Saturday, January 17, 2009
Analysis: The IDF War in Gaza
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Still last night I had a bit of a "wait and see" attitude: We're still in Gaza, if Hamas hits us we may start again. Who knows.
Well, now we know. Hamas has just declared a cease-fire. Khaled Mashaal, politburo leader in Damascus, announced this on Syrian TV.
According to Khaled Abu Toameh in the Post, sources close to Hamas say the group had no choice but to declare the cease-fire: "Hamas needs the lull. They have been hit hard... "
Great, we're giving Hamas a lull.
Abu Toameh says the two cease-fires were apparently declared independently and are not coordinated. We had declared that we would remain in Gaza until we were certain that there would be quiet. Mashaal is demanding we leave in a week. Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas has said, additionally, that this quiet is predicated on our opening of all crossings and the lifting of the blockade.
We had better not be in a rush to open all crossings. And if we do it at all before securing the release of Shalit, things will smell even worse than they do now.
According to Abu Toameh, we have said that we would not open any crossings until all hostilities have ceased. That may have been the original offer, which was rejected by Hamas. But as we ostensibly withdrew unilaterally (was it unilateral?), we should have no commitments in this regard at all.
And in any event, how long do we wait before we know all hostilities have ceased? A Grad Katyusha was launched after the Hamas announcement of a cease-fire.
Hamas has said it will resist all efforts at disarmament and all attempts to return the PA to Gaza.
Hamas is particularly incensed with the PA at the moment because its leaders are convinced that Mahmoud Abbas and company provided intelligence that allowed us to get to Hamas interior minister Said Siam. This is entirely credible, as Siam was a major architect of the Hamas take-over of Gaza and responsible for the deaths of dozens of Fatah people. After he was killed in our airstrike, Fatah-controlled websites carried comments from people who thanked Ehud Barak.
Hamas is demanding that Egypt open the Rafah crossing and I want to see how this will play out; Egypt's condition was the return of the PA there. Mubarak is demanding we open crossings. Will he keep his crossing closed?
This is my considered opinion, for what it is worth:
Taking down Hamas entirely -- even if it might have been a desirable goal (which is itself questionable because of what might have come next) -- was probably impossible for us. For there is a way that Hamas, an a-moral fighting force, bests us, the most moral and humane of nations.
We were not guilty of disproportionate military actions and certainly not of war crimes. What we did in self-defense can be justified totally within international law. We knew we were right.
But the killing is not palatable to us. It doesn't happen easily, and we're not glib about it. We were sad that there was collateral damage that caused deaths even of women and children on some occasions -- in spite of our warnings and our extreme caution in doing pin-point operations.
What we came up against is that Arab jihadist statement: "We will win, because just as they love life, we love death." Hamas does not care how many of its own people die. And so, for example, we knew which hospital many of the Hamas leaders were hiding in, but we would never hit a hospital, and they were well aware of this.
Makes total defeat tough.
There are analysts who believe we must content ourselves with partial victories. This is the opinion, for example, of Yoram Kaniuk, who wrote, "Lower Your Expectations," in YNet the other day:
"No state has been able to defeat zealous Islamic terrorists thus far... There is no way to defeat zealous ideologies, because their leaders are willing to hide behind their children.
"The Russians butchered half of Chechnya, yet the other half is patiently waiting...
"... It is only possible to secure tactical wins, and a ceasefire that everyone knows will be temporary."
Unpalatable in the extreme, but perhaps there's a certain truth there.
If so, what's important is that we keep hammering away, and keep securing those tactical wins, until the day comes when we do have the upper hand.
This is where the whole issue of deterrence comes in. It is what Brig.-General (res) Yossie Kupervasser, formerly with IDF Intelligence, whom I've cited so many times now, was basically referring to in his recent presentation: hitting hard enough, not so that they're totally defeated, but so that they decide it isn't worth it right now to keep trying to destroy us and table that goal for a distant future.
Then the question becomes one of whether we hit hard enough before quitting. And the answer is in the negative.
I don't think it was all wasted, and for nothing. We did give Hamas a good wallop, although we could have and should have given better. The truth of this will emerge as we see how quickly Hamas recuperates and how reticent, or not, to start with us again.
Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, in his report to the Cabinet this morning, confirms that Hamas took a beating. They did not expect us to come into Gaza right before an election, and we left them in a difficult position.
I quote here a soldier who was serving in Gaza -- referred to only as Aryeh -- a member of the reserves and a former hesder yeshiva student (which combines religious study with military service). He was interviewed on Israel National Radio last week:
"No one likes fighting; people want to be with their families... but at the same time, no one wants to leave now. Of all sectors, it's the soldiers who do not want a ceasefire, not because we want to fight but because we know the job is not finished yet. We don't want to have to go back again in a year or two or three. The soldiers want to stay and finish the job, they really do... I think there has to be a hard push against Hamas, even harder than we have done until now; this will take a real sacrifice, we know - but to think that we might leave and the rockets will still fall, what did we do??! Killing 900 terrorists out of 20,000 is just not enough, we have to really decimate their ranks in order that they should know that they should leave us alone...
