The latest Hamas war on Israel is the first in seven years. Many Hamas leaders doubted that they were ready for another offensive because the Israelis had continued to outsmart Hamas, especially after the 2014 attack. That one turned out to be a major embarrassment for Hamas, which proceeded much the same way as the current offensive. Hamas had hoped that a closer relationship with Iran would enable them to more effectively plan another offensive. In retrospect, depending on Iran may not be so wise given the number of times Israel has outsmarted Iran in the last few years. Hamas rivals in the West Bank seem to have appreciated the Iranian fall from grace more quickly and used it against Hamas.
Accepting Iran as a patron cost Hamas a lot of popular support among Palestinians and with the foreign aid donors. Another interpretation is that rival Fatah in the West Bank deliberately sought to goad Hamas into a war with Israel. The timing of the recent Jerusalem violence created by Fatah seems to indicate that. Hamas and Fatah are under enormous pressure to hold elections that will once more produce a unified Palestinian government. Hamas thought attacking Israel again would help Hamas win this election. But a week after starting that war Hamas now sees it more likely end another humiliation and make it more likely that Fatah will win the election. The Hamas war also puts more pressure on both rivals to delay the elections until they were certain they will win. That meant the elections will never be held, unless a new crises emerges that makes Fatah look better and Hamas much worse. This would force Hamas to accept the elections and lose control of Gaza, or risk a civil war in Gaza with Egypt and Israel backing Fatah. Hamas had made itself very unpopular with Gazans, Egypt, Israel and Fatah.
The Reality Check
Hamas was not ready for another war with Israel but Israel was, having tamed the covid19 threat faster than anyone else in the region and were outperforming Hamas in the current conflict because Israel had learned more from the 2014 war than Hamas and was quicker to take advantage of that. An example of this took place on May 12th when the movement of several Israeli combat brigades to the Gaza border was followed by the announcement that Israeli ground forces had moved into Gaza. Israel knew that the Hamas war plan mandated that all senior leaders head for underground bunkers or tunnels when this happened. The ground assault was not happening but Israeli airstrikes soon took place with over 400 smart bombs and guided missiles used in less than an hour. Many of the smart bombs were of the ground penetrating variety. It was no secret that Israel had a lot of these ground penetrating bombs and also designed and manufactured them. It was also no secret that since 2014 Israel had developed new tech for quickly finding underground bunkers. In addition the Israeli informant network inside Gaza had paid a lot of attention to where the new Hamas underground tunnels and shelters were. Hamas finally realized all this when dozens of their underground shelters, now full of key Hamas personnel, were damaged or destroyed by the ground penetrating bombs. These bombs were all delivered, against over a hundred Hamas targets, in less than 40 minutes. That made it difficult for Hamas personnel in the shelters to get word to get out of the shelters because Hamas had been the played and the shelters had become traps which many Hamas personnel did not escape.
Many Hamas leaders also blame Fatah for the timing of this war, because Fatah has gained more support among Palestinians. The current round of violence has spread from Jerusalem for other towns and cities with sizable numbers of Moslem Israelis. About one in six Israeli citizens is an Arab Moslem. These Israelis lead better, more prosperous and safer lives than Arabs in the West Bank, Gaza or any of the neighboring Arab countries. But the culture of resentment, especially against non-Moslems still survives in Israel as it does among Moslems, especially Moslems living in the west. This is a known, and major, flaw with Islam which is the only major religion whose scripture mandates continuous violence against infidels (non-believers). The Islamic scriptures make it clear that the mere existence of infidels is a threat to Islam and must be attacked, no matter what the cost. Most Moslems ignore this aspect of their religion, at the risk of being declared a heretic if conservative Moslems near them who decide to get violent and go jihad (war on) against any Infidels within reach. Many Moslems, including Gulf oil state Arab governments are openly seeking a way to reform Islam and eliminate this flaw which has been crippling Islam and killing Moslems for over a thousand years. This is a serious effort and one reason for making peace with Israel.
