August 11, 2014: Strategy Page
The fighting in Gaza has left nearly 2,000 dead, over 96 percent of them Palestinian. Hamas says it won’t stop fighting until the Israeli-Egyptian blockade is lifted. Israel and Egypt refuse to do that until Hamas drops its support for terrorism and disarms. Since Israeli troops left Gaza (and Hamas took control in 2007) Gaza has become a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. Most seek the destruction of Israel but a growing number seek to establish a religious dictatorship in Egypt. Hamas does not expect to get the blockade lifted but does see itself gaining respect (and cash donations along with more diplomatic support) in the Moslem world. At the moment Hamas is still designated an international terrorist organization by the UN, most Western nations and even some Moslem ones.
Israel has plenty of electronic and video evidence of Hamas using ceasefires to move weapons and personnel and prepare to continue firing on Israel. Broadcasting this evidence is opposed by Israeli intelligence officials because putting the evidence out there enables Hamas to see where and how they are vulnerable to detection. With this knowledge Hamas can better hide its activities in the future.
Hamas has fired over 3,300 rockets since July 9th. Some 70 percent landed in Israel but less than four percent hit populated areas (killing three and wounding 85 civilians) . Iron Dome intercepted about a quarter of the rockets fired at Israel as the Iron Dome computers predicted these would land in or near a populated area. About 20 percent of the rockets fired towards Israel were defective and landed inside Gaza or were aimed at targets in Gaza. This included some of the 11 percent of all rockets were fired at Israeli troops inside or near Gaza. Some 69 percent of the rockets were fired from northern Gaza (where most of the Israeli counterstrikes have been) while 13 percent were launched from central Gaza and the rest from southern Gaza. Over 80 percent of the rockets were fired from unpopulated areas but at least 18 percent were fired from locations that were clearly civilian (including schools, Mosques and medical facilities.) Hamas was believed to have had about 10,000 rockets in early July. Since then over 3,000 have been fired and over 4,000 destroyed before they could be fired. Israeli aircraft, helicopters, ships, armored vehicles and ground troops have attacked nearly 5,000 targets in Gaza since July 9th and about a third of those attacks were against rocket launching sites, often while rockets were being prepared for launch. Hamas rockets have killed three Israeli civilians and 64 military personnel (and 670 wounded) so far. Some 82,000 Israeli reservists have been mobilized and most have been sent to the Gaza border. Hamas considers each Israeli they kill a victory and plays that up in their media. The Israeli military casualty rate is about the same as the U.S. suffered at the height of the fighting in Iraq. In other words; historically quite low.
Some Israeli leaders want the ground troops to go back in and shut down Hamas once and for all. But that would involve a lot of combat and if Gaza were to be completely cleared of Islamic terrorists hundreds of Israeli troops would die and thousands wounded. Most Israeli politicians do not believe Israelis in general are willing to pay that high a price. Instead Israel will continue using its intelligence capabilities to find Hamas personnel and weapons and attack them with smart bombs and missiles. Other Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza are also being hit. But the Islamic terrorists are hiding among the 1.8 million civilians in Gaza. There are several hundred thousand buildings and hundreds of tunnels and bunkers. Less than one percent of these structures holds terrorist weapons or personnel and the Israelis already know that they cannot watch all of Gaza in great detail all the time. Israeli military leaders point out that there would be a lot of Palestinian civilian casualties because Hamas deliberately surrounds its weapons and key personnel with civilians. While some Palestinians answer the Hamas propaganda and volunteer for this duty, most do not and will flee if given a chance. For Hamas victory is simply surviving and still being able to issue victory statements. Israeli victory is suppressing terrorist capabilities. Ultimate victory is eliminating the terrorist threat but given the massive support for destroying Israel in the Arab world, ultimate victory remains a long term goal, not one that can be won right now in Gaza. Right now most media in the Arab (and Moslem) world portray Hamas as misguided but valiant fighters for a cause (the destruction of Israel) that still has a lot of popular support in the Moslem world. Most Westerners, especially journalists, don’t grasp that aspect of the situation and try to portray Gaza as a humanitarian disaster that only Israel can fix. Most Israelis are exasperated at the attitude of so many non-Moslems overseas and attributes it to ignorance, greed (oil-rich Arab states have spent billions to push the Arab point of view towards Israel) or anti-Semitism.
