Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge) Day 24

“Everyone knows someone who has lost a soldier, or has a soldier wounded, or has a soldier in Gaza,” said one Jerusalem resident. Another added, “This hits home when you know a mother who has lost a son in Gaza.”

As of Thursday afternoon, 65 Israeli soldiers have died in this conflict, with over 300 injured. Nearly 1,400 Gazans have been killed, including over 200 Hamas fighters. According to reports, 400,000 Gazans are homeless. Channel 10's military correspondent Alon Ben David said that those driven from their homes are migrating to the wealthier and untouched neighborhoods, knocking on doors, asking for shelter, or food.

Rockets continue to rain down on Israel from Hamas. Most are intercepted by the Iron Dome, some drift through and crash either in open areas, or occasionally land on a house or apartment building usually, but not always, devoid of residents.

But the mortars lobbed into Israel have been exacting a high price. One mortar attack landed in the midst of a group of Israeli soldiers gathered along the border, killing ten, injuring six. Another mortar attacked killed five in a different location. “Mortars are more dangerous than the tunnels,” said one military expert.

Israel is searching for solutions to the mortars, and tunnels, similar to the high-tech answers to Hamas rocket fire like the Iron Dome. Anti-mortar solutions are also in development, ranging from radar-guided radar, to gattling guns. So far none have been battle-tested enough to be put in service. These systems are important, said a military analyst, because of tomorrows threat from Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, not just today's threat from Gaza. Israel has also equipped Merkava tanks with high-tech anti-rocket rockets that have saved many lives. One IDF officer said that Israel also has an answer to the tunnels that would match the Iron Dome, but the system wouldn't be operational at least for another year. Experts point out that many tunnels exist that start in Lebanon and exit in Israel.

Or Heller, a Channel 10 military correspondent, reported today that the Israel army continues to battle with Hamas fighters in various towns along the 60-kilometer length of Gaza, while staying within a two-kilometer range from the border. Analysts say that over 20 of the 32 terrorist tunnels uncovered have been destroyed. “Destroying the tunnels will take time,” said Heller. Reportedly, some of the tunnels descend 35-meters, nearly 10 stories, below ground, and run over two kilometers from Gaza into Israel. Most are at least 45-feet below ground.

The Israel army is busy searching Gaza neighborhoods for the tunnel openings. A number were discovered in the basement of Gaza Mosques. Television scenes show automatic weapons near the tunnel openings in a mosque basement ready for use should Hamas fighters need them.

Many of the tunnel openings are in residential buildings that have been booby-trapped. Fifteen Israeli soldiers walked into such an apartment building without noticing that one wall was packed with explosives. Nine soldiers died when the booby-trap was detonated, five others were taken to hospital in serious condition. Most of the tunnel openings are defended with booby-traps. Usually, but obviously not always, the bombs are discovered. An observer said this is just another example of how Hamas is fighting this battle. One reporter said that buildings housing tunnel openings in the basement are often laden with gasoline. When a sniper fired on Israeli troops from one such building, the entire three story structure blew up.

In another incident shown on Hamas TV a squad of Hamas fighters infiltrated Israel through an underground tunnel, emerging into the fields of a border kibbutz just a few hundred meters from an IDF concrete fortified watchtower manned by raw recruits. The Hamas squad crept unnoticed by the soldiers in the watchtower. Neglecting orders the steel door to the watchtower was wide open. The Hamas soldiers had no trouble engaging the Israeli soldiers, killing four. A fifth fought back, killing a Hamas fighter. The others fled, trying to take an Israeli corpse with them, but gave up and ran. An Israeli Tabor automatic rifle was later shown on Hamas TV as a trophy of the fight.

Wednesday night the Israel air force was less active than the previous nights, only attacking 50 targets rather than the up to 150 the nights before. But the horrific pictures emerging from Gaza were fresh fodder for anti-Israeli feelings. A Sky news correspondent walked through an open-air market in Saujaiyeh reporting that witnesses said an Israeli helicopter strafed the area with machine-gun fire, and then fired a missile into a nearby building. The reporter said the Israelis claimed mortars had been fired from the area and were only returning fire. An IDF air force commander said that no bombs were dropped, or missiles fired until it was clear that no civilians are in the area.

Hamas, according to observers, is reveling in the scenes of destroyed buildings, wounded in their hospitals, and masses carrying bodies in the streets of Gaza. Hamas, say these observers, are using these scenes as weapons, as much as the terror tunnels, mortars, and the fighters sneaking into Israel.

One Italian reporter told the TV that he watched as a Hamas rocket landed in a school, then saw Hamas troops quickly rush in to clean up the debris that would incriminate them. The reporter said he was threatened if he reported the event, and only once on the Israeli side of the fence did he tell what he saw.

Analysts point out that Hamas also prohibits reporters in Gaza from showing scenes of Hamas fighters in anything but heroic situations, like infiltrating Israel through a tunnel. No scenes are ever broadcast of the nearly 200 Hamas fighters captured by the Israeli forces. Or Hamas fighters injured or fleeing from Israeli troops approaching their positions. Hamas fighters fleeing Israeli forces is reportedly a regular occurrence.

Other reports are of Hamas gunning down 20 Gazans that demonstrated in Gaza against Hamas. “Terrorists rule by terror,” said a pundit. “And many of those in Gaza are terrified of saying anything against Hamas. They have even been threatened if they flee their homes where tunnels openings have been drilled in the basement.” Another commentator said, “These people don't talk to the TV cameras. If they did they'd be killed.”

A similar situation exists with the UNRAA schools. So far Israeli troops have found Hamas rockets and weapons in three UNRAA schools. In each event the rockets were returned to Hamas. “The guys who run these schools want to stay alive,” said an observer. “Cooperation is their insurance.” Another analyst pointed out that some of those running the UNRRA schools are Hamas sympathizers.

On Wednesday, Israel declared a 4-hour humanitarian ceasefire but Hamas refused to abide by it claiming they hadn't been asked, and weren't interested in a ceasefire imposed on them by Israel.

Some commentators are critical of the Israeli military for underestimating how long it would take to neutralize the tunnels, originally thinking only a day or two. Other voices have been raised wondering why if the army knew about the tunnel threat, obvious after the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers Gilad Shalit six years ago, nothing was done earlier to destroy them. Defenders of the army say that the cost of destroying the tunnels was something no one wanted to pay until it was necessary.
US Sec. Of State John Kerry has reached out to Qatar and Turkey in an effort to build a coalition in order to reach a ceasefire. The so-called Egyptian initiative is the one citied as the operative plan. Egypt has agreed to host the talks. Both Palestinian Authority representatives, as well as Hamas representatives, are expected to travel to Cairo today. Even Hamas officials from Gaza who have been assured of a safe passage by Israel.

However, observers point out that even if Israel attends, that doesn't mean the Israeli delegation will do more than listen, as they have done in previous meetings. No decisions will be made at these meetings.  Labor Party leader Herzog advised patience. “These talks take time. A lot is being done behind the scenes.”

Still, observers say, Hamas has not yet scored a decisive punch that would justify all the damage to Gaza, and is thus not willing to agree to a ceasefire yet. Especially since the Hamas leadership is safely deep beneath the ground.

Israeli politicians, from PM Netanyahu down, have been stressing that the USA is a firm supporter of Israel and deeply involved in Israel's well-being. This as a way to moderate the ill-feelings in Washington that arose from Israeli press criticism of the way Sec. Kerry was handling the ceasefire negotiations. Today it was announced that the US gave Israel permission to use the stockpile of weapons the US had strategically positioned in Israel. This because Israel's ammunition was dwindling as the conflict dragged on. The US had already agreed to a $250 million allocation to Israel to replace the rockets used in the Iron Dome.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu told a press conference on Thursday that the operation in Gaza would continue until the tunnels were destroyed. Israel is adamant that the soldiers would stay in Gaza until the tunnels were destroyed. Experts believe this may take another week to ten days. Netanyahu's statement was seconded by Moshe Yaalon, Minister of Defense, who said Hamas had suffered greatly from this operation, and was severely weakened.

