by Hugh Fitzgerald
Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, senior member of Hamas
Haviv Rettig Gur considers the implications of the 11-day Israel-Hamas conflict here: “Hamas’s forever war against Israel has a glitch, and it isn’t Iron Dome,” Times of Israel, May 22, 2021:
…Hamas was just forced to spend 11 days watching as Israel systematically disrupted its tactical innovations and demolished hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of its military infrastructure. The group has spent a decade building major new warfighting capabilities meant to challenge Israel on new and unexpected fronts. All proved ineffective or outright useless.
For exactly one day, Hamas enjoyed the element of surprise. It fired far more rockets at Israel, in a shorter space of time, on May 10, than it had ever done before, in an attempt to overwhelm the Iron Dome anti-missile batteries. Those rockets hit not just Ashkelon and Sderot, cities near the southern border of Gaza, but in central Israel, too. Hamas even managed to hit Jerusalem, where the Knesset had to be evacuated. But after May 10, Israel began its mighty response, beginning a campaign that would last ten more days, with Israel completing 4,000 successful airstrikes and destroying much of Hamas’ storehouses of missiles, its rocket launchers, its intelligence offices, its research-and-development facilities, twenty-two naval vessels, and 60 miles of its network of tunnels. The IDF has concluded that it has set Hamas back militarily by at least “several years.”
A crack naval commando force equipped with miniature submarines failed to produce a single significant attack and saw much of its infrastructure and equipment blown up from the air. The fast-moving anti-tank missile crews tasked with photogenically destroying Israeli military vehicles were identified and destroyed so quickly in the early days of the fighting that Hamas ordered them withdrawn from the battlefield. Strike drones able to precisely target Israeli installations were intercepted with despairing efficiency. And a sprawling underground tunnel and bunker system dubbed “the Metro” that offered Hamas fighters the ability to quickly maneuver across the urban battlefields of Gaza without exposing themselves to Israeli airstrikes only ended up providing Israel with cleaner military targets.
Israel showed it had deeply penetrated the Hamas ranks, targeting a long list of mid-level commanders and then publicizing the list. The names were unknown to Israelis and drew some skeptical eyebrow-raising from military analysts. But few in Hamas missed the message: Hamas’s ranks are perforated with Israeli intelligence assets. No one is safe.
How did the Israelis learn not only the identity and roles of dozens of the Hamas commanders, but exactly where they lived, and whether their homes did double-duty as weapons warehouses, or command-and-control centers? And how was it that the Israelis knew so much about the layout of those underground tunnels? They could only have learned this kind of thing from informants – human intelligence – inside Hamas. This must make the terror group’s leaders very nervous. And so far those Hamas leaders have not announced that they have found any traitors in their midst. They must still be out there, somewhere in Gaza, reporting back to the IDF or Mossad.
And finally, there’s the death toll. Putting aside any debate about either side’s morals for a moment, purely on tactical grounds, the IDF prefers a low death toll on both sides: on the Palestinian side to keep the political window open for continued airstrikes, and on the Israeli side to avoid a narrative that it had failed in its primary duty to protect Israelis. Hamas needs higher death tolls — again, sticking to tactical considerations only — on the Palestinian side to hasten international pressure to close the Israeli attack window and on the Israeli side to show, in the grim logic of such confrontations, that it had inflicted some measure of pain on the other side in a war it had started.
The IDF emerged the clear winner in that contest. Hamas managed just 12 Israeli dead at the cost of thousands of toppled buildings in Gaza and massive damage to its expensive infrastructure. The total Palestinian death toll after thousands of Israeli strikes, according to Hamas’s own reckoning and including both fighters and civilians, was 232. That math offers no comfort to the families of civilians killed in the Israeli strikes, of course, but in its cold, simple numbers it nonetheless reveals a level of surgical precision that may well be unprecedented in the annals of modern warfare.
