A 72 hour ceasefire began today in Gaza. Hamas has insisted that no ceasefire was possible unless Israel stops all military operations but Israel insisted that its troops would continue moving in shooting in parts of Gaza their troops now occupied. Hamas has been forced to accept that reality.
The third war with Hamas continues with this one now in its 25th day. So far about 1,500 have died and over 7,000 wounded with 96 percent of the casualties being Palestinian. About a quarter of the 1.8 million people in Gaza have fled their homes, often after a specific warning (sometimes delivered by Israel via telephone) to get out to avoid Israeli bombs. This disproportionate outcome is all fairly typical of all the Arab-Israeli wars since 1948. After its founding in 1948 Israeli strategy was based on the concept of “never again” (will there be a mass slaughter as happened in World War II when anti-Semitic Germans killed six million Jews.) But by returning to Israel (from whence most Jews had been expelled 1,900 years ago) the Jews had to contend with the Arabs, who backed the German World War II anti-Semitic policies (and still do) and were obsessed with ancient grievances with each other and many outside the region. Add to that over a trillion dollars in Arab oil income since World War II and you have a very volatile and noxious situation. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Arabs are militarily inept. Thus the far more numerous (in numbers of troops and modern weapons) Arab forces were defeated time after time from 1948 to 1973 before Arabs realized that conventional war with tiny Israel was not going to work.
These numerous battlefield defeats led to the development of an Arab passive-aggressive strategy that exploited Western media to slowly erode Western support for Israel. This seemed like a long shot back in the 1970s, but it was the only option Arabs had and despite growing criticism from within the Arab world, the “Israel must be destroyed at any cost” idea remained a bedrock of Arab foreign policy ever since. The new strategy considered dead Arab civilians killed by Israelis defending themselves to be the key to victory. Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon became the major practitioners of this cynical and callous strategy. The basic idea was to store the rockets and other weapons in residential areas and either convince (with years of propaganda, which continues to this day) that it is the duty of Arab (Palestinian or Lebanese) civilians to remain in their homes to be human shields for the rockets. Backing up the propaganda was threats of force against civilians who tried to flee. Many civilians do flee, but enough remain (sometimes via coercion) in the vicinity of the unlaunched rockets to provide dead bodies.
The Arabs knew that the dead civilians would be portrayed as innocent victims and make the Israelis look like the bad guys. Yet most people living in a Western democracy would react as the Israelis do to Arab attacks. But this reality, the Arabs knew, would be buried under the more newsworthy (and profitable) coverage of the dead civilians. As the saying goes in mass media, “if it bleeds it leads.” Many Western journalists are not happy with this and understand that if their neighborhood were being hit by rockets they would demand that their government do something to stop it. But business is business and the “dead civilian” strategy works.
What gets missed in all this is the realities of politics in a democracy. Israelis have lived through five “peace deals” with Hamas and all five were exploited (and bragged about) by Hamas as mere ceasefires so the terrorist group could rearm and try again to destroy Israel, or at least kill some Israelis in another failed attempt. Israelis demand that their elected government do something to protect them. What is also forgotten is that Israel offered the Palestinians a peace deal in 2000, which was acceptable to most Palestinians (and still is) but was rejected by the Palestinian radicals and that led to another round of terrorism directed against Israel. This was defeated by 2005 and ever since then Palestinian radicals, especially Hamas, have been obsessed with destroying Israel or, in practical terms, doing some real damage against the Israelis.
The Palestinian “dead civilians” strategy has been no secret. Both Fatah (which runs the West Bank) and Hamas media have for years openly urged civilians to “embrace death” and convince their children to be suicidal terrorists. Children’s media follows the same line, but use techniques found in Western children’s TV and books to persuade the kids to accept this culture of death. Israelis, especially those who speak and read Arabic, can see this propaganda every day on their TV. The Palestinians don’t put the worst of this stuff on their English language websites and news shows but the extent of the hate is always there, just a translation away. The Palestinians have been relieved to discover that most Western media ignore this depraved propaganda and concentrate on easier-to-comprehend stuff like dead civilians. Hamas leaders also understand that victory for them in the short term is not the destruction of Israel but surviving Israeli retribution for Hamas rocket attacks on Israelis. This attitude is understood by most Israelis as well, which is why most (over 85 percent) Israelis still support the effort to destroy Hamas this time.
