[The following analysis was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon (the updated history of Israeli security and intelligence agencies including the Mossad) for the website of the private TV news service broadcasting from Israel, i24news.tv.]
On day 17 of the war in Gaza – the danger of a military and political stalemate is growing.
US Secretary of State John Kerry followed UN Secretary General Ban Ki Mon and left Israel after talks in Cairo and Jerusalem on an end to the fighting with Hamas brought no results. Hamas chairman Khaled Mashal is dragging his heels and rejects any ceasefire before his conditions – one can say pre-conditions – are met. Hamas’s major demand is a lifting of the eight-year siege imposed by Israel on Gaza
On the military front, both sides are exhausted and the campaign is turning into a static war, a type of war of attrition which bears more similarities to the Second Lebanon War of 2006 against Hezbollah than the two previous Israeli campaigns in Gaza in 2008-9 and 2012.
The resemblance is evident in the alarming numbers of casualties among Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers, but also in Hamas’s well trained combat strategies and infiltration attempts into Israel.
The war in Lebanon lasted 33 days and resulted in 1,100 Lebanese dead – 60% of them Hezbollah combatants – and 121 dead Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets, a daily average of 120 rockets.
So far, nearly 2,300 rockets and mortar shells have been launched from Gaza at Israel – a daily rate of 140, although the rate has dropped by 25% since the ground assault began a week ago. Israeli intelligence estimates that Hamas still has between 4,000 and 5,000 rockets, including a few hundred capable of reaching central and northern Israel.
Both sides are paying a heavy price. Israel has lost 32 soldiers and officers, one is missing, and three civilians. More than 700 Palestinians have been killed by the intensive Israeli air strikes and artillery barrages, among them more than 250 militants. The rest are civilians, including more than 100 children.
Israel’s air force has dropped more than 3,300 tons of explosives and the destruction in Gaza is tremendous. It will take years to rehabilitate.
Another resemblance between Israel’s current operation and its second Lebanon War is in the increasing concern that Israel may be confused about its exit strategy.
Just as the Gaza war tactics and patterns are in the Lebanese mold, so the solution can be also borrowed from the Lebanese experience. Indeed, the Lebanese ceasefire came up in talks held in recent days by Secretary Kerry, UNSG Ban, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other foreign leaders (UK and French foreign ministers).
The 2006 war ended with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which enforced the rule and authority of the central Lebanese government while reducing Hezbollah’s dominance and addressing Israeli security. It also brought a 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force which was deployed with the Lebanese army along the Israeli border. The resolution also called for the disarming of all private, sectarian and political militias and unequivocally stated that only the Lebanese government has the right to bring weapons into the country.
While some elements of the resolution have been implemented and are still holding, the two most important clauses to Israel’s security have been violated. Hezbollah was not disarmed and weapons are still smuggled from Syria and Iran, making Hezbollah a strong military force with 80,000 to 100,000 rockets of all ranges. Hezbollah rockets target and cover every corner of Israel.
So what are the elements of Resolution 1701 which are applicable to the Gaza situation?
A UN Security Council resolution ending hostilities could call to reinstate the legitimate government of Gaza – the Palestinian Authority which was toppled by Hamas in a 2007 coup d’état, to demilitarize Hamas and to put in place an international monitoring system to prevent the smuggling of weapons.
In return, Israel will lift its siege of the enclave, the border crossings to Israel and Egypt will be opened, Gaza’s fishing waters extended and an Arab and international fund will be established to rebuild the Strip.
But Hamas is refusing to be demilitarized – which is Israel’s major concern. The gap between the sides looks almost unbridgeable. Unlike previous Israeli offensives, when Egypt played the role of an honest broker, this time Egypt is fully identified with Israel and hopes it will inflict a mortal blow on the hated Hamas. The lack of an honest broker acceptable to both sides is thus another contributing factor to the difficulties in reaching a compromise.
As a society, Israelis are very sensitive to the deaths and severe injuries suffered by their country’s soldiers in the IDF. Israel seems even more sensitive to the dangers — and the possible torture and ordeal — when a soldier is kidnapped by Palestinian radicals. The IDF now admits that one man is “unaccounted for,” and it’s the Israeli whose name was broadcast by the Hamas media in Gaza as a supposed prisoner. Israelis hope it’s not true.
[The following piece was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against ARmageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars, for the private TV news service that broadcasts from Israel: i24news.tv.]
The uncertainty regarding the fate of Golani Brigade fighter Sergeant Oron Shaul could impact the Gaza War’s outcome. He fought in the fierce battle on the night between this past Saturday and Sunday in the Gazan neighborhood of Shejaiya.
He and eight comrades were in an armored personnel carrier that was most likely hit by an anti-tank missile. Seconds before the hit, the vehicle had gotten stuck. The commander and another soldier jumped out to see what had happened, and that’s when the blast hit.
The two were wounded but survived while all the infantrymen on board were killed by the forceful impact and blast. The vehicle was destroyed, with some of its parts scattered dozens of meters away.
Other armored vehicles arrived immediately. They returned fire, rescued the two wounded soldiers and recovered the bodies.
Back home, medical teams, military religious personnel and intelligence officers spent two intensive days trying to identify the bodies. Six of the seven Golani combatants were successfully identified, declared dead and buried.
While this was going on, Hamas claimed they were holding an Israeli soldier by the name of Oron Shaul, and presented his military ID number.
The IDF kept silent for a while. Israel’s UN envoy Ron Prosor denied the claim. Then on Tuesday the IDF issued a statement saying that efforts to determine the whereabouts of Sergeant Shaul would continue.
The IDF refrained from declaring him dead or missing in action (MIA). His status is undetermined. But the IDF has not objected to Israeli media reports that he is “missing in action.”
This means that Israel does not have any medical, pathological or intelligence evidence that he was killed. Until such evidence materializes, the IDF will not change his status.
Nevertheless, based on the fate of his comrades and the destroyed condition of the armored personnel carrier, the prevailing assumption is that Sergeant Shaul is not alive.
The Al-Arabiya television station reported that Israel has asked Germany to use its influence to find out from Hamas whether he dead or alive. Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND has in the past helped broker prisoner swaps between Israel and Hezbollah as well as Israel and Hamas. For instance, the 2011 prisoner exchange deal in which IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1027 Palestinian terrorists was brokered in part by Germany.
But Israel has little expectation that Hamas will give any answer. This is based on past experience with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The best-known of these incidents occurred in July 2006 when Hezbollah combatants ambushed an Israeli patrol and took two Israeli reserve soldiers, Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser, prisoner.
In response, Israel launched the Second Lebanon War. It took two years of intensive indirect negotiations through the BND to achieve a prisoner swap. In July 2008, Hezbollah gave Israel two coffins with Regev and Goldwasser’s bodies. In exchange, they received over a hundred live prisoners, as well as Palestinian terrorists and terrorists of other nationalities.
