so-called “Operation” that is far from being over.

The government prefers to call it an “operation”, because, were they to call it a war, it would have financial implications in terms of the compensation that would have to be paid to those whose livelihoods have been severely affected over the past month.

Life along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip has virtually come to a standstill. When you have only fifteen seconds to reach a bomb shelter, many have preferred to leave their homes and kibbutzim and seek refuge further to the North.

Even if the war were over, there is still considerable anxiety as to how many Hamas tunnels still remain undiscovered only to be used to attack Israel’s civilian population at a later time. No one wants to live and bring up a family under such conditions.

While Operation Protective Edge may have uncovered and destroyed tunnels, rocket launchers, arms caches and weapons workshops, there is a feeling that there is much that is still left undone. No less than 73% of Israelis believe that Israel’s power of deterrence has been damaged rather than strengthened by this war, which is far from over.

In a thought provoking article today, Shahar Ilan, who is far from being a Right-winger, argues that we should recognize that the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 had failed and that the time had now come for soul searching.

“When the war is over, the Left and the Centre will have to do some intensive soul searching and formulate peace initiatives that are appropriate for the Palestinians we have rather than for those we would prefer to have.

“Just as we expect the Right not to be messianic and not to rely on prayers and miracles when it comes to Israel’s fate, so we too must demand of ourselves that we be rational.

The entire peace process will have to ensure that the Islamic Movement will never, but never, assume power along our borders. True, it’s not easy to come to terms with the fact that our enemies are so problematic, but nobody chooses his enemies.”

 

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Disarming Hamas at What Cost

The current discussion concerning Israel’s conflict in Gaza centers on the end game. Is it time for Israel’s operation to cease? Should Israel agree to an unconditional ceasefire? To a ceasefire that eases life for Gazans and Hamas on Hamas’ terms? Or should it continue its operations to disarm or even remove Hamas from power? At what cost?

It is now coming to light that Israel has been increasingly worried about tunnels between Gaza and Israel since 2006. They may not have realized the full extent of the threat until the past few weeks, but Israeli military intelligence has been warning of a significant threat for years now and probably should have been more concerned. There are those who would argue based on this that this conflict did not need to develop as it has, while others would argue that it would have been better to have happened during Operation Pillar of Cloud in 2012 or that Operation Cast Lead in 2009 should have been allowed to move forward to remove Hamas from power entirely.

Regardless of how Israel got to this point, there are many disagreements as to what to do now and about what appear to be two basic options for Israel, IF Hamas agrees to an unconditional ceasefire, which is in and of itself not likely. Here are Israel’s basic options:

  1. Disarm or even remove Hamas from power now and deal with whatever level of pain, suffering, and loss of life on both sides will result.
  2. Take the risk that the international community will be able to disarm Hamas, much less prevent it from strengthening considerably and to engage Israel in another fight in a couple of years that would almost certainly be more damaging to Israel than this one has been both in terms of loss of life and in terms of disruption of daily life.

The international community prioritizes limiting Gazan casualties. This is simply because of  the numbers, as offensive as that is. The international community cannot deal with death ratios of 20 or 30 on the Gazan side to 1 on the Israeli side. No matter what Israel does, that will not change. Statements of “Israel has a right to defend itself” are simply overwhelmed with the impact of death totals in Gaza. There are those who would argue that facing the level of international condemnation that it would face that Israel cannot engage in any sustained fight in Gaza. Yet, others would argue and do argue that Israel cannot avoid this fight and that whenever it comes, Israel will be condemned for fighting it, so why wait for it to be worse for Israel? This is all the more true if you see this fight as simply a continuation of 2009 and 2012.

It is this calculus that is governing decisions today. President Obama and Sec. State Kerry are trying to negotiate a ceasefire to save lives on both sides while perhaps now understanding that the aftermath of such a ceasefire cannot see Hamas maintain its capabilities, much less grow in strength. For a fuller understanding of the background of the development of this conflict, see my articles on “What you need to know” and “The Timeline.”

In this context, diplomacy is extremely difficult. It is very easy for rumors and outright falsehoods to spread. Sec. State Kerry seems to have misread the Israeli side of the discussion over the weekend, either not understanding the positions of Israel’s leadership (perhaps especially those of  the left-most cabinet members Livni and Lapid whom he may have wrongly thought would have preferred a rapid ceasefire) or failing to grasp the broader political situation where roughly 90% of Israeli Jews supported ongoing military operations, and ran into a buzz saw of criticism from traditional allies in the media on the Israeli political left.

