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

There are a number of articles circulating today that note with some satisfaction that the Israeli government now admits 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 argue that the war currently 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 claim that the war is all the fault of Netanyahu for misrepresenting the facts in the kidnapping. Additionally, they argue 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 believe 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 miss vitally important points that are revealed in the timeline of events and are 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 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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What You Need to Know about Israel and Gaza to Understand Events Today

1. Hamas took over Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Israel had withdrawn all of its citizens including all of its military from Gaza in 2005 and Egypt has been in control of the Rafah Border Crossing since that time. Hamas believes that it is the duty of every Muslim to fight against the existence of the Jewish state and that terrorism against civilians, including women and children, is legitimate and will eventually work. Haviv Rettig Gur’s article about Hamas’ mindset is a must read. Hamas has conducted numerous terrorist attacks through the years in which it sends men and women with explosive belts into Israeli cities to kill themselves along with as many Jews as possible. Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States.

2. Hamas, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its ally, celebrated the ascension of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Later it came to both promote and support attacks, some by other militant groups, in the Sinai Peninsula against the current Egyptian government led by Al Sissi. These attacks including a particularly bad one in August of 2012 that left more than a dozen Egyptian soldiers dead resulted in Egypt launching a major operation in 2013 to close most smuggling tunnels into Gaza along with closing the Rafah border crossing into Egypt.

3. Hamas began to fire rockets, mostly mortars and relatively inaccurate Qassam  rockets, at Israeli communities sporadically even before Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005. But beginning in 2006, rocket and mortar fire into Israel became a regular occurrence. This was several years prior to the Naval Blockade enforced by Israel in 2009 and which came only after longer range and much more deadly rockets were used by Hamas. By Winter of 2009, several thousand rockets had been fired at Israeli cities not just along the Gaza border but further afield. The Israeli city of Sderot received much attention because of its bomb shelters and programs for children with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2009. This article by Alan Johnson in the Daily Telegraph does a good job of summarizing the history of events surrounding rocket fire and the blockade.

4. In May of 2010, the Free Gaza Flotilla sailed from Turkey to Gaza in an attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. While international attention was focused initially on such things as limited medical supplies, some of which were actually useless and primarily for symbolic value, later all attention came to be focused on the violence aboard the Mavi Marmara. The primary cargo carried to Gaza by the flotilla was cement [remember this because it is now extremely important].

5. In 2011, Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian Dictator and an ally of the Fatah Party and Mahmoud Abbas, was deposed in favor of Mohammed Morsi, the leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Over the ensuing year, the border between Gaza and Egypt was entirely open.

6. Starting in March 2012, Hamas begin firing rockets including longer range Grad rockets into Israel.  Israel responded with Operation Returning Echo, a five day operation that ended with a ceasefire on March 14, 2012.

7. Over the course of that year, Hamas added medium range M-75 rockets capable of reaching the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to its arsenal. Initially, these rockets were brought in from Iran into Sudan, potentially having been assembled and/or stored at the Yarmouk weapons factory outside of Khartoum which the Israeli military struck in October 2012, and then into Gaza primarily via smuggling tunnels in the Sinai, though some fishing vessels may have also been used to deliver them. With the open border and possibly because of the destruction of the weapons it may have been expecting to come from Yarmouk, Hamas launched a new rocket based operation against Israel in November of 2012. The use of longer range rockets was the primary reason for Israel launching Operation Pillar of Defense (aka Pillar of Cloud) in 2012, an eight day operation that was highlighted by the effectiveness of the newly introduced Iron Dome anti-missile system. Hamas agreed to a ceasefire in November, 2012 that has been in effect for the past two years prior to June of this year.

8. Since the Winter of 2012, Hamas began trying to bring in Iranian/Syrian made M-302 extended range rockets capable of reaching 80% of Israeli cities from Gaza and doing substantial damage when they strike. In March of 2014, a ship known as the Klos-C carrying M-302s from Iran was captured by the Israeli navy while trying to deliver dozens of M-302S to Gaza, but it is clear that many more arrived via other means, most likely crossing the border from Egypt prior to the end of 2013 when Egypt began closing smuggling tunnels in earnest.