But for some this is not enough. Gen. (ret.) Uzi Dayan, once head of the Southern Command in charge of Gaza, said that only by sacrificing Israeli soldiers' lives and marching into Gaza city, going down into the bunkers, and killing the Hamas leadership, would Israel insure quiet that would last for more than just a year or two. Similar calls were echoed by Beit Yehudi head Neftali Bennet, and Yoav Shamir of Israel Beitanu.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's problem though is not only from the right-wing of the Israeli political spectrum, but also in the nearly 70 percent approval rating he has from the Israeli population to continue the fight until Hamas' leaders are eliminated. Yitzchak “Bougie” Herzog, leader of the Labor Party, and the opposition in the Knesset, said he was firmly in favor of the operation and the government, stating that this was a time for the country to stand together and 'defend our homes.'

Pundits believe that the fighting will go on for at least another week. TV2's political analyst Aviv Drucker said that the negotiations for a ceasefire were a mess not only because the two sides disagree on terms, but the various participants to the talks, even those from the same side, don't agree even to be in the same room with each other. He was referring to the Egyptians who refuse to speak to Hamas.

Still, the consensus is that a ceasefire will be reached. Israel is hoping the international community will step in and demand Hamas be disarmed. This would obviate the necessity of a further march by Israeli forces deeper into Gaza. Hamas, observers say, will not agree to this since they'd then lose their reason for opposing Israel. Most pundits see the PA's Abbu Mazan as the man to take over the leadership, although they all agree that the PA is too weak to run Gaza, and control Hamas, on its own.

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, said that what is going on in Gaza is a proxy war between “Islamists and authoritarians.” He said this type of war is something that could last for years, and be fought in many other battlefields. Meanwhile it is Israel who is representing the west in the battle against Islamic fundamentalists, and Israeli families who are paying the steep price, along with the simple people of Gaza held hostage by a group willing to sacrifice them as “shahidim” holy warriors.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge) Day 20

A 24-hour “humanitarian” ceasefire might go into effect at 1:00 AM, Monday morning. UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki Moon is reportedly pushing for this option. This will be the sixth ceasefire that has been agreed to. A ceasefire was to have gone into effect at 14:00 on Sunday afternoon, but Hamas continued firing before and after the deadline. What must be remembered, is that Israel has not gone father than 2 kilometers into Gaza. 

As of now, according to Channel 2 TV military correspondent, the situation is "quiet will bring quiet." So that a reduction in firing from both sides is already in place.
Reportedly, Hamas had asked the UN for a ceasefire, then decided to break it when news leaked out they'd asked for it. Hamas is interested in a cease-fire during the Moslem holiday of Idl Fider, that marks the approaching end of Ramadan.

Saturday saw a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire from 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM. Israel tried to extend the cease-fire until midnight, but the entreaty was rejected by Hamas. Over 60 rockets have been fired at Israel since Saturday night, some aimed at Tel Aviv were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile rockets.
Israel's army continues to search and destroy what the Israeli media calls “terror tunnels.” The 32nd tunnel was discovered today stretching 2 ½ kilometers from Gaza under the border fence into Kibbutz Beeri. So far Israel's Channel 10 TV military correspondent Or Heller reports that 16 tunnels have been destroyed, so far. Most analysts say that Israel will not leave Gaza until all the tunnels have been destroyed. Israel has continued, and according to experts will continue to search and destroy the tunnels even during the humanitarian ceasefire.

The death toll continues to climb, on both sides. In Israel 42 soldiers have been killed so far in this conflict, hundreds injured, 51 still in the hospital. Three civilians have also been killed. The Gazans suffered far worse, mainly, according to analysts, because Hamas has been using civilians as human shields. The Gazan death toll has climbed to 1050, including nearly 300 armed Hamas fighters, with nearly 2,000 wounded.

Saturday was the first time the Israeli army allowed reporters to accompany IDF forces. The pictures sent back were or devastation that looked like Berlin after a bombing raid by the Allies in WWII. Alon Ben David, also a military analyst for Channel 10, said that the IDF is no longer taking chances. So far Israeli soldiers have been killed by entire homes rigged as booby-traps.

Some Israeli soldiers died in such booby-traps. Israel now calls in the air force to destroy the building, or the tanks to send in heavy rounds. The TV footage shows such buildings, three floors and stretching nearly a city block, blowing up with the extreme force caused by the bombs waiting inside for the Israeli soldiers. “One house was like a gas tanker,” said Ben David. When it was bombed, the explosion rocked the neighborhood.

The Paris meeting called by US Sec. Of State John Kerry last Friday created a stir in Israel. According to the reports, Kerry accepted all of the proposals put forward by Hamas' leader Khaled Mashal for a peace accord, effectively throwing US support behind Hamas while ignoring Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. He also agreed to donate billions of dollars to solve the problems of Gaza. According to Channel 2 TV's political analysts Amnon Rabinovitch, “He's an idealists, a real idealist, but he's a nerd. He doesn't get what's going on here.”

Kerry reportedly also agreed to the Hamas demands for a sea port, leaving the tunnels in place, opening borders, and deal with “security issues,” without mentioned Israel. Kerry's support of Hamas came about the same time that a Pentagon official came out in favor of leaving Hamas in place. Michael Flynn, outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a high-level security conference in Aspen, Colorado, that what may replace Hamas may be an even more radical Islamist Fundamentalist group.

The snub of the Palestinian Authority has left PA leader Machmud Abbas fuming, according to press reports. The Palestinian Authority today issued a sharp rebuttal to Kerry's plan saying only Egypt can be the broker for a peace agreement.

Military commentator Gen. (res.) Danny Rubenstein said that Israel and the west now have a golden opportunity to form an alliance with the moderate Arab states. Kerry's move, analysts say, has closed the door on a chance to not only replace Hamas but forge a new alliance with these moderate countries. Analysts say this was a confusing move since Kerry has proven to be a true friend of Israel.
Hamas has also called on Palestinians in the West Bank to join in the fight. Nearly 30,000 marched on the Qalandia crossing point into Jerusalem on Friday night. A fight ensued in which one Palestinian was killed, and 12 Israeli policemen wounded. It was also the first time that the Palestinians used live ammunition since the second Intifada. Over 300 spent cartridges were found on the ground after the demonstration.

A potential disaster was also averted when an alert border guard stuck his head into a suspicious vehicle at the crossing from the West Bank into Israel at the Betar Ilit crossing. The guard noticed gas balloons with electric wires attached to it. The guard pulled his weapon and arrested the Palestinian. The gas balloons were attached to explosives that could have done deadly damage had the car reached a civilian population.

Rumors are also circulating that Palestinian units are cruising Jerusalem looking for a candidate to kidnap. Reportedly two attempts were averted.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a series of interviews on American TV stressing the point that only Egypt's involvement can bring a ceasefire. While the Israeli cabinet meets to discuss another ceasefire, commentators are calling for Israel to continue the attacks until Hamas has been so weakened it will surrender. However, Gen. Farkash, former head of military intelligence, says that Hamas' leadership doesn't have to be confronted and destroyed. By turning the power over to the Palestinian Authority Hamas will be effectively made irrelevant, or at the least be forced to go underground. All that is left is to convince Sec. Of State Kerry that this is the best option.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge) Day 17

“Hamas planned for a fight to last six weeks,” said Or Heller, military correspondent of Israel’s Channel 2 tv news. Channel 10 tv News at Five moderator Rafi Reshef said that neither Khaled Mashal, nor Hamas military leader Mohammed Def, are interested in a cease-fire. This as the body count increases daily. Palestinians say that so far 780 Gazans have died in this conflict. Israel says over 200 were Hamas fighters. So far nearly 2,000 Gazans have been injured.

CNN reported that 10-15 Gazans were killed when a UN school was attacked. It is unclear if the attack was by an errant Hamas missile aimed at Israel, or an IDF artillery shell. “If you notice, as I did today,” said one of Channel 10’s commentators, “CNN and others only show destroyed buildings and bodies of injured as they tag along with the UN. No where do you see Hamas fighters. No where do you see a Hamas weapon, not a rifle, not a RPG, nothing.” He pointed out that reporting in Gaza run by a terrorist organization did not produce a balanced view.

