November 21, 2012: No ceasefire yet, and there may not be one until Hamas gets really desperate. Hamas wants a ceasefire but only on its own terms. That means there must be guarantees that Israel will not launch another attack against Hamas leadership. These “decapitation” attacks are the most effective way to destroy or disable a terrorist organization and in the last eight days at least one Hamas leader a day has been killed. Hamas thought it was immune to this sort of thing because it was the elected government of Gaza. But Hamas has turned into a dictatorship and banned any more elections. At the same time Hamas openly calls for war on Israel and the death or expulsion of all Jews from the region. Hamas now fears that Israel will treat them like all the other Islamic terror groups and keep coming after Hamas leadership. This would make it difficult to rule Gaza, and that is already becoming more of a problem as popular anger at Hamas increases (because of the harsh rule, rising taxes, and no hope of it ever getting better). Israel wants some guarantees that the rocket attacks will cease. Hamas does not want to guarantee that, in part because it cannot. Other Islamic terror groups in Gaza are openly challenging Hamas rule, and Hamas has tried to avoid a civil war over the issue. This may be unavoidable because that’s how Islamic radicalism works. The less radical groups are attacked by the more radical and one side or the other must be destroyed. That’s how Middle Eastern politics works, especially since Turkish rule was ended in 1918. After that tyrants, despots, and dictators became the norm. At first outsiders were blamed, since taking responsibility was never a popular attitude in the Middle East. That has begun to change but not among Palestinians.
In the last two decades a reform movement has arisen, that is more realistic about the causes of all the grief. Despite that, traditions die hard and among the Palestinians the belief that Israel is the source of all evil is unshakable. Palestinians have called for the destruction of Israel for over 60 years and declared themselves above reproach for whatever they have done to hurt Israel. Thus Palestinian terrorism is simply self-defense, as are the rocket attacks coming out of Gaza. Any violent Israeli response is a war crime. Many in the Middle East go along with this, as do some other UN members, as well as leftists and journalists in the West. But the reality is that Israel is the only working democracy in the region and that form of government will respond to the popular will and act in its own defense. Israeli voters want an end to the growing rocket threat coming out of Gaza. If Hamas leaders want to live, they will have to cooperate or actually succeed in destroying Israel.
For the moment the Hamas leadership is scrambling to survive by surrounding themselves with human shields (Palestinian women and children) and increasing their efforts to keep hidden from Israeli intelligence. More Gaza residents are being accused of spying for Israel and being promptly executed. Hamas really isn’t sure who is spying for Israel, only that such spies do exist and report the location of Hamas leaders at every opportunity. Many of these spies are not working for Israel as much as they are fighting Hamas. While Hamas can still generate cheering crowds to celebrate the latest Hamas victory, most Gazans feel otherwise and quietly wish the Hamas leadership dead. On the plus side, Hamas gains more popularity among Palestinians, especially those in the West Bank and anywhere outside Gaza, for all these rocket attacks. This puts Fatah, the long-time ruling party in the Palestinian Authority (and still considered corrupt and ineffective) at a disadvantage. It was that reputation, and factionalism within Fatah, that allowed Hamas to win an election in Gaza five years ago. Since then Hamas has been trying, without success, to repeat that feat in the West Bank and take control of the Palestinian Authority.
The way situations like this work, Hamas plays the victim card as vigorously as it can until its foreign backers (Russia, China, and most Moslem countries) can muster enough pressure (via the UN) to coerce the U.S. into forcing Israel to accept a ceasefire. But this time that will only reduce the attacks. Israel is at war with the Hamas leadership and it’s unlikely that will end until Hamas is a headless mess. Israel hopes to eventually play the savior and king-maker in Gaza and get a more moderate government there. Many Palestinians agree with that scenario but cannot admit it openly without risking death.
Up in Lebanon Hezbollah, which has four times as many Iranian rockets as Hamas, has not attacked, as it long said it would. The plan has always been for Hezbollah and Hamas to launch an attack on Israel, in conjunction with Iran and anyone else who could be persuaded to join in. This “final battle” would destroy Israel. But at the moment Hezbollah is distracted by severe economic problems in Iran (the result of an international ban on the sale of Iranian oil) and the two year old rebellion in Syria against the pro-Iran dictatorship. Hezbollah was founded with the help of Iranian cash and technical assistance, much of it delivered via Syria. Hezbollah also dominates the government of Lebanon and dragging the country into another war with Israel would be very unpopular. So Hezbollah cheers on its ally Hamas and ignores pleas for more tangible aid.