Up until the exchange, Hezbollah had refused to say whether the two Israelis were dead or alive.
Based on intelligence and evidence taken from the kidnapping scene (such as how much blood the two soldiers lost), Israeli experts believed the chance the two had survived the battle were slim. Still, Israel declared them neither dead or MIA.
The same is now likely to happen with Sergeant Shaul. Hamas is expected to cynically manipulate the family’s grief to try to squeeze as high a price as they can out of Israel. For each piece of information – say, a photo – Hamas will demand a price.
What could be different now from the 2008 Hezbollah deal is the public mood. The Regev and Goldwasser families launched a smart PR campaign to mobilize the public and apply pressure on the government to close the deal, even if it was a bad deal that exacted a high price.
But following the Shalit deal, which has garnered a lot of criticism from politicians and the public, the public may be less emotional this time around and stand behind the government whatever course of action it takes. This would give Israel’s government the leeway to reach a reasonable deal without surrendering to Hamas blackmail.
[The complete article, with graphics by the i24news.tv website, can be viewed by clicking here.]
Israel’s military announced early Sunday (20 July) that the ground incursion into Gaza that began Thursday is being expanded. Officials also confirmed that the death toll among Israeli forces was rising: as of 8 a.m. local time, that number was five; and then after 6 p.m. the deaths of another 13 soldiers in the Golani infantry brigade were confirmed.
The spokesman for the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) did not say if the “expansion” of the incursion meant the targets are still only the tunnels that Hamas had dug from Gaza into Israeli territory.
As of Sunday morning, the IDF discovered 34 entrances to tunnels on the Gaza side, five of them leading to the Israeli side of the border. The other entrances were for connecting tunnels among Hamas command posts, communications centers, and weapons warehouses.
Inspired by the Vietcong — the guerrilla fighters who eventually defeated the Americans in Vietnam — Hamas invested huge amounts of money and manpower in constructing an underground Gaza.
Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)
Military sources said some of the tunnels were as deep as 100 feet underground and up to one mile in length. They typically remained totally hidden by not having a completed end point inside Israel.
Meantime, a new spotlight can be shed on how the IDF is using intelligence personnel during the ground incursion.
In a clear improvement over ground operations in the past, officers from two intel agencies — Shin Bet and Aman — are advancing into Gaza with the combat forces.
They are able to provide on-the-spot information and guidance, based on years of reconnaissance, surveillance, and communications intercepts. In addition, when Palestinians are captured, the intel officers can take the lead in interrogating them.
On Saturday, the IDF announced that 13 Hamas fighters have been captured in the ground fighting since Thursday
Shin Bet is the domestic security agency, roughly equivalent to America’s FBI. Shin Bet has — since 1967 when Israel captured Gaza and other territories in the Six-Day War — been tasked with tracking the movements and actions of Palestinian guerrilla groups.
Aman (Agaf ha-Modi’in) is the intelligence corps of the Israeli military, and it runs sigint (signals intelligence) programs that closely monitor the communications of Palestinian groups. Aman also tries to forecast the intentions of Israel’s enemies.
[This article is adapted from one written by Yossi Melman for the website of the privately owned 24-hour television news channel broadcasting from Israel, i24 News.]
Israelis are beginning to realize that their army may pay a heavy price for the decision by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to roll into the Gaza Strip. Military spokesmen on Sunday morning (20 July) announced two more Israeli soldiers were killed — making a total of 5 who lost their lives, so far, since the order to enter Gaza.
The surprise of Israel’s Thursday night ground assault on Gaza was in its timing. It was assumed for a few days that if a ceasefire is not reached and Hamas continues launching its rockets – and they did – Israel would have no choice but to send in ground forces. But this generally accepted estimate was camouflaged by several diversionary tactics which included rumors and disinformation spread to the international media.
On Thursday, the trusted BBC, followed by Reuters and other international news agencies, cited a senior Israeli official as saying a ceasefire agreement had been reached in Cairo negotiations involving Israel and Hamas.
Israeli media reported Friday that a decision in principle on a ground assault had actually been made on Tuesday evening by the nine-member Security Cabinet – pending the results of Egypt’s diplomatic ceasefire initiative.
After Hamas rejected the ceasefire proposal as presented by Egypt — and then Hamas gunmen were caught exiting from a tunnel in Israeli territory and obviously hoping to attack a kibbutz — Israel’s Security Cabinet met again.
Reporters were told that ministers would get together only on Friday at 11am. But, in fact, it was on Thursday that they gave the green light for a ground incursion. At about 10 pm a massive Israeli force entered Gaza from three directions: north, east and south. As it is common in military operations, a heavy artillery and sea bombardment preceded the invasion.
Half an hour later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that he and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had ordered the operation after Hamas rejected the Egyptian initiative – which Israel had already accepted on Tuesday.
The statement emphasized that the aim of the incursion was to remove the terror tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel.
There might be a contradiction between this limited stated goal and the size of the forces. Due to censorship restrictions, the exact size number of troops is classified, but it can be said that they are much bigger than in the two previous Israeli operations in Gaza (in 2009 and 2012).
But, in fact, there is no contradiction. The military goal is indeed to expose and demolish the tunnels – which Hamas has dug in recent years to hide rockets, launchers and other weapons, as well as to provide safe havens for top commanders and to enable infiltration into Israel for the purpose of terror attacks and kidnappings.
Israel also aims to destroy as much as possible of Hamas’s rocket arsenal and to kill the organization’s military commanders.
At this stage, Israel does not intend to enter Gaza city, one of the most densely populated places on earth. It would be too dangerous in terms of Israeli casualties and likely Palestinian civilian deaths.
More importantly, regardless of the size of the force, there is a political goal to the military operation: pressing Hamas to accept a ceasefire.
Israel’s decision on a ground incursion – ten days after the start of its aerial, naval and ground bombardment against terrorist targets in Gaza — also enjoys tail winds from an unexpected source. Egyptian leaders, including President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, have in recent days publicly blamed Hamas for rejecting the ceasefire.
It would thus be fair to assume that the Israeli invasion was coordinated in advance with Egypt and is in line with Egypt’s national security interesta.
Hamas warned Thursday that the Israeli invasion “was a silly and dangerous act” and vowed that Israel would “pay a heavy price.”
The price has, indeed, been of grave concern to Netanyahu. Some argue that it was one of his major considerations in rejecting pressure for ten days to order a ground assault. The troops are moving cautiously with great care to minimize Israeli casualties and to try to avoid hitting civilians.
Yet it’s a war, and casualties on both sides are expected.
It is also clear that the operation will take weeks, rather than days, and that after an initial shock Hamas commanders are pulling themselves together, regrouping and fighting back.