Thursday, Israel buried four more soldiers killed in battle. So far 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed, and one is missing in action, presumed dead, although Hamas claims he is a prisoner. Most military analysts say that the APC he was in that was destroyed by an RPG ignited a veritable ammunition depot inside the APC. The odds of anyone surviving the blast were negligible. Over fifty Israeli soldiers are in the hospital, four in grave condition. A farm worker from Thailand was also buried after he was hit by a motor while working on an Israeli farm along the Gaza border.

US Sec. of State John Kerry was in the region trying to kick-start a cease-fire, shuttling between Israel and Cairo, so far to no effect. Kerry has proposed a five-day “humanitarian” cease-fire, that would allow Hamas to collect their wounded and dead, bring in medical supplies, and attend to other civic matters.

So far Hamas has rejected these entreaties, demanding that first the ‘siege’ of Gaza be lifted. That the borders with Egypt and Israel are opened, a sea-port is opened, an airport is opened, the disarmament of the Israeli army, and other unlikely developments Israel would never agree to. Of course, said one commentator, Hamas does not point out that the borders were closed because in order to prevent Hamas suicide bombers from once again flowing into Israel, setting off bombs on buses, and in crowded markets.

But a cease-fire in Gaza seems a distant dream, said one analyst. When Prime Minister Netanyahu met Thursday with Britain’s Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, who was visiting Israel, no mention was made of a cease-fire. Reportedly, Hamas chief Mashal is enjoying the attention he is receiving from world leaders.

Alon Ben-David, Channel 10’s military correspondent said that Hamas is no where near a surrender. Hamas’ military commander Mohamed Def still considers his forces strong and ready to keep fighting. While one of the five Hamas brigades appears to have been severely curtailed, said Ben David, the other four are still actively operating in Gaza. In one pincer attack in the northern part of Gaza 150 Gazans, among them Hamas fighters, were surrounded by the IDF, and surrendered. In another area two Hamas fighters came out of hiding waving a white flag. Something, Ben David said, had never happened before.

Channel 2 tv News’ Or Heller reported that so far Israel has seized 31 tunnels, and destroyed 11. Many ran from Gaza under the fence right into Israel. More tunnels are still undiscovered, and the IDF, according to Heller, needs another week or two to find them, and destroy them. Simply finding a tunnel is not enough, he said. The IDF intelligence unit needs time to search the tunnels. so far maps and other information have been found, and the engineering unit needs time to rig and destroy the tunnels.

Given Hamas’ stubbornness to agree to a ceasefire, the Israeli government, according to these analysts, are no longer ready to agree to a cease-fire at any cost. The tunnels must first be destroyed, and then the cease-fire. However, Alon Ben David reported that little by little the IDF is also seeking other objectives than the tunnels. He did not go into details. He did say, however, that Hamas resistance, at least in one sector, has been significantly eliminated.  

Hamas continues to fire rockets. Ben David said,however, that the number has decreased slightly from a hundred plus a day to about 80. Sirens sounded across the Tel Aviv area last night and today. Analysts say that Hamas is aiming for Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, or the environs. FAA rules state that any attack within 2 miles of an airport requires an automatic ban on that airport. Ben Gurion was shuttered for 36-hours, stranding thousands of passengers, but reopened Thursday morning. Another Hamas rocket near the airport would shut down Ben Gurion again, causing the cancellation of hundred of flights. Hamas looks at the closure of the airport as a major achievement.

Farms and towns along the Gaza border are still peppered with short-range mortars, although the number has fallen off significantly, as the IDF destroys tunnels and drives the Hamas fighters away from the border.

According to observers, Hamas is still using the Gaza population as human shields, taking up positions in hospitals and school and apartment buildings, firing rockets, RPGs and machine guns at the IDF forces. The Israel army tries to clear the area of civilians before responding. One observer pointed out that in a war zone mistakes are made.  These mistakes are what makes headlines and provide Hamas with public relations successes, said the observer. He added that not all the civilian casualties are mistakes. Hamas has ordered civilians to stay in positions that the military wing are using to fire on Israeli forces. These human shields become unfortunate victims of a cold hearted Hamas strategy.

Pundits say that international pressure is mounting on Israel to stop the fighting, but Hamas, they say, seems quite content to carry on and ignore any calls for a cease-fire. Given that situation, Israel, they say, will continue to fight, destroy what they call “terrorist tunnels” and hope to put a stop to Hamas’ actions.

A large-scale invasion of Gaza is not on the agenda, say the analysts. That would require a massive call up of reserve soldiers, something that has not happened. Only this call-up, and a prolonged bloody war, would break the back of Hamas.

What Israel is hoping for, according to the observers, is that the international community will recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization that cannot be trusted to keep a lasting peace. That’s why, say the pundits, the PA’s Abu Mazen (Mohamed Abbas) is seen as the man of the hour. He will hopefully be given control of Gaza, and responsibility for any money donated by the international community to rebuild the war-torn neighborhoods. And possibly disarm Hamas in the process.

Shimon Peres stepped down as President of Israel Thursday night after his seven-year term ended. The 91-year old was replaced by Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, 74, in a modest ceremony at Israel’s Knesset. The event was kept to a minimum in respect to those who lost their lives, were wounded, or are still fighting Hamas in the Gaza.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge) Day 16 Special Report

“Khaled Mashal, head of Hamas, is the problem,” said Israel’s Justice Minister Tzip Livni, speaking to a group of Conservative Rabbis from the USA visiting congregation Yair Ramot in Jerusalem.

Justice Minister Livni, who is also a member of Israel’s security cabinet, said that Mashal, who lives in luxury in Qatar, feels suddenly like “Allah” (God) with the world coming to him begging for a cease-fire. Mashal feels in control of the situation and has made impossible demands. “He wants to turn Gaza into Hamastan, with their own airport, sea port, and open borders with Egypt and Israel. Something that will never happen,” Said Livni.

When asked what she would tell US Sec. of State John Kerry when she meets with him in Jerusalem during his impending visit she said, “I’ll tell him to force Qatar to expel Khaled Mashal from Qatar.” She went on to say that the US should use its power to pressure Qatar until this is accomplished. Mashal is the problem, Livni said.

She also said that the PA’s Abu Mazen (Mohamed Abbas) is ready to broker a cease-fire but Mashal consistently denies the entreaties. Livni said the situation in extremely delicate. Abbas is under pressure from his own people as the death toll of Palestinians mounts. She also said that the PA had “given up” armed struggle and is now looking for a way to establish a lasting peace.

One audience member speculated that Kerry was also behind the FAA decision to cancel flights to and from Israel. “This was his finger wagging at Israel for not including him in the negotiations,” the source said. The source pointed out that just a few days earlier the US State Department had issued a warning to US citizens against traveling to Israel. The source, in the tourist business, said that potential tourists have cancelled because of the US State Department warning. “We’re not insured if we come, because of the warning,” the source said he’d been told by tourists who had cancelled their trips to Israel. He lamented that he’d had to return $120,000 to those who had pre-booked trips with him, adding, “And we’re a small agency. Imagine what’s going on with the big boys.” He also said he stood to lose the taxes he’d paid on the money as if there were income.

Meanwhile, unrest has begun in the West Bank and other areas where Palestinians live, including East Jerusalem. Israeli forces have been confronting protests in Hebron, East Jerusalem and other places. Molotov cocktails and rocks were hurled at cars traveling along route 443 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Analysts believe the longer the hostilities continue in Gaza the more Israel will witness demonstrations against operation Tzuk Eytan, both from Palestinians and anti-war Israelis.

Unofficial reports state that nearly 80,000 Israeli soldiers are now active in the Gaza strip. Should Hamas not agree to a cease-fire and continue firing rockets at Israel, the Israeli forces will expand their objectives with the demolition of Hamas’ leadership an obvious target.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge) Day 15

The EU (European Union) foreign minister called for Hamas to be disarmed. Commentators say this is as a result of the EU and other countries reaching the conclusion that Hamas is the root of the crises.