"True, Gaza is now largely in ruins, but they'll get lots of money to rebuild, and they'll use a lot of the money to get more weapons as well. We gave to go deeper and stronger, and make them understand that it's just not worth it. In addition, I think we can't leave without Gilad Shalit; it would be terrible if not."
What can be added to this?
But there are yet other factors that must be examined, palatable or not. One of these is the matter of international pressure.
Many is the time that my blood pressure has gone up when watching the Israeli government cave under international pressure when I thought we should hold tight. When I thought what we needed was a government that was not into appeasement. A prime example is Condoleezza Rice's demand that we leave Rafah in 2005, even though we had an agreement -- all the way from Oslo -- that said we could stay. We caved, and we should not have, because our security people knew quite well that this was going to be trouble (as indeed it was).
But I see the current international pressure as being considerably heavier than this. The international community loves to see Israel in the wrong, and the number of civilian casualties in Gaza must have had members of the community salivating with the opportunity to come down hard on us.
What is more, the UN was involved. The first resolution regarding our operation in Gaza was not passed under Chapter VII, which meant there was no mechanism for applying military force to enforce its terms. But that doesn't mean there might not have been a subsequent resolution under Chapter VII. With the resolution that did pass, the US merely abstained and declining to veto it. This was already recognized as a betrayal of Israel. And that was with Bush as president. Tuesday, a new, and considerably less friendly, US president is being sworn in. (About whom I'll have plenty to say.)
I believe that all of this was factored into the decision of Olmert to cut our losses in Gaza now. I think he may have felt it was better if we appeared to have been victorious, and left of our own volition.
The rush to leave, however, was precipitous, and essentially dishonest.
Olmert said last night:
"We formulated understandings with the Egyptian government with regard to a number of central issues, the realization of which will bring about a significant reduction in weapons smuggling from Iran and Syria to the Gaza Strip."
Part of our goal, as stated by him in the beginning, was making sure that Hamas could not re-arm. And so, he could not pull out without making it appear that a mechanism for preventing this was in place.
I spent part of my day today trying to find out exactly what understandings with Egypt would allow Olmert to say that smuggling was less likely -- say so, even if he knew it not to be the case. I could learn of no such understanding.
In fact, one Arabic-speaking contact told me forthrightly, "There is no agreement with Egypt."
This, my friends, is what smells most of all. This is the betrayal of what we were supposed to be doing.
In fact, I would suggest that Olmert knows that there can be no effective mechanism at the border between Gaza and Egypt to stop smuggling as long as we are not there.
The appeasement here is of Egypt, which is not confronted with the facts regarding the way in which it has tacitly permitted smuggling to continue, and even abetted that smuggling.
Please, see Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz's startling piece on the issue of Egyptian complicity in smuggling:
And the failure is our refusal to move back into the Philadelphi Corridor.
I cited Professor Eyal Zisser yesterday, who explained how difficult it would be for the international community to stop rockets from getting into Egypt -- as even Somali fisherman would be willing to carry them in their boats -- and why the key to stopping smuggling lies with Egypt.
Today, Dr. Aaron Lerner, director of IMRA has made it even simpler and more clear. Aaron has discovered that "Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines offers weekly container service from Bandar Abbas, Iran to Damietta, Egypt... Loads every Friday, arrival in Egypt two weeks later."
As long as Egypt will not honestly and diligently work to stop smuggling, it is clear that Hamas will be re-armed.
Yuval Diskin told the Cabinet today that Hamas would resume smuggling of weapons into Gaza in a few months, that they would rebuild the tunnels we destroyed.
This, my friends, is what we have to hammer at, as the election approaches. The government has to answer for this inexcusable failure.
Dr. Aaron Lerner, who has been right on top of this issue, the other day exposed the foolishness of defense envoy Amos Gilad, who said, in essence, that it's nobody's business what deal the government strikes with Egypt. We'll know if they are smuggling if they start launching rockets at us again. This is not acceptable.
At today's Cabinet meeting, Olmert declared, "The military forces in the Strip have their eyes wide open, are attentive to any rustle and ready for any order from their commanders,. The decision on the cease-fire leaves Israel the right to react and renew its military actions if the terror groups continue firing.
But already, the IDF is beginning to pull out. It would take something major from Hamas, not a couple of rockets, and not a rustle, to make Olmert reverse his decision.
There will be much more to say, but I'll end here today.
Posting: January 17, 2009
Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)
Saw it coming. It was obvious this past week that we weren't going to go the whole route, bringing Hamas to its knees. Right now, that "qualified hero," Olmert, doesn't look like much of a hero.
It was announced tonight that the Security Cabinet -- which met this evening to discuss the latest Egyptian proposal carried by a returning Amos Gilad -- voted to declare a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza, as of 2 a.m.
There were two votes against: Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) and Industry Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas).
It's not entirely certain what happens next. Apparently we will remain in Gaza either for some days, or until it's clear that Hamas will stop. At the moment, Hamas is still launching rockets and we reserve the right to "return fire," which means to go after the site or the individuals who launched the rocket. This is not the same as a massive operation against Hamas.