The first war with Hamas was in 2009 and lasted three weeks. The one in 2012 went on for eight days and did not involve the use of ground troops. This time both sides are determined to achieve something tangible. Hamas needs a win because it’s obsession with destroying Israel, despite the massive support from most of the Arab world, has failed. In the process Hamas has angered the residents of Hamas and many Arab states that have long supported the Palestinians. If Hamas comes out of this war with little to show for it then all the financial and diplomatic “support” it is now enjoying will evaporate and soon Hamas will be replaced by some other ruler in Gaza.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007, two years after Israel relinquished control of Gaza as a good will gesture. Hamas defines itself as existing mainly to destroy Israel and drive all Jews out of the Middle East. Hamas began as a branch of the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood and the continued presence of any Egyptian Islamic terrorists in Gaza has made Egypt increasingly hostile to Hamas. In fact, for the first time, most Egyptians are backing Israel in their fight with Hamas and Egyptian media openly encourage Israel to destroy Hamas completely. Egypt cooperates by sharing intelligence and sealing the Egyptian border with Gaza. But up until 2013 Egyptian officials tended to ignore the smuggling of weapons (especially rockets from Iran) into Gaza. This enabled Hamas to stockpile thousands of rockets, all in preparation for the final battle with Israel that will make Hamas the ruler of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. At least that’s the plan. For the current war Hamas is trying to keep the Israeli air attacks going for as long as possible. Hamas believes that the new Palestinian civilian deaths each day will increase world media and diplomatic pressure on Israel to make peace on Hamas terms and allow Hamas to declare victory (at least in Arab and Moslem eyes). Israel is determined to avoid this. Hamas is also hostile to any peace efforts put forward by Egypt, which Hamas considers an ally of Israel.
Hamas sees these wars more as media campaigns than military ones and they see victory achieved by getting more Palestinians killed. In the aftermath of the 2009 war Hamas lied regularly to exaggerate the nature and extent of their losses. For example, Palestinians claimed that the 22 day long 2009 War indiscriminately killed civilians. Hamas claimed that 1,434 Palestinians were killed. Hamas further claimed that only 235 were Hamas fighters, while another 239 were police officers, and 960 of the dead were civilians. Hamas admitted that most of the "civilians" were men, mostly of military age. They also claimed that 121 of the dead civilians were women and 288 were children (defined as anyone under 18). It goes downhill from there. The Arab world unites behind these lies, and encourages all other Moslem nations to join them. Many Western nations, seeing a cheap way to ingratiate themselves with the Moslem world, join in. One thing Hamas and Fatah agree on is that over half a century of failed Palestinian (and Arab) efforts to destroy Israel is not their fault. They insists that Arabs are victims of a conspiracy by Jews and the West, to sustain Israel and keep the Arabs down. This is the core of Palestinian propaganda on all their media, and now accepted by many leftist supporters in West. Just another conspiracy theory, but one with thousands of heavily armed believers, who will kill if they get an opportunity. And trying to defend yourself against this is called oppressing the Palestinians.
Hamas has long been a big believer in using civilians as human shields (often against their will). Israeli soldiers are not allowed to use civilians as human shields, even to protect Israeli soldiers from attacks by Palestinians. Hamas, on the other hand, encourages the use of human shields, and describes, in their training manuals, how best to do it. Lots of dead civilians are essential to Hamas success (in getting enough Western countries threatening Israel and forcing ceasefires and concessions). Much of what Hamas knows about using human shields it learned from Hezbollah up in Lebanon. There, Hezbollah has been using human shields for decades. Back in 2006 Israel released video, and other evidence, showing how Hezbollah used civilians as human shields during rocket attacks on Israel. Hezbollah's attitude in response to this was largely one of, "so what?"
Hamas also knows that it has lots of UN support. For years Hamas has pressured the UN to send officials who would cooperate and made life impossible for UN staff who did not do what Hamas wanted. Technically, this is against UN policy and the UN tries to at least appear to be playing it straight in situations like this. But reality is a different matter. Arab oil states have been throwing their money around for decades in the UN, to get nations to go along with meaningless resolutions condemning Israel. Money talks at the UN and there are many states willing to sell their support if the price is right.
Israel has made it clear that one of the primary objectives now is to find and destroy all the tunnels Hamas had dug into Israel over the last few years. This can only be accomplished if Israeli troops are inside Gaza and able to search for the places where the tunnels start. Over the years Hamas has learned how to dig tunnels that are virtually undetectable on the Israeli side. This means going deep enough to avoid detection by ground penetrating radar or acoustic sensors. This makes it more expensive and time consuming to build tunnels but Hamas has diverted much foreign aid (cash and building materials) to the tunnel effort.