The FAA issued an ordered to cancel flights to Israel for at least 24-hours. Reportedly, the FAA is concerned that terrorists may fire at airliners taking off or landing in Israel. European countries quickly followed suit. Israel’s national airlines EL, and other Israeli airlines continued flying. Pundits also pointed out that these airlines are constantly considered potential terrorist targets and are equipped with anti-missile technology similar to that found in military aircraft. Other commentators have called the FAA decision "sily." The head of Israel's airports told Israel Radio's Reshet Bet this morning that the FAA decision "hasty," and added that he wasn't about to criticize the FAA in a public forum

Former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg has criticized the FAA decision and announced he is flying to Israel today.

At least 29 Israeli soldiers have been killed, as well as two civilians since Hamas began shelling Israel fifteen days ago. One Israeli soldier is reportedly missing, presumed dead, after the APC he was traveling in was attacked. Seven other Israeli soldiers were killed in that battle. Two American immigrants were among the soldiers killed.

Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel. One landed directly on a private house in the central Israeli town of Yehud, not far from Tel Aviv. Sirens sounded throughout the day in Israeli farms and villages along the Gaza border. Yehud is also close to Israel's Ben Gurion airport.

Israel responded with artillery and air attacks, as well as ground actions. So far Israel claims they have taken out 3,000 targets on their list, eliminated nearly 30 tunnels, many of which reached under the fence from Gaza into Israel, and destroyed nearly 50 tunnel openings, from which Hamas fighters emerge, fire rockets, and retreat back underground. Some military commentators say that the major battlefield will be underground in the future.

A days-long “Humanitarian cease-fire” was to have begun at 10:00 AM on Tuesday, that was to give time to work out the terms for a lasting cease-fire, but Hamas refused to accept the terms brokered between Khaled Mashal, Hamas CEO, and Egypt’s representative, with the Palestinian Authorities Mohamed Abbas acting as a go between since Egypt considers Hamas a mortal enemy.

Open borders to Egypt. Release Hamas prisoners held by Israel. These are only two of the demands Hamas made before they’d agree to a ceasefire brokered by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representative of Egypt’s President Al-Sissi.

US Sec. of State John Kerry also flew in to participate in the talks, although he was not invited. Kerry has succeeded in antagonizing both the Egyptians and Israelis with statements considered unhelpful.

However, Kerry pledged $47 million in aid to Gaza as an incentive to get Hamas to join a cease-fire. Egypt offered to leave the Gaza/Egypt border open for a year if Hamas agreed to a cease-fire. That border has been sealed since Moslem Brotherhood candidate Morsi was ousted from his role as President of Egypt.

Security analysts say that Israel  closed the Gaza/Israel border as a result of Hamas suicide bombers coming freely through the border to Israel. Since the border was closed, and the security fences errected, suicide bombers have been unable to enter Israel.

In a press conference with the UN Sec.Gen Ban, Israel PM Netanyahu reminded the UN leader that Israel has accepted every cease-fire proposal put on the table since the conflict began and Hamas has consistently rejected them.Ban, in his statement, said, “Stop fighting, start talking.” He also said, “The situation cannot return to the status quo.There is no alternative but a two-state solution.” Analysts say that Ban Ki-Moon realized that Hamas had to be dismantled. This as the death toll in Gaza rose to 400 civilians and 200 Hamas fighters.

PM Netanyahu said, “Hamas is like ISIS, …and other Islamist groups (like those that kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls in Africa)  that reject human rights.”  He said the international community should hold Hamas accountable for double war crimes, holding its own people as human shields, and firing on Israel. Netanyahu said this is a phenomenon that affects not only Israel but the world. And that “We will do what we need to do to defend ourselves.”

Funerals took place across Israel again on Tuesday as soldiers who fell in battle were laid to rest. Israel is such a small country that everyone knows someone with a soldier in the army, in the hospital, or wrapped in a shroud.

Commentators point out that Hamas is managing a very successful public relations campaign. Photographers and journalists are heavily censored. Only footage of damaged buildings, homeless civilians, wounded women and children are allowed to be broadcast. One Arab newspaper commented cynically that it appeared only women and children were fighting in the war since no men, certainly no men in uniform or with weapons, are shown in any pictures. Even though Hamas claims over 150 of their fighters have been killed so far in the conflict.

Images of children in hospitals, or in ambulances, are plentiful. As are interviews with Gazans calling for a cessation of Israel’s attacks. One Arab journalist reported from Gaza that the citizens were under siege, and have been for seven years, by Israel on one side and now Egypt on the other.

There is no mention to Israel’s border crossing that has always allowed shipments of food, clothing, medicine and building supplies into the Gaza strip, even if the cement went to build tunnels not homes, offices, or schools.

Israel also controls most of the electricity and water going into Gaza. Neither of these have been cut off. Netanyahu, in his statement to the UN Sec. Gen, reminded him that Israel even opened up a field hospital on the Gaza border to treat Gaza citizens.

Israel’s ground forces continue the search for tunnels. On Monday a group of ten Hamas terrorists emerged from a tunnel, were spotted, and eliminated by a rocket fired from an Israeli helicopter. However the fighting in the densely populated Gaza strip is often man to man. Hamas has also deployed snipers, laid booby-traps, and scurry around with Rocket Propelled Grenades that are fired at slow moving vehicles or Israeli troops deployed in apartments.

The images of the mounting death toll in Gaza has brought about the call for an immediate cease-fire. But those images, according to experts, are exactly what Hamas wants in order to be able to point and yell “massacre” and thus illicit sympathy from the world. Analysts say that seldom do observers from the BBC or even the usually even-handed Sky channel, now with an Arabic speaking woman of apparent Moslem extraction, broadcasting the Hamas side of the story. Pundit point out that any reporter in Gaza caught criticizing the regime risks being ejected, or killed.

A blog entry from a well-meaning American, committed to the existence of Israel, but distressed by the mounting body count among Gaza citizens, was posted recently on the web. One of this persons questions was, what happened to Hezbollah? Where were they? Why weren’t they firing their 30,000 rockets. And Israel must stop the carnage.

Another blogger answered:

Hezbollah has an estimated 100,000 rockets.

They are holding their fire because they simply aren't in Lebanon. They're in Syria fighting with Assad's men.

If they were on the border with Israel we'd be in trouble because there aren't enough Iron Dome anti-missile batteries to go around.
Only one front at a time. Luckily there are enough for the south. Israel needs 23 batteries for all three fronts, Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan. So far they only have 9.

Civilian casualties are horrendous. Deplorable. Painful. Israel sent flyers to warn the residents. Then Hamas demanded that everyone stay. As one commentator says, Hamas' leadership is safely underground. Those above ground are treated as Shaiidim, holy fighters who if they die go to heaven, with or without the 72 virgins. Some of these guys in shots in the street will,if they go to heaven and meet 72 virgins, someone better supply them with a case of viagra.

Gaza is the most densely populated area in the world. No way Israel can fight there without people getting hurt, and killed. Including Jews.

Today you may have noticed that 10 terrorists emerged from a tunnel near kibbutz Yad Mordecai, intent on carrying out an attack. Lucky for Israel they were spotted. And killed. Yesterday another group blew up a jeep and killed a few Israelis before rushing back to the tunnels. They meant to kidnap someone. Again, luckily they failed.

So what do you do? Let them continue this terrorism or stop them? Remember that every year or so they start a thunderstorm of rockets on Israel. This time they were surprised that the Iron Dome actually worked and neutralized the threat. But those farmers along the Gaza border have been getting hit by rockets for the last year, a few a week. Would Obama stand for allowing Mexico to send rockets at California?

When Syria decided to go to war with the rebels they were brutal. So far over 150,000 killed. Al Sisi in Egypt overthrew the Moslem Brotherhood (remember one of the big shots of the Moslem Brotherhood, Zarwahari, broke off and formed Al Quada with Bin Laden), locked up the leaders and killed nearly 700 others. Just like that.

Israel is held to, and holds itself to, a higher standard. Everyone on the TV from the most right-wing to the most liberal, abhors the killing of innocent civilians. But tell that to Hamas. They won't stop firing rockets. More fell today in Tel Aviv, luckily again, intercepted by this wonder of engineering the Iron Dome. And if the Iron Dome wasn't there? So far they've fired a few thousands rockets. Imagine if they hit their targets. You'd have dead Jews lining the streets, and corridors of hospitals. Do you think Hamas would care that the UN complained about the tragic loss of civilian life?