Allies In Gaza
The first six hours of today was the longest period without any Hamas rocket launches since this war began on the 10th. During this pause Israel continued carrying out airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza. The smart bomb attacks continue to trigger even larger secondary explosions from rocket stockpiles. Israel has been systematically working down a long list of known or suspected rocket storage sites. Few are at above-ground military bunkers or warehouses. Many are under civilian facilities or in residential areas. Israel calls ahead to warn residents of the target to evacuate. Most of the explosive force usually comes from the secondary explosion, which leaves behind rocket parts and some intact rockets, which have to be carefully removed before they accidentally detonate. Secondary explosions from rockets stored in the tunnels Hamas has built since 2014 often cause nearby building foundations to fail and produce many collapsed buildings with no bomb damage.
All these visible evidence of Hamas military spending since 2014, with tunnels built using materials donated for rebuilding housing and infrastructure, is one of the reasons Gazans blame Hamas more than Israel for the damage. If underground bunkers were not filled with Iranian and locally built rockets, there would be less additional damage from secondary explosions. Hamas blames all the damage and casualties on Israel but people in the target area know otherwise as the evidence is all around them.
Israel never made a secret about their priority put on destroying rocket stockpiles. Since 2014 Israel has carried an enormous intelligence collecting effort in Gaza. Using continuous aerial and electronic surveillance and an expanded informant system inside Gaza. That network has been around as long as Gaza has existed as a Palestinian population center. Hamas was constantly searching for informants and not having much success because informants belonging to some of the powerful clan organizations in Gaza saw the Israelis are reliable employers and willing to go to extremes to develop clan support and protection from Hamas. The better organized and more powerful clans have to be handled carefully by Hamas. As Hamas power has declined the clan capabilities and influence have increased. As long as the clans stay out of politics, Hamas will not go after them.
Occasional news reports of Israeli special operations troops, in civilian clothes, having to fight their way out of Gaza is one of the few visible signs of the Israeli intelligence network inside Gaza. These teams go in when a personal visit by Arab speaking (and appearing) Israelis is needed. These visits would not be possible without a support network inside Gaza. Hamas only detects and confronts these small teams when a random (unpredictable) Hamas checkpoint is established and staffed with personnel who refuse bribes. That’s increasingly rare inside Gaza as Hamas policies continue to cripple the local economy. Covert Israeli assistance does the opposite, unless Hamas gets a massive case of the stupids and launched another major rocket offensive on Israel.
Allies Outside Gaza
The UAE (United Arab Emirates), which cut its aid to Gaza in February when it established diplomatic relations with Israel, has told Hamas that if they don’t stop attacking Israel the UAE will not move forward with plans for massive economic and aid after a Palestinian-Israel peace deal was completed. That required Hamas and Fatah to carry out elections to determine which will run a united Palestinian government. Reluctance to proceed with those elections is one reason for the renewed violence against Israel. Most other Arab oil state donors are following the same policy, just not as openly as the UAE.
In the north Palestinians in southern Lebanon fired six rockets towards Israel yesterday. Five landed on the Lebanese side of the border while the other one landed in an uninhabited Israeli area. Israeli sensors detected the launch and quickly determined the launch site and artillery fired at least 22 shells at the launch site. UN peacekeepers on the border and Lebanese border guards conducted a search for who launched the rocks and soon discovered it as some local Palestinians.
Compared to 2014
Hamas was able to launch about three times as many rockets as they did in 2014. But as a result of the Israeli intel efforts and more effective targeting, the larger number of rockets were less effective. Casualties have been lower as well. So far the Hamas attacks have killed ten Israelis, one of them a soldier and one a foreigner. Over 500 Israelis have been wounded. Hamas reports 220 dead and 1,400 wounded. Between 60-80 percent of the Gaza dead are Hamas personnel, although Hamas will, as they did in 2014, claim otherwise. The West Bank violence has left one Israeli and 17 Palestinians dead.