But there is still something tentative about the announcement -- with Barak, who spoke after Olmert, saying we should be prepared for all eventualities, while Olmert made threats against Hamas and spoke of what they'll encounter from us if they continue.
Of course, there will be enormous international pressure on us to get out. But Hamas has said as long as we're in, they'll keep shooting. "Resistance against the occupation," you see. (Although when we're out of Gaza there's also "resistance against the occupation.")
So, what's the resolution?
There is, it seems to me, a great deal we don't know yet with regard to what Egyptian proposal Gilad carried from Cairo, and I feel as if we're waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Yesterday, Tzipi Livni went to Washington, and, after consultations with Condoleezza Rice, signed a Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Prevention of the Supply of Arms and Related Materiel to Terrorist Groups, which addresses the issue of stemming the flow of weapons and explosives into Gaza. The US is offering intelligence, technological help, and training, and the Memorandum speaks of both cooperative and parallel efforts. The idea is to catch smuggled weapons before they make it either into Gaza via the sea or into Egypt, whence they get to Gaza via tunnels. It alludes to different seas and countries of north Africa by which the weapons might make their way,
I am greatly dubious as to whether this will have any significant effect on the situation, and the wording of the Memorandum is too vague to provide true understanding of what might be anticipated.
One of the questions, to which I have no answer at present, is how binding this MOU will be on the new administration, which takes over in three short days.
What am I seeing? This is the same old Tzipi who promoted Resolution 1701, which was supposed to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming. This is Tzipi relying on international guarantees as a rationale for stopping the fight and not doing the full job ourselves.
It's instructive to see what US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said in response to a question at a press conference yesterday after the MOU was signed:
"Well... we are not responsible for, you know, smuggling happening or not. We are able to participate in robust ways to assist others as well in making sure that smuggling, resupply of Hamas, does not take place.
"There are a lot of different moving parts to this problem. And we have been engaged on this problem for a while. I think all of you understand that we sent a team to Egypt - Army Corps of Engineers - to look specifically at tunnels. There are other aspects to this: the air aspect, the sea aspect to this. But we think we have the beginnings of that."
This is, to me, a sure tip-off that we should not hold our collective breath.
A first analysis of possibilities for the assistance offered now by the US to be useful are provided here. It presents a picture of how complex this whole venture is.
Says Eyal Zisser, a professor of Middle East history and a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center quoted in this article, "How many of these rockets have been fired into Israel? One hundred? Two hundred? [Note: that would be in the very short term only -- it's thousands that have been launched over a period of years.] We're not talking about smuggling 100 tanks across the border. These rockets can be smuggled so easily through Sudan or other countries like it. Trying to intercept them on an international level would be a waste of time and effort."
Zisser suggests that efforts to block Hamas from acquiring weapons should focus on the Egyptian border and not on broad-based intelligence efforts.
"It's not that I'm against doing everything we can do on other levels to stop the smuggling,. It's just that it's not particularly difficult for these rockets to be smuggled to Egypt, and I doubt that any effort could make it more difficult. Take a country like Sudan or Somalia, where half of the population is unemployed, and all it takes is one fisherman's boat to bring 10 or 20 of these rockets to shore. There's no shortage of people who are willing to do that, and I don't see how an international force could infiltrate such a vast network."
In addition, according to Zisser, Iranian ships transporting rockets are also carrying other items: "They're hidden away among other cargo. So who is going to inspect every Iranian ship, or Syrian ship, or Lebanese ship that arrives in their port? These days, the rockets could even arrive on a ship from Venezuela."
And Egypt remains the weak (or non-existent) link in the chain of response. The Egyptian foreign minister has already announced that Egypt has nothing to do with the agreement just signed between Israel and the US. What Ahmed Aboul Gheit said was that, "We have no commitment towards this memo whatsoever."
For me, this is Egypt revealing its true face.
Our prime minister has declared there's been a lot of progress in negotiations with Egypt with regard to smuggling.
Unless we've got a presence on the scene, it will all amount to nothing.
Earlier today, Barak said that we had almost achieved our goals in Gaza. Chief of Staff Ashkenazi went on record as saying he didn't think we should pursue the fighting any further.
Then Olmert, in announcing the Security Cabinet decision, said we HAD achieved our goals "in full." How we went from "almost" to "fully" in a matter of a couple of hours is not clear.
What is clear is that these goals have not been reached. Olmert had originally said we would not stop fighting until Hamas stopped attacking our south. Today there were something like 25 rocket launchings. Hamas still has capacity and the will to hit us.
Olmert said tonight that we've reduced their rocket fire (this certainly seems true) and taken out most of their long-range rockets (I hope so). He also said we're controlling most of their launching sites. But this is for now -- this implies nothing about the future.
Hamas is weakened, Olmert says weakened a great deal. We've taken out control and training centers, a good many (but not all) tunnels, perhaps 800 or 1,000 of their 15,000 or 20,000 troops (most of whom remained hidden), a handful of their leaders. But they're motivated by their radical ideology to keep going.