Despite the continued hostile attitude in the Arab world, Israel is seeing some progress. A growing number of Arab states officially classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. The most obvious of these is Egypt. This influences media coverage of the fighting in Arab media. This time around there is more emphasis on the suffering of Gaza civilians and not the Hamas fighters. Many Egyptian journalists and pundits openly call for Israel to destroy Hamas once and for all. A growing number of Arabs are giving up on Islamic radicalism as a solution for anything and many are calling for more international efforts to crush this latest round of Islamic terrorism.
Israel also wants to kill the military leadership of the Qassam Brigades (the military/terror portion of Hamas), who are believed to be the prime proponents of constant rocket attacks on Israel, despite ceasefires that the political leaders of Hamas have negotiated. The key Hamas official here is the head of the Qassam Brigades; Muhammad Deif. Israel see Deif the way the Americans did Osama bin Laden, as the one guy responsible for many attacks. There are at least ten key Qassam Brigades personnel Israel consider largely responsible for the persistent (despite five ceasefires) rocket attacks as well as the effort to send Islamic terrorists through tunnels into Israel. A growing number (up to a quarter) of the Hamas rockets are either damaged or launched incorrectly. This indicates the cumulative damage on the rocket supply and the personnel trained to launch them. In addition to a few remaining tunnels into Israel, Hamas is also believed to have several thousand rockets left and hundreds of Qassam Brigades fanatics willing to anything to launch them.
The current war between Israel and Hamas was only partly about the persistent rocket attacks against Israel. Israel made it clear, soon after the fighting broke out in early July, that one of its primary objectives was to find and destroy all the tunnels Hamas had dug into Israel over the last few years. This could only be accomplished if Israeli troops were inside Gaza and able to search for the places where the tunnels started. Hamas boasted about how it had lots of these tunnels and planned to use them to get terrorists into Israel to capture or kill Israelis. So far Israel has found and destroyed 32 tunnels that extended into Israel and several more that were just used inside Gaza. Israeli intelligence, because of the several weeks Israeli troops were inside Gaza, has a better idea where additional tunnels are and Israel is hustling to come up with more effective detection methods. Currently the best method is using a large mobile drill (normally used for digging wells) to go deep dozens of times in an area where a tunnel is suspected until it is found. That method is being used now on the Israeli side of the border but it is slow work. The most obvious opportunity here is for better sensors. One idea is a series of wireless sensors buried a few meters down all along the Gaza border that will broadcast the unavoidable sounds the Hamas men would make as they dug towards the surface to “open” a tunnel on the Israeli side. For obvious reasons the Israelis are giving out any details on this sort of thing but at the moment it’s one of the best potential solution for the tunnel threat. Meanwhile Israel is trying to make the UN and other major Hamas donors (like Arab oil states) understand that a large chunk (over $10 million in the last few years) of their aid money has gone to this enormous tunnel project and that better management of aid to Gaza could reduce the amount being spent on tunnels and terrorism in general.
The tunnels are not a new problem. The Palestinians in Gaza have been building tunnels (mainly into Egypt for smuggling) since the 1980s. The Egyptians long tolerated this because the local Egyptian police and soldiers got bribed and that kept everyone happy. But tunnels into Israel were another matter, because these were not for smuggling but for killing or kidnapping Israelis. No bribes involved here, just murder and abduction (for ransom). Israeli combat engineers had been trained to destroy discovered tunnels, which was not easy because Hamas had booby-trapped some of them.
Lost amidst all the other stories is the fact that Israeli negotiators are trying work out a deal to get back the bodies of two Israeli soldiers that Hamas made away with. Israel is offering to release 25 Palestinians from prison for the bodies but Hamas wants a whole lot more. Earlier negotiations over the remains of dead Israelis went on for years.
Another story that does not get covered is the fact that most of Gaza is unharmed. Despite the thousands of Israeli bombs, missiles and artillery shells fired into Gaza in the last month over 96 percent of the structures in Gaza are intact. Israel is using smart bombs and guided missiles meaning that most of the attacks destroy or damage individual structures, not entire neighborhoods as in the past (before smart bombs became standard). Images of all those intact Gaza towns and neighborhoods do not attract a lot of eyeballs and are not considered newsworthy. Another bit of non-news is the 40,000 tons of humanitarian aid (most of it food and medical supplies) Israel has allowed into Gaza since July 9th. Also non-news are the thousands of Israeli attacks called off at the last minute because civilians were detected in the target area.