9. June 2, 2014 the Palestinian Authority announced the creation of a Palestinian Unity government that would include representatives of Hamas as well as those of Fatah, the primary party in the West Bank led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas’ primary goal in joining the Unity Government was to open the door for funding to come to pay its 40,000 employees in Gaza.

10. With the Egyptian closure of both the Rafah border crossing and most of the smuggling tunnels in 2013, Hamas has become increasingly weakened and faces the likelihood of losing any fair election to be held in Gaza at this point. Hamas is unable to convince the Egyptians to open the border or to persuade the Israelis to end the naval blockade. The Palestinian Authority’s desire is to end independent Hamas control over Gaza and to restore the PA’s control there in some fashion, if not completely.

11. Hamas’ current plan according to Gershon Baskin, who has communicated directly with Hamas’ leaders, is to force a compromise agreement upon Egypt and the Palestinian Authority by engaging Israel in a conflict that leads to many Palestinian deaths and brings outside pressure upon the situation. The primary goals of its current efforts are to attain a ceasefire agreement that would result in the opening of the Rafah Border Crossing currently closed by Egypt and the payment of the 40,000 Hamas employees what they are owed as well as ongoing payments. It is not inaccurate to say that Hamas is firing rockets at Israeli civilians and utilizing offensive military tunnels from Gaza into Israel in a manner requiring Israel to kill many Palestinian civilians so that Egypt and the Palestinian Authority respond to its demands.

12. Hamas not only locates its weapons and personnel in or nearby normally protected facilities such as UN Schools, Hospitals, Mosques and civilian housing, but also encourages civilians to gather around its weapons and discourages them to flee when notified. It was discovered today that Hamas used a UNRWA School situated between two other UN schools currently housing 1,500 refugees each to house rockets. The combination of all of these things is a clear attempt to use human shields. Israel meanwhile feeds this practice by regularly calling off strikes against targets when civilians are present. By no means is it the case that civilians are not killed when they do not evacuate targeted sites. They are, and there are certainly also errors on Israel’s part such as the tragic killing of four children near a Hamas target on a beach. Unfortunately, by embedding its personnel and weaponry among civilians, Hamas has created a situation in which Israel has no choice but to respond when Hamas attacks from targets where there are civilians present.

13. There is no reasonable argument to be made for Israel to relax its naval blockade of Gaza instituted because of rocket fire coming from Gaza from 2006-2009 because of the massively increased level and severity of rocket fire in the ensuing years. If anything, it is assuredly the case that such a blockade has now been proven essential to Israel’s security.

14. Israel knew that there were “offensive” tunnels dug between Gaza and Israel that were primarily designed to attempt kidnappings of Israeli soldiers, but which also could be used to conduct damaging terror attacks (See this article from Yisarel Medad and this one from J.J. Goldberg for example). It did not, however, whether it should have or not, realize the extent, quality, or severity of the threat that it faced until July 17th, when thirteen Hamas commandos crossed through a tunnel into Israel near Kibbutz Sufa with the intent of either capturing or wiping out the population of the Kibbutz. Israel then launched a ground operation to find and destroy other similar tunnels. The US government estimates that at least sixty similar tunnels likely exist and that some are also more substantial. One tunnel into Egypt was 1.5 miles long, 66 feet deep, contained electricity and had provisions including food placed along its length to accommodate travelers. The basis of this argument is an understanding of Hamas’ smuggling tunnels into Egypt and the fact that similar tunnels could be created into Israel. There are now jokes circulating that Hamas may have already completed a tunnel into the West Bank from Gaza.  The belief now is that Hamas has used tens of thousands of tons of concrete to build tunnels and bunkers in Gaza which cost it into nine-figures in dollars and that the threat from these is much greater than previously assumed. Israel has already stopped several attacks coming from these tunnels in the last week alone. It is important to note that such a tunnel would have almost certainly been used to move the three kidnapped Israeli teens into Gaza had they not been killed and that whether or not Hamas ordered its operatives to kidnap the teens, it certainly would have claimed the kidnapping had it succeeded. The New York Times published an excellent article on the tunnel to Nir Am on July 25 that includes a video. See also this article by Jodi Rudoren with more details about the tunnels and a discussion of how they impact the Israeli psyche.