Olmert has announced that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all offered help in stopping arms smuggling. My only comment here -- other than to indicate that none of this is a substitute for what we need to do relying on ourselves -- is that this has more substance than anything under UN auspices, which is worthless.
One important point that Olmert made tonight was this:
"This is not a ceasefire with Hamas. These are understanding with elements in the international community which Hamas, as an illegitimate entity, has no place to be involved in."
This was Livni's original stance. And it came to be the government position, I am reasonably certain, after Hamas, at an Arab summit in Doha, Qatar, yesterday rejected our conditions for a cease-fire.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt boycotted this gathering, at which Mashaal called for Arab nations to cut ties with Israel, and Ahmadinejad made a surprise appearance.
What this means, at this point, from our perspective, is that we have no commitments toward Hamas -- no promise to open crossings or to refrain from firing. Everything, presumably, is at our option and we are in control. And we've given them no legitimacy.
By last week I was feeling uneasy about Hamas demands that we refrain from all actions inside Gaza for the year of the proposed ceasefire; I could anticipate situations in which response would be required for self-defensive reasons because of Hamas behavior inside of Gaza even if it wasn't directly shooting at us. And yet, as this was proposed, it would mean we and not they had broken the cease-fire.
(Remember, the beginning of the breakdown of the six month tahadiyah came with a brief IDF action in Gaza in response to a tunnel being constructed that would have led into Israel.)
And so, my concern remains one of what -- if anything -- comes next in terms of what Egypt is discussing with us.
Hamas's over-riding desire is to have the crossings opened permanently. This gives them legitimacy and a measure of normalcy -- this permits commerce, not just relief. Are we, as I suspect, headed down this road in short order and will Hamas broadcast this as a "victory"?
And then there is the whole issue of bringing back Gilad Shalit. We were assured tonight that this is being worked on, and rumors abound. But we have stopped fighting and there is nothing definitive. Does this come with the next stage of the deal? Or will it not come?
Lastly, I want to mention Olmert's reference to the PA: Israel, he said, considers Gaza to be part of a future Palestinian state (implying under PA auspices). No, definitely not my hero now.
There must be no Palestinian state.
I wonder about how much we will ever know about the various discussions held regarding the cease-fire: what we demanded, what Hamas insisted upon. There are so many rumors floating. There may even be matters that are agreed to by us that do not come clear, at least in the short term. (That's the old cynical me talking.)
One version of what Hamas ostensibly agreed to -- which Mashaal has refuted -- is that it would resume negotiations with the PA for a unity government. I know that this is what Egypt is pushing.
Posting: January 15, 2009
Please know: After this posting there is not likely to be another until after Shabbat, unless something of major significance transpires by early tomorrow.
It's going down to the wire soon, and I'm feeling enormous unease as to how things will finish.
Hamas has not been taken down nearly enough yet, in spite of all we've done, which has been considerable. This is obvious on the face of things because they are making demands. A vanquished party doesn't do that.
But beyond the matter of their demands is another issue of considerable significance
Many terms and concepts are being bandied about in the media. It's important to be more specific as we look at our expectations for resolution of this war.
We are definitely not working towards a permanent truce with Hamas -- a permanent cessation of hostilities. Would that this could be the case! But to achieve this we would have to reach the point of unconditional surrender, as reader Don Salem has pointed out. They would have to cry "uncle!" as Japan did after WWII. Or, in the terms of General Kupervasser, be defeated sufficiently to abandon notions of destroying us -- relegating this goal to a hypothetical far distant future. Not only are we not there, we're not going to get there.
So, we're looking at something temporary. Preferably, long-term temporary. Egypt, as I had recently mentioned, was seeking something like 10 years. Hamas is talking about something much shorter term. This we know.
But exactly what does Hamas have in mind? There are two Arabic terms for temporary cessations of hostilities.
One is hudna. This is a more formal agreement that has distinct Islamic religious connotations, as Mohammad had a hudna with the Quraysh tribe. Hamas is an Islamic organization -- they all know this and take it seriously. While Mohammad was observing the hudna, he did no attacking -- although he was garnering strength. And, of course, it didn't last forever. Ultimately Mohammad attacked.
The other is a tahadiyah. This is a less formal arrangement that is devoid of religious connotation. Because it has no religious connection, there is more of a sense that some attacking -- some launching of rockets -- is acceptable even during this period. From June through December last year, we had a tahadiyah with Hamas, and they continued to launch rockets, but fewer. We didn't have quiet, but, rather, "relative" quiet.
There is an Islamic term -- Sulkh, I believe -- for a permanent cessation of hostilities. But it is not relevant in this context.
Today I spoke with an Arabic- speaking researcher at MEMRI -- the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors what Arabs are saying in Arabic and provides translations; his jurisdiction is Egyptian media. He told me that in the Egyptian media, in reports about Egyptian mediation with Hamas for ceasing fire, they are using the term tahadiyah. Only tahadiyah? I asked. Only tahadiyah, he responded.