In Egypt several thousand additional soldiers and dozens of armored vehicles have been sent to the Libyan border in the last week. This is all to deal with the growing smuggling activity there, much of it involving Islamic terrorist groups bringing in weapons stolen from army warehouses left unguarded during the 2011 revolution. Those weapons have been selling briskly on the black market in Egypt. The customers are gangsters, Islamic terrorists and people seeking some illegal protection. Meanwhile the military revealed that since the end of July soldiers and police had killed 61 Islamic terrorists in Sinai and arrested more than a hundred known or suspected Islamic terrorists there. The raids had also captured large quantities of weapons, ammo and bomb making material. Also seized was 650 kg (1,430 pounds) of marihuana. In the last year over 500 soldiers and policemen have died fighting Islamic terrorists.
August 10, 2014: Israel and Hamas agreed to another 72 hour ceasefire to begin at 9 PM GMT (11 PM local time). Hamas has fired over a hundred rockets since the latest ceasefire collapsed on the 8th.
August 9, 2014: Hamas managed to fire five more rockets into Israel, but there were no casualties or damage. Israel responded with attacks on at least 20 targets in Gaza. A bomb that hit a mosque killed three people, including a senior Hamas leader. Hamas has fired at least 70 rockets since the latest ceasefire collapsed on the 8th.
In Egypt a court dissolved the political wing of the Moslem Brotherhood (which was outlawed last September). This cuts off Moslem Brotherhood members from an legitimate participation in Egyptian politics. Earlier this year Egypt elected another military man, who replaces one who was overthrown in 2011. The government has arrested over 10,000 people since the coup a year ago but now the military is in charge legally. The newly elected president (Abdul al Sisi) is a former general and is determined to crush the Moslem Brotherhood and other more radical Islamic terrorist groups. Hundreds of Islamic radicals have been sentenced to death or long prison terms in the last year. This is all a repeat of what happened twenty years ago during the last Islamic radical uprising against a corrupt and inefficient government. The army promises it will be different this time, but they always do that and it never is. President Sisi has made it clear that he sees Islamic terrorism as the greatest danger the region faces. At the same time Sisi is making moves to get the economy going although it’s doubtful he will do anything about the corruption.
August 8, 2014: Another ceasefire ended with Hamas firing 61 rockets at Israel. These resulted in two Israelis wounded by rocket fragments. Israel promptly responded with attacks on 70 terrorist targets in Gaza. The resumption of fighting was disappointing to Egypt, which is trying to persuade Hamas to make a long-term peace deal. While the Egyptian diplomats can appeal to Hamas as fellow Arabs, Hamas tends to have difficulty of hiding their contempt for Egypt, which Hamas considers traitors for classifying Hamas as a terrorist organization and cracking down on Islamic terrorist groups inside Egypt. Many Egyptians believe Islamic terrorism is a dead end strategy, but Hamas believes just the opposite.
In Egypt (along the Gaza border) several army raids left eleven Islamic terrorists dead and several smuggling tunnels destroyed.
August 5, 2014: Israel pulled its ground troops out of Gaza as another 72 hour ceasefire went into effect. Hamas announced that former Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha was found dead in a bombed building. Several days later rumors began coming out of Gaza that Taha had been executed. Medical staff and others saw his body at the hospital and morgue and despite orders to keep quiet, began talking. Taha was apparently being punished for secretly supplying Egypt with information on Hamas activities. Unwilling to admit that such a high-ranking official was a traitor, Hamas went with the “killed by an Israeli bomb” angle after putting Taha in front of a firing squad.
In Egypt (North Sinai) soldiers killed three Islamic terrorists and captured six others who were being sought. One raid also seized an SUV and sixteen motorcycles used for terrorist attacks. Elsewhere (outside Alexandria) five policemen and four Islamic terrorists died in a clash on a road to the beach.
August 4, 2014: Iran openly boasted of sending long range rockets to Gaza and ordered that an effort be made to get modern surface to air missiles into Gaza so Hamas can shoot down Israeli warplanes and helicopters. Actually, the shoulder fired missiles have been in Gaza for some time but Israeli aircraft have effective defenses against these missiles. Iran apparently wants to get larger and more effective anti-aircraft systems into Gaza. Iran has not commented on the fact that the Hamas use of rockets this time around has been a complete failure, with only three Israeli civilian (the main target for these rockets) deaths resulting mainly because of the Israeli Iron Dome anti-rocket system.
August 3, 2014: Israel pulled most of its troops out of Gaza.
August 2, 2014: Israel announced that one of its soldiers might have been captured. It later turned out that the soldier had been killed in combat while cut off from other troops.
August 1, 2014: A ceasefire in Gaza collapsed hours after it began when more rockets were fired at Israel.