15. On July 22, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways cancelled flights into Ben Gurion Airport. Following these decisions, the US FAA banned US air lines from flying into Ben Gurion for 36 hours because a Hamas fired rocket landed near the airport. This reaction may be an over-reaction based on the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane in Ukraine in combination with US issued travel warnings. Other airlines followed suit. Hamas is now firing rockets at Ben Gurion Airport in order to disrupt the functioning of the airport and Israel has held flights in holding patterns for periods of time when rockets are in the air. It turns out that there rocket that triggered the FAA ban was deliberately let through by the Iron Dome crew because it would not hit Ben Gurion or any vital targets. Israel’s intercept policy has now been widened near Ben Gurion in response to FAA wishes.

16. How likely is a ceasefire soon? Here is the ceasefire situation in a nutshell. US Sec. State Kerry is in the region trying to promote a 5-7 day ceasefire during which negotiations on a longer term ceasefire could take place. At this point, there are two basic ceasefire proposals being proposed. 1. An Egyptian one supported by the Palestinian Authority and to which Israel has agreed that grants none of Hamas’ demands and 2. A Qatari one which grants almost all of what Hamas wants. The Egyptian one is supported by all of the nationalist Arab governments including Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia as well as by the United Nations and the United States. Israel has agreed to the Egyptian proposal already. The Qatari one is supported by the Islamist governments including Turkey. Each of these sides wants the other to concede and both sides are willing for the Israel-Hamas fight to continue if the other side does not concede.

17. The Kerry ceasefire initiative presented on July 25 granted Hamas both important immediate concessions and the increased likelihood of obtaining longer term ones. The immediate ones were the halt of very successful Israeli operations in Gaza against Hamas tunnels, the ability to relocate personnel and weaponry, and the time to establish new defenses against possible future Israeli efforts as well as to assess and prepare future offensive plans. In exchange for this brief ceasefire, Israel may have received 5-7 days without rocket fire, amounting to a simple delay in that rocket fire if no longer term agreement is reached. The long term proposal brought by Sec. Kerry was seen by Israel as essentially being the pro-Hamas Qatari ceasefire proposal “with adornments.” Hamas was evidently leaning toward accepting this ceasefire which was clearly to its advantage to accept. The Israeli Cabinet, reacted with incredulity to it and unanimously rejected the proposal, but accepted a 12 hour humanitarian ceasefire that spanned 8 am – 8 pm on July 26. Israel unilaterally agreed to extend the ceasefire for several hours, but Hamas broke the ceasefire shortly into the extension. Further undermining trust in US mediation and adding to the harsh reaction from receiving the proposal which leaned heavily toward the Hamas position is the fact that following submitting it, Sec. Kerry went to Paris and met with representatives from Qatar and Turkey, Hamas’ closest allies. Here are several important articles to read on this issue which will certainly affect future negotiations involving Sec. Kerry and the United States: Two articles by Barak Ravid of Haaretz (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).

18. Both the Israeli leadership and a very broad spectrum of the Israeli public is angry and dismayed by the approach taken to this situation by Sec. Kerry. They have not as of yet begun to blame President Obama specifically. Here are a few quotes from the articles mentioned above that demonstrate the extent of the disquiet on the Israeli political LEFT.

From Ravid’s 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.

From Shavit’s July 28, “John Kerry Risks Causing Escalation”,

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.