This tells us, unequivocally, that we must bring Hamas down a great deal more.
I also spoke today with an Arabic speaker with Intelligence connections. This is what he told me:
Even if Egypt were sincere and truly wanted to stop the smuggling, they couldn't. The Egyptian government is weak, he told me. The Sinai (which is adjacent to the Philadelphi Corridor) is run by the Bedouin, who do the smuggling, and the Egyptian army cannot control the Bedouin.
This tells us, unequivocally, that we can stop the smuggling only if we do it ourselves.
These, then, are the parameters for a truly successful conclusion to the war. The international community is breathing down our necks, and the government is not of one mind on the issues. (More about this below.)
At the moment we are still fighting hard, pushing deeper into Gaza City and attacking with more strength. We are in the heart of the city now and have taken three neighborhoods.
Is this the third stage of the war? Is there more to come?
I very much fear that we will end short of where we need to be.
In my wildest dreams I never imagined I would say what I am about to say now:
At the moment, Ehud Olmert is a champion in my eyes. He is holding fast to continue fighting, even as the other members of the "triumvirate" are ready to call it quits. We will not, he has declared, end up as we did after the Lebanon war, when Hezbollah was able to regain strength. We haven't fought to end up no better than this.
So, call him a tentative hero, a qualified hero, but bravo to him. I cannot see into the head of this man, who not so long ago informed us that we must divide Jerusalem. There are those who say he's acting as he is because his political career is over, and he has nothing to lose (while Barak and Livni are campaigning). May be, but still it means that when he has nothing to lose he sees this as the right thing to do. It means there is a strong Zionist conviction in him, when truth is told. (A Zionist conviction that he betrayed for so long, for whatever perverse reasons.)
In any event, I'm so very glad he's holding fast and give him the credit that is due him. And we'll take each day as it goes. (Please, my good friends, don't deluge me with comments about him. This is how I see it now. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.)
According to reports that have leaked, it is Barak that Olmert is battling with most directly. He is particularly furious with him because Barak floated the idea of the two-week humanitarian cease-fire.
As one government official explained it:
"The irresponsibility of ministers - regardless of how senior they are - in leading private initiatives is unfortunate. [The publication of proposed plans] gives encouragement to Hamas, gives a shot in the arm to their backers, and has an immediate effect of the fate of a million Israelis in the south and thousands of IDF soldiers carrying out operations inside Gaza."
There is also an unconfirmed report that Livni wanted to go to Washington to ask the US to help with arms smuggling. The prime minister's office has denied this.
Several readers have asked me about Gilad Shalit and whether he will be part of any final cease-fire deal with Hamas. He certainly should be.
The only one in the government I've seen mention this forthrightly is Justice Minister Daniel Friedman, earlier this week.
Yesterday, hundreds of young people rallied in Tel Aviv, at Museum Plaza, demanding that any cease-fire settlement include Shalit's release. Said a boyhood friend of Shalit: "[His release] has to be a clear-cut goal. We will not let the government agree on a ceasefire with Hamas otherwise. Olmert, Barak, Livni - we will not let you do this. There can be no agreement without Gilad."
And today, Livni met with Red Cross President Jacob Kellenberger and demanded that he push his people to make an effort to visit Shalit. Said she: [The issue of Shalit] "is a pivotal part of the Gaza [campaign]. The Red Cross has access to every prisoner around the world, but here there is a terror organization which is denying this access." This is, perhaps, on the way to, but not yet saying, that we won't stop until we have Shalit. What is suggested by "a pivotal part" is unclear.
Tonight there are reports that we may strike a deal that we will open the crossing at the end of the war in exchange for reduced demands by Hamas for Shalit.
I want Shalit released as much as the next Israeli does. But if this is true it is deeply unsettling. Insulting. This implies that instead of releasing 1,000 terrorists, some with blood on their hands, we'd just have to release maybe a few hundred. But why release any? If they are getting crossings opened, let them release Shalit! No Shalit, no opened crossings. Simple.
So many rumors; I hope this is not accurate.
Today was a tough day. UN Secretary-General Ban is in town, and he must be counted as an enemy. I am, quite honestly, proud of how our government responded to him.
Everything is in place for a cease-fire, Ban said. Whether it happens or not depends on the will of Israel. Excuse me?
He was informed that we were fighting in self-defense.
Today we hit an UNRWA compound in Gaza City because gun shots and anti-tank missiles were fired at our troops from the building. This is according to senior defense officials. We fired artillery shells in the direction from which the shooting had come, in the process wounding three and setting a wing of the building on fire. We then brought in five fire trucks to put out the fire.
Ban expressed outrage, and Olmert replied, "... this is a sad incident and I regret it, but our forces were attacked from there and our response was harsh."
The most prominent military action of the day today was the killing during an air strike in Gaza City of Said Siam, Hamas interior minister. Head of several security apparatuses of Hamas, he served also as its liaison between the political and military wings. And he was one of the masterminds of the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.
Siam is the most senior member of Hamas to be killed so far.