Militarily Hamas is not a match for the Israeli war machine. But by using rear guard and hit-and-run tactics, utilizing the elaborate labyrinth of underground tunnels built over years exactly for such a confrontation, this radical organization is a formidable foe. The head of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, General Sami Turgeman, also told the cabinet not to expect an immediate cessation of rocket launching against Israel.
All in all, it’s not going to be “stroll in the park.” Hamas is no longer simply a terror organization. It is a quasi-military force. And war, albeit asymmetrical in nature, is still war.
[Yossi Melman is an Israeli intelligence and security commentator and co-author of “Spies Against Armageddon, inside Israel’s secret wars". He tweets at @Yossi_Melman.]
[Just after Israel launched its ground incursion into Gaza (July 17), Yossi Melman wrote this article for the New York-published newspaper and news site Forward.]
As the invading Israeli Defense Forces are consolidating their control of the border areas of Gaza, there are several important questions worth addressing.
What are Israel’s military tactics? What is Israeli strategy? What are Hamas’s and do the two sides have an exit strategy in case events get of control?
The IDF troops consist of armored battalions, mechanized infantry, artillery, engineering corps, Special Forces, navy, air force intelligence. They have encircled the Gaza Strip from all its three sides and from the sea. Gaza is a small Palestinian enclave on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean about 30 miles long and 7 miles wide sandwiched between Israel and Egyptian Sinai. At about 10 pm Thursday a massive Israeli force entered Gaza from three directions: north, east and south. As it is common in military operations, a heavy artillery and sea bombardment preceded the invasion.
Half an hour later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that he and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had ordered the operation after Hamas rejected the Egyptian initiative – which Israel had already accepted on Tuesday.
By 9 in the morning on Friday it was already reported that 27 Palestinians had been killed (in addition to the 224 who died in the previous days of “Protective Edge,” the Israeli air strike operation that preceded the Israeli ground incursion. One IDF soldier (in addition to one civilian) had died from a “friendly fire” incident, mistakenly killed by his IDF comrades. According to a senior Israeli officer, the IDF is currently operating on the ground in several areas throughout the Gaza Strip, from north to south, Due to censorship restrictions, the exact number of troops is classified, but it is estimated to be at around 40,000 and is much bigger than in the previous Israeli operations in Gaza in 2009.
Most Israelis — even many on the radical left — share the view that Israel had no choice. It all began when Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the 17 or so renegade pro Islamist groups in Gaza started 4 weeks ago to launch rockets and mortar shells at Israel. This was their response to the fact that IDF and Shin Bet security service arrested 500 Hamas activists in the West Bank as a result of the kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli yeshiva students by what were assumed to be Hamas activists.
Before the invasion, Israel, led by Netanyahu and Ya’alon, showed great restraint despite right wing pressures. Fourteen hundred rockets were fired, hitting many Israeli cities including Beersheba, Dimona, Jerusalem,Tel Aviv and even Haifa in the north. Four million Israelis experienced a daily routine of running to shelters. And yet Israel responded only by air strikes and agreed to an Egyptian initiative to establish a cease-fire, which was rejected by Hamas.
It seemed that Hamas interpreted the Israeli reluctance to use ground forces as weakness.
The Netanyahu statement emphasized that the aim of the incursion was to remove the terror tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel. The tactical military goals are indeed to expose and demolish the tunnels — which Hamas has dug in recent years to hide rockets, launchers and other weapons, as well as to provide safe havens for top commanders and to enable infiltration into Israel for the purpose of terror attacks and kidnappings. Israel aims to destroy as much as possible of the rocket arsenal and to kill the organization’s military commanders. Israel intends to establish and control a buffer zone of 1 to 2 miles from the border — this is mainly farmland with relatively small population — and locate and demolish the tunnels.
At this stage, Israel does not intend to enter Gaza City, one of the most densely populated places on earth. It would be too dangerous in terms of Israeli casualties and collateral Palestinian damage. The political strategic goal is to press Hamas to accept a cease-fire. But Hamas plays a different ball game. It is already diplomatically isolated and financially bankrupt. Since the civil war in Syria, it has lost its traditional supporters and sponsors — Iran and Syria. Egypt, led by President General Fathi al Sisi, declared Hamas a “terrorist organization” and perceives it as a Palestinian branch of the hated Muslim Brotherhood. Feeling besieged and with its back to the wall Hamas’s political and the more radical military leaders think that they have nothing to lose.
They know very well that Israel has no intention of fully occupying Gaza and toppling their regime. Thus they wish Israeli troops will keep advancing, providing them with opportunities to use delay and hit and run guerilla tactics by using the labyrinth of tunnels built exactly for this purpose. In the meantime they continue to fire the four thousand rockets still in their possession.
And here is the problem. If they don’t succumb to the Israeli military pressure and refuse to accept a cease fire Israel may find itself stuck in Gaza with no exit strategy to end the crisis.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli security and intelligence commentator and the co-author of “Spies Against Armageddon” (Levant Books, 2014). Click here for full article.
Both sides were reluctant to enter into the current war between Israel and Hamas, and both sides did so without a clear exit strategy.
The opening shots of 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense were fired when Israeli air strikes killed Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas’s military wing, and destroyed the Islamist organization’s small arsenal of long-range missiles. Hamas was in shock.
Based on precise intelligence, the 2006 Second Lebanon War began with a 34-minute surprise Israel Air Force strike that demolished Hezbollah’s long-range missiles.
This time around, there was a partial lack of intelligence regarding the location and size of Hamas’s long-range rockets. Thus, as of this past Thursday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad had already fired nearly 300 rockets – including five rounds at Tel Aviv, one at Haifa, two at Jerusalem and two at Dimona – and will continue aiming at these and other places in Israel.
Israeli Tech Breakthrough, Financed by U.S.: Iron Dome Preventing Deaths
Israel has (as of Saturday evening July 12) carried out over 1,200 sorties on targets in Gaza, focusing on military commanders and their houses, field operatives, missile depots, mobile and fixed rocket launchers, and underground tunnels.
The tunnels connecting Egypt’s Sinai with Gaza are one of the IDF’s biggest challenges in this war. According to the army, over 100 tunnels have been demolished in air strikes, but hundreds remain intact.
The tunnels and underground fortifications are one of the factors – although perhaps not the main factor – behind Israel’s hesitation to send ground forces into the Gaza Strip. Yet it seems that an Israeli incursion is getting closer and closer by the hour, as rocket fire from Gaza continues unabated and is even being stepped up.
While it does not know their location, the IDF estimates there are also dozens of tunnels constructed by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and kill or abduct civilians and soldiers, in order to inflict a psychological blow and demoralize the Israeli public.