Tough situation. Can't quit. And get blamed for fighting.

You have a solution to the problem let’s hear it. One that doesn't factor in that in a year or less Hamas will be back shooting rockets, sending in suicide bomb squads, trying to kidnap soldiers or civilians.

Wish there was an easy answer.

And remember this, as well, the civilian population supports Hamas. The idea of Hamas. That the unbelievers must die.

Go figure.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tzuk Eytan Day 13

13 Israeli soldiers were killed overnight in Gaza, bringing the number of soldiers that were killed in Tzuk Eytan to 18. Two civilians were also killed by rocket fire. Nearly 50 soldiers have been injured. Israeli sources estimate that over 120 Hamas fighters have been killed in the fighting, and 34 tunnels destroyed, one that actually went under the border fence and entered an Israeli kibbutz along the Gaza/Israel border.

The Golani brigade soldiers were killed during a midnight to dawn i battle of Sajiiyah, a city of 150,000 people packed tightly together. 7 of the soldiers were killed at 1:05 am when their Armored Personal Carrier ran over a mine, at 1:20 am 3 when their forces were fired upon by a RPG rocket while taking shelter in an apartment in Gaza, at about 1:30 am 2 in nearly hand-to-hand-combat. One was reportedly killed by friendly fire. Sajaiyah has been a base of attacks against Israel for years.

The Colonel in charge of the Golani Brigade was also injured in the fighting overnight, and was taken with serious injury to Saroka hospital in Beer Sheva. His condition improved and like a Hollywood movie he demanded to rejoin his troops. He is expected back in Gaza this evening.

Israel’s transport minister Yisrael Katz said in an interview that Hamas actually fired mortars onto their own population in order to hit Israeli forces in Gaza. “They are not using their people as human shields, they’re simply ignoring that their people are there when firing on Israel.”

Israel Chief-of-Staff Ganz told an impromptu news conference on the Gaza border that Israel was doing something no other country ever did, sending flyers, making phone calls, sending SMS messages, and other means, warning Gaza residents that an attack is forthcoming. All this in order to prevent injury to innocent civilians. Even so over 400 Gazans have been killed in the fighting.

Chief-of-Staff Ganz made it clear in his answer to journalists that Hamas used all its wealth, whatever that was, not to build factories, hospitals, schools, or develop industry, but to use the cement and rebar to build tunnels and the other money to buy missiles to make war. 

Ganz said that some days in battle are harder some easier. Military experts say that in Sajiiyah the outer ring of resistance is the thickest, the most prepared. Hamas had been warned that Israel is about to invade. They prepared snipers, booby-traps, fighters in tunnels, awaiting the Israeli troops. Once this thick outer ring is breached, the next layer of resistance is expected to be less difficult to overcome.

Israel TV Channel 2’s military correspondent Ronny Daniel said that the only way to prevent another attack on Israel is to continue the fight and take out the Hamas leadership. Prof. Guy Bahar of Haifa University told Channel 10 that when Israel goes public and says they are not after the Hamas leadership that leadership feels protected and safe. Israel has no option but to go after this leadership.

The IDF also lost two fighters who were driving along the Israeli/Gaza border on the Israeli side in an unprotected Jeep when they were fired upon by a group of Hamas fighters from the Gaza side using an RPG. Maj. Greenberg, 45, a reserve soldier, and his driver were killed. The IDF immediately opened fire on the group, killing one, the rest fled back into a tunnel. The terrorist group apparently  planned to kidnap  an Israeli soldier. This became clear by the equipment they left behind, sedatives, needles, drugs, and handcuffs. One of Israel’s fears is that Hamas will repeat a kidnapping of GIlad Shalit and drag out negotiations for release for years, all the while trapping attention and headlines.

Lately, voices have been heard to allow Qatar to become a broker for a ceasefire, since Hamas refuses to allow Egypt to participate. Qatar also has the economic ability to rebuild Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations took place in Turkey, Los Angeles, and other cities, in support of Hamas. One of Israel’s Haaretz correspondent has always considered himself the voice of high moral authority, reminding Israel of the mistreatment of the Arab community. One pundit commented that if a commentator is disliked by his fellow country men and loved by his county’s enemies, which side was he on?

Chief-of-Staff Ganz said that the fight would go on. Hamas continues to fire rockets. Sirens go off, even in Tel Aviv and Beer Sheva. In the quiet suburb of Modiin a boom was heard as a Hamas rocket landed somewhere near Tel Aviv. The fighting goes on.More tunnels are destroyed. The Israeli objectives seems to be expanding, perhaps to reach the Hamas leadership. Pundits say that the fighting is to continue for several days.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge) Day 11

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge) Day 11

One Israeli soldier was killed and two lightly injured, probably by friendly fire, when Israel invaded the Gaza strip at approximately 10:00 Thursday night. According to most experts, Israel was drawn into this war by Hamas continuing to ignore the cease-fire. Thus Israel was drawn into a 'limited' incursion in Gaza.

“The easy part iOS over,” said Alon Ben David, military correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10 TV, summarizing the first day of Israel’s land assault on Gaza. According to Ben David Israel has encountered and killed fifteen armed Hamas fighters, and destroyed approximately 10 underground tunnels. “But the hard days are ahead.”

Most analysts say that Hamas fighters were underground in their bunkers when the Israel Defense Forces entered the Hamas controlled Gaza strip on two fronts, both from the north, and from the south. Reportedly approximately 18,000 Hamas fighters came out of the bunkers at first light and began engaging the IDF, rising up like “mushrooms after a rain.”

Commentators say that Israel is taking extreme precautions not to harm innocent civilians. However, according to Ben David, many Gaza residents refused to evacuate the areas the IDF entered, even though they were warned in advance about the invasion. “They’re afraid to leave their homes hoping that if they stay the homes won’t be destroyed.” A dangerous risk, analysts say.

Hamas has yet to stop firing their rockets into Israel, approximately 160 a day. More were fired at Tel Aviv in the afternoon, but caused no injury or damage. Most of the most dangerous are intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Most pundits say that destroying the  all the missiles and their launchers before a cease-fire is declared is highly unlikely.

Israel’s cabinet met on Friday and decided that the incursion into Gaza would end within ten days.
The objectives, according to pundits, is to enter only a few kilometers from the Israeli border, search for and destroy tunnels that can be used to infiltrate Israel, or hide and then fire missiles, and pull out. Israel has made clear there is no interest in unseating Hamas from their position of authority in Gaza.

However, there are those who believe that the IDF may also lose patience with Hamas’ continuing to fire missiles into Israel, and ignore calls for a cease-fire,  and take down the leadership, allowing Mohamad Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, to assume control of Gaza. In 2011 the PA competed for control of Gaza with Hamas. The PA was soundly defeated, not only in the polls, but also physically. Hamas operatives literally tossed PA representatives off  the roofs of high-rise buildings. Or raided apartments of PA supporters and assassinated them.

Ben David said that Israel is also not interested in risking the lives of the soldiers in this limited operation. Israel’s army is much more organized in this incursion than in that a year and a half ago. They are aware of the dangers lurking in each apartment and around each corner and take the necessary counter-measures. Still, the fighting takes place in urban areas where identifying the enemy from a fellow soldiers is not always easy. “Careful, careful, careful,” a former general said, “is the order of the day.”

Diplomatic measures are on-going. One analyst said that the conflict has to be viewed in a broader perspective. “The is a fight between those who want a Moslem Caliphate running the Middle East, and those against.”  Saudia Arabia and Egypt are against, but the Moslem Brotherhood, Qatar, ISIS, and Iran, supported by Turkey, are in favor.

Israel is fighting against only one of the clients of this pro-caliphate movement. (Caliphates want an Islamic ruler functioning according to Sharia law to control all of the middle east. Essentially a Moslem dictator.) The Saudis, according to experts, have warned Qatar not to transfer money to Hamas.

