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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense: The Reckoning

At 9:00PM Jerusalem Time, Wednesday, November 21, 2012 a tenuous cease fire went into effect between Hamas in Gaza and Israel ending the eight day rocket war. The cease fire agreement language is fairly skimpy, see here . The cease fire was allegedly brokered by Egypt’s President Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader,  with Ismail Haniyah , Palestinian Prime Minister of Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, and Dr. Ramadan Abdullah Shalah of Iranian controlled and funded Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  Dr. Shalah is also on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorist list.  Morsi was incentivized to undertake this diplomatic effort because Egypt was rapidly running out of hard currency reserves and his faltering economy has been propped up more than $10.8 billion in US, IMF and EU aid.  Just prior to the cease fire  announcement the IMF in Washington approved  a $4.8 billion loan to Egypt.  The Israeli  go-between directly involved with negotiations in Cairo was Mossad head, Tamir Pardo, working with Egyptian Intelligence in conveying responses to terms from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

 Shortly following the start of the cease fire 12 rockets were fired and more than 20 attacks launched by terrorist groups in Gaza. But the truce appears to be holding.

 The cease fire agreement is not a happy arrangement  to many in Southern Israel most directly at risk of rocket attacks from Gaza.  Nor was it easily accepted  by some of the 30,000 reservists called up, who apparently, were twice issued orders to get ready to move when ultimately told to stand down, yesterday. In protest against the cease fire a group of 16 IDF soldiers sent a message with their bodies saying “Bibi’s a loser” that went viral via Facebook.  Other protests in Israel indicated that government had its “hands tied”.  The a poll in Israel  gave a 38% ‘good’ rating to PM Netanyahu perhaps indicating that the merged Likud Beiteinu bloc might not have a clear shot at an electoral majority in the coming January 2013 elections.  Just before the outburst of rocket attacks that triggered Operation Pillar of Defense by Israel, late October 2012 polls indicated that Likud Beiteinu might secure  between 35 to 42 seats in the new Knesset.

Notwithstanding the rising chorus of criticism by opposition  political leaders, the Netanyahu government stated that Hamas and the Gaza terrorists had been severely punished and that the long range rocket threat had been decimated.  The cease fire agreement was allegedly delayed because of the Tel Aviv terror bombing of a bus on Wednesday  that injured  16 persons.  Despite the anger and pique of the inner cabinet of the Netanyahu government at the bombing  according to an Israel Hayom account, the  ‘pressure’ was put  on Jerusalem by  the Obama Administration to proceed  with the announcement  of the cease fire agreement  in Cairo.

Israel Hayom summarized the IDF ‘successes’:

All told, Israel hit more than 1,600 targets in its eight-day campaign, with many parts of Gaza City now in ruins. It is now unclear what the effect on Hamas is and what damage it sustained. IDF officials said Wednesday that Operation Pillar of Defense achieved its stated objectives, although these were modest, focusing mainly on "shoring up deterrence," crippling Hamas rocket-launching capability and "minimizing" the threat on the Israeli home front.

Among the successes of the operation are the assassination of Hamas' top commander, Ahmed al- Ja'abari, and the damage to the terrorist groups' strategic weapons systems: the long-range rockets that can strike further than 40 kilometers (28.4 miles) and the hundreds of medium- and short-range rockets and launchers. But when it comes to the medium- and short-range rockets, the damage to Hamas' firepower was not as severe. By the time Wednesday's truce had set in, Hamas had fired more than 1,500 rockets over eight days. Its stockpile, which at the height of the conflict comprised some 10,000 rockets, still includes some 6,000 projectiles, although only a handful are considered to have long-range capability.

The much vaunted Iron Dome system intercepted 400 rockets  that were  launched at civilian targets for an estimated 84% kill rate. Longer Range Iranian supplied Fajr-5’s and locally retrofitted Grad rockets were launched against targets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These resulted  resulting in damage to an apartment house in Rishon Lezion and harmless hits in Gush Etzion near Hevron.  One rocket hit a fourth floor apartment in Kiryat Malachi killing three adults, Mirah Scharf, 25, Aharon Smadja, 49, and Itzik Amsalem, 24, and injuring a  three month old  baby.  Pictures of the injured baby ended up on a Hamas website as propaganda suggesting that it was a Palestinian child.  The Pallywood bloggers forgot to remove the emblem of Kiryat Malachi from the picture.  A fourth Israeli civilian died from injuries and an IDF reserve officer was mortally wounded by shrapnel from an exploding rocket that hit the Eshkol region.

The toll of the eight day war in Gaza was 167 dead among them allegedly 27 children. 30 leaders of both the military wing of Hamas’ militia, Izzedine al Qassam brigade, and Islamic Jihad were targeted. Among them were:

 •Ahmed al- Ja'abari, head of Hamas' military wing,

•Hab's Hassan Us Msamch, senior operative in Hamas' police ,

•Ahmed Abu Jalal, Commander of the military wing in Al-Muazi,

•Khaled Shaer, senior operative in the anti-tank operations,

•Osama Kadi, senior operative in the smuggling operations in the southern Gaza Strip,

•Muhammad Kalb, senior operative in the aerial defense operations,

•Ramz Harb, Islamic Jihad senior operative in propaganda in Gaza city,

The guesstimates of the cost to Israel of the eight day rocket war range upwards of 3.2 billion NIS, including the cost for 30,000 reservists called up who are paid at 450 NIS  per day.. The total cost of the 400  Iron Dome interceptions  has been estimated at  $25 to $30 million.