It currently appears that Hamas insists on demanding concessions from Israel and Egypt (opening the Rafah border crossing) that will allow Hamas to grow in strength dramatically as well as positioning it to conduct much more effective military operations against Israel in the future in exchange for a ceasefire. Israel cannot allow that to occur in the aftermath of this operation.

So the question now is “Disarmament at what cost?” But that question is now not being asked with the force of “Do we really want to do this?” as it has been in the past, so much as with the force of “Which cost?”, the near term cost or the long term cost. For either answer, the cost will be very high.

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Why the Israeli Left Feels Betrayed

For years, American Presidents have stated as President Obama did on July 27, that the United States supports “Israel’s right to defend itself.” The Israeli left had believed that while President Obama and Sec. Kerry offered criticism of Israeli settlements that things like Iron Dome funding really represented a more accurate portrayal of how the administration felt about Israel, that it wanted to enable America’s ally Israel to protect its citizens. To sum up that feeling simply, the left believed that while the United States’ leadership was critical of Israeli policy, it would help Israel defend itself against the threats that it faces. For most of the past few years, this has been specifically applied to Israeli concerns about Iran’s nuclear program with the Israeli political left arguing, to use the President’s own words, that President Obama “has Israel’s back.” It is hard to understate just how radically that understanding has changed over this past weekend, nor to fully assess the impact that change will have on Israeli policy concerning the threats that it faces in the region going forward.

What President Obama said to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday (in my words) is essentially that:

While we feel for your people’s suffering amid rocket attacks and understand the dangers related to the terror tunnels designed to aid in the mass murder and kidnapping of Israeli citizens, we demand that you not defend yourselves anymore right now lest you harm more Palestinians. Instead, you must negotiate a long term peace agreement with those who have declared their absolute opposition to your very existence while accepting a negotiated ceasefire agreement in the interim that improves your enemy’s ability to carry out that threat. Our long term goal will be to disarm them.

Trust us.

This sentiment delivered to the Israeli leadership by Sec. Kerry during ceasefire negotiations on Friday (after which Sec. Kerry flew to Paris to meet with representatives of Qatar and Turkey, Hamas’ closest allies) and by the President himself on Sunday, has left both Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet and the opposition political left incredulous and angry as well as had an extraordinarily damaging impact on events in Gaza. The term being used by many Israelis, even those on the far left, is “Betrayal.” Both sides of the Israeli political spectrum (as well as Egypt, the Palestinian Authority including Mahmoud Abbas himself, and Saudi Arabia along with other nations in the region) believed that the United States had advocated for Hamas’ position (backed by Qatar and Turkey) against Israel’s (though most on the left seem to think this is due to incompetence rather than malice) and promoted a situation that will now result in much more bloodshed on both sides. There is little doubt that this will have a very negative impact on relations between Israel and the Obama Administration going forward.

After Shabbat ended, Barak Ravid of Haaretz, a very left leaning author, published July 27, “What was he thinking?”:

The draft Kerry passed to Israel on Friday shocked the cabinet ministers not only because it was the opposite of what Kerry told them less than 24 hours earlier, but mostly because it might as well have been penned by Khaled Meshal. It was everything Hamas could have hoped for.

Ari Shavit, also of Haaretz, is hardly a big supporter of Netanyahu, but he has been a strong supporter of John Kerry’s efforts. Yet, Shavit wrote in “John Kerry Risks Causing Escalation” published July 28 that:

With proper management, the military success could have been translated to a certain extent into a significant diplomatic victory: The Egyptian initiative.

But over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ruined everything. Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a “strategic terrorist attack.” His decision to go hand in hand with Qatar and Turkey, and formulate a framework amazingly similar to the Hamas framework, was catastrophic. It put wind in the sails of Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshal, allowed the Hamas extremists to overcome the Hamas moderates, and gave renewed life to the weakened regional alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And when Shavit, whom NYT columnist and darling of the political left, Tom Friedman, cites as “one of a handful of experts whom I’ve relied upon to understand Israel ever since I reported there in the 1980s,” concludes his article with the following statement, it should sound alarms all over Washington that something is seriously wrong with US policy:

If Israel is forced to ultimately undertake an expanded ground operation in which dozens of young Israelis and hundreds of Palestinian civilians could lose their lives, it would be appropriate to name the offensive after the person who caused it: John Kerry. But if the escalation does not happen, instead we should remember that those who prevented it are three people the Obama administration loathes: Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, Benjamin Netanyahu and Moshe Ya’alon.