Killed along with him were Salah Abu Shrakh, the head of the Hamas general security service, Mahmoud Watfa, one of the commanders of the Hamas military wing, and his brother and son.
Amos Gilad has returned from his consultations with the Egyptians, and is reporting to key members of the government.
Last we heard, Hamas had "agreed in principle" to a cease-fire, but had stipulations. Now Egyptian media is saying Israel has "agreed in principle," but has reservations.
This evening Khaled Mashaal, in Damascus, insisted that Hamas was holding to its demands (demands??) for a ceasefire:
"We have informed all those exerting efforts... for a truce that we have specific demands. First, the aggression must stop; second, the [Israeli] forces must withdraw from Gaza... immediately, of course; thirdly, the siege must be lifted and fourth we want all crossing-points [into Gaza] reopened, first of which Rafah.
"We will not accept any political movement that doesn't satisfy these demands."
The Security Cabinet will meet tomorrow to decide whether to accept Cairo's proposal or continue fighting.
We don't know, of course, how closely what Cairo offered to Gilad resembles what Mashaal, sitting in Damascus, is demanding. The terms of the Gaza contingent of Hamas might have been different. But there is an arrogance coming from Hamas, yet, an expectation that they can set terms, that seems to make it unlikely that we'll accept.
What is more, the "security arrangements" for stopping smuggling are not in place. To stop now would be to fall terribly short of what we intend to accomplish.
But I don't know what will happen... My sense of it is that it will be soon, but not yet.
According to Amos Harel in Haaretz, Cairo is demanding the return of the PA to the Rafah Crossing as a condition for it being opened. That's been Egypt's position. Would Hamas accept this, when the PA in Gaza is anathema to them?
I'm hearing about a year of quiet being offered. Only a year. In what terms, at what price?
Obama has broken his silence and says he'll work from day one to stop hostilities between Israel and Hamas.
In an interview on CBS yesterday, he reportedly said, "... we are going to take a regional approach, we're going to have to involve Syria in discussions, we are going to have to engage Iran... "
Oh joy! Here it comes. Will this have an influence our government's decision regarding how long to keep fighting?
Posting: January 14, 2009
Closer, that is, to the end of the war. Or so it seems.
Egypt has been pushing hard on Hamas, telling them that Israel will do its third stage of the operation if they don't agree to a ceasefire, and then they will be fully crushed.
One issue is the length of the cease-fire. We would prefer it to be long term or indefinite; Hamas wanted a cease-fire of just a few months.
This is consistent with their whole hudna approach, which means stopping temporarily in order to regroup and start again. For the fact of the matter is that Hamas, no matter how badly hurt, has not been fully crushed, and hopes to come back to strength.
Egypt proposed a ceasefire of 10 to 15 years, according to a Haaretz report, and after this was rejected, then offered a one year -- renewable -- cease-fire. This, Hamas is said to be considering, with certain conditions. They want to know how quickly we'll pull out of Gaza and when crossings will be opened.
One year seems sorely insufficient, and I don't know if our government would accept this.
What Egypt is after at this point is a cessation of fighting, with the notion that particulars regarding withdrawal, end to smuggling, and opening of crossings can be worked out thereafter.
I would have been almost certain that we would not buy into this: that we would rely on our continued fighting to give us leverage. But there seems to be disagreement within the government on this issue (see more below).
With regard to smuggling, one suggestion being floated now is for a barrier to be erected that surrounds the Egyptian city of Rafah, with patrolling by Egyptian soldiers to prevent smugglers from entering the city. That barrier -- a double fence -- would extend the length of the Philadelphi Corridor, and there would be a single monitored road that led into the city.
I am highly dubious as to whether this will be put in place, and I have no reason to believe this would work -- that the Egyptians would monitor with sufficient diligence. And so I do not wish to belabor this plan unduly. But I want to be certain that the complex parameters are clear:
The border, running roughly nine miles, between Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai, is called the Philadelpi Corridor (only because this name was generated at random from a computer). Under this border, hundreds of smuggling tunnels had been dug, and are now being systematically destroyed by Israel. The task (it's something of a trick) is to make certain they are not re-dug and that smuggling via tunnels doesn't resume. To date, Egypt has been severely remiss in this regard.
But there is also the city of Rafah (in Hebrew, Rafiah) straddling the border. Two cities, actually, as one part of Rafah is on the Egyptian side and one in Gaza. The official crossing point for goods moving back and forth is via Rafah. And so, aside from the tunnels, there is the potential for smuggling to be done above ground through that crossing. Material can be hidden deep within, or even under, large trucks that are bringing merchandise into Gaza.
It's obvious then, that enormous vigilance and sincerity of purpose are required to prevent military equipment from entering Gaza.
With the disengagement, we left the corridor, but were still supposed to retain control at the Rafah crossing. We pulled out, however, in deference to the PA (which then controlled Gaza), at the insistence of Condoleezza Rice. A great deal was smuggled into Gaza when the PA was in control.