The Hamas rocket offensive has not worked out as planned. Partly this was due to the fact that the Israelis had pretty complete information (a lot of it made public) of Hamas preparations. This included the presence of longer range rockets, such as the extended range (40 kilometers) 122mm rockets (which normally have half that range) and up to a hundred of the .9 ton Iranian Fajr 5 rockets (range of 70 kilometers). Israel also appears to have known where most Hamas rockets were hidden. Hamas has some 10,000 rockets and in the last week most have been destroyed by Israeli air raids. Over 500 rockets were launched during the first two days, but then the number began to decline as Israeli air attacks killed the launch crews. On Saturday (the 17th) 230 rockets were fired, with only 156 on Sunday, and 121 on Monday. Less than a hundred were fired on Tuesday and by dawn today only half a dozen had been fired. While the Palestinians have fired over a thousand rockets into Israel so far, and killed four Israeli civilians (plus a soldier killed by a mortar shell), their effort is faltering, and the Israeli response is not. Few of the rockets landed in occupied areas. That’s because Iron Dome has been able to detect and destroy 90 percent of the rockets that were going to land in an area containing people. The Israeli military says they have shot down over 300 rockets so far and few rockets have done any damage, much less caused injuries. So far, about 140 Palestinians have been killed, at least a third of them civilians who were living near a Hamas facility (often a rocket storage site).
Hamas expected more support from the Arab world. While the failure of Hezbollah to help was not a shock, it was believed that Egyptian public opinion might persuade the new Egyptian government to do more than help arrange a ceasefire. While Egyptians have been exposed to decades of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda, anyone running the country quickly realizes that war with Israel is a losing proposition. Not just in the military sense but in terms of foreign aid (which would be sharply cut if Egypt declared war on Israel). The Hamas attack had little impact on the price of oil, which continues at its low ($88 a barrel) level. Hamas is also having trouble staying in touch with the residents of Gaza. Israeli electronic warfare units have hijacked radio and TV broadcasts and presented warning to Gaza civilians about what areas to stay away from. Israel also provides more accurate reporting on the progress of the war, much to the annoyance of Hamas. Gaza cell phone networks are also hijacked to send pro-Israel messages. Israel has also been more aggressive at exposing Hamas media deceptions. The Palestinians have long gotten away with deceiving the media with fake civilian casualties. But the growth of the Internet has provided Israel with a way to quickly demolish these disinformation efforts. This sort of thing does little to enhance the credibility of Hamas.
Israel has been using warplanes and helicopters to hit about 200 targets a day in Gaza. Only precision weapons (smart bombs and missiles plus cannon fire) are used and the secondary explosions from Hamas rockets and other munitions makes it clear what the targets are. Israel has also hit places where Hamas leaders were hiding and thought they were safe. This included a media center used by foreign journalists. This sort of thing was a major blow to morale among the Hamas leadership and many of them are believed to have fled to Egypt as a result. This cannot be admitted and Hamas leaders have to maintain the fiction that they are still in Gaza.
November 20, 2012: Two more Israelis die. A soldier was killed by a mortar shell fired from Gaza, while a civilian died from a Hamas rocket. In Gaza City masked (to avoid retribution from kin) Hamas security men publicly shot dead six accused spies. The six were probably innocent (at least of spying, but not of offending Hamas in some way) and these public killings were meant to discourage people who actually were helping Israeli intelligence track Hamas leaders and rocket launching teams.
Israeli aircraft began dropping leaflets on some neighborhoods in Gaza City, urging residents to flee their homes and head for the city center. While some interpret this as a prelude to an Israeli ground invasion, it could also be a ploy to clear out civilians so Israeli aircraft can bomb rocket storage sites built into residential buildings. This technique was learned from Hezbollah in Lebanon and is supposed to include orders for armed Hamas men to force civilians to stay in buildings sitting on rocket storage bunkers. This will force the Israelis to kill Palestinian civilians in order to destroy the rockets. Israel has assembled over 40,000 troops on the Gaza border but appears reluctant to send them in as long as there are plenty of targets for air strikes.
November 17, 2012: Israel put its fifth Iron Dome battery into service, several weeks early. This one was positioned to protect Tel Aviv and adjacent coastal areas. The five Iron Dome batteries provide a continuous band of protection across Israel and should stop any long range rockets coming out of Gaza. While Israel has two more Iron Dome batteries on order (each costing nearly $40 million) the military says 13 are needed to provide protection from Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south if both groups attack at the same time.
November 14, 2012: Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas military forces, was killed by an Israeli missile. Israel had threatened to go after Hamas leaders if the growing number of rocket attacks on Israel did not stop. Since last month, over 300 rockets have been fired from Gaza, in violation of a ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel. Hamas blamed the rocket firings on smaller Islamic terror groups it could not control. As a result of the killing of Jabari Hamas declared war on Israel and ordered its rocket forces to make the maximum number of attacks.