For a complete and up to date understanding of the conflict and its timeline, please consult our continually updated “What you need to know” article. Regarding the July 25 ceasefire negotiations and their aftermath, here are several important articles which demonstrate the disillusionment of the Israeli political left and center: two articles by Barak Ravid (What was he thinking? and Kerry’s Ceasefire Draft Revealed), one by David Horovitz (John Kerry: The Betrayal), one by Ari Shavit (John Kerry Risks Causing Escalation), one by Avi Issacharoff (Kerry’s Mistakes Strengthen Hamas’ Resolve) and one by Elhanan Miller (Abbas Fumes at Kerry).

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The Kidnapping and the War in Gaza – A Timeline

Updated Aug. 6, 2014

There were a number of articles circulating that noted with some satisfaction that the Israeli government believed the likelihood that the kidnappers of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali were not acting on Gaza based Hamas’ orders, though certainly they were acting in line with a general directive expressed repeatedly over years. These articles then argued that the war being fought was therefore entered unnecessarily (maybe) and that therefore the current fighting and all of the dying going on has no justification (hardly). They claimed that the war was all the fault of Netanyahu for misrepresenting the facts in the kidnapping. [It turned out, after the war was pretty much over, that in fact Hamas did arrange and pay for the kidnapping, but of course the critics of Netanyahu didn't bother to print that information when it came out]. Additionally, they argued that since the Israeli government had reason to believe that the teens had been killed, both gunshots heard on the emergency call and bullet holes in the vehicle that was recovered, the events between the kidnapping and murder of the three teens and the recovery of their bodies should not have played out as it did. Why they believed that reporting the execution of three innocent teens would have elicited less of a reaction than reporting their kidnapping, I am not certain.

All of these articles missed vitally important points that are revealed in the timeline of events below and have been completely being ignored by the mainstream media. Here’s the timeline as it really played out with accompanying concerns.

On June 12, 2014, three Israeli teens were kidnapped and murdered. Israelis immediately suspected Hamas militants operating in the Hebron area because Hamas has constantly been calling for the abduction of Israelis. Hamas organized a campaign to have people give a three finger salute in support of the kidnapping, while at the same time denying responsibility for it. Israeli authorities found the vehicle used in the kidnapping and identified two suspects associated with Hamas in the West Bank as the primary suspects.

For 18 days, large numbers of Israeli troops searched for the kidnappers and the teens, alive or dead. The border as well as known tunnels from Gaza (Israel had known of the existence of such tunnels since 2006 and certainly should have been more concerned) were heavily monitored. This is of significant importance, but that was not known at the time. Continue reading and you’ll understand why.

On June 30, 2014, the bodies of the three teens were discovered and sixteen rockets were fired from Gaza. Over the next week, Israel began limited response airstrikes, mostly against rocket squads and an increasing number of rockets were launched against Israel.

By July 13, the IDF had struck 1,300 targets, mostly launchers or unoccupied buildings, and Hamas had launched 800 rockets. Almost all of this occurred between July 6 and July 13. Casualties remained extremely low relative to the number of attacks by the two sides.

On July 14, Egypt proposed an unconditional ceasefire supported by the Palestinian Authority, the United States, and the United Nations which was accepted by Israel, but rejected by Hamas. At this point, the conflict was almost totally focused on Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israeli cities and Israeli attempts to prevent them.

On July 17, everything changed. Israel entered Sharijah, a Hamas stronghold in Gaza, in an attempt to halt the rocket fire there. Rockets were stored in homes, apartments, basements, mosques and other civilian locations and fire against Israeli troops was done from civilian locations with civilians present as shields or intentional casualties. As death totals began to rise on both sides, Hamas launched a commando attack on Kibbutz Sufa through an offensive tunnel unknown to Israel. Thirteen commandos exited the tunnel into Israel under the cover of darkness and headed toward the Kibbutz. Israeli surveillance, which was on high alert for any evidence of activity near the border, happened to see them and an airstrikes were called in. The fact that no Israelis died in this event led it to be largely ignored in the media, but it was not at all ignored by the Israeli military. All of a sudden, the context of the tunnels changed from ways to kidnap soldiers to ways to launch commando raids and the advanced tunnel discovered in October, 2013 which was thought to be one of few that Hamas had constructed came to be seen in a new light. Suddenly the threat from unknown tunnels began to rise rapidly on the list of Israeli concerns.

On July 20, ten Hamas commandos exited a tunnel in the middle of a mosque and were killed by Israeli commandos who were looking for rockets that they believed Hamas to have stored there. Now, Israel became focused on the tunnel systems within the neighborhoods bordering Israel and what they found scared them. On July 21, IDF forces discovered a tunnel leading from Gaza and ending in the middle of the dining hall of Kissufim Kibbutz.