Before the ground invasion Israel knew of the Hamas tunnels but had only found four of them in the last two years. In March Israeli troops found one that was 1,800 meters long and extended 300 meters into Israel. Hamas dismissed this find as a tunnel that had been abandoned because of a partial collapse. But the Israelis said the tunnel had been worked on recently and equipment, like generators, was found in it. The tunnel was lined with reinforcing concrete and was 9-20 meters (30-63 feet) underground. Three of these tunnels were near the town of Khan Younis and apparently part of a plan to kidnap Israelis for use in trades (for prisoner or whatever) with Israel. Israeli intelligence knew Hamas leaders were discussing a much larger tunnel program, involving dozens of tunnels. Most had no exits in Israel, yet. Available monitoring equipment was slow and often ineffective if there was no one actively working on the tunnel below or if there was no exit (yet) on the Israeli side. Hamas had been building and “stockpiling” these tunnels for at least two years and most of the completed ones could only be detected inside Gaza, where their entrances were. These were also hidden, at least from aerial observation. Israeli intelligence had discovered some of these entrances by detecting the Hamas activity around the entrances (entering and leaving, removing dirt). Hamas tried to hide this activity and Israel knew this meant they probably succeeded in some cases. Thus before the Israeli troops went into Gaza recently, commanders had lots of information of where to look. Israeli combat engineers had been trained to destroy the tunnels, which was not easy because Hamas had booby-trapped some of them. Israel now suspects there are over fifty of these tunnels and will stay inside Gaza until it feels it has found all of them, and collected information on how they are built and how they can be detected from the ground or air. If Israel knows where a tunnel is, before they destroy it they can run some tests with their sensors and that knowledge will make it more difficult for Hamas to build new tunnels.
Many of the Israeli missiles, smart bombs and shells seem random, especially when they hit civilians. But the Israelis do make efforts to avoid civilians. Israeli intelligence is constantly seeking out Hamas leadership and weapons, especially those about to be used. If indications (from aerial photos, electronic surveillance and interrogations) indicate a senior enough Hamas leader or specialist is in a place, the attack will be made, despite the presence of civilians. Hamas makes no secret of its use of civilian human shields to protect their most valuable assets (senior leaders and large weapons storage areas and other key assets). Since the intelligence effort depends on Hamas not knowing how or when the Israelis get their targeting information the Israelis will not comment on why a specific target it hit. This allows the media to jump all over a particularly newsworthy attack without fear of getting the story shot down by an even more newsworthy Israeli explanation. For purveyors of news it doesn’t get much better than this.
Palestinians in the West Bank have been vocal, but not particularly violent in their support of Hamas. There have been demonstrations but Israeli and Palestinian security forces prevented any of these from getting out of control. There have been a few deaths, all Palestinian. Islamic terrorists groups in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Syria (al Nusra, ISIL and many more) have issued press releases supporting Hamas but not done much of anything else. Hezbollah knows that Israel has sufficient forces on the Lebanese border to do serious damage to Hezbollah if rockets are launched from Lebanon. In Syria the many Islamic terrorist groups are too busy fighter each other and the Syrian government to risk taking on Israel. So it’s all quiet on the northern front.
Most of the Israeli dead (56 of 59) have occurred in or near Gaza where, as expected, Hamas had prepared a very effective (by Arab standards) defense. The Hamas gunmen cannot stand up to Israeli troops in a firefight, but they can use mines, booby traps and ambushes to gain an advantage and inflict some casualties. But hundreds of Hamas gunmen have been killed during these efforts to delay Israeli troops. Over half the dead in Gaza are Hamas members, most of them armed (fighting Israeli troops or trying to move or launch rockets and other weapons). The Hamas rockets proved to be a major failure. Hamas had about 10,000 of these locally or factory made rockets. About a third of these rockets have been destroyed by Israeli air and artillery attack, as well as a few found and destroyed by ground troops. Over 2,000 rockets were fired into Israel where the inherent inaccuracy of these weapons, and the Israeli Iron Dome defense system shooting down any that were headed for something valuable, resulted in little damage and only a few deaths. Hamas appears to have killed more Palestinians (with the many rockets that fail and fall inside Gaza) than Israelis with their rockets.