Thanks to its vast national grid of bomb shelters, and the accuracy of its Iron Dome batteries that intercepted 90% of the incoming rockets launched by Hamas, Israel suffered only 12 killed – about one a day. Equally impressive was Israel’s ability to keep the number of Palestinian dead to 232, while at the same time conducting 4,000 separate airstrikes. That was testimony to the astonishing precision of Israeli pilots. It was also the result of Israeli warnings to inhabitants to evacuate buildings the IAF was soon to hit. Those warnings consisted both of telephone calls to the residents – or in some cases, to the owners – of the buildings to be hit, who could in turn alert others, and of the IAF’s “knock-on-the-roof” practice of dropping non-explosive or low-yield devices on the roofs of targeted civilian homes as a prior warning of imminent bombing attacks. The IDF is well aware that Hamas would like to cause more casualties on both sides, to make Israel look both vulnerable and cruel, while Israel has a vested interest in limiting casualties on both sides.
…On Monday, Hamas deputy political chief Musa Abu Marzouk gave an interview to Russia Today in which he clarified what Hamas believed the war was about.
The current war, he said, “is not the final war” with Israel. There will be more.
“It’s not like it was in Vietnam and elsewhere, where things ended up with negotiations. This is just one of a [series] of wars, and a war will come when we negotiate with them [i.e., the Jews] about the end of their occupation and their leaving of Palestine,” Abu Marzouk said, according to a translation by MEMRI.
There would be no compromises allowing Israel to continue existing or the Jews to remain in the land, he assured. “Israel will come to an end just like it began, and our Palestinian people will return to their homes because injustice cannot last and people must get what is rightly theirs.”
That end, he insisted, was no fantasy: “We are no dreamers. Until recently, they mocked Hamas’s rockets and called them children’s toys. I do not believe anyone is saying this today.
Abu Marzouk needs to be reminded that although the rockets Hamas fired at Israel were not “children’s toys” (and what Israeli has ever said such a ridiculous thing?), their performance didn’t exactly impress. Of the 4,340 that were fired, a very large number — 640 — fell short, and landed in Gaza, killing a number of Palestinian civilians. Of the remaining 3,700, the IDF has said that 90% were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense. That leaves 370, almost all of which fell harmlessly in fields. A few dozen apartments in Israeli cities sustained damage, but there was no damage to major infrastructure from those rockets Abu Marzouk is apparently so proud of. Most of them fell harmlessly in fields.
“Until recently, the whole world supported the white government in South Africa, but things have changed. Where did the Soviet Union go? Where did the Berlin Wall go? The day will come when people ask: ‘Where did Israel go?’”…
Israel doesn’t look like it will need to go anywhere. It has just experienced one of its most spectacularly lopsided victories. In the 73 years of its existence, the Jewish state has successfully defeated its many adversaries in all of its wars: in the three wars (1948, 1967, 1973) that Israel fought for its survival, in the wars against terror groups, including the PLO (1982), the three wars against Hamas in Gaza (2008-2009, 2012, 2014, 2021), the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon (2006), and the two Intifadas in the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile, Israel has been increasingly accepted by Arab states, including the four — the U.A.E., Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco – that have normalized relations with the Jewish state and joined the Abraham Accords. Israel has for years been collaborating with Egypt on security in the Sinai, especially against the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is a part), and with Saudi Arabia against Iran (which is the main backer of Hamas) and its allies. Israel is now a more accepted part of the political landscape than is Hamas itself.
It looks like Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of both the PA and Fatah, having been sidelined during the eleven-day war, is nonetheless back in business, now that President Biden has insisted that all American aid for Gaza’s reconstruction must be channeled through the PA. It is Hamas that is now going to be shut out by the donors. If the spigot of aid continues to be turned on only for the PA, and can only be used for the reconstruction of civilian structures, so that aid money cannot be used to rebuild the tunnel network, where does this leave a newly-impoverished Hamas, looking for a handout from its mortal enemy, the PA? And with Hamas now so dependent on the PA for funds, will the terror group now stop berating Abbas for having cancelled those elections he once had promised?
