Monday, February 19, 2018

A test of Israeli deterrence - Yoav Limor

by Yoav Limor

The next few days will tell us whether the IDF's powerful response to Saturday's bombing has prompted Hamas to calm things down in Gaza, or whether tensions will continue to boil.

Saturday's attack near the Kissufim crossing on the Gaza border in which four IDF soldiers were wounded was the most serious border incident since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, and the first attack to incur wounded since December 2014, when a soldier from a Bedouin reconnaissance battalion was hit by sniper fire.

The IDF carried out a relatively powerful retaliation in Gaza for Saturday's attack. Even though it wasn't Hamas that was responsible for the attack (it was the Popular Resistance Committees), it came under fire, both physically – Israel took the opportunity to destroy an attack tunnel that had been dug leading into its territory as well as weapons manufacturing sites – and verbally. The head of COGAT and the IDF spokesperson made it clear that Hamas was responsible for what happened in the Gaza Strip and attacks launched from the territory, and should make sure these attacks stop.

In fact, there is a basis to Israel's claims. Hamas might not have planted the roadside bomb, but every weekend since U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, Hamas has been urging Gaza residents to approach the border fence and face off with IDF forces. Sometimes the organization even pays the demonstrators and arranges transport for them. This past Friday saw similar protests at four different locations, during which 14 Palestinians were wounded.

The investigation into the attack will certainly reveal that during the protests, a flag was raised on the fence, and the explosive device was attached to it. It was a classic booby trap that demands that the IDF evaluate itself on a few matters: Has the frequency of these events made its forces apathetic? Why was there no intelligence about a planned attack? How could the lookouts have missed the bomb being placed? And of course – was Saturday's action to remove the flag, which caused the bomb to detonate, carried out according to regulations?

It appears that at least when it comes to the last point, the answer is affirmative. Of course, there is always room to improve, but the IDF must approach every place where there is something suspicious on the fence, out of concern it might be a bomb. That is necessary for the point to be cleared and the path reopened. There is a wealth of technology that can be utilized to do this (including unmanned vehicles and robots), but ultimately, there is no substitute for classic action on the part of soldiers at the scene – in this particular scenario, soldiers from the bomb disposal unit who were secured by Golani and Armored Corps troops.

The answers to the tactical questions posed above will not exempt the IDF from providing a solution to its two biggest questions – whether or not to allow protests at the fence to continue, and whether or not the policy on terrorist attacks in Gaza has changed. The answer to the first question should be no, and not only because the protesters serve as a platform for terrorist actions. At any moment, these demonstrations could get out of control and cause dozens of injuries, which will upset Gaza.

It appears that the answer to the second question is also no. All signs point to Saturday's incident being an isolated one that took advantage of a particular opportunity. Nevertheless, Israel responded with airstrikes to make it clear that it will not agree to any changes to the game. The next few days will show us whether Hamas has indeed been deterred and is working to calm things down, or whether tense days of warfare have once again fallen on Gaza.

Yoav Limor


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