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.