In Gaza it’s a repeat of the 51 day 2014 war but with Hamas fading more quickly this time. In part this is because of the decline in Hamas support within Gaza as well as Israel learning more from the 2014 war than Hamas. In the West Bank Fatah has not prospered because to compete with Hamas they had to double down on their “Israel must be destroyed” rhetoric. That has cost them a lot of foreign aid as more evidence of Fatah using aid money to directly assist and encourage Palestinians to attack and try to kill Israelis. The 2014 war went on for so long (after Hamas indicated it had had enough) because Israel wanted get a better idea of the Hamas situation in Gaza and better prepare for the next Hamas attack. After eight days Hamas is already searching for a way to surrender and avoid all the embarrassing Israeli scrutiny of 2014. Hamas is still able to launch rockets, but can do so less and less. In 2014 73 Israelis (six military) and 2,100 Palestinians died during 51 days of fighting, including Israeli tanks and infantry moving in to some areas of Gaza. In 2021 Israel appears to be threatening a ground attack but so far holding back. In part this is because are collect more and better BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) from the air and sources on the ground than in 2014.
May 16, 2021: In Gaza an Israeli airstrike hit the home of the Hamas leader. Hamas has also apparently asked, without a public announcement, for ceasefire negotiations. Hamas is running out of rockets and facing Israeli retaliation that is following a predetermined plan apparently developed to do maximum damage to Hamas military capabilities. Israel has already announced that this plan will continue as long as required, despite any Hamas calls for a ceasefire.
May 15, 2021: Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel, although the number had declined because of the many airstrikes on Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets since the 1oth. Israel already had a plan for doing maximum damage to Islamic terror groups in Gaza if there was another mass attack from Gaza. The last one was in 2014 and Hamas is still seeking foreign aid to repairs the damage. The foreign aid was not available because Hamas was diverting aid meant to rebuild homes and infrastructure for military purposes. It is unclear if the current Israeli plan involves an extensive ground attack, as several combat brigades have already been sent to the Gaza border.
One of the targets hit today was a twelve story building containing apartments and commercial enterprises, including foreign media allowed to operate in Gaza. This includes the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, two outlets that have a history of believing the Hamas version of what goes on in Gaza, even though there is long history of foreign aid and media operations in Gaza sticking with the Hamas version of the news no matter what. That includes downplaying the Hamas diversion of aid to military purposes and putting Hamas military facilities in hospitals, schools and buildings containing foreign aid or media personnel. Reporters and aid workers who have worked in Gaza admit, usually off-the-record, that Hamas does use civilians, especially foreign civilians as involuntary human shields. For decades Israel has neutralized that tactic by calling such targets in advance to warn them that their building are about to be hit. This policy is possible because Israel devotes a lot of intel effort to obtaining the phone numbers (landline or cell) of all structures in target areas. Warnings are not given if Israel determines a target only has military personnel in it, something Hamas sometimes has to do and hope the Israelis don’t notice.
In Egypt the Rafah border crossing with Gaza was opened to allow ten Egyptian ambulances to enter and pick up Gaza casualties for treatment in Egypt,
May 14, 2021: So far Hamas has fired about 2,300 rockets at Israel, killing ten Israelis and wounding several hundred. All but one of the dead were civilians, which Hamas is deliberately targeting. Israeli military bases have largely been avoided, probably because their anti-rocket defenses are stronger. Israeli airstrikes against Hamas have, according to Hamas, been 145 dead and only twenty of them Hamas members. Israel points out that, based on past performance, Hamas is undercounting the number of dead who were Hamas personnel.
In the north (Golan Heights) someone, probably an Iran-backed group, fired three rockets into Israel. One rocket was faulty and landed on the Syrian side of the border while the other two landed in uninhabited areas of the Israeli Golan Heights. Someone was seeking to trigger another front in the Iran organized mass rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel.
May 13, 2021: In northwest Syria (near the Lebanese border) an Israeli airstrike destroyed a smuggler truck headed for Lebanon, apparently carrying Iranian weapons for Hezbollah.
In southern Lebanon three rockets were fired towards Israel but landed harmlessly offshore.