It was via a tunnel that a Hamas special forces unit managed in 2006 to surprise an Israeli tank crew, killing two and kidnapping IDF tank gunner Gilad Shalit, who was smuggled back via the tunnel to a secret location in Gaza.
The rest of his story has been well told and retold. Schalit’s case turned into a strategic national security issue and five years later, Israel had to “buy” his freedom by releasing 1,027 Palestinian terrorists.
The other threat posed by the tunnels is to IDF forces, should they enter Gaza. The tunnels would be used to slow Israel’s forces by using rear guard and delay tactics – in IDF jargon, the “underground medium battlefield.”
Hamas started building tunnels nearly 25 years ago. The first tunnels were intended to connect Gaza to Sinai and smuggle weapons and goods.
Over time, Hamas’s engineers and diggers – known by the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) as “spiders” – gained a great deal of expertise and technological knowhow. The tunnels expanded rapidly, becoming Gaza’s lifeline when Israel imposed a siege and blockade of the Strip eight years ago. Civilian goods were smuggled via the tunnels, helping the local economy survive and, by taxing the smugglers, also financing Hamas terrorist activities.
In recent years, Hamas began expanding the tunnels into “underground cities,” with bunkers and fortifications, all hooked up to electricity and oxygen.
Some of the tunnels run 30 meters deep.
Hamas was helped in building the tunnels by Iranian and Hezbollah engineers, but the strategic inspiration came from Vietnam. The North Vietnamese and the Vietcong built an extensive underground network of tunnels and military facilities that helped them to launch surprise strikes against the US army and its South Vietnamese allies.
Similarly, though on a much lesser scale, Hamas’s underground cities serve to store weapons and ammunition, as command, control and communication posts and safe houses for the movement’s military and political leadership.
Through the tunnels, Hamas has managed to partially deceive Israeli intelligence and smuggle long-range rockets from Sinai– supplied by Iran via Sudan and occasionally, via Syria and Hezbollah. Another source of supply was the flourishing black market in Libyan military surplus.
There are two types of long-range missiles in the Hamas arsenals. One is the self-produced M-75, based on the Iranian Fajr 3 and 5 models. This rocket, though inaccurate, has a warhead of up to 40 kg. (88 lbs.), and has been launched in the current conflict against Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Dimona.
The other one is the M-302, with an extended range of up to 200 km. (125 mi.), which has been fired at Hadera in the Center and Haifa in the North. The M-302 is originally a Chinese artillery rocket, licensed to be produced in Syria and also supplied to Hamas by Iran.
The underground facilities enable and enhance Hamas’s ability to keep launching its rockets. There are indications that some of its underground launching operations are done electronically, via remote-controlled devices without human intervention.
As of last Thursday, the IAF managed to destroy more than 200 launching pads, positions and mobile launchers.
The fact that despite the extensive aerial bombardment aimed at disrupting Hamas’s launch capability, it keeps on firing and will continue to do so, is evidence of how sophisticated and hard to trace and destroy the underground bunkers have become.
If the aerial campaign does not soon put an end to the rocket fire or if a cease-fire is not achieved – and the chances for both seem very slim at the moment – the IDF will have no choice but to send its ground forces into Gaza.
The Israeli cabinet and military leadership does not want to enter the Strip, but the shower of rockets and public discontent will leave it with no choice.
This is exactly Hamas’s strategy – to lure Israel into unleashing its ground forces.
Hamas probably knows that even if Israeli troops do enter Gaza, Israel does not intend to topple its regime because Jerusalem knows that if it leaves a power vacuum, more radical elements in the mold of the Islamic State group (formerly ISIS) or al-Qaida will move in.
Thus, Hamas does not fear an Israeli incursion.
All it needs to do is hold on as much as it can, keep launching rockets to prolong the war, and provoke the Israeli government to invade Gaza, causing Israeli casualties – and leading the Jewish state to bleed and sink in the Gazan sand dunes.
This analysis of the Israel-Gaza mini-war, as of Thursday night (July 10) was written by Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, the updated history of Israeli espionage and security agencies — for the website of the non-stop TV news service, privately owned, broadcasting from Israel: i24news.tv .
As the war between Gaza and Israel enters its fourth day, there are growing indications that neither side has an exit strategy for ending hostilities.
In part, this is because neither Israel nor Hamas wanted the war in the first place. Both were dragged into it as prisoners of their own narratives, pride, egos and one-sided perceptions.
This is the third war of its kind between the two sides since 2010. There is a sense of déjà vu, except that the military technologies have improved, there is greater firepower, and Hamas has a much larger arsenal of rockets.
On-line posters are part of an information war – this from Israel’s military
So far, this war is an unequal pounding of one side by the other. Israel’s mighty air force has already carried out more than 600 sorties targeting military commanders and their houses, weapons depots, launchers and launching pads as well as bunkers and tunnels.
Hamas for its part is retaliating by launching rockets of all types and ranges – the longest-rage up to 200 km – at major Israeli cities, including Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv, and even the Ben Gurion International Airport (in an attempt to disrupt flights).
They are also trying to hit the city of Dimona, in Israel’s south, where Israel’s nuclear reactor, an iconic symbol of its strategic superiority, is located. So far, Hamas has launched nearly a thousand rockets, including 50 long-range ones. Since the Islamist organization has nearly 10,000 rockets at its disposal, including 300 long range ones, it has the ability to continue bombarding Israel.
While Hamas endures painful blows, Israel has suffered very few casualties. This is mainly due to the shelters spread throughout the country as well as the outstanding performance of the Iron Dome anti-missile system, which has thus far intercepted most of the long-range rockets aimed at central and northern Israel.
Unfortunately, there is no defensive system that can protect Israeli areas close to Gaza from short-range rockets and mortar shells.
Israel’s inability to stop the rocket fire stems from insufficient intelligence. In contrast to the 2012 campaign, this time Israeli intelligence knows less about the locations and size of Hamas’s rocket depots, launchers, launching pads and positions.
It is also clear that Hamas has learned lessons from past battles and from Hezbollah’s experience in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hamas has literally decided to “go underground.” In recent years they have built “underground cities” in Gaza that now serve now as arsenal storage, control, command and communications posts as well as safe houses for their military and political leadership.
Earlier this week, Hamas set forth its preconditions for reinstating the 2012 cease-fire. The main demand is to release Palestinian prisoners (terrorists in Israeli parlance) who were released three years ago in a prisoner swap and then re-arrested and jailed by Israel following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last month in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said Thursday in the Knesset that a cease-fire with Hamas was not on the agenda. Netanyahu was asked a number of times whether the government had certain political goals and whether he was speaking with Egypt or other countries to try to bring about a cease-fire through diplomatic means. “I am not talking to anybody about a cease-fire right now,” Netanyahu told a Knesset committee. “It’s not even on the agenda.”
