"Not the Time to Conquer Gaza": Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense

by Jerry Gordon (December 2012)

He went on to say after talking to would-be mediators in Cairo,

“A Pyrrhic Cease Fire:”

So we are indeed back to the status quo ante. As in 2009 and 2006, anybody still under any illusion about what a cease-fire means should now understand: It means Israel must stop its aggression so Hamas can resume its rocket-firing in safety.

“Hamas’ Victory How Muslims see it” noted:

The Reckoning

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. Hamas leader Haniyah was quoted at a victory celebration in Gaza as saying:

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.

Israel Hayom summarized the IDF successes:

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.

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 they were fitted with chemical warheads. 

Parallels between Iran Attack Simulation and Proxy War in Gaza

article on November 4, 2012:

In the game Israel, bolstered by a successful strike, attempted to absorb the attacks while trying to de-escalate the situation and reach an end to hostilities as soon as possible.

extolled by the Islamic Republic propaganda mills in Tehran. Below the surface there is evidence of a widening divide between Ismail Haniyah, the Palestinian Prime Minister in Gaza versus Khaled Mashaal. It has a lot to do with choosing sides between Iran, where Haniyah has long term relations and support from the Islamic Republic versus Mashaal who is close to Qatar’s Emir Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani. In late October Al Thani became the first head of an Arab state to visit Hamas in more than five years. He promised $500 million  for infrastructure building something that should be on the table following the physical destruction of the eight day war in November 2012. Al Thani, according to an AP report, is endeavoring to persuade the Hamas leadership to consider a long term peace deal with Israel because he believes “it has been weakened.” At a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo during the proxy war he chastised the gathering about doing more than passing resolutions: “We can't give hope without delivering.” Wealthy Qatar has taken the lead in assisting Muslim Brotherhood inspired revolts in the Middle East and North Africa. An Islamist coalition involving Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia has backed the new Syrian opposition group with US support. During the cease fire celebrations in Gaza, children waved flags of Qatar, Turkey and Egypt indicative of their gratitude in solidarity with Hamas. At the same time the exiled  Hamas leadership represented by Mashaal left Damascus and moved to Qatar and Cairo rather than become embroiled in the rebellion. Iran clearly has swayed the Hamas leadership in Gaza, headed by Haniyah. It is noteworthy that during the eight day rocket war, Hamas and the PIJ had a joint command center in Gaza. The PIJ is largely funded by Iran.

noted in a recent WJC report  the differences between the two Hamas leaders on the Iran versus Islamist coalition divide:

The current round of hostilities between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza is rooted in an internal struggle within Hamas. The organization is embroiled in a leadership struggle pitting the Iranian-backed Ismail Haniyeh against the Qatar and Egypt-supported Khaled Mashaal and his deputy Musa Abu Marzuq.

[. ..]

issued a decree granting himself powers above the courts in Egypt seeking a retrial of former strongman Hosni Mubarak. The last bastion of secular opposition to Morsi has been the High Court in Egypt which disbanded the largely Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist dominated parliament charged with writing the country’s new, presumably Shari’a compliant constitution. He justified his actions as acceding to popular demands to facilitate transition to democracy. By doing so Morsi has set off alarm bells among liberal and secular opposition in Egypt. That has resulted in Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice party offices being attacked and burned in major cities amid calls for protest rallies in Tahrir Square. The New York Times noted a comment from a liberal member of the dissolved parliament, Amr Hamzawy:

An absolute presidential tyranny. Egypt is facing a horrifying coup against legitimacy and the rule of law and a complete assassination of the democratic transition.

Mohammed ElBaradei, an opponent of Morsi and former head of the IAEA, said on twitter:

Fajr-5 and Grad 122mm rockets by the Iron Dome anti- rocket defense system. The IAF had attacked rocket launchers, smuggling tunnels and armories in Gaza and may have decimated the more deadly Fajr-5 rocket threats that have spread to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. That prompted delivery of the Sixth Iron Dome battery positioned in the Gush Dan area to provider coverage of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem following firings from Gaza that triggered warning sirens.

In 2012, $200 million was appropriate by the US Congress to build additional Iron Dome batteries for a total of 13 that would provide a virtual umbrella against the threat from the more than 50,000 rockets held by Hezbollah and the 10,000 held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Hezbollah is preoccupied with the rebellion occurring in Syria that might cut off re-supply from Tehran. The Fajr-5 rocket supplied by Iran has a 90 kg. warhead and a range of 75 kilometers, the shorter range 122mm Grad rockets, 40 kilometers and the locally-made Kassem rockets, approximately 18 kilometers. The more than 1,500 sorties flown by the IAF during Operation Pillar of Defense, according to Gen. Kuperwasser may have destroyed upwards of 20% of the estimated inventory of 10,000 rockets in the possession of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The IAF raids have primarily focused on destruction of the Fajr-5 launch facilities and inventory. While the Iron Dome batteries have demonstrated great effectiveness with a near 90% kill rate of intercepted rockets, there remain more than 7,200 in the inventory held by Gaza terrorist groups. Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the waning days of the Operation Pillar of Defense adopted a new strategy of firing fusillades to inundate the Iron Dome batteries deployed in the field which proved to be futile.