May 12, 2021: Israel received (via Russia) the first unofficial Hamas offer to negotiate a ceasefire. Israel turned it down, citing past Hamas unreliability and deceit in such matters.
May 10, 2021: In Gaza (bordering Egypt and southern Israel), Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two main Islamic terror groups there and both now financed and supplied (with weapons) by Iran, went to war with Israel. Iran has been openly and covertly calling for this. Recent Fatah organized riots in Jerusalem gave their rivals in Gaza an opportunity to upstage Fatah. Gaza groups have Iran supplied rockets while Fatah in the West Back does not. Hamas and Fatah had agreed to an election that would finally restore Palestinian units, which had been lost when Gaza won enough votes in the last Palestinian election to declare its independence from Fatah and declare itself the rightful leader of all Palestinians. Not all Palestinians agreed and Fatah failed to regain control of Gaza. Soon Fatah was also forced to adopt the Hamas policy that “Israel must be destroyed and no peace agreement with Israel is possible.” This put Fatah in a difficult position as their foreign aid, which flows much more freely than it does for belligerent Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The aid superiority could only be maintained by convincing the major donors (including the United States and Gulf Arab oil states) that the aid was used to improve the lives of West Bank Palestinians and not to support terrorists and enrich the Fatah leadership and their key supporters. The Fatah deception has been falling apart and the growing lack of aid made Palestinians angry and Fatah desperate. Fatah blamed all its problems on Israel and is constantly calling for more popular violence against Israel. Occasionally this works and recent disputes over Israelis buying land from Palestinians and strong reactions to Fatah calls for more Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to gather in Jerusalem to protest the continued existence of Israel enabled Fatah to get some large riots going. These things usually don’t last long but this time Hamas and Islamic Jihad both agreed to do something different; launch a massive (hundreds of longer-range unguided rockets at a time) attack on Jerusalem. Israel knew that its Iron Dome rocket defense system could not stop all of the rockets from hitting populated areas during a large volume attack and Israel would have to accept some losses until the rocket attacks ceased. Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah in Lebanon thought this meant Israeli ground troops getting into Gaza or Lebanon (depending on where the rockets came from) and occupying the rocket storage and launching sites. The Israelis planned to use ground forces, but not in a way Hamas or Hezbollah expected. Hamas and Hezbollah did not appreciate how Israel had addressed the “massive attack overwhelming Iron Dome” problem. Israel came up with multiple solutions. One was to continue improving Iron Dome effectiveness and reliability. Iron Dome now regularly identifies and stops over 90 percent of rockets headed for inhabited areas. Normal, a few rockets at a time, attacks are neutralized nearly a hundred percent of the time. But during mass rocket attacks Israel has another life-saving feature. Over the last decade Israel has automated and improved reliability on its nationwide attack alert system. If the siren (or a text message on you cell phone) announced imminent risk of a rocket hitting the area, civilians have at least a few seconds to take cover. If the rocket hits nearby, just ducking behind something protective is a life-saver. Hamas failed to notice that there had been some large scale rocket attacks since 2014 there the new alert had proved its worth.
The initial Israeli response was large scale airstrikes against Hamas and Islamic jihad targets in Gaza. This included killing one Islamic Jihad senior leaders. Iran wants Israel to invade Gaza, as it did in 2014. If that happens Iran can call on Hezbollah to launch its rockets, but Hezbollah has a much more precarious position in Lebanon where the majority of Lebanese want Hezbollah gone and getting Lebanon involved in another war with Israel might see Hezbollah fighting Israel and Lebanese at the same time.
May 9, 2021: In the western Syria (Latakia province) a tanker anchored offshore suffered an explosion that caused a fire in the engine room. The fire was put out and the tanker remained where it was, resuming the engine maintenance work already underway. The tanker was believed to be Iranian and used to smuggle oil to Syria. The explosion was believed cause by the Israelis, who recently admitted that they have been attacking Iranian ships smuggling oil and other goods into Syria. Iran denied that the damaged tanker was theirs, but that’s what Iran always says when one of their maritime smuggling operations is revealed.