Thus it is only reasonable to conclude that the war will continue for another week or more.
But if the aerial campaign fails to put an end to the rocket fire in the very near future – and the chances of that seem slim — the IDF will have no choice but to send its ground forces into Gaza. Israel’s cabinet and military leadership do not want to do it, but continued rocket fire and the resulting public discontent will leave them no choice.
That is exactly what Hamas wants: to lure Israel into a ground invasion of Gaza. All Hamas needs to do is to hold out for as long as it can, keep launching rockets and prolong the war so that Israeli soldiers bleed and sink into the Gaza sand dunes.
Two of the agencies we’ve chronicled in our books (Every Spy a Prince and the newly updated Spies Against Armageddon) are at the forefront of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge”, aimed at punishing the radical Palestinians of Hamas in the Gaza Strip: Aman, the military intelligence agency, is pinpointing dozens (and perhaps hundreds) of targets; and the domestic security agency Shin Bet has been tracking the movements of Hamas chiefs — so that they and their homes and offices can be bombed from the air.
Is Israel planning for a war? The cabinet in Jerusalem today (Tuesday) approved the mobilization of up to 40,000 reserve troops. The Israel Defense Forces say they’re ready for anything the prime minister and defense minister may decide. But rolling tanks into Gaza is not what the Israelis would truly like to do.
Yossi Melman wrote this analysis for The Jerusalem Report, which is privately published in English in Israel.
This is one of my hardest writing tasks – composing an analysis of the volatile situation between Israel and Gaza on Monday and waiting to see whether the column is at all relevant when it is published on Wednesday.
With each rocket launched against southern Israel and each retaliatory strike by the Israel Air Force, the vicious circle of violence escalates by the hour, making a new war more likely than ever. Yet, one fact is clear; neither Israel nor the Islamist movement of Hamas want a new round.
It is also evident that, so far, an extended military campaign – not to mention a prolonged war – in Gaza has been prevented temporarily. The blood-boiling, inflammatory rhetoric, populism, and nationalistic fervor of some right-wing ministers (Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu led the charge demanding harsh retaliation against Hamas) has cooled.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (backed by moderate cabinet ministers such as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid) and, more importantly, the Chief of General Staff of the IDF Lt.-General Benny Gantz (backed by the heads of the intelligence community) restrained the warmongers.
It is not a given that military commanders exercise caution since they are only too aware of the price exacted by war. But senior figures in Israel’s defense establishment have not always exercised restraint. Israel’s history is rife with examples of trigger-happy generals, all too keen for battle, trying (and sometimes succeeding) to push the political echelon into war or military adventurism.
It happened in 1955 during Israel’s retaliatory attacks on Gaza, which led to a military escalation, strategic changes in the Middle East (in the shape of the Czech-Egyptian weapons deal) and subsequently Israel’s venture into Sinai, known as the Suez Campaign. Another example was in mid-May 1967, in the waiting period before the Six Day War, when most of the senior general staff demanded that the government launch a preventive attack against the Egyptian army concentrated in the Sinai Peninsula. Their activities were dubbed “the rebellion of the generals.”
Then came 1991 and the first Gulf War. It was prime minister Yitzhak Shamir who put a stop to the demand by some senior military figures (led at the time by then deputy chief of staff Major-General Ehud Barak) to intervene in the war in Iraq in retaliation for the firing of Scud missiles at Israel.
The moderation, restraint and coolheadedness being demonstrated by Netanyahu and Ya’alon in the current crisis in the wake of the abduction and murder of three teenaged yeshiva students in June and the Palestinian riots in the West Bank in early July that have spread to some Israeli-Arab towns and villages deserves appreciation and should not be taken for granted.
This is a government elected and supported by right-wing constituents. And, although the right demands blood, the leadership has managed to resist it. It know very well that the situation is sensitive and explosive and could lead to an extensive confrontation with Hamas and the deterioration of relations with Egypt. They are not interested in seeing a war erupt on their watch with unforeseeable inconceivable consequences.
They also have a full understanding that this is not a crisis that can be solved with a simple “wham bam, thank you ma’am.” It is clear to all that, this time, Israel can’t rely on a new version of its latest Gaza operations (Cast Lead in 2009-10 and Pillar of Defense in 2012), which led to a limited Israeli ground incursion and quick finale to the battles.
If Israel embarks on another war in Gaza, it will need (as already proposed by Liberman) to reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip. “This situation will continue for a long time,” former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief Avi Dichter tells The Jerusalem Report. “I support this process, but it requires preparation, enlistment of reservists, and a constant military presence in the territory for at least year. You don’t do that off the cuff.”
Like Hezbollah, and perhaps also under Iran’s influence, Hamas – a disciplined, organized and hierarchical organization whose armed echelon answers to the political leadership – has become in recent years a viable military force. It is divided into brigades (north and south) and specialized units (rocket launchers) and contains a military command of brigade, battalion and company commanders. Above them sits a general staff of collective command that replaced the military arm led by Ahmed Jabari who was assassinated by Israel at the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense. The most prominent among this command are Marwan Issa and Mohammed Deif.
One of Hamas’s central goals since Operation Pillar of Defense and the cease-fire with Israel has been increasing its arsenal of rockets. In recent years, since Egypt began cracking down on the smuggling tunnels running from the Strip into Sinai, the influx of rockets has reduced and Hamas has gone in missile production so that Gaza now has its own small-scale military industry.
“Their capabilities in this field have become quite impressive,” a senior security source familiar with the subject tells The Report. “With the help of local experts and external consultants they are succeeding in improving their rockets and increasing their arsenal. Israel estimates that Gaza now has some 10,000 rockets, including a few dozen – if not more – capable of reaching Tel Aviv and further north.
The significance of a large-scale military campaign is simple –active occupation of the Gaza Strip, at least for the duration of the operation. Occupation of Gaza would force Israel once again to assume full responsibility in the territory; to feed the million and a half Palestinians living there; and take on the administration of daily life there. A war in Gaza also could complicate ties with Egypt, with whom Israel has enjoyed a recent period of security cooperation in the mutual struggle against jihadist terror in Sinai (and Gaza).
However, despite the calls of certain political groups and ministers, as well as among a large sector of the Israeli population and media, for blood and revenge, the government and defense establishment are doing all to prevent such an outcome.
Hamas also has no interest in escalation and confrontation, according to the assessment of research analysts in Military Intelligence (Aman) and Shin Bet as expressed in the last four security cabinet sessions held on the matter in early July. “It is clear to us that Hamas does not want escalation,” a senior defense official told The Report following the cabinet deliberations. “It absolutely does not want that.”
The Hamas leadership, which went underground in early July fearing Israel would resume its policy of targeted assassinations (as hinted at by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi), knows that another military confrontation would end in defeat — and the likely collapse of the Hamas regime.