The Obama administration proved once again that it is the best friend of its enemies, and the biggest enemy of its friends. The man of peace from Massachusetts intercepted with his own hands the reasonable cease-fire that was within reach, and pushed both the Palestinians and Israelis toward an escalation that most of them did not want.

19. The rejection of the Kerry ceasefire proposal came as new information came to light concerning the nature of the tunnels and Hamas’ rumored plans for them. From a factsheet distributed by Omri Ceren, a senior advisor at The Israel Project, July 25, 2014.

Leaks have begun to trickle out on what Israeli interogators are learning from captured Hamas fighters. One plot in particular is getting overwhelming attention. Hamas was apparently a few months away from conducting a mass attack on Israeli civilians during the upcoming Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, on September 24. The raid would have been like something out of a movie: hundreds of heavily-armed Hamas fighters would have emerged from over a dozen underground tunnels in the dead of night, jogged 10 minutes to their targets, and then infiltrated a set of lightly-populated and lightly-guarded Israeli communities. Casualties could have reached the thousands, and some of the victims would have been taken back alive as hostages. The offensive attack tunnels seem to quite literally have been built for this kind of purpose. The IDF recently published a map of how they were dug to spill out on both sides of nearby communities. Israeli soldiers have been reporting that just inside some of the tunnels were storage units filled with tranquilizers, handcuffs, ropes, and so on. The reports on this are mostly in Hebrew right now. The Gatestone Institute’s Lawrence Franklin has the best English-language version I’ve seen so far.

The veracity of the accusation of a Rosh Hashanah mega-attack is now being questioned as in this piece by Anshel Pfeffer, however the location of tunnels and the contents discovered in tunnels do support the charge that they were designed for terror operations and for kidnapping. An article in the Times of Israel suggests that kidnapping soldiers like Gilad Shalit may have been a primary purpose.

20. The timeline (also on the We Are For Israel website) from the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens, to the fight between Hamas rockets and Iron Dome, to the search for offensive tunnels shows how the conflict developed and morphed between June 12 and July 26 of this year.

21. The question being asked, based on what former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, suggested, is essentially, “Is it better for Israel to proceed now with what it may to have to do at some point in the future at a far greater human and economic cost?” Should Israel move ahead and, to use Oren’s words, “crush Hamas?” Amos Yadlin’s answer to that question in the New York Times is very much worth a read as well, “To Save Gaza, Destroy Hamas.”

22. There are differing opinions as to whether or not a successor to Hamas would be worse or better. The operative position of the US government appears to be that any likely alternative to Hamas in Gaza would be worse, potentially affiliates of the Islamic State (On this see Guy Maayan, Josh Rogin and Eli Lake, and Phil Stewart). However, it is very clear that others see a different path including Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and members of the Israeli Cabinet. It is unknown whether or not PM Netanyahu believes that something worse than Hamas would be its likely successor.

23. On July 28, the UNSC and President Obama demanded an immediate ceasefire and Israeli said “No.” A Channel 10 poll late Sunday showed 87 percent of the public would like Operation Protective Edge to continue, and 69 percent want Hamas to be toppled entirely. Only seven percent say they want an immediate ceasefire, and six percent answer that they don’t know. So Pres. Obama’s and the UNSC’s position on an immediate ceasefire is opposed by 87-93% of the Israeli public right now. Israelis do not want to have a major fight every two years or less in Gaza. Most now seem to agree with Oren and Yadlin at least to a significant extent and want Hamas greatly weakened, disarmed, or removed from power following this current Israeli military operation, not an unknown number of years from now after a “possible” peace agreement is reached. See this article from July 29 on the ongoing Israeli support even from the opposition party leadership. JJ Goldberg writes that there is disagreement within the Cabinet about the goals with Netanyahu in the pro-ceasefire camp.

24. July 29, a ceasefire proposal that would have allowed for a 72 hour truce that was proposed by Egypt and the Palestinian Authority was rejected by Hamas and has rejected a 24 hour ceasefire agreed to by Israel.