Until two weeks ago, Hamas was doing an enormous amount of smuggling via the tunnels. The Rafah crossing has been closed from the Egyptian side, generating much fury in Gaza. At least until now, Egypt -- refusing to deal with Hamas -- has insisted that it won't open the Rafah crossing until the PA is back at Rafah.
My own take on the situation, based on what I've concluded as well as on what experts I respect are saying, is that we really have only two options:
One is to truly defeat Hamas. There is much to be said for this, because it is likely that a Hamas undefeated will undermine agreements and do all in its power to regain strength. (What General Kupervasser, whom I've cited several times now, suggests is coming close to defeating Hamas, so that they're beaten down enough to halt attacks and smuggling.)
The downside to defeating Hamas is that this may lead to an international effort to reinstate the PA in Gaza. Whether this could actually happen is dubious, but it raises the specter of increased pressure being put upon us to negotiate a state with the PA. And then, if Hamas is defeated, and the PA is rejected by the people of Gaza, there is concern that another radical element, even Al-Qaida, would move in to fill the vacuum.
The other alternative would be for us to maintain a presence in Gaza, along the Philadelphi Corridor. We are the only ones we can trust with insuring that smuggling does not begin again. There are some thinkers who are coming to the conclusion that by default -- because there are no other truly viable options -- we may do this.
At any rate, Amos Gilad may return to Cairo tomorrow, if discussions between Hamas and Egypt have progressed sufficiently.
Olmert caused a considerable diplomatic firestorm with his comments, reported here yesterday, regarding his phone call to President Bush to get Rice not to vote for Resolution 1860. Rice came back with a scathing denial, a charge that this was 100% untrue. The White House then followed with a denial as well.
It's not politic to brag publicly about controlling the US Secretary of State and causing her embarrassment.
Of course, just because the US denies this, doesn't mean it didn't happen. YNet yesterday quoted PA Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad Malki, who had said one day after the vote, that, "We were told that the Americans were going to vote in favor... What happened in the last 10 or 15 minutes [before the vote was taken], what kind of pressure she received, from whom, this is really something that maybe we will know about later."
According to Malki, when Rice entered the Security Council chamber, she apologized to the Saudi foreign minister, explaining that she would be abstaining but would clarify that the US supported the effort.
One report I encountered said that Olmert opened his mouth in anger, because Livni had taken credit for the situation, claiming that it was her diplomatic effort that prevented Rice from voting for the resolution.
What we are seeing now is tension between Olmert, on one side, and Livni and Barak on the other.
Barak and Livni both want to stop fighting now. Barak wants to institute a week-long 'humanitarian" cease fire, keep our forces in place and reservists under arms, and then negotiate issues with Egypt. He has taken under advisement the view of Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant that continued operations might end up with our deployment in Gaza over a period of time as long as a year. (Is this bad?) He also said to have his eye on Obama's inauguration next week.
Livni believes, as I have reported, that we don't need to negotiate with Hamas, but pull out and rely on our new deterrence power to restrain them. She thinks we've accomplished as much as we can.
I confess here my surprise that Livni is promoting a pull-out before Hamas is defeated, for it has been her express desire to reinstate the PA in Gaza.
Olmert believes we have not done enough yet. Certainly the fact that Hamas is agreeing to cease fire only under certain conditions indicates they are not yet sufficiently vanquished. (And Khaled Abu Toameh, among others, indicates that Hamas is not broken yet.)
In order to allow the fighting to continue, Olmert has refrained from calling meetings either of the "triumvirate" or the Security Cabinet, which might overrule him. Don't know how long this can go on. But right now he is forestalling a premature end to the fighting.
I mention here, just in passing, that while political discussion has been tabled in good measure until after the war, there are, obviously, considerable political ramifications to these various positions. We would be naive to imagine that these ramifications are not in the minds of the members of the "triumvirate" as they stake out their various positions
For the record, a clarification on the matter of SC Resolution 1860: It was not adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for enforcement of resolutions. According to my UN source, "As it stands, the Resolution merely demonstrates the will of the international community to see a ceasefire enacted."
A charge against Israel has been shot down (excuse the deliberate pun). Human Rights Watch had accused Israel of firing phosphorus shells, which ignite on the skin and cause extreme burns.
Peter Herby, head of the mines-arms unit of the International Red Cross, has now told the Associated Press that "... it's not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to suggest it's being used in any other way [such as burning down buildings or wounding people]." He said that using phosphorus to illuminate a target or create smoke is legitimate under international law.
Irwin Cotler, former justice minister of Canada and an expert on international law, visited our southern region adjacent to Gaza yesterday, and then made a statement to the effect that Hamas fighting tactics and ideology constitute a "case study par excellence" of a systematic violation of international humanitarian law.
Canadian MP Irwin Cotler.
Says Cotler, there is "almost no comparable example" in today's world of a group that so systematically violates international agreements related to armed conflict. He pinpointed six specific violations:
-- Deliberate targeting of civilians.
-- Attacks from within civilian areas and civilian structures. "Civilians are protected persons, and civilian areas are protected areas. Any use of a civilian infrastructure to launch bombs is itself a war crime."