On July 23, 150 Hamas gunmen surrendered to IDF forces operating in Khan Younis and Rafiyah. When interrogated these fighters independently revealed details of a plan that continues to shake the Israeli defense and intelligence establishments to the core. They learned that Hamas planned to use its tunnel network, much more extensive than Israel had theretofore understood it to be, to launch a mega attack against Israeli kibbutzim on Rosh Hashanah of this year. Evidently, according to the testimony, two hundred fighters at minimum were to be sent through dozens of tunnels into Israel to assault the kibbutzim and kill or kidnap the residents.

While this seems like a plot from the mind of a paranoid and may well turn out to be a rumor, the unfortunate reality for Israelis is that the tunnel system dug by Hamas seems to align itself with the type of plot described. Consider that Israel aby July 24 already knew of the tunnels going to Kibbutz Sufa, the one going to the dining hall of Kissufim Kibbutz, and others going to Ein Hashlosha, Nativ Haasarah, Kibbutz Erz and Kibbutz Nir Am, some of which had been used by Hamas commandos to attack Israeli forces. The New York Times published an excellent article on the tunnel to Nir Am on July 25 that includes a video. Now, the context of the tunnel discovered in October 2013 from Khan Younis, the place where the Hamas gunman were taken captive, needed to be seen with a new understanding as well. Israeli leaders began to blanch at the thought of what could have happened. Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, Israel has uncovered more than 30 distinct tunnels originating in Gaza with over 60 openings in Israel.

So on July 26, those who understand the real threat Israel faces from Gaza look back at events and shudder at what might have been. It is sad to say this, but the horrendous kidnapping and murder of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali may have ended up saving many hundreds of lives by beginning a chain of events that alerted Israel to a much greater threat and resulted in its dismantling. The presence of large numbers of troops near the Gaza border looking for the kidnappers and at the time, trying to prevent the boys from being taken into Gaza, may have discouraged Hamas from attempting to conduct tunnel based operations from June 12 all the way through to June 30. Then the ramping up of operations against Gaza kept the focus on the border and possible infiltration.

Hamas may have decided to hold off from using the major terror tunnels all the way until IDF troops entered Gaza because it still wanted to preserve the possibility of using them later.

Here Hamas’ assumptions become important. It is likely that Hamas expected Israel to conduct Operation Protective Edge similarly to Operation Pillar of Cloud in 2012 and not to enter Gaza with a ground incursion; thereby enabling Hamas to preserve the secrecy of the tunnel network and to enable it to use most of its tunnels in a more coordinated offensive strike. Bibi Netanyahu had never committed ground troops to battle before and Hamas did not expect that to change, especially not with the international community pressuring Israel not to enter Gaza.

So Hamas waited, Israel discovered tunnel after tunnel and has stopped the few incursions that have been attempted to this point. Yes, there was skill involved in discovering the tunnels and stopping the incursions, but luck played an enormous role in saving Israeli lives.

In the aftermath of this conflict, Israel will devote much greater attention to tunnels. It will develop intelligence gathering techniques, likely a new department in Shabak and a new focus for the Mossad, and a return to a military balance using ground forces in addition to aerial ones in combating terror infrastructure. As the price of failure is increasing, so will the urgency of success and with it the cost involved, in all the meanings of that term.

By constructing these tunnels amid densely populated civilian areas and even inside normally protected civilian facilities, Hamas has turned entire neighborhoods into military bases protected from bombing by above-ground civilian infrastructure and the blood of Palestinian civilians. In Gaza, half of such civilians are under 14, meaning that Hamas systematically placed children amid military targets. Hamas’ entire strategy at this point is force Israel to confront it amid, behind, or even beneath civilians, to create blood and death, to parade bodies before the world’s cameras and to blame an Israel acting without recourse for what Hamas itself engineered deliberately.

Israel will do what it needs to do to defend its people. That is what Israelis always say. In this case, that means destroying existing tunnels from Gaza into Israel, stopping the rocket fire, and making sure that neither become worse threats in the future. The last of those three items means that relaxation of border security and controls on imports are going to be impossible while Hamas is in control of Gaza. Once it feels secure that it has destroyed what tunnels it can, Israel will be willing to accept an unconditional ceasefire. The longer term question is “What will it take to get Hamas to stop trying to attack Israel with which Israel could agree?” and if the answer is nothing, then the question becomes, “Can Israel and the rest of the world stomach what it will cost to remove Hamas from power in Gaza?”

For up to date information on what is going on with the conflict, please see our background information sheet by clicking here or at this address:

http://weareforisrael.org/2014/07/22/what-you-need-to-know-about-israel-and-gaza-to-understand-events-today/.

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