25. A good article by David Horovitz on why PM Netanyahu is reluctant to order a full scale invasion of Gaza in spite of substantial pressure to do so.

26. A good primer on Hamas’ military development and capabilities by Elhanan Miller, one on the difficult rules of engagement in Gaza by Mitch Ginsburg, and one on the IDF’s difficulty searching for tunnels by Avi Issacharoff.

27. Israel has now called up an additional 16,000 reserves and is implementing plans for a longer operation aimed at addressing tunnels and the Israeli Cabinet has said that Israel will accept no truce until after that is accomplished satisfactorily. The focus of Israeli operations is not yet to either disarm Hamas or remove it from power.

28. UNRWA schools have repeatedly been found to be used by Hamas for military purposes. Rockets have been discovered within UN School compounds three times thus far and three IDF soldiers were recently killed by a booby-trapped tunnel opening within a UNRWA medical clinic.

29. On a number of other occasions, Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighters have attacked Israeli forces from areas around UN facilities and on several occasions Hamas and Islamic Jihad forces have hit the UN facilities with their fire and caused deaths. In two such very public and horrific occurrences both by misfired Islamic Jihad rockets aimed at Ashkelon, a rocket hit a UNRWA hospital and another rocket struck a playground in the Shati refugee camp. Here is the IDF produced graphic of the trajectory of the fire that hit the facilities. ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Reporters are threatened by Hamas not to reveal such things. An Italian reporter Gabriele Barbati sent out a tweet on July 29 saying, “Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris.”

30. August 1, a 72 hour humanitarian ceasefire agreed upon by both sides and brokered by the United Nations had been in effect for a mere hour and a half when Hamas sent a suicide bomber to attack IDF forces in Rafah, killing two and resulting in the capture of a third, Hadar Goldin of the Givati Brigade.

31. There are realistically four possible outcomes for the conflict as I see them.

  1. Hamas remains in power while retaining border control and therefore Israel and Egypt will maintain the current sealed status of overland crossings as well as heightened efforts to prevent smuggling. The naval blockade will be maintained. Fishing rights may be slightly extended and perhaps prisoners will be released. The population of Gaza will continue to suffer until the next time that Hamas decides to fight, at which point the population of Gaza will both suffer worse and people will die because of it. This is essentially the status-quo with slight changes after this conflict.
  2. The Palestinian Authority takes over  effective border control with Egypt and the Rafah border crossing is opened with supervision by Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Life slightly improves with more coming through the Rafah crossing, but in a highly limited fashion due to ongoing security concerns for Egypt and the PA. Hamas remains the defacto authority within Gaza. Fishing rights will be extended. The Israeli border will remain sealed and the naval blockade will remain in place.
  3. The Palestinian Authority takes over Gaza after Israel removes Hamas from power. Naval blockade remains in place for a time. Israel works with the PA to supervise border crossings. Life for Gazans improves tremendously and security concerns greatly improve.
  4. Hamas maneuvers a weakening of restrictions on access to Gaza without ceding control of Gaza or its borders, strengthens in the coming years, and continues its fight against Israel’s existence.
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Hamas has no Respect for Human Life

It is difficult to fight an enemy that does not share your values. It is precisely Hamas’ disrespect for human life that has resulted in the death and injury of so many innocent Palestinians in Gaza and has enabled them to dupe the international press thereby gaining sympathy for their cause.

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge more than 1,790 rockets have deliberately been launched from Gaza at civilian targets in Israel. Had they succeeded in their objective, they would have resulted in the death and injury of thousands of innocent people.

By contrast, Israeli forces have put their own lives at risk in their untiring efforts to avoid civilian casualties on the Palestinian side. Not only have leaflets been dropped warning of impending attacks but phone calls have been made and SMS messages sent to residents calling upon them to vacate homes in advance of attacks on buildings that have been used for military purposes.

