Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Achievements, Expectations and Concern

by Yoav Limor

A little over a week into Operation Protective Edge, now that a cease-fire proposal is officially on the table, it is time to take stock of the events thus far.

Israel's achievements include, first and foremost, Iron Dome, whose success contributed significantly to that fact that there were zero casualties on the homefront, which in turn gave decision-makers precious political and military leeway.

Israel was also able to successfully thwart Hamas' various operational surprises -- terror tunnel attacks, maritime infiltration attempts, and sending drones over Israel -- and thanks to precise intelligence, the Israeli Air Force targeted a relatively large number of weapon caches and rocket launchers, destroying some 30 percent of them.

Israel has also been able to illustrate to senior Hamas operative just what the "price of losing" entails, by targeting their homes; it has been able to maintain the disconnect between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as the unrest felt across the latter over the past month was all but curtailed since the operation began.

Hamas has also noted some achievements during the past week. It has been able to maintain an orderly command and control system on the ground despite the aerial strikes, and most notably -- it has been able to maintain steady rocket fire at Israel, which appeared to be scaled according to a set plan of attack.

This plan included firing rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which first became part of the cycle of violence during 2012's Operation Pillar of Defense, and introducing Haifa to the current cycle as well, effectively threatening five million Israelis and several strategic facilities, such as the Ben Gurion International Airport and the Dimona Negev Nuclear Research Center.

The past week's fighting is also likely to extract Hamas from the civilian-economical siege imposed on it, as any cease-fire agreement will probably include a gradual opening of the Egyptian side of Rafah crossing.

When considering what Israel has been unable to achieve, one must note that, despite the debilitating blow dealt to rocket launchers, the scope of rocket fire has yet to be significantly reduced. Israel also refrained from using the operation to cripple the Hamas tunnel infrastructure completely, and it has not been able to eliminate the Hamas and Islamic Jihad's respective military leadership, as both went underground as soon as the operation was launched.

It seems that in the internal Israeli arena, a gap has formed between expectations from Operation Protective Edge and its actual objectives.

Hamas, for its part, has noted some major failures. It has failed to exact a price from the Israeli homefront and it has not been able to carry out any sort of significant terror attack. Hamas' efforts to galvanize the Palestinian and Arab streets have failed, as have its attempt to see Qatar mediate a cease-fire instead of Egypt. 

Moreover, the international community refrained from truly interfering, affording Israel significant leeway for a legitimate operation; even worse for Hamas -- the past few days have seen some of the Palestinian population in Gaza Strip turn against it. 

The expectations in Israel from Operation Protective Edge are to create significant, long-term deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas that would prevent both rocket fire and terror attacks, as well as to see it significantly struggle to overcome the blow dealt to its operational infrastructure. 

The latter depends not only on the force of the blow Israel deals Hamas, but also on Egypt's efforts to curb the smuggling of weapons and weapons-manufacturing machinery from Sinai into Gaza. 

The Israeli hopes that the Palestinian unity government would crumble in the wake of the Gaza campaign are unlikely to be realized, as any move by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to that effect would label him a traitor in the eyes of the Palestinians. 

Hamas, no doubt, expects to see a protracted lull that would allow it to reconstitute its operational, financial and operational infrastructure. To this end, it needs Egypt to keep the Rafah crossing open and it needs the PA to transfer the funds necessary to pay Hamas employees in Gaza Strip. 

Still, Hamas' hopes that Egypt's hostility toward it would ease are likely to prove false, as Cairo sees Hamas as its enemy. Egypt would mostly likely keep tormenting Hamas, and it is highly unlikely that Egypt would abide its rearmament efforts. 

Israel is concerned that Egypt would, at some point, alleviate its pressure on Hamas. It is also concerned of potential erosion in deterrence and the resumption of rocket fire on the south, as well as the possibility that the international community may seek to investigate incidents involving civilian Palestinian casualties. To rebuff the latter, the IDF has initiated an inquest into these incidents, intending to present its findings to international panels, should they be requested. 

Paradoxically, Israel is actually concerned over the potential toppling of the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip as it could plunge Gaza into anarchy and force Israel to take it over again in the future.

Yoav Limor


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

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