Sunday, November 18, 2012

'We were Convinced that Israel Would not Retaliate'

by Dr. Reuven Berko

It was a brilliant intelligence-driven military operation, reminiscent of the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh. The assassination of Hamas' military commander Ahmed Jabari with a direct missile hit to his car, along with the killing of additional key Gaza terror figures, were a resounding opening shot. In a string of subsequent strikes from the air and from the sea, additional cars and stationary targets were eliminated. There is no doubt that Jabari's assassination severely crippled Hamas' military operations and greatly contributed to Israel's power of deterrence. It is very likely that Israel's precise intelligence and the intensity of the subsequent attack have also prompted Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to hide even further underground in his bunker.

Senior Hamas officials didn't heed the warnings that Israel was keeping score and continued to fire rockets into southern Israeli towns — as orchestrated by Jabari. In this way, the various Gaza terrorist organizations dictated the daily routines of thousands of Israeli civilians, as well as the fate of their children. This week, it seems, the idea that Hamas is running a legitimate regime collapsed as terror organizations under its command continued to fire more and more rockets. The rhetoric and the threats aim for "beyond, beyond Tel Aviv" (a reference to a speech by Nasrallah in 2006, who threatened to strike further south than Haifa, saying "baada, baada" or beyond, beyond). But reality keeps getting better.

Jabari, born in 1960 to a Hebron family that immigrated to Gaza, has been a dead man walking since 1982 when he joined the ranks of Fatah. His life path, paved with terror attacks against Israelis, led him to an Israeli prison, where he served a 13-year sentence. During his time in prison he became friends with top Hamas terrorists, including Salah Shehade, Mohammed Deif (both of whom served as commanders of Hamas' military wing), Adnan al-Ghoul (an explosives expert considered to have invented the Qassam) and Ibrahim al-Makadmeh. Some of these murderers later joined the procession of shahidim (martyrs) like Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi and others in heaven.

It was the assassinations of Yassin and Rantissi that offered Jabari a shortcut to the top of Hamas' chain of command. In 2004, already with a lot of Israeli blood on his hands, Jabari evaded an attempt on his life that killed his son, his brother and an additional person. He managed to survive, strengthen Hamas and arm it, and star in additional terror attacks in between. All the while he smuggled weapons into Gaza. Most importantly, he planned and executed the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006, held him captive for over five years and ultimately released him in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian terrorist prisoners.

His terrorist activities only served to make Jabari increasingly popular and he rapidly climbed to the highest echelons of the organization. Meanwhile, he displayed exceptional organizational skills and managed to incorporate changes into Hamas' armed forces, transforming the organization into a multi-branched military like any other, with links to Iran.

The man was not only brazen outward; he also waged internal battles against the very leadership of Hamas, especially against "outsider" politburo chief Khaled Mashal. In 2007, Jabari, along with key Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar and others staged a military coup and forced Fatah out of Gaza — making Hamas the sole ruler of the Strip.

Among other roles Jabari also served as the so-called Hamas chief of staff — commanding the group's military wing, the "Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades." In this capacity, he was responsible for the organization's terrorist attacks and rocket fire on Israeli civilians. That is, up until the moment his crushed body parts were successfully launched into the "heavenly procession of the dead" that he so longed to join.

When these lines were written the Israel Air Force was still striking Hamas targets with full force. In the course of these strikes the IAF destroyed, among other things, stockpiles of long-range Fajr rockets, hidden in camouflaged pits. These pits were to be used to launch rockets further into Israel and shed the blood of Israelis living in the center of the country. These long-range rockets were being saved precisely for times such as these: the plan was that if Israel were to launch a full blown attack, the Israeli victim pool would be widened to include central Israel, rather than just the south. Instead, the Iron Dome missile defense system is turning out to be a cornerstone of Israeli deterrence, because it severely undermines Hamas' threat to the Israeli homefront.

Commentators have remarked with awe in recent days that the hum of drones, which had become a fixture in the auditory Gaza experience, has now ceased. According to these sources, Israel is now using a new type of weapon that guides missiles directly toward the target from a great distance, silently, while exploiting the element of surprise.

Jabari's assassination also prompted some of them to admit bitterly that Palestinian society was coming apart, and that Palestinians working with Israeli intelligence were providing information about Hamas targets.

Confusion and Accusations

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri self-righteously argued after the assassination that Hamas was actually preparing for a hudna — a sort of temporary ceasefire — with the "Zionist enemy." He made sure to stress, however, that even a hudna would include, as it has in the past, "incessant reminders" in the form of sporadic rocket salvos, which would continue, presumably, until Palestine is liberated.

The spectrum of indignant responses to Jabari's assassination was accompanied by self-righteousness and surprise at the Israeli response. After all, they keep insisting, the rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli towns haven't killed that many civilians. Therefore, they ask innocently, what is Israel so upset about? The Palestinians' spokespeople — including Israeli-Arab MK Taleb a-Sana — try to portray Hamas and the plethora of other Gaza terrorist groups as innocent parties; their only sin is that they have been turned into tools in the hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as part of the former's "bloody elections campaign."

These spokespeople claim that the Israeli operation in Gaza was intended to divert the Israeli public's attention away from internal economic and social ills, and to win votes with a populist invasion. One after another, these Hamas spokespeople can't seem to understand what could possibly be wrong with firing rockets at Israelis.

Meanwhile, there is also an extensive diplomatic effort underway. In the initial stages Hamas is mainly looking toward Egypt as well as the Arab League and other Arab countries that are veterans of the Islamic Arab Spring revolutions. According to Hamas' spokespeople, Israel underhandedly tricked Egypt. They say that Israel's response to Egypt's reconciliation efforts suggested that they were going to delay the planned Gaza offensive for the time being. That is how Israel deceived Egypt, put Hamas to sleep, and with "betrayal and deception" managed to surprise its operatives and exact revenge on Jabari for the prisoner exchange deal they were forced to make to secure Schalit's release in 2011, crippling Hamas in the process.