Hamas’s current political and financial situation is very bad. Egypt, under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sees Hamas as the sister organization of its own sworn enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood. An Egyptian court recently declared Hamas a terrorist organization. Despite various reports in the media, both in the Arab world and in Israel, Egypt is not trying to restrain Israel or intervene to prevent escalation. The security coordination is focused mostly on Sinai.
About two years ago, when the civil war in Syria was reaching its climax, Hamas’s ties with its key benefactor, Iran, were cut off and the latter ceased transferring funds. Hamas’s recent efforts to reconcile with Iran have been futile so far. Qatar’s plans to transfer funds to Hamas also failed due to the opposition voiced by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Arab world is focused on its own troubles, and the Palestinian issue has dropped from its agenda.
Moreover, Hamas is having difficulty in imposing its authority on the renegade Salafist groups in Gaza. There already are 17 of them, including supporters of the black-uniformed terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syrian(ISIS).
Since the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in June, 150 rockets and dozens of mortar shells have been launched at southern Israel. These rockets are being fired by rogue Salafist organizations that do not answer to Hamas. Even the Islamic Jihad, which is still sponsored by Iran, has avoided launching rockets.
The security cabinet’s policy, as formulated in early July, is that Israel will try to avoid escalation with Hamas in Gaza, but would respond with great force to any attacks on its territory. The Israel Defense Forces will continue to prepare for every possibility – including widespread aerial strikes and a ground incursion if the attacks from Gaza continue.
In that scenario, if unfortunately a war breaks out, Israel’s main focus will be a vigorous effort to destroy the stockpiles of rockets and missiles, the workshops where they are being produced and the warehouses where they are being stored. The thousands of Hamas military personnel would also be targeted.
In other words, the ball is in Gaza’s court.
Meanwhile, the cabinet also decided to continue the IDF and Shin Bet operation in the West Bank against the Hamas infrastructure there. This will target not only militant-terrorist operations, but also civilian activities which Hamas uses as a cover for covert-terrorist goals.
Israel began its operation in the West Bank immediately after it learned of the abductions of the Israeli teens in mid-June. The mission was three-fold: collecting intelligence information to find the teens or their bodies; arresting the perpetrators (a manhunt still underway); and wiping out the Hamas presence in the West Bank.
According to defense establishment assessments, the Hamas efforts to carry out terrorist attacks, in general and to abduct Israelis, in particular, are initiated and directed by four elements – the West Bank leadership; Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; the Hamas leadership in Gaza; and the Hamas commands in Qatar and Turkey under the leadership of Salah Saruri, who served time in administrative detention in Israel and was released in 2012.
Israel’s intelligence assessment is that Hamas has succeeded in increasing its capabilities in the West Bank, partly thanks to the Islamist movement’s reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority, which began a few months ago and led to the formation of a national unity government (whose future in the wake of the kidnapping is currently unclear).
According to data compiled by the Shin Bet, 187 serious terrorist attempts (bombs, shootings and abductions) were thwarted in the West Bank over the course of 2013. Of these, 84 were planned by Hamas, including 28 attempts to abduct Israelis to be used to negotiate for prisoner releases. So far in 2014, Israel has foiled 96 terror attempts, about half of which were planned by Hamas.
During the course of the open-ended operation against Hamas in the West Bank some 500 people have been arrested so far, most of them members or supporters of Hamas. A few dozen are former prisoners released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal when Israel released 1,027 Palestinian terrorists and criminals in exchange for one soldier.
In the west Bank campaign, Israel has put a special focus on the “dawa”, the Hamas civilian social and welfare activities. As part of those efforts, Israel has shut down sports clubs, student organizations, community centers, cultural centers, and other civil institutions used by Hamas to tighten its hold on the West Bank and to wine over residents in order to gain political support.
In addition, bank accounts have been frozen and about 1.5 million shekels ($400,000) have been confiscated. It’s fairly clear that the PA and President Mahmoud Abbas are shedding no tears over Israel’s activities.
But at the end of the day, Israel’s actions – the punishment for the kidnap-murders, the desire to make Hamas pay a price for its deeds and deter further attacks – are mere tactics. Even those who support an extended operation or all-out war know that Hamas, an organization with roots, ideology and wide public support, won’t easily be extracted from the hearts of Palestinians.
Israel’s strategic problem is that although there is wide agreement among the military and political echelons to operate with as great a force as possible in the West Bank, there is no parallel action to foster compromises that would be necessary to advance a serious peace process with the PA.
As such, Israel is likely to find itself up against a new challenge and a new enemy – jihadists like ISIS and al-Qaida, who will find their way to fill the void created by a weak Palestinian Authority and a worn-down and beaten Hamas.
As was feared when America’s mediation efforts between Israel and the Palestinians fell apart in April, tensions have risen dramatically — and innocent people have died.
The three Israeli teenagers who vanished in the West Bank were found dead; and immediately after that a Palestinian teenager was abducted and murdered in Jerusalem by young, extreme right-wing Jews who thought revenge against a child was a good idea. Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, announced the arrest of six Jews on Sunday.
The murder of a Palestinian, of course, led to rioting and a new round of hatred.
The only silver lining on these dark clouds: words of sympathy exchanged between the bereaved Palestinian family and at least one of the Israeli families who lost their sons.
A pugnacious message from Israel’s army spokesman
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government blaming Hamas for the murder of the three young Israelis, pressure on the Palestinian Authority has increased — apparently also from the United States government — to get the P.A. to cancel its recent unity agreement with Hamas.
Meantime, someone in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has been launching dozens of rockets into Israel. The Israeli military intelligence agency, Aman, believed — as of this past weekend — that it was not Hamas firing the rockets. Hamas was, in fact, engaged in secret discussions to arrange a ceasefire.
This time, Israeli sources were blaming “Al-Qaeda,” meaning radicals in Gaza who see themselves as aligned with the late Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist group. They may well feel inspired by the Islamic State radicals: the Sunni Muslim fighters who’ve made advances in both Syria and Iraq.
Needless to say, they are as anti-American as they are anti-Israeli. The United States should want them to be defeated — preferably humiliated and annihilated.
Israel is looking for an opportunity to do that. The rocket-firing gangs in Gaza act as though they want to be invaded by Israel.
But it’s obvious, also, that the possibility of an Egypt-mediated ceasefire between Gaza (meaning basically Hamas) and Israel is a very tempting thing … at such a volatile and dangerous time.
The international translations of “Spies Against Armageddon” have begun – and the book has now been published in Poland.
Our Book in Polish
The Polish title, as can be seen, includes the word “Mossad.” That is, indeed, the famous name of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency — as famous as the CIA and the (now buried) KGB. Our book does point out, from the very start, that Israel’s intelligence/security/espionage community includes a lot more than just the Mossad.