The Palestinians believe Israeli Jews are dead-set on sweeping them out of the land. Polls in recent years found not only that most Palestinians believe Israel plans to demolish the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the cornerstone of Palestinian identity and religion, but about half of Palestinians believe Israel may succeed in doing so. The belief in Israel’s malign designs on Al-Aqsa is no mere conspiracy theory. It’s an expression of vulnerability, of the sense among many Palestinians that they could not stop Israel from destroying Al-Aqsa if it chose to….
That most Palestinians think that Israel would destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque reflects their Qur’an-based deep belief in the wickedness of the Jews. No matter how decently the Israelis behave toward the Palestinians, there are still all those many passages in the Qur’an that inculcate a very different message. Robert Spencer has gathered them here: “The Qur’an depicts the Jews as inveterately evil and bent on destroying the wellbeing of the Muslims. They are the strongest of all people in enmity toward the Muslims (5:82); as fabricating things and falsely ascribing them to Allah (2:79; 3:75, 3:181); claiming that Allah’s power is limited (5:64); loving to listen to lies (5:41); disobeying Allah and never observing his commands (5:13); disputing and quarreling (2:247); hiding the truth and misleading people (3:78); staging rebellion against the prophets and rejecting their guidance (2:55); being hypocritical (2:14, 2:44); giving preference to their own interests over the teachings of Muhammad (2:87); wishing evil for people and trying to mislead them (2:109); feeling pain when others are happy or fortunate (3:120); being arrogant about their being Allah’s beloved people (5:18); devouring people’s wealth by subterfuge (4:161); slandering the true religion and being cursed by Allah (4:46); killing the prophets (2:61); being merciless and heartless (2:74); never keeping their promises or fulfilling their words (2:100); being unrestrained in committing sins (5:79); being cowardly (59:13-14); being miserly (4:53); being transformed into apes and pigs for breaking the Sabbath (2:63-65; 5:59-60; 7:166); and more.”
That wave of shocking, sustained violence began not three decades into a failed peace process, but in 2000, scarcely eight years into what most observers believed was a successful effort to that point. Israeli troops had left Palestinian cities starting in the mid-1990s, the Palestinian Authority was established, and Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders were in Camp David negotiating — so Israelis were told at the time — the final boundaries of the two-state solution. It was then that a paroxysm of violence and brutality suddenly swept over Palestinian society and dashed the hopes of a generation….
It was in 2000, too, that Yassir Arafat walked out when presented with a generous offer by Israel’s then-Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, an offer that would have given the Palestinians about 95% of the West Bank. And when Mahmoud Abbas walked out when presented with a similar offer by Ehud Olmert in 2008, the Israelis were disabused of their naïve hopes in a “two-state solution.” It appeared that for the Palestinians, no compromise would be acceptable: they wanted, and still want, Israel to be squeezed back within the 1949 armistice lines. The difference between Hamas and the PA is that Hamas openly declares its intention to destroy Israel; the PA prudently does not declare that its salami tactics are intended to achieve the same goal.
The Second Intifada began on September 28, 2000, just a few months after the Israelis had made generous offers of territory to Arafat, only to see him walk out of negotiations with Ehud Barak and President Clinton. The Israelis were still trying, through the Americans, to see if they could come up with a formula that might lure him back when the Intifada began. The Israelis were naturally shaken by the realization that more than 100 suicide attacks took place after the Jewish state had been so forthcoming at Camp David. Israel was also beginning to think about a total withdrawal from Gaza, which took place in August 2005, just six months after the Second Intifada ended. Some suggest that had there been no Second Intifada, the Israelis would have left Gaza much sooner.
Israelis have been moving steadily to the right, having been repeatedly mugged by experience. Many of them – and not only supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu – have concluded that there is nothing Israel can offer that would satisfy those who support Hamas except to leave, and that, of course, will never happen.
Gur quotes Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap in a conversation with two Israeli generals: “Listen, the Palestinians are always coming here and saying to me, ‘You expelled the French and the Americans. How do we expel the Jews?’ I tell them that the French went back to France and the Americans to America. But the Jews have nowhere to go. You will not expel them.”