May 7, 2021: In Gaza a spokesman for Islamic Jihad confirmed what had long been known, that Islamic Jihad relies on Iran for weapons and cash to survive and agrees with Iran that Israel must be destroyed. The larger
Hamas Islamic terrorist group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, has been particularly critical of Islamic Jihad becoming dependent on Iran. In 2019 Hamas and Islamic Jihad worked out an arrangement that keeps Hamas from going to war with Islamic Jihad and seeking to destroy it, as it did successfully when an ISIL affiliate sought to establish itself in Gaza. This “arrangement” included Hamas controlling many of the Islamic Jihad rocket stockpiles and various other restrictions. These to not prevent Islamic Jihad from independently attacking Israel but does limit the extent of such attacks. Iran ordered Islamic Jihad to agree to these restrictions because the Iranians understood that Hamas could, if they felt they had to, destroy Islamic Jihad. Hamas is now considered the moderate Islamic terror group in Gaza and wants to observe ceasefire with Israel so that foreign aid can flow freely into Gaza, including building materials and consumer goods to help improve the lives of Gaza residents, most of whom want Gaza and Islamic Jihad gone. In late 2019, an Israeli airstrike killed the Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza. Islamic Jihad has its external headquarters in Syria, as many Islamic terror groups have for decades. An hour after the Islamic leader died in Gaza, there were more Israeli airstrikes against Islamic Jihad leaders and facilities in Syria (Damascus).
May 6, 2021: Fatah once more encouraged major protests against Israeli threats and the violence grew, as it sometimes does.
Palestinians measure and reward success differently than most people. Fatah, the group that runs the West Bank, is enjoying some success in generating popular enthusiasm for widespread violence via false accusations of Israeli threats against the al Aqsa mosque, which is just above the Wailing Wall, a popular Jewish holy place and tourist attraction in Jerusalem. The current “al Aqsa is in danger” campaign began in 2014. Seeing an opportunity to grab more headlines , sympathy and, hopefully cash contributions from the Moslem world, the Palestinian leadership (Fatah in the West Bank) invested some effort and cash to get something going. This sort of thing has been tried before, actually it is attempted regularly but this time it caught on in a big way. The Palestinian propaganda explicitly called for individual (”lone wolf”) efforts by young men to carry out an increasing number of attacks against Israelis.
This latest terror campaign against Israelis is fundamentally a side effect of the struggle between Hamas and Fatah for control over all Palestinians. These two groups keep score by how many Israelis they can kill as does mass media in Moslem nations. While there were fewer than ten terror related deaths a year in Israel in 2012 and 2013 (and only 21 in 2011) the war with Hamas raised this to 41 in 2014 and this made Fatah, which runs the West Bank, look bad in comparison. Thus the importance of the new campaign. The current effort will be a success if it can kill enough Israelis to justify Palestinians continuing to support Fatah rule in the West Bank. This is bad news for the Palestinians because both Hamas and Fatah are corrupt and incompetent administrators who are more concerned with their own power than with the welfare of the Palestinian people.
May 5, 2021: In northwest Syria (Latakia and Hama provinces) Israeli air strikes destroyed several Iranian targets, most of them warehouses for storing newly arrived weapons. Five Iranian IRGC and three Afghan mercenaries were killed. Latakia, which includes the Syrian Mediterranean coast, a large pro-Assad population and two Russian bases (one air and the other naval), is rarely hit with Israeli airstrikes. Russian warships have been seen escorting Iranian ships illegally delivering petroleum and weapons to Syria and that means Iran has more targets in the province that the Israelis go after.
May 3, 2021: West of Egypt, in Libya Egypt and the HoR (House of Representatives) government that controls most of Libya have agreed that Libya, at least most LNA (Libyan National Army) patrolled areas, are safe enough for Egyptian workers to return. One reason for the improved security was a
late 2020 Egyptian effort to organize a military training program for a pro-Egyptian tribal coalition in eastern Libya. Some of the tribesmen received military training in Egypt. The ten Libya tribes involved have ancient links with Egypt and some of the tribes straddle the border. About 14 million Egyptians have family or ancestral ties in Libya.