In June 2013 the 33-yr old leader of Qatar, Crown Prince Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, overthrew his anti-Caliphate father, Qatar’s Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, 61, and has since been a pillar of support for Hamas. Qatar is also the financial backer of Al Jazerra, the Arab news stationIn June 2013 The leader of Qatar, Crown Prince Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, overthrew his anti-Caliphate father, Qatar’s Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, 61, and has since been a pillar of support for Hamas. Qatar is also the financial backer of Al Jazerra, the Arab news station.

The downing of the Malaysian airlines and the nearly 250 people aboard, stole the headlines from the Gaza fighting. With one missile terrorists managed to murder more people than died in the eleven days Israel has been fighting Hamas in Gaza.

Israelis are nervous. Nearly everyone knows of a family with a son in the army, either in Gaza or ready to go in.

So far no Iron Dome system has been discovered to detect the tunnels. Once that happens, in tandem with the Iron Dome,  the main weapons of  terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah will be neutralized. So far that hasn’t happened.The goal of terrorists goal is to invoke terror. Sending millions of Israelis into bomb shelters is an accomplishment, but as long as none of the missiles strike a rich target, or the  incursions by tunnels, or the  armed drones continue to fail, this entire exercise was a big waste for Hamas. One can only hope this failure will be the precursor to their disappearance from Gaza.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge) Day 8

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge) Day 8

One Israeli died from a Hamas mortar attack at the Erez crossing near Gaza while passing out food to the soldiers. He was the first Israeli casualty in the conflict. Another young girl is still in critical condition from a different attack.
Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel even though an Egyptian sponsored ceasefire was agreed upon by Israel. However the cease-fire was only one sided. Hamas fired 113 rockets since Israel agreed to a cease-fire at 9:00 am, 24 shot down by the Iron Dome.

But  one Hamas rocket reached as far as Zichron Yaacov near Haifa, and sirens were also heard in Tel Aviv. Sirens were also heard in the area around Jerusalem, the Jerusalem hills, and Beit Shemesh. A house in Rishon LeZion was hit, and severe damage caused to the surrounding area. Luckily no one was home.

Analysts say that Hamas was livid that the Egyptians offered Israel a cease-fire without consulting anyone in Hamas. Ehud Yaari, Arab affairs correspondent for Channel 2 TV news, said that his Hamas contacts were so angry at Egypt one even slammed down the phone on him during a conversation, something he never did in the past. This anger was reportedly the reason for the heavy barrage of rockets Hamas sent at Israel. Analysts say this was Hamas’ way of telling the Egyptians they were out of line. Hamas reportedly wants Turkey and Qatar as the brokers in the cease-fire. Still, most pundits feel that this round of hostilities should end within a day or two.

However, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman, of the right-wing Israeli Beitanu party, has openly criticized PM Netanyahu for his moderate approach to the conflict. Leiberman went on TV and demanded that Israel send troops into Gaza and fight Hamas until the last missile is destroyed and Hamas is dismantled. Some Israeli commentators said that this type of criticism of an Israeli Prime Minister during a war is unheard of. Usually the politicians of the various spots on the spectrum present a unified front during a conflict. Other commentators pointed out that Netanyahu may be drifting towards the center politically, much as the late former PM Ariel Sharon did when he decided to pull out of the Gaza settlements.

israel TV’s Channel 2 military correspondent Ronny Daniel is still calling for an invasion of Gaza by Israeli troops, but not to occupy Gaza, just to find the tunnels that where the rockets are hidden, and find the  leaders, if possible, and at least arrest them.

The other channels, radio shows, and newspapers were filled with chatter about the brief cease-fire and what it meant for the future

Essentially, the consensus is that the last week was pretty much a repeat of what happened in the other two battles with Hamas, the latest only a year-and-a-half ago. US President Obama is calling for a cease-fire abiding by the agreement of that last conflict in 2012. However, Hamas never fully respected that cease-fire.

As one commentator said, “They shoot, we shoot, people die, are injured, some third party steps in, we stop shooting, they stop shooting, until the next time.”

Most pundits agree that cleaning out Hamas is not on the agenda. Israel's political establishment is too worried about what comes instead. Most analysts say when one group, like Hamas is unseated, a more radical alternative takes their place. So the politicians and tacticians have decided to leave Hamas in power. 

Had the other option been taken, a ground invasion of Gaza, most military analysts say this would have taken months, perhaps a year, to ferret out each missile silo, clear out the Hamas underground city, take down the leadership, and let Abbas take over. All of this would have meant the sad sight of Israeli boys brought out of Gaza in body bags.

One observer  wondered where former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had been during this entire time, and then a brief clip on the news mentioned that Barak was Netanyahu's chief military strategist during this Protective Edge conflict. Barak withdrew from active political life and has apparently refused to grant interviews or appear on any talk shows. Some commentators were surprised to see he was still in the country, and more surprised to see he was Bibi's main brain in this latest conflict. 

During his tenure, Barak never wanted to go up against the Arabs, not in Gaza, and not in Lebanon. He was, according to reports, brought kicking and screaming into the Gaza invasion. So perhaps  Martin Indyk was right when he said that amassing Israeli troops on the Gaza border was a bluff, especially if Barak was designing the moves. Barak knew that the body count would be high, and at the end have no different result than that reached without going into Gaza.

Hamas has publicly announced they are waiting patiently for the Israeli troops to invade. Hamas TV informercials show Hamas snipers hiding, and picking off Israeli troops. Reportedly Hamas  has rigged the ground with booby-traps, manning the rooftops and apartment buildings with snipers. One source in the Prime Minister's office confirmed that the booby-traps and other dastardly surprises were in place awaiting hapless Israeli soldiers. 

As if to underline this statement, the source pointed out that the Israeli commando team that two days ago destroyed a Hamas missile silo hidden amid a civilian population was caught in such a trap. Proof of the trap being sprung was that four commandos were injured. Had the mission gone unhindered, as many of these Israeli commando missions do, the public would never have known a mission ever took place.

Was this a scouting mission as well, to test the ground and see what Hamas had in store? Perhaps that was another reason to accept the cease-fire and keep the Israeli soldiers from becoming mince-meat.

Another military analyst said on the Orly and Guy morning talk  show on Channel 10 TV that the conflict wasn't between Israel and Hamas, or even between the West and Islam, but rather between Islam and the Arab people. Once the moderate Arab population rises up and opposes the radicals than these kinds of conflicts will cease. He mentioned the countries like Kenya, Chechnya, Iraq, Syria, and others all suffering under fundamentalist attacks. It was up to the Arab nations, he said, to stop them.

This analyst, a Lt. Col in the army reserves, said that the mostly secular Palestinian Authority  could be the solution once they are allowed a freer hand in Gaza. Ehud Yaari expects that the PA will be given much more power in Gaza once the fighting stops. “The days of Hamas ruling Gaza alone are over,” Yaari said. Like other commentators Yaari says that Hamas has little support in the Arab world. And that none of the Hamas hail-Mary plays to take out a major Israeli target, or succeed in a daring raid, have succeeded. The next moves seem to be to strengthen Abbas' hand. Will that be included in the cease-fire? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, a Ynet on-line news story (,7340,L-4543634,00.html)  detailed what is supposed to be the fortunes Hamas leaders have amassed. Ismail Haniyeh  Hamas’ leader in Gaza recently built a $4 million home for himself, and similar mansions for his children. Khaled Mashal, Hamas CEO, now sits in Qatar where he reportedly has nearly $3 billion stashed. Not all of it Hamas money. Ynet claims that Hamas Gaza chief Haniyeh gets a 20 percent cut on all goods smuggled through the tunnels in Gaza, and he and his cronies rake in millions hiking up the price of cheap Egyptian oil, selling it for eight times the price in Gaza. Maybe the solution is to start bombing the mansions of the Hamas leadership and leave the simple folks alone.