However, in response to those efforts to avoid the loss of life, a Palestinian National and Islamic Forces representative appeared on television calling upon the Palestinian people to remain in their homes.

Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for Hamas, said in an interview on Al Aqsa TV: “The policy of people confronting the Israeli warplanes with their bare chests in order to protect their homes has proven effective against the occupation…. We aren’t leading our people today to destruction. We are leading our people to death.”

Meanwhile, as I write these lines, rockets continue to rain down on the houses of the long-suffering residents of Sederot and the IDF has intercepted two groups of terrorists, who had infiltrated Israel via underground tunnels in order to murder people in their homes and take hostages.

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Lift the Siege on Gaza

One cannot help but be moved by the suffering of Gaza’s population, who live a life under siege. The Electronic Intifada reports how Gaza’s hospitals struggle to save lives amid Israel’s siege. The pathetic plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is not an enviable one, but it did not have to be that way.

It should be noted that not only Israel maintains a tight watch on what and who enters Gaza but the Egyptians are doing precisely the same thing. They too are fearful of Hamas fermenting unrest and creating havoc in the Sinai Peninsula.

It wasn’t always that way. When the 8,600 Israeli settlers were evicted by the IDF from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip back in 2005, some 200,000 square meters of greenhouse space, which had been purchased by international donors, were left intact, but Palestinian militants ransacked them.

Not everyone knows that the blockade on the Gaza Strip was only imposed by Egypt and Israel two years later after Hamas took control of the area replacing Palestine National Authority government officials with its own.

Of course, the siege is not really a siege. Israel supplies electricity and water to Gaza’s inhabitants, grants the critically ill access to intensive care units in its hospitals and allowed no less than 1,200 truck loads of goods to enter the Gaza Strip during just one week during the week prior to Operation Protective Edge.

That having been said, Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip is not an open one and no one has the right to expect that it should be. We are at war with Hamas and they call for our annihilation. Over 1,000 rockets and mortars have been targeted at Israel’s civilian population since the commencement of the current conflict.

To cap it all, IDF forces this morning identified approximately 13 terrorists attempting to infiltrate Israel near Kibbutz Suffa via an underground tunnel constructed by Hamas using construction materials imported via Israel.

By all means, let’s have an open border with the Gaza Strip in the way that one can travel freely from France to Holland. However, for that to happen, we need neighbors who respect the notion of “live and let live”. Until that takes place, one can hardly criticize Israel for wanting to protect its citizens and for taking whatever measures it deems appropriate to ensure that Gaza does not become a terrorist’s haven with weapons and jihadists flooding in from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

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The Tragedy of the Palestinians

The United Nations reports that 177 Palestinians have been killed since Operation Protective Edge began a week ago. A quarter of the victims have been children. Palestinian medical sources say that some 1,280 people have been wounded.

All of this is a tragedy. It did not have to happen. Two sisters aged 13 and 11 were seriously injured by shrapnel in a village close to Beersheba earlier today.

Of course the numbers hurt on our side are considerably lower than those on the Palestinian side. We build bomb shelters and reinforced rooms in which our families can hide when Hamas fires rockets at an innocent population. By contrast, Hamas uses civilians as human shields and prefers to use the concrete at its disposal to build massive tunnels into Israeli territory in an attempt to infiltrate villages and kibbutzim close to the border for the purpose of murdering and kidnapping.

Some misguided people feel sorry for the Palestinians with their primitive rockets trying to wage a war against the might and sophistication of Israel’s armed forces. However, no one forced Hamas to start raining rockets down on Sederot’s population. The current conflict was of their choosing.

Last week’s The Economist bore the title “The Tragedy of the Arabs – A poisoned history.” That history can continue to dictate their actions and fate, or they can begin to open a new chapter based on compromise, mutual respect and “live and let live.” Israel is not about to go away and a Palestinian resistance based upon the belief that the Jewish State can be wiped off the face of the earth is bound to end in frustration, desperation and tragedy.