Before the 2011 civil war began, a million Egyptians worked in Libya, and accounted for over 80 percent of the foreign workforce. This large foreign workforce is typical of Arab oil states. Foreign workers handle skilled jobs that few locals are qualified for and many more jobs that Libyans disdain. Over 80 percent of the Egyptian workforce in Libya lost their jobs due to financial problems or anti-foreigner violence. Egypt wants peace and prosperity to return to Libya because that will also mean the return of Egyptian workers. Before the 2011 war began the 6.5 million Libyans had a per capita GDP of about $10,000 (50 percent more if adjusted for purchasing power parity). Many Libyans were content to get by on a low-stress government job and let foreign workers keep the economy going. That hasn’t changed and Libya is seeking economic aid and foreign workers to get reconstruction going. While Egypt supplies the manpower other Arab states, like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are willing to supply the money. Until a unified government is operational throughout Libya the reconstruction projects will be restricted to eastern Libya where there is enough law and order to permit the work to proceed. There are still plenty of bandits and Islamic terrorists who see foreign workers and rebuilding efforts as a source of ransom and extortion income. Nationwide there is potential demand for over two million foreign workers, many of them temporary, to handle reconstruction efforts. With enough cash and foreign workers, the reconstruction can be completed within three years.
April 22, 2021: Before dawn a missile from Syria landed 30 kilometers from the Israeli Dimona nuclear research center. There was no damage because Dimona is 200 kilometers south of the Syrian border in a rural desert area. First thoughts were that this was another Iranian attempt to carry out some credible revenge for the April 11th Mossad operation that destroyed the underground Natanz nuclear fuel enrichment facility. If this was a deliberate missile attack it failed but it will mean Israel spending a lot of money firing expensive ABM (anti-ballistic-missile) missiles at more Syrian anti-aircraft missiles that cross the border either accidently or on purpose. Israel can solve this problem by modifying its ABM fire control software to discriminate between the trajectories of SAMs that are not headed for civilian or military targets and those that are. The Israeli Iron Dome system has long used such a method to only shoot down targets headed for targets that must be defended.
Initial examination of the impact area debris near Dimona revealed it was a Russian made SA-5 missile used by Syria. These SAMs
(surface-to-air missile) had landed in Israel accidently for years. For example, in 2017 Israel used an Arrow 3 anti-missile missile to intercept a Syrian SA-5 SAM that had been fired at Israeli jets bombing a target in eastern Syria near Palmyra. Apparently, several SA-5s missed the Israeli jets and instead of detonating anyway, as these missiles are programmed to do, continued into Israeli air space and an Arrow 3 ABM missile was fired just in case the incoming threat was a ballistic missile. At the time it was suspected that Syria might have deliberately modified some of their SA-5 missiles to operate as surface-to-surface missiles. This has been done before with Russian SAMs, usually as an unofficial (and crude) modification by Arab users. There have been some modern SAMs with a built-in surface-to-surface mode. This was done for the U.S. Nike-Hercules system used during the 1960s and still around. Other users of the Nike-Hercules (like Taiwan and South Korea) made this modification and produced an accurate, if expensive, surface-to-surface short range ballistic missile. The Nike-Hercules was designed for potential use as a surface-to-surface weapon.
The 2017 incident was the first time the Arrow 3 has been used in a combat situation and it was also implied that the Arrow fire control system was programmed to automatically assume that anything resembling a ballistic missile headed for Israel, whether intentional or by accident, was a danger to Israel and should be shot down just to be on the safe side. Syria responded by announcing that if Israel continued carrying out these air raids in Syria, then the Assad government would use hundreds of ballistic missiles (most SCUDs and other Russian designs) against Israel without warning. This is what Arrow was designed for and what the Israeli forces constantly prepare for. The recent Dimona incident was promptly claimed by Iran as a revenge attack.