According to Professor Ahmed Karima of Al-Azhar University in Egypt, there are no less than 1,200 millionaires in Hamas, while nearly 40 percent of Gazan live in dire poverty. Perhaps this wealth is one of the reasons Hamas’ leadership is so stubbornly holding onto power, hiding in their shelters while the simple Gazans are stuck out in the open on the receiving end of Israel’s military response to the Hamas rocket fire. Perhaps one day soon these simple people will say, enough. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Shield) Day 6

Y slept on the floor beside his wife in his ‘secure room’ for the second consecutive night, his two children, one three and one just a year old, each nearby in their own beds. Y and his family live in a quiet suburb near Tel Aviv, but the sirens had sounded three times in twelve hours. A siren even sounded on the way home from work in Tel Aviv Y had to get off the bus with the other commuters and find shelter.

S was in from New Jersey visiting her two daughters who had moved to Israel. Her plane had to circle Ben Gurion airport for an hour while the pilot waited for an all clear to land because missiles were falling in the area around the airport. Unaccustomed to the sounds of sirens except for ambulances and fire engines in her American suburb, S quickly became as anxious as a deer near a burning forest. She even made her children nervous.

Day six of TZuk Eytan, Protective Edge, was no quieter than the other five days. So far, over the last six days, nearly 800 rockets had been fired by Hamas, or Islamic Jihad, from Gaza towards Israel. 165 times the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system was deployed, intercepting any missile that might have landed in a populated area.

The Iron Dome was a marvel of engineering. The system, computerized, coordinated with a satellite, recognized the instant a rocket was fired from Gaza, calculated the trajectory, and deployed if the system determined the missile would land in an populated area. No country in the world possessed a system like this, one that essentially neutralized the threat of Gaza rockets.
According to reserve General Danny Yatom, the Rafael military industry would have buyers lined up to purchase these ‘battle-tested’ systems.

But all was not so simple. The Israeli home front command warned repeatedly that one was not to take the Iron Dome for granted. It was 90 percent effective, not 100 percent.  A 16-year old boy was caught outdoors when the sirens blared in the coastal town of Ashkelon, and while racing back to his home a Hamas missile snuck through the Iron Dome defensive shield. The rocket exploded 75-feet away from him, the shrapnel raced across the ground and found him, raked his body with burning metal. The boy was rushed to Barzelai hospital where he was admitted in serious condition. Later the news reported his condition had improved.

Hamas announced a deluge of rockets on Tel Aviv at nine o’clock on Saturday night. Ten rockets fell, far short of a deluge, and none caused any damage. Israel pounded Gaza reaching over 100 targets. Israel continued the airstrikes on Gaza in an attempt to curtail the missile barrages. Then on Sunday morning Israel issued a warning to parts of Gaza, using radio, tv, ams and flyers, announcing that an attack was going to take place at noon, and all residents should evacuate the area. Hamas issued their own report ordering the residents to stay put. For most Gaza residents the Israeli threat was taken seriously especially in view of the Israeli tanks and troops amassed on the border.

Noon came and went and the Israeli  attack never really came, at least not when announced. Still, the Israeli air force struck at another 100 targets. Israeli frogmen raided Gaza killing three Hamas military leaders, suffering four minor casualties.Gaza residents fled to neighboring towns and refugee camps, or UN schools. The UN spokesman in Gaza said that the UN  could house and feed 35,000 people but 300,000 lived in the area to be evacuated. BBC news showed one girl of about seven crying and asking the reporter why the Jews were bombing her.

Others in Gaza quietly expressed dismay not only at the Israelis but also at Hamas, wondering why the Hamas leadership was in their underground city, safe beneath hospitals and schools and mosques, while the residents took the beating. The Israeli air force pummeled Gaza trying to stop the rockets. Slowly the death toll rose past 165 with nearly 1,100 wounded. Perhaps the attack, either by air, or ground, would stop the rockets. Perhaps not.

Pundits interviewed on television said that the Gaza body count would soon take over the headlines, not the Hamas rockets raining down on  Israel. The pressure would build calling for a cease-fire. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu went on a public relations blitz, telling the interlocutors on Face The Nation that “Israel uses rockets to protects its people, and Hamas uses people to protect its rockets.”

 According to one military analyst, Israel has already achieved all of its operational goals and is ready for a cease-fire. This was not a view PM Netanyahu espoused publicly. Hamas has already approached Qatar to intercede. The UN has called for a cease-fire. Former PM Tony Blair and an American diplomat are meeting in Cairo with representatives of Preisdnet Al-Sissi’s government trying to hammer out a cease-fire. Demonstrations in Paris by protesting Arabs resulted in some Jews in a synagogue under siege until the police came to rescue them.

This is the third “war” with Hamas in the last few years, each ended with a cease-fire that Hamas eventually broke, firing a few rockets a week for months on end until they began a new barrage. Has Hamas emerged stronger from this encounter? One analyst said that Hamas in Arabic means ‘those who oppose.’ The analyst said that all Hamas has to do is survive and they’ll declare victory simply by having ‘opposed’ one of the strongest armies in the world.

But what about Y and his wife and children? What sort of life will they have? Will the quiet suburb again be blasted with sirens and fear? Or S, the American tourist? Will she feel safe visiting her children, or sleep well at night once back in New Jersey, or spend sleepless nights worried about them? Will the residents of the south of Israel, those in towns and villages along the Gaza border, have a quiet night, week, or month, following another cease-fire that will ultimately be broken?

One ex-general, a former head of military intelligence, said the solution to the problem was overlooked following the last ceasefire. Qatar, he said, offered Hamas $400 million to rebuild Gaza, and start an economic infrastructure that would help develop a middle-class. Once the residents of Gaza had something to lose, said the former general, they’d be more reticent to support attacks on their neighbor, and risk watching their quality of life bombed away.

Ironically, Israel allows convoys of food, water, medicines, electricity and telephone services into Gaza. Long lines of trucks cross every day from Israel. The two peoples do business. And fight. Without Hamas would the region reach any semblance of quiet? Many analysts say Hamas is as much an idea as a movement.  How does one raid an idea?

Former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told Face the Nation that PM Netanyahu was bluffing by putting troops on the border with Gaza, and Hamas knew it was a bluff. But pundits say the next few days will determine if Netanyahu was indeed bluffing, or if Israel, would have quiet both in body and soul for more than a few months at a time.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Day 3 Operation Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge)

Day 3 Operation Tzuk Eytan  (Protective Edge)

July 10, 2014

As of six o’clock in the afternoon over 100 rockets were fired by the militant Palestinian group Hamas from Gaza. This brings the total number of rockets fired at Israel over the last three days to nearly three hundred.  This includes four rockets that fell on Jerusalem at approximately six o'clock. The rockets caused no injury or damage.

Thursday morning news recorded a Tel Aviv bound rocket intercepted and destroyed by an “Iron Dome” missile. The TV showed scenes of rocket parts laying on the ground just ten feet from a gas pump at a southern Tel Aviv gas station.

According to Israeli media reports, as of the afternoon in Israel  over 60 Hamas targets were hit by the Israel air force, bringing the total attacked to over 800. The TV showed flattened homes and rubble scattered across Gaza. The Palestinians report that over twenty people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the Israeli attacks.

Ohad Hammo, an  Israeli Arab affairs reporter on Channel2  News said during a report that his “contacts and friends” in Gaza complain that their children want to know why the walls are shaking as F-16 jet fighters roar overhead dropping bombs. Hammo went on to report that the situation in Gaza was dire and has been for months. He also said that hundreds of thousands of Gazans are unhappy with the way Hamas is acting, and thus Hamas has mounted an intense PR campaign on Gaza TV to bolster support for the airstrikes.

Most analysts point to a Hamas “free-fall.” According to Channel 2 News Arab affairs veteran expert Ehud Yaari, Hamas is facing financial disaster. He said that Hamas has been unable to pay more than half salaries to over fifty-thousand Hamas employees, and over the last three months no money at all has been paid to Hamas’ employees.

In the past Hamas received support from the Syrians, and the Hezbollah, both now bogged down in a civil war. Analysts also point out that the Egyptians are now only too happy to see Hamas fall, since Hamas supported the Moslem Brotherhood government of President Morsi, who is now in jail So far the Egyptians  have denied Hamas the use of  smuggling tunnels from Egypt that brought in not only weapons but money.