Hamas, therefore, is expecting Egypt to take action against Israel. From their perspective, Cairo must now prove that it is no longer Mubarak's Egypt, and fight for its Muslim honor. They must renounce the Israeli deception, freeze relations with Israel, deport the Israeli ambassador and recall the Egyptian ambassador from Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt passionately and defiantly voiced even tougher demands.

Senior Palestinian Authority officials also condemned Israel's actions, but in their case it sounded more like lip service, in light of the blows being dealt to the organization that has as much hostility toward the PA as it does toward Israel.

In the meantime, as Egypt begins a slow rehabilitation process while dealing with internal divisions and upheaval alongside a crippling economic dependence on the West, Cairo has displayed solidarity with Hamas and has warned Israel that escalation in Gaza would invite repercussions. Egypt even convened a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers and approached the United Nations Security Council demanding an emergency meeting on Israeli aggression. The Israeli ambassador has indeed left Egypt, and the Egyptian ambassador has been recalled until further notice.

In the background there is an essential contradiction between the extreme Islamist identity of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's anti-Semitic regime and the country's existential interests. Egypt's survival depends, for the time being, on a positive relationship with the West. That is why Egypt, which hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week, will continue to mediate between Israel and Hamas, under American supervision, despite the crisis with Israel it has deliberately created to appease Hamas.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' associates accused Israel's government of adopting an opportunistic approach in deciding the timing of the Gaza offensive. This, they say, is motivated by the upcoming Israeli elections. These associates argue that the basis for the offensive was actually a move to foil Abbas' initiative to upgrade the PA's status at the U.N.

Both Hamas and Abbas' PLO have voiced the need to join forces in the face of the "malicious" Israeli hostility. But unfortunately, even the tone of these voices gave away the fact that these were empty words, and that there is no chance, not even under the current circumstances, for reconciliation between these two rival Palestinian factions.

The Palestinian obsession, especially on behalf of Hamas, with Israel's upcoming elections as a motive for Israeli actions actually raises suspicion that Hamas itself had timed the digging of a terror tunnel (which failed), meant to attack an IDF border patrol unit, and its escalation of rocket fire on Israel's south, to coincide with the Israeli elections campaigns. They did this fully aware of the political deliberations within Israel and the opportunity to pit Israeli politicians against one another with mutual accusations. Hamas may have assumed that this infighting would tie the Israeli government's hands, preventing Israel from retaliating for the attacks coming out of Gaza for fear of damaging accusations from the left-wing opposition. Because a retaliation is something that is inextricably linked with the elections process, in their minds. Therefore, Hamas' most recent onslaught was launched with the impression that Israel's hands would be politically tied and they would not respond.

Israel's response was their second surprise.

The agitated spokespeople for both Hamas and for the PLO called upon their groups to join forces against the Zionist enemy. They appealed to Arab nations, to the leaders of the Arab Spring revolutions and to the nations of the free world to take action to prevent Israel's aggression. The only thing missing was someone to remind us that the Arab countries are currently looking the other way while masses are being massacred daily in Syria. These countries won't do anything for Hamas but make declarations. From the perspective of most of the regimes in the Arab world, Hamas is an extension of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which poses a threat to their leaderships.

But Arab news commentators had to admit that the Palestinians, and Hamas in particular, are currently not the center of the world's focus, and Israel can take advantage of that to advance its own ends. They even pointed out Israel's successful public diplomacy campaign.

Hamas' conduct before and after Jabari's assassination demonstrated that in essence there is no difference between the organization's military wing and its so-called political (diplomatic) leadership. This was evident in the remarks made by Hamas' spokespeople, who called for targeted revenge attacks against the Israeli homefront (more of the "beyond, beyond Tel Aviv" rhetoric). At the same time, the same spokespeople were whining about the counterstrike launched by Israel on Gaza, which, contrary to an attack on the homefront, was characterized by a surgical focus only on terror-related targets.

The problem is that Hamas' spokespeople actually believe their own arguments. After all, even according to Jabari himself, every Jew in "Palestine" is as good as dead. This rhetoric again accentuated the inherent contradiction in the Hamas leaders' declarations, who claim to have a "lust" for death but still vow revenge when their operatives are sent to heaven.
A military solution

Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza view the ongoing confrontation with Israel as a years-long war of attrition. Their leaders are listening and can quote certain Israeli circles as remarking that "there is no military solution" — which serves to boost their motivation.

But Hamas actually only believe in a military solution, one that will continue until the Israelis get tired and go away. Even the hudna, as they see it, includes periodic but consistent rocket attacks (as a reminder), and not a permanent truce. Peace is not even a possibility for the Islamic movement, which sees recognition of Israel as heresy.

Operation Pillar of Defense, named after the biblical cloud pillar that guided the Israelites in the desert, is now guiding a new approach to handling terror: key figures and infrastructure. Taking the initiative back into Israel's hands and dealing a premeditated, painful and methodical blow to Hamas' key figures and its infrastructure. This is the best way to tire Hamas out and convince its leaders that the price of terror is intolerable.

Now, if Hamas wants to take out whatever resources it has left and exact revenge, their weapons reserves will be revealed, and pulverized. Hamas and the popular front organizations know full well that the hunt for people like Jabari will be followed by attacks on Gaza infrastructure. The Arab media is reporting that much of the Gaza population is hysterical. The question is, when will these hysterical voices reach Hamas?

Dr. Reuven Berko


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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