Perhaps the  accuracy of  IAF drone and F-16 attacks in Gaza can be credited to a report by the Sunday Times (London) – that IDF Sayeret  commando teams alleged  were  sent to determine  underground launching locations for the long range Fajr-5’s and Grad rockets  and  whether  were fitted with chemical warheads. 

The cease fire agreement language is very much akin to that achieved with the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2009.  Hence it has been viewed as problematic by some Israeli analysts.   Note these comments from Dr. Aaron Lerner of Independent Media Review and Analysis (IMRA) of key provisions:

The obligation of each party not to engage in "hostilities" is not linked to the compliance of the other party.

  • In point of fact, the agreement explicitly and specifically prohibits Israel from the "targeting of individuals" - so that Israel cannot dispatch . . .a specific terrorist either before, during or after they have engaged in an activity against Israel,
  • The only relief available to a party in the event that the other party violates the understanding is to inform Egypt of the violation, with Egypt following up on the violation,
  • While the understanding places no restriction on the importation or local manufacture of weapons in the Gaza Strip, it prohibits any Israeli activity inside the Gaza Strip against this activity. (Take note: Prime Minister Netanyahu said last night that "the United States and Israel would work together to fight the smuggling of weapons to the terror organizations",
  • Mr. Netanyahu did not mention Egypt and in the case of the Americans, this relates only to the smuggling of weapons – not their manufacture in the Gaza Strip.

Prof. Barry Rubin of the GLORIA Center in Israel had a more nuanced view of the cease fire agreement based on PM Netanyahu comments:

"Israel obviously cannot sit idly while our enemy reinforces itself with weapons of terror. Therefore we decided, President Obama and myself, that the United States and Israel would work together to fight the smuggling of weapons to the terror organizations – weapons, virtually all of which come from Iran."

Here is a very significant point that's being missed in all of the coverage and discussions regarding the ceasefire. Netanyahu's remark suggests there will be a new anti-smuggling effort involving U.S. intelligence, cooperation with other countries, and pressure on Egypt to make it harder to get weapons--especially missiles--into the Gaza Strip. It is clear that long-range missiles are the hardest thing to bring in and the easiest weaponry for Egypt to stop at the border.

Perhaps PM Netanyahu’s views on joint US and Israeli efforts at curtailing arms smuggling are simply those  already contained in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) inked on January 16, 2009 between the two countries at the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead.  That MOU specifically proposed joint counterterrorism and intelligence activities with participation by Egyptian security forces under then  strongman Hosni Mubarak.   Note some of the operative language from the 2009 MOU:

1. The Parties will work cooperatively with neighbors and in parallel with others in the international community to prevent the supply of arms and related materiel to terrorist organizations that threaten either party, with a particular focus on the supply of arms, related materiel and explosives into Gaza to Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

 2. The United States will work with regional and NATO partners to address the problem of the supply of arms and related materiel and weapons transfers and shipments to Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, including through the Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and eastern Africa, through improvements in existing arrangements or the launching of new initiatives to increase the effectiveness of those arrangements as they relate to the prevention of weapons smuggling to Gaza. Among the tools that will be pursued are:

Enhanced U.S. security and intelligence cooperation with regional governments on actions to prevent weapons and explosives flows to Gaza that originate in or transit their territories; including through the involvement of relevant components of the U.S. Government, such as U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Special Operations Command.

Clearly, given the influx of the longer range Fajr-5 rockets from  Iran by way of the Sudan and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and from Libya across Egypt through the tunnels into Gaza, the 2009 MOU hasn’t been an effective deterrent to halt smuggling. See our post, on the smuggling issue, here.

As the cease fire was announced yesterday news came of Egyptian authorities seizing another shipment of Gaddafi-era military contraband destined for Gaza:

Security officials in Marsa Matrouh have confiscated 108 Grad rockets and
400,000 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition bound for Sinai in a foiled
smuggling attempt.

The head of Egypt's drug control was informed that smugglers would take the
Matrouh International Road from Libya overnight. Authorities set up several
 security checkpoints and police patrolled the desert roads to arrest the
 smugglers.
 Security authorities stationed in the Ras al-Hekma area found the weapons in
a vehicle that had driven off the road. The people inside reportedly fled.
 Officials are intensifying efforts to find and arrest the smugglers.

Will the cease fire agreement hold?  Perhaps that has to do  with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and  Palestine Resistance Committee  viewing  the outcome of the eight day rocket war with Israel  as a close run thing .  More importantly,  can an effective arrangement be found to put teeth into the 2009MOU between Israel, and the US to prevent smuggling of weapons to restock those lost by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the eight day rocket war. Moreover,  how much will the Obama Administration have to provide in billions of taxpayer funding to prop up  the government of President Morsi,  a former senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood,  whom President Obama had called “not exactly an ally nor an enemy”.  Meanwhile, we empathize with the 3.5 million Israelis who were threatened by the terror rockets launched  from Gaza.  Finally, will this cease fire agreement stress PM Netanyahu and the Likud Beiteinu coalition in their campaign for election to lead a new Knesset?  Proving the adage that there is no such thing as a sure bet. Especially given the Jihadis that now surround Israel supported by Iran and a new Islamist strongman in Egypt who cannot be relied upon to represent your interests.

Posted on 11/22/2012 8:03 PM by Jerry Gordon
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