Hamas supporters, like Qatar, can no longer send cash to Hamas through the now closed tunnels. Nor can they make bank transfers since Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the international community. Another supporter is Turkey, who has also been dinned access to Hamas. The only source of funds available to Hamas is from the Palestinian Authority run by Mohammed Abbas. For a short time Abbas’ PA and Hamas had a partnership, but that has come apart. Abbas has been plied with funds from the international community, and he could alleviate the Hamas financial strain if he so desired. But he doesn’t. Apparently he is under pressure from his donors, the EU, the US, Britain, and others, to let Hamas flounder.

Some analyst say that this move by Hamas is a desperate attempt to gain international attention and be pulled out of their financial turmoil. Hamas may expect the international community to step in and stop the conflict, then solve Hamas financial problems for ‘humanitarian’ reasons. And if not, Hamas has little to lose by continuing the firing. Most military analysts say Hamas has thousands of short and medium range rockets and hundred of long range rockets.

Or Hamas may be hoping that Israel will make a mistake and kill hundreds of Palestinians, many innocent of any terrorist activities, and then watch as the international community demands Israel stop their actions. Meanwhile Hamas fires hundreds of rockets at Israel.

Most of these rockets, like the short range ones, are manufactured locally, while the long range rockets originated in Iran, brought in through Syria and then Sudan, or by ship, like the one the Israeli army stopped a few months ago. That ship was laden with weapons and  long range missiles. Analysts say that other ships obviously got past Israeli scrutiny. The Palestinians also managed to copy the design of the medium and long range rockets and began manufacturing some of their own. However experts believe the long range rockets are too sophisticated and difficult to manufacture in Gaza.

On Wednesday Hamas launched another attack but not from the air. A squad of five Hamas commandos swam ashore at kibbutz Zikim, laden with automatic weapons, grenades and other explosives. The were spotted by the army and killed after a short fire-fight. Another group tried to infiltrate nearby-by kibbutz Yad Mordecai. On Thursday the army stopped a car with a home-made bomb trying to enter Israel from the West Bank. Other attacks by Hamas are also expected and the army, according to experts, is on high alert.

As Hamas kept up the rocket fire Israeli politicians were pressured to respond. At first the response was slow, and limited until Hamas began to fire rockets more frequently, and then to fire longer range rockets not only aimed at the Jewish farms, villages, and towns along the Gaza border or within a few miles from there, but also to strike at bigger cities like Ashkelon and Ashdod. Then Israel increased the level of air strikes. Observers say that once the sirens went off in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome en route to these cities, restraints began to drop off the governments moderate resolve.

Israel had initially, and according to analysts, reluctantly, issued a call up for 1,500 ground troops. After the massive Hamas barrage that number was raised to 40,000. A Tzav Shmona, an emergency call up, was initiated. Soon lawyers and accountants and computer engineers, as well as ambulance drivers and factory workers, were grabbing their uniforms and heading for the assembly points. Reports of long columns of tanks on Israeli highways heading south to the Gaza border were all over the news.

Another TV report stated that the Israeli authorities have begun calling residents of southern Gaza and warning them of imminent strikes and to make their way to western Gaza.  Israel has done that consistently before an air strike to limit civilian casualties, and obviate international ire. This new warning seems to hint at an impending air force strike. Or ground strike.  Or both.

Many of the Israeli targets up to now have been sites of known rocket factories, warehouses, or launching sites. Frequently these sites are located in a three-floor residential buildings where a family lives on the top floor, the missiles are stored on the second floor, and the launch site on the ground floor, near an open courtyard. The families are warned ten-minutes in advance of the impending air strike, so they can safely clear the area.

Many of the Hamas rockets are launched from the southern Gaza neighborhoods  that are apparently soon to undergo a massive attack, either from the air or the ground or both. Israel might just decide to sweep into Gaza and take over. Not an easy or clean task. But possible. However, analyst also point out that perhaps this is simply psychological warfare to keep the Gaza militants on edge.

Channel 2 Arab affairs expert Ehud Yaari has said that 8 Hamas militants were killed Thursday en route to fire rockets. One was a  long wanted militant in charge of rocket attacks as far back as ten years ago. The viewers were also reminded that rocket fire into the southern Israeli towns has been going on for nearly a year, a few rockets a week. Many residents of the south, and sympathetic politicians say this is an untenable situation. “What other country would allow rockets fired into their towns and not respond?” they ask. Israel, the analysts say, waited months. Dore Gold, an Israeli government representative, appeared on the BBC’s Hardtalk program and said that  a country that fires rockets on another country has committed an act of war. Hamas, a terrorist organization, fired fired on Israel and committed an act of war. Israel was slow to respond, Gold added.

The radio and television consistently shows the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza  streaking towards an Israeli target until the Iron Dome reaches and destroys the incoming missile, leaving a cloud of smoke in the sky as evidence of the hit. The Iron Dome has been the game breaker in this conflict, rendering Hamas impotent, at least so far, in their attempt to damage a significant Israeli target, or cause serious injury.

According to reports more than 50 Hamas missiles have been destroyed by the Iron Dome, all aimed for populations centers in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and as far away in the north as Zichron Yaacov, not far from Haifa, and as far south as Mitzpe Ramon, not far from Eilat.

So far the Hamas missiles have caused no deaths, serious injuries, or major damage to property. However nearly 2 million Israelis have between 15-seconds, if they live close to Gaza, up to 90-seconds, if they live in Tel Aviv or beyond, to find shelter before the rockets strike. An unnerving experience.

The Israel Army spokesman’s office has warned the public  repeatedly not to take the success of the Iron Dome for granted and find shelter once the sirens go off. The TV has scenes ever hour of people scurrying to bomb shelters or to a safe doorway as the siren blares in the background.

Israeli politicians claim that Israel has been dragged into the situation by Hamas who began a terrific barrage of rockets three days ago, shortly after the horrific death of the Arab teenager at the hands of  militant orthodox Jewish teenagers. Three Jewish youths have confessed to the crime, that included evidence the boy was buried alive after being burned nearly to death.

The Jewish militants were reportedly acting in response to the discovery of the bodies of three other Jewish teenagers who had been captured by Hamas militants while hitchhiking from the Gush Etzion West bank settlement of Efrat into Jerusalem. According to the police these boys were shot ten times shortly after their kidnapping and buried in an open field not far away. Their bodies were uncovered after a nearly three week manhunt by army, police, and volunteers that lasted.

Meanwhile, on Thursday Egypt called on the Israeli government to immediately cease any hostilities. This came as a surprise to some of the pundits since Egypt’s president Sissi has a long list of reasons why he wants Hamas gone. But res. Gen and former MK Ephraim Sneh, said in an interview that Sissi is probably worried what will be tomorrow in Cairo if he doesn’t make such a statement. “He doesn’t want a riot in the streets lead by the Moslem Brotherhood calling for Egypt to protect the poor Palestinians.”

While many Israeli military analysts like former Gen. Uzi Dayan, say that the only way to stop the rockets from returning in a year or two is to clean out Hamas from Gaza, others are worried that  dismantling the Hamas regime will only leave a vacuum filled by more radical elements like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) the rebel groups now fighting against the regimes of both Syria and Iraq.

The religious rivalry between the Sunni and Shiite moslems is now more evident than ever. Hamas is Sunni, as is ISIS, while Hezbollah, now fighting in Syria and Iraq, is Shiite, and supported by the Iranians.

Will Israel launch a long-term ground attack to go with the air strikes with a goal to seize Gaza? Or will a cease-fire be put in place before that happens? According to Channel 2 News military reporter Roni Daniel, it would take up to a week from the time the sides start talking through intermediaries until a cease=fire were put into place. Meanwhile, t Who knows when a Hamas rocket will sneak through the Iron Dome’s net, and land on a preferred target. Or when an errant Israeli bomb or artillery shell will take out a large apartment building, hospital, or school, killing scores of Gazans.

But most analysts say that Egypt is in no hurry to become a broker of a ceasefire. Hamas would have to go to them, hat in hand, and beg, something Hamas is not expected to do.

Wars, the pundits say, are easy to start, but no one really knows what will happen once the firing starts.