Hamas has been using all its weapons, apparently in the belief that they were faced with a “use it or lose it” situation. Thus twice in July (the 14th and 17th) Israeli Patriot anti-aircraft missiles were used to shoot down Iranian Ababil UAVs used by Hamas to seek out or attack Israeli military targets. This was the first time Israeli Patriots had something to shoot down since the 1990s. Hamas said it used its Ababil UAVs both for reconnaissance and, with the cameras replaced with explosives, as cruise missiles. Hamas also released pictures of an Ababil carrying four unguided rockets. This may have just been a propaganda photo because firing small, unguided rockets from an Ababil would not be very effective.
July 31, 2014: Hamas and Israel agreed to a 72 hour “humanitarian truce” that begins 5 AM GMT on August 1st. This is supposed to allow the start of peace talks in Egypt. There have been several shorter truces already, all broken by Hamas. Israel does not expect this one to be any different. These truce violations were justified by Israeli insistence that the ceasefires do not include continued Israeli efforts to find and destroy tunnels Hamas has dug under the Israeli security fence in anticipation of a major Hamas effort to get into Israel and kill or, more importantly, kidnap Israeli civilians and exploit the Israeli willingness to make major concessions to free a single captive Israeli. Hamas says it will only agree to a long-term ceasefire if Israel and Egypt lift their blockade of Gaza. Because of the relentless efforts of Hamas (and other Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza) to carry out terror attacks in Israel and Egypt, opening the borders is not likely to happen.
July 30, 2014: In Egypt (south of Cairo) three Islamic terrorists died when the bomb in their vehicle went off prematurely. Apparently the bomb was meant for a military checkpoint up the road. There have been a lot of explosions like this in the last year as Islamic conservatives angry at the return of a general as elected president try to get a proper terror campaign going. The Islamic conservatives and radicals don’t have enough experienced people (especially bomb builders) to do this without making a lot of costly mistakes. The last major Islamic terror offensive in Egypt took place in the 1990s and failed largely because the public turned against the Islamic radicals because of the damage to the economy and number of dead civilians.
July 29, 2014: Today saw the heaviest bombing and shelling of Gaza targets so far. Most of Gaza went dark when the only power plant in Gaza went off line because of damage from explosions. Hamas blamed this on Israeli firepower, but Hamas is the only one to benefit from total darkness in Gaza. Normally Gaza gets most of its power via Israel and Egypt but both of these sources have been cut by those two countries, who both oppose Hamas. There are a lot of electrical generators in Gaza so there still some light, just not much of it. The generators are not enough to keep the essential utilities (water and sewage) going so there is a major health problem on the way. This works for Hamas because the more civilian suffering there is the more diplomatic pressure there is on Israel back off and let Hamas survive and claim another victory.
Hamas gunmen used a tunnel to get into Israel where five Israeli soldiers were killed. Four more Israeli soldiers were killed by a mortar shell fired from Gaza into an Israeli staging area.
July 28, 2014: Israel made it clear that this war would last a while as there was no point in ending it until some serious and permanent damage was done to Hamas and the threat of posed to Israel.
In Egypt (outside Cairo) an anti-government demonstration got violent and five civilians were killed.
July 26, 2014: A 12 hour ceasefire, agreed to so that civilians could get food water and medical care, ended when Hamas resumed firing rockets.
Lebanese weapons smugglers have apparently been approached by Hamas to expedite a shipment of North Korean weapons and other military equipment to Gaza. Hamas has been buying North Korean weapons and smuggling it in at least since 2009, when a major shipment of this stuff was detected and seized when the aircraft carrying it was caught in Thailand. That shipment was headed for Iran, which often handles the tricky task of getting the stuff to Gaza (via Sudan, Egypt and bribes as needed). North Korea gets a down payment and receives the rest when the stuff arrives in Iran. Freight airlines using elderly Russian transports will fly the cargo if arrangements are made to prevent the aircraft from getting seized. That means arranging a flight path that goes through a cooperative China and Moslem nations. China does not always cooperate, especially these days when China is trying to persuade North Korea to shape up and save itself.
July 25, 2014: In Egypt (Sinai) Islamic terrorists assassinated a police commander and an army commander in two separate attacks.
July 24, 2014: UN officials were embarrassed when it became known that rockets found in one of the schools they ran in Gaza had mysteriously disappeared.
July 21, 2014: The U.S. ordered American airlines to not use Israel’s main airport because a Hamas rocket had landed nearby. Israel interpreted this shutdown as a U.S. ploy to coerce Israel to let Hamas survive. The Israeli response was loud and strong and the U.S. backed off on continuing the shutdown order.