 

Posted in Gaza, Hamas | 3 Comments

Israel and Hamas – News from Israel

DATELINE:
Hod Hasharon, Israel
Sunday, July 13, 2014 – 8.30 PM

In less than two hours’ time Israelis and Gazians will be glued to their TV sets to watch the FIFA World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. Time will tell whether this will lead to a temporary lull in the rocket attacks on Israel’s civilian population and the IDF’s attempts to control the situation, or whether we shall be forced to make a rush for our bomb shelters and reinforced rooms in the middle of the game.

Our daughter and grandchild have left Tel Aviv and moved into our home in Hod Hasharon, because they don’t have a reinforced room and it would take just too long for them to run with an 18-month old to the nearest public bomb shelter.

We try to carry on with our lives, but it isn’t easy. At any moment the air raid siren can sound. Home Command has apparently divided Israel into 220 separate zones. The sophisticated Iron Dome defence system can track the trajectory of incoming rockets and determine precisely where they will land. The population in targeted areas can then be warned and if a rocket is likely to land in a populated area, a missile will be launched to intercept it. They say that the system has a 90% success rate, but 90% is not 100%….

Life isn’t really normal, although we try to pretend it is. I continue to teach my Bar Mitzvah students, but visitors from overseas are cancelling their trips. Last week our congregation, Kehilat Yonatan, started a campaign to raise 1,000 shekels (about $300) from each of our members to fund the preparation of construction plans for a much-needed Reform community centre and synagogue in our town. However, it is hard to make progress on this right now. People’s minds are elsewhere and the campaign has gone dead.

There is something surrealistic about the manner in which we somehow continue to live our daily lives while our country is under attack. People say that the rockets coming out of Gaza are primitive, but a 16-years old boy from Ashkelon was severely injured by shrapnel this morning as he tried to find shelter on his way for a hair cut.

On the one hand, we are threatened by rockets coming out of Gaza, but, on the other hand, we continue to supply fuel, food and electricity to the Palestinians who live there. Israeli pilots halt attacks on targets in Gaza when civilians are sighted, because, unlike Hamas, we have no desire to kill innocent people.

It is fairly clear why Hamas chose to break its truce at this time and started launching rockets on Israel once again. They are in bad shape right now. With the emergence of a military government in Egypt, they do not have the support they received from the Muslim Brotherhood. Tunnels used for smuggling goods into Gaza have been shut down with a consequential loss of income to Hamas, which taxes all such “imports”. It has also become harder for Hamas to get financial support from Iran. Many Gazians no longer favour them and see that their fellow Palestinians on the West Bank generally enjoy a higher standard of living.

With Palestinian elections scheduled for later this year, Hamas desperately needs to improve its standing and show Palestinians that it is their true representative rather than President Mahmoud Abbas, who co-operated with Israel in its search for the three abducted Israeli teenagers later found murdered.

Things move so fast here. Eyal Yifrah, Gilead Sha’ar and Naftali Fraenkel are no longer in the news. The memory of the ghastly murder of Mohammed Abu Hadir also begins to fade. However, they too belong to the events that have contributed to the current round of fighting, which will unfortunately lead nowhere until the next ceasefire is brokered.

As I write these words, I read online that damage was caused to a house in my own town, Hod Hasharon, earlier this evening when shrapnel caused by the interception of an incoming rocket penetrated its roof causing material damage but no injury.

In less than two hours’ time the World Cup final will commence. Meanwhile the fighting goes on.

Posted in Gaza, Hamas, IDF, Iran, We Are For Israel | Leave a comment

Diplomacy and Other Times to Lie

JJ Goldberg wrote an article for the Jewish Daily Forward in which he implies that the Netanyahu government lied its way into forcing Israel into an unneeded conflict. Goldberg argues that the Israeli government sat on the information that the three Israeli teens were likely dead in order to exacerbate the situation and that it wrongly blamed Hamas for the murders. Even agreeing with Goldberg that Israel did indeed keep details about the fact that the three students were likely killed and understanding that their murderers may not have had orders to commit the atrocity from Hamas leaders, it is simply not true that the most reasonable explanation of the Israeli government’s actions are as Goldberg describes them.