This is exactly what Golda Meir told then-Congressman Joe Biden, forty days before the Yom Kippur war broke out. Here is how Biden remembers that conversation:
She said, ‘Senator, you look so worried,’” he recalled, speaking at an Israeli Embassy Independence Day celebration in 2015. “I said, ‘Well, my God, Madam Prime Minister,’ and I turned to look at her. I said, ‘The picture you paint.’ She said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. We have’ — I thought she only said this to me. She said, ‘We have a secret weapon in our conflict with the Arabs: You see, we have no place else to go.’”
There is a profound tragedy here for the Palestinian cause. Even as it gains overseas support at levels unseen since the 1970s, those supporters, largely ignorant of the strategic discourse within the Palestinian national movement, have spent the past 11 days lining up squarely behind the very party that has driven the Palestinian cause into a brick wall.
I don’t share Haviv Rettig Gur’s sympathy for the “Palestinian cause.” I don’t see a “profound tragedy” if the Palestinians never get a state of their own, carved out of the ancestral Jewish homeland that the Palestine Mandate had assigned to the future Jewish state. Why should we drop a ready tear over the failure to create a 23rd Arab state? Let the Palestinians have Jordan, where they already constitute nearly two-thirds of the population. Gur also says: “Each side in this conflict believes the other is engaged in an eliminationist war.”
Yes, but only one side is correct. The Palestinians, whether the Fast Jihadists of Hamas or the Slow Jihadists of the PA, want an end to the Jewish state. They differ on timing and on tactics, but not on the ultimate goal. Israel, on the other hand, is not out to “eliminate” the Palestinians. It has repeatedly made offers to recognize an independent Palestinian state, has proposed giving that state between 70% (the Trump plan) and 94% (the Olmert offer) of the West Bank, but has been consistently turned down. Instead of “engaging in an eliminationist war,” the Israelis have recently been persuading Qatar to give tens of millions of dollars to the Palestinians in Gaza. Israel is not trying to “eliminate” the Palestinians; it keeps those in Gaza supplied with electricity and three billion gallons of water a year. It recently completed a fourth pipeline that should allow that supply of water to be increased. When Palestinians in Gaza need special care, they are treated in Israeli hospitals. Even Palestinian leaders, including Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh and the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas, have sent their family members to be treated in Israeli hospitals. When a Jewish man in Lod recently was killed by Arabs, Israeli doctors transplanted one of his kidneys to a Palestinian woman, saving her life. Is all that part of the “eliminationist war” Israel is supposedly conducting?
…Hamas celebrated on Friday its ability to send Israelis scurrying to bomb shelters. A colonialist tyrant, after all, survives by projecting an aura of strength. Hamas believes its job is to puncture holes, ceaselessly and mercilessly, in that self-assurance.
Hamas may want the world to interpret those Israelis rushing to bomb shelters as a sign of weakness. In truth, it is a tribute to Israeli foresight, that it has for years been building a national network of bomb shelters. Millions of Israelis now have a designated room in their houses or apartments that has been reinforced to withstand the impact of a rocket. As a consequence, those “scurrying Israelis” manage to survive – only 12 died in the recent conflict. Meanwhile, Hamas has not provided any such shelters against Israeli bombardments; in fact, it has done the opposite, which is to place rockets and other weapons in the midst of civilian structures, including apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, and mosques, in order to deliberately holding their own civilians hostages, putting them in danger in the hope that will prevent Israeli attacks.
The more violence that is promised or delivered by Hamas, the more resolute the Israelis become. They know what both Golda Meir and General Giap realized was Israel’s secret weapon — that the Israelis “have nowhere else to go.” Israeli Jews know they are not “colonial-settlers” sent out from a mother country to colonize lands far away; they are Jews living in what has been the Jewish homeland for more than 3000 years. This is not something Hamas will ever understand. And now that the fourth Gaza war has ended with an overwhelming victory for Israel, while a self-deluded Hamas crows that it has won, what Israelis call the “war between the wars” begins anew. Contrary to what the peace-processors in Washington may fondly hope or believe, there is no end to this.
First published in Jihad Watch.