-- "... the misuse and abuse of humanitarian symbols for purposes of launching attacks is called the perfidy principle. For example, using an ambulance to transport fighters or weapons or disguising oneself as a doctor in a hospital, or using a UN logo or flag, are war crimes."
-- "... the prohibition in the Fourth Geneva Convention and international jurisprudence of the direct and public incitement to genocide. The Hamas covenant itself is a standing incitement to genocide."
-- The scope of the attack on civilians constitutes a crime against humanity. "... when you deliberately hit civilians not infrequently but in a systematic, widespread attack, that's defined in the treaty of the International Criminal Court and international humanitarian law as a crime against humanity."
-- Recruitment of children into armed conflict (which I recently wrote about, citing PMW).
I called Professor Cotler after reading this description of Hamas violations in the Jerusalem Post, and asked him if international law applied to Hamas as it is neither a sovereign nation nor a signatory to various conventions. He said it didn't matter: international law applied to Hamas regardless. And this, he told me, was not just his opinion, but that of Alan Dershowitz as well.
Professor Cotler is concerned because the international community "has been minimizing the manner in which Hamas has engaged in consistent mass-violation of international humanitarian law." He sees it as important to delineate Hamas's violations the onus of responsibility for the civilian tragedy in Gaza would be placed where it belongs.
"... Clearly what is happening in Gaza is a tragedy. But there has to be moral and legal clarity as to responsibility."
According to the IDF spokesman, 104,000 liters of fuel and 111 humanitarian aid trucks were transferred into the Gaza strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing today.
Additionally, the IDF is looking to expand its humanitarian assistance by opening more crossings. The Karni crossing, for example, has a chute that permits a more speedy transfer of grains, and 23 truckloads of grain were sent in by that route on Monday. And Erez will be opened for cargo transfer.
A clarification is in order here: Crossings have been closed frequently because of intelligence we receive that they are about to be targeted by terrorists. We've had IDF troops lose their lives at these crossing. In fact, the Karni crossing had to be closed after Monday because a tunnel was discovered that was meant to be used for a mine attack. But I am assuming that our presence inside of Gaza makes the targeting of the crossings more difficult for Hamas, and makes it more possible for us to open them.
I have often pondered why the terrorists would interfere with transfer of aid to the Palestinian people by targeting the crossings. Only very recently did I find an answer: Hamas had been making money via the smuggling of goods through the tunnels, and was not eager to be undercut by goods distributed free of charge.
Such is the perversity of their mind-set.
An Apache helicopter pilot, who is not at liberty to reveal his full name or the details of his missions, gave an interview with AP in which he described missions he aborted to avoid civilian casualties. "The ones I remember are when I have locked in on a target and I fire and then at the last second I see a child in my cross hairs and I divert the missile," he said. "We work very hard to keep civilian casualties as low as possible,. Each missile we shoot is pinpointed to the very meter we want it to go."
He has called off airstrikes, even if it meant letting a rocket-launcher get away, out of fear of harming an innocent woman or a child. When he did this, he said, he was following both his military orders and his own conscience.
With all of this, EU aid commissioner Louis Michel declared this week that, "It is evident that Israel does not respect international humanitarian law." He drew this conclusion, he said, because of the number of civilian casualties and the difficulty of getting humanitarian aid to the needy.
With some people, you can't win.
Please see the following CAMERA article about a Norwegian doctor, Mads Gilbert, who is making libelous charges against Israel after volunteering in Gaza. Many media sources are representing him as an objective observer when in fact he is a Marxist who is so radical in his thinking that he supports the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Three Katyusha rockets were launched into northern Israel, near Kiryat Shmona, from Lebanon early today. The IDF fired a number of artillery shells towards the source of fire.
Once again I wish to close with a piece from Haaretz. This time, "It's not Israel's fault it has a strong, well run army," by Yoel Marcus:
"I feel sorry for the people of Gaza, but I feel even sorrier for the civilian population of southern Israel, which has been bombarded by rockets for the last eight years.
"I feel sorry for the kids who wet their beds at night. I feel sorry for the Color Red sirens that send our citizens on a mad dash for shelters, if there are any, in the hopes of finding cover within 15 seconds. I feel sorry about the homes that have been damaged, the cities that have been drained of their citizens and the schools hit by rockets that were miraculously empty at the time.
"In the beginning, nobody took Qassams seriously... But over time, this primitive rocket has morphed into a long-range missile. So we need to be thankful for the decision to launch Operation Cast Lead, if only because the offensive has exposed the strength of these babies and pulled the wraps off the huge arsenal of rockets they have over there in Gaza, capable of reaching Be'er Sheva. If Israel had not acted now, we would have woken up one morning to find missiles in Tel Aviv, special delivery from Iran via the Philadelphi tunnels.
"Operation Cast Lead is not a reprisal raid but a defensive war meant to clip Hamas' wings before it surprises us with a Palestinian version of the Yom Kippur War. It's not our fault we have a strong, well-run army and state-of-the-art weaponry. What did Hamas think? That we were going to sit around twiddling our thumbs forever?"