Whether in English, Polish, or the other languages in which our book will appear, do please explore the history of how Israel has innovatively protected itself since the state’s founding in 1948.
At the top of the book cover as published in Poland, that country’s former head of military special forces — Gen. Gromoslaw Czempinski — offers this endorsement: “These are the real chronicles of Israel’s intelligence operations, projecting the motto: ‘Never say sorry. Never regret. Never say never. And nothing’s impossible.’”
The Polish title
SZPIEDZY MOSSADU I TAJNE WOJNY IZRAELA
literally means … “Spies of the Mossad and Israel’s Secret Wars.”
In reporting on the death at age 86 of Avraham Shalom (who as a Shin Bet operative used the last name Ben-Dor and other names), The New York Times cites some of our remarks about him – in our 1990 best seller, Every Spy a Prince.
This excerpt from Spies Against Armageddon (the updated edition published March 1 of this year) tells how the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir – himself a former undercover officer of the Mossad — kept in touch with his Shin Bet (domestic security agency) chief Avraham Shalom, in what became a serious scandal.
Facing an election to win his own term in the summer of 1984, Shamir sought to portray himself as totally firm on security issues. His party hinted that Shimon Peres, the Labor leader, was soft on Palestinian terrorism.
Shamir was interrupted by a phone call from Avraham Shalom. He was the Shin Bet director who had been involved in the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann in 1960 and the mysterious visit to a uranium facility in Pennsylvania [by Israeli intelligence men] and later would run damage control with the Americans after Jonathan Pollard was caught spying in 1985.
The prime minister thought he knew the most likely subject of Shalom’s call. Shin Bet was on the verge of cracking a case so sensitive that it could have led to a war with the entire Arab world. In this instance, the terrorists being pursued were Jewish settlers who started a murder campaign against Palestinian politicians in the West Bank and plotted to blow up the major mosques in Jerusalem. Muslims worldwide would be outraged if that plot were to be carried out.
This phone call, however, was not about the Jewish terrorists. Because Shamir had authorized Shin Bet to plant informers among the settlers, the plotters would be arrested—but sometime later.
[from Shin Bet website]
Shalom, on this night, was reporting that an Israeli bus on line number 300, from Tel Aviv heading south, had been hijacked. The fear was that the hijackers would take the Israeli passengers into occupied Gaza and then cross into Sinai, which in 1982 had returned to Egyptian control.
Shamir was also informed that orders were given to the military to stop the bus. [The army's] Sayeret Matkal’s hostage-rescue commandos and a Shin Bet operations team were rushing to the scene. The prime minister felt a certain sense of relief, believing that the security forces could handle this.
Soldiers at a roadblock managed to shoot out the tires of the bus and brought it to a halt in the Gaza Strip, less than six miles from the Egyptian border.
Shalom himself arrived on the scene. He was a field and operations man, not a paper-pushing bureaucrat, but he had limited experience in Palestinian issues—unlike Avraham Ahituv, the Shin Bet director he replaced in 1981.
Watching the motionless Bus 300 on the road near Gaza, Shalom knew that the army and police had units specially trained to storm all types of hijacked vehicles and rescue hostages. Shin Bet’s job would be to interrogate the four Arab attackers and discover their accomplices, sources of arms, and paymasters.
The Sayeret Matkal soldiers, who had practiced the technique hundreds of times, smashed windows and were inside the bus in seconds. They opened fire immediately, killing two of the terrorists and wounding the other two. The three dozen hostages were free, except for one woman who was killed in her seat.
When Israelis woke up the next morning, they heard good news: that all four bus hijackers were killed.
“But that can’t be,” said Alex Libak, a newspaper photographer who had witnessed the shootout and vividly remembered the charred bodies of two hijackers—the bus had caught fire in the gunfight—but had also seen soldiers and men in civilian clothes pummeling two wounded terrorists with fists and rifle butts.
His newspaper violated military censorship by publishing his photo of two hijackers being led away. This challenged the official version and would create an avalanche of revelations that would expose decades of misbehavior by Shin Bet. Until that week, Shin Bet had been almost invisible: an organization that Israelis never discussed.
Puzzled by the photograph, Defense Minister Moshe Arens decided to take two steps: to use old, rarely used emergency laws to shut down that particular newspaper for four days; but also to set up an inquiry commission to look into what happened that night.
Punishing the newspaper added to the credibility of its story, and indeed the commission concluded that two of the terrorists had been alive when the battle was over. Now the question was: Who killed them?
Testimony by Shin Bet men pointed blame at the IDF’s General Yitzhak Mordechai, who had been beating the two detainees during a brief “field interrogation.” Shin Bet provided multiple, corroborating witnesses who blamed Mordechai.
It eventually emerged that this was a deception campaign directed by the agency director, Shalom. He and his close associates approached the task as thoroughly as they might have planned an assassination, but here it was a character assassination of Mordechai.
This put the decorated general in a Kafkaesque position. He knew that he did not kill the hijackers, but he faced a court martial where no one seemed to believe him—and his entire career could be ruined.
Luckily for the general, a later inquiry commission found that the two terrorists had been very badly wounded during the firefight, and that was why they died. Mordechai was found not guilty.
Around the same time, the deputy director and two other senior Shin Bet men actually turned against their boss, Shalom. At first, they had thought that the agency would get away with yet another in a long string of cover-ups. But now, they were extremely disturbed by a web of lies they felt was damaging Shin Bet.
They knew that since the Six-Day War [of 1967], under two previous directors, Shin Bet had been torturing Palestinians and systematically lying to courts. The three men were part of the system. Yet now, after years of being accomplices to abuses, they were outraged by the thought of ruining an honorable general’s career.
And they concluded that lies and cover-ups were poisonous for Shin Bet.
Their goal was not public exposure, as they did not particularly want citizens to know the truth about the agency that was tasked with keeping them safe. The three rebels believed, however, that a professional organization should be telling the truth to itself.
One of them went to see Shalom, who strangely insisted that the meeting not be at Shin Bet headquarters—but at Tel Aviv’s main municipal garbage dump. In a scene torn out of an old-fashioned crime novel or movie, the agency director admitted that he had given the order to his operatives to “finish off” the bus hijackers. Shalom added, however, that he was obeying instructions from Prime Minister Shamir.
The three rebels, not satisfied by the private confession, all went to see Shalom and demanded his resignation. They argued that he was ruining Shin Bet with all his cover-ups. The director refused to step down, believing that one of the three was plotting to grab his job. Shalom suspended them, and they were ostracized within the organization.