A French-made Milan anti-tank missile fired at an IDF Jeep near the Karni border crossing into Gaza injured four IDF soldiers on October 10, 2012. According to Kuperwasser the Milan anti-tank missiles were smuggled into Gaza from Libya. The Russian developed Kornet anti-tank missile may have originated from Iran. A Kornet anti-tank missile fired from Gaza hit an Israeli tank in 2010 but did not disable it. The Israeli-developed Trophy system is capable of intercepting and destroying RPGs and anti-tank missiles. Presumably the Merkava tanks, deployed near the Gaza frontier, are protected by the Trophy system against the threats from these Milan and Kornet anti-tank missiles.


The Russian SA-7 GRAIL heat-seeking Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS), which have been fired at Israel attack helicopters and F-16s, originated in Libya.

A May 2012 STRATFOR article estimated that the Gaddafi armories held 20,000 MANPADS, mainly SA-7s of which the US and interim Libyan government had sequestered 5,000. However, more than 10,000 Libyan MANPADS are missing and likely in the hands of terrorists, like al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), the Free Syrian Army and Hamas in Gaza.

How did Iranian and Libyan arms get to Gaza?

A GlobalPost article in early October 2012 noted the concerns of Israeli Military Intelligence:

Before the influx of Libyan contraband, Israeli assessments have been that most weapons coming into Gaza, albeit also illegally, have been from Iran, transported by ships crossing the Mediterranean Sea or overland via Sudan.

The smuggling continues despite US efforts at trying to secure the vast armories from the Gaddafi era in Libya. The GlobalPost noted US efforts and Egyptian police interceptions of arms crossing from Libya:

Victoria Nuland, a spokesperson for the US Department of State, said at a briefing in Washington that the United States was actively scouring Libya in search of conventional weapons that may have gone missing since the conflict in Libya began.

Several hoards of weaponry incoming from Libya were caught and confiscated by Egyptian police operating near the Libyan border.

Late last month, Egyptian authorities briefly closed the Rafah border crossing without consulting their Israeli counterparts after another, larger than usual, cache of Libyan arms was detected on its way into Gaza.

Speaking on Israel Army Radio, Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Gazit, a former head of military intelligence who was privy to the intelligence report, brought up the inflow of weapons from Libya as a primary reason for the urgency of establishing a new basis for Israeli-Egyptian relations.

The lack of monitoring of the Sinai, the conduit for Iran arms smuggled into Egypt via the Sudan, raises the question of Bedouin involvement. A recent CNN report noted:

As the cease fire was announced on November 21, 2012 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.

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.

The Cease Fire Agreement An Opportunity for Monitoring of Weapons from Iran and Libya?

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:

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

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.

alleged propositions offered by President Obama to induce PM Netanyahu to accept the brokered agreement. The possibility was raised of sending US troops to monitor the illegal arms traffic transiting Egypt’s vast Sinai Peninsula. Our belief is that this might amount to an expansion of the responsibilities of the Multilateral Force and Observers (MFO) composed of an international contingent of troops provided for under the 1979 Camp David Accords. The MFO is charged to monitor demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula under the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Egypt and Israel are co-sponsors of the MFO. If that becomes a reality then the added responsibility of the MFO might extend to monitoring of traffic entering Gaza, as the Egyptian border control authority and security police have not performed those functions diligently or may have been subject to payoffs from the Bedouin smugglers. 


triggered attacks on Muslim Brotherhood  and his party’s offices in  major cities throughout Egypt. Protesters are once again thronging Tahrir Square. Despite the celebrations in Gaza, it would appear that the Hamas leadership is divided, forcing a choice between the Islamist coalition headed by the Emir of Qatar versus the Islamic Republic of Iran, the supplier of longer range terror rockets. We empathize with millions of Israelis who are daily threatened by the terror rockets launched from Gaza and perhaps a possible Third Intifada from the West Bank. Finally, will the cease fire agreement stress PM Netanyahu and the Likud Beiteinu coalition in their campaign for an election which will lead a new Knesset – proving the adage that there is no such thing as a sure bet? Despite its successes in Operation pillar of Defense Israel still faces the menace of an Islamist coalition threatening its existence.

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