Let’s begin with the issue of withholding the fact that the tape of the call seems to record gunshots and that the car when found contained eight bullet holes. That information would have certainly resulted in outrage and potentially in revenge attacks the moment it was released. Would Israel have been better off releasing it immediately without substantial preparation for the fallout stemming from the outrageous murder by Hamas affiliated terrorists of three students? Or would it have been better to wait to put into place plans to address the situation? That the world, including the families of these students, didn’t know their fate until the bodies were recovered was certainly painful. However, it would not have been substantially better to have believed them dead, but not had their bodies to bury.

Regarding those Hamas members who killed Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, it does not matter at all that they did or did not receive orders from Hamas’ leadership. Why? Because Hamas came out in support of the action after the fact. Anyone remember the three finger solute campaign in support of the kidnapping/murder of the students? There is little difference between organized campaigning for others do copy the action and supporting the original action. I’m sorry, but it is ridiculous to argue otherwise.

It was ultimately the rocket fire that spun the situation out of control, not anything related to the murders of teenagers as despicable as those murders were. As the range of the rockets in particular came to be apparent, Israel ceased to have any choice. Hamas’ ability to strike the heart of Israel has left Israel no choice but to take substantial military action. Leaving this situation such that it could flare next week, next month, or even next year would be unconscionable.

Meanwhile, Hamas use of human shields, along with the bunkers and tunnels, prevents Israel from conducting a simple air campaign. Thus we’re looking at a ground invasion in the near future that can limit civilian casualties. Even then there will be many.

Goldberg is right that this is a war that perhaps no one wants. Yet it is a war that Israel has no choice but to fight.

May it be over swiftly and with as few casualties as possible, but more than anything, may it result in a long period of peace.

We pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May it come soon.

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Blind Hatred Harms All of Us

We woke up this morning to the news that Jews had killed Muhamad Abu Khdeir and had failed to kidnap another boy a day earlier. These Jews do not represent Israel. They do not represent Jews. They do not represent the Orthodox community or the Sephardi Orthodox Community. They do not represent even their own families. They represent themselves and they are murderers of an innocent young man.

We are saddened, angered, and sickened by their actions.

Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking about the deaths of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, said that:

I would like to send my condolences to the Abu Khudair family. I pledge that the perpetrators of this horrific crime, which must be resolutely condemned in the most forceful language, will face the full weight of the law. I know that in our society, the society of Israel, there is no place for such murderers. And that’s the difference between us and our neighbors. They consider murderers to be heroes. They name public squares after them. We don’t. We condemn them and we put them on trial and we’ll put them in prison.

And that’s not the only difference. While we put these murderers on trial, in the Palestinian Authority, there is continuous incitement for the destruction of the State of Israel. It’s a staple of the official media and the educational system.

This is an asymmetrical conflict. We do not seek their destruction; they teach a very broad segment of their society to seek our destruction. And that must end. There is too much suffering. There is too much pain.

We do not differentiate between the terrorists and we will respond to all of them, wherever they come from, with a firm hand. We will not allow extremists from wherever they come to ignite the region and shed more blood.

From all across the political spectrum, there have been condemnations. Naftali Bennett of the right wing Jewish Home party said that the killing was “terrible, immoral and anti-Jewish” and argued that the killers should be prosecuted as terrorists.

Yishai Fraenkel, uncle of Naftali, one of the three Jewish teens recently murdered, spoke to the father of Muhamad Abu Khdeir, the murdered Arab boy, that:

There is no difference between those who murdered Muhamad, and those who murdered our children. Those are murderers, and these are murderers. And both must be dealt with to the full extent of the law, and we told him that.

No one is cheering. Blind hatred harms all of us.  Let us work for tolerance and peace.

 

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