Before long, staff meetings were convened and—in the style of the Soviet KGB—the order of the day was to denounce the three renegades. According to the officially sponsored smear, they were plotting a putsch against Shalom. Rumors then spread that they were involved in drug smuggling from Lebanon.
Undeterred, they decided to go to the new prime minister, Shimon Peres. Because of Israel’s Byzantine political system, after a near tie in the July 1984 election, Peres and Shamir had reached a unique agreement: a “rotation” coalition. Shamir was now the foreign minister, and the plan was for them to swap jobs in 1986.
Although Peres met with the three Shin Bet officials—who were practically breaking a blood pledge of absolute silence, not unlike the Costa Nostra’s omerta—the prime minister did nothing. He refused to be dragged into the Shin Bet’s squabble, however serious it was. He felt that the bus hijacking scandal began on Shamir’s watch, not his.
This entire dispute was played out in secret, with heavy censorship of the press preventing any morsel from reaching the public. In any event, only a small minority of Israelis would care about the deaths of two Palestinian terrorists.
Despite the realization that Israel, from top to bottom, preferred to bury this entire affair, the trio were practically obsessed with not giving up.
Later dubbed “the three musketeers,” these long-time Shin Bet men felt like victims of their own agency. They were wiretapped and under surveillance.
For their own protection, they recited everything they knew into tape recorders and hid the recordings for safekeeping, to be found if they met untimely ends.
They used their old tradecraft to avoid detection and went, in the middle of the night, to see Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir and his chief prosecutor, Dorit Beinish. Zamir and Beinish were shocked, hardly believing what they were hearing, and they decided to launch yet another investigation—a full two years after the bus hijacking.
Now, Prime Minister Peres had to pay attention, and he joined forces with Shamir.
When Zamir concluded that there was a basis for a criminal investigation and passed the case file to the police, Peres and Shamir responded by firing the attorney general. This was truly a coverup in the style of Nixon during Watergate.
The police kept doing their duty, however, and declared that Shalom and 11 others in Shin Bet should be indicted. It turned out that the head of the operations department, Ehud Yatom—the brother of a future Mossad director— had taken the two wounded hijackers away from the scene on that day in Gaza. Along with subordinates, Yatom headed in a vehicle toward a Shin Bet interrogation center, but on the way he took the two Palestinians out of the van and killed them with stones, sticks, and his own bare hands.
“I smashed their skulls, and I’m proud of everything I’ve done,” Yatom told a reporter years later. “On the way, I received an order from Avraham Shalom to kill the men, so I killed them.”
Yatom said his hands were “clean and moral,” adding, “I am one of the few who came away from the affair with a healthy soul.”
Peres and Shamir arranged one more extra-legal trick. They had installed an attorney general more to their liking, and they arranged for him to visit the president of Israel, Chaim Herzog. Herzog’s was primarily a ceremonial job, but, as in many countries, the president had the power of pardon. Herzog agreed to issue pardons to all 12 Shin Bet men who were under investigation— even before they were indicted, tried, or convicted. It was probably relevant that Herzog had been director of Aman: an old hand at black operations.
Most of the dirty dozen left Shin Bet, but not in disgrace. Shalom started a new career as an international security consultant, going back to his old last name, Bendor, for a small measure of anonymity. Yatom tried hard to become the principal of a high school, but the community raised a ruckus that a man who smashed skulls should be an educator. Yatom did go on to be elected a member of Knesset for the Likud Party.
Missing since June 12th, three young Israelis — ages 19, 16, and 16, one of them a dual citizen of the United States and Israel — are at the center of the hopes, prayers, and worries of the entire country.
While the IDF (Israel’s army) continues with house-to-house and cave-to-cave searches, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) keeps collecting pieces of intelligence information and already nearly 200 Hamas activists and political leaders have been arrested. But the security establishment is challenged on a new front: to repel and deny the irresponsible spreading of rumors and hoaxes.
It began Friday with the fabricated message, supposedly by an IDF spokesman, claiming that the three kidnapped yeshiva students were rescued in a “heroic operation.” It continued Monday with another false message that the three were murdered within the first minutes of the abduction.
These two rumors, products of sick minds, were denied by the IDF spokesman who called upon the public to “stop spreading rumors.” It is highly doubtful whether such a call will be heard. The internet and social media are already on unstoppable, uncontrollable automated pilot. “When this kidnapping affair hopefully reaches its happy ending,” I was told by security officials, “we will have to deal with this phenomenon.”
The prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff have called upon the public to show restraint and patience, the question on the mind of every Israeli is, “When will it be over?” It could happen at any moment, but it also could take days or longer.
Security officials also told me that “with every day that passes we have better intelligence and a better understanding.” But it can also be said that with every day that passes, worry for the lives of the kidnapped boys increases.
The sources also comment that “this case is not comparable to Gilad Shalit”: the case of the Israeli soldier kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas, held in Gaza, and eventually released in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians terrorists including murderers sentenced to life imprisonment.
They mean to say that, unlike during the Shalit crisis when Shin Bet had no intelligence regarding his whereabouts, thus precluding a viable military rescue operation, this time the intelligence is much better. Yet the agency — supported by military intelligence — does not seem to have the needed information to determine whether the three students are alive, where they are being held, who their kidnappers are, and who is sheltering them with their captives. It’s not an easy task.
It’s like solving a puzzle by adding one piece to another.
Shin Bet, using both human and technological intelligence, is the single most important element in this affair. Its operation involves three intelligence circles, with the hope that in the end, all of the circles will close.
One of the circles focuses on information obtained from Palestinian agents and collaborators operated by Shin Bet.
The second depends on investigating and interrogating Hamas activists who have been arrested since the kidnapping. Here one must differentiate between arrests of those in the operational echelon – in which the detainee may be able to supply intelligence information – with arrests of those in Hamas’s political echelon in the West Bank. The purpose of the latter arrests is triple: punishment, deterrence, and to satisfy the Israeli public.
Israel’s security cabinet has voted to harshen the treatment of Hamas Palestinians who are in Israeli custody, in order to put pressure on Hamas. Israel is also using collective punishment against Hebron residents. They are prevented from traveling abroad, and 20,000 Palestinians workers and traders from the region are forbidden to enter Israel.
In conclusion, a word about the unfair jab the media have taken at the police. What would it have helped if the commissioner of the Israel Police had cut short his trip to a conference in New York City to rush home? The police are a marginal element in the investigation of this tragic incident. And as infuriating as it is that initial information about this kidnapping was delayed nearly eight hours due to police negligence — as a cellphone call from one of the kidnapped youngsters was dismissed as a phony phone call — one must remember that the kidnappers had no knowledge of that fact at the time. It had no impact on what they were doing.
They had no idea that they had eight extra hours before an Israeli search would commence. The attackers acted on the assumption that they must disappear within a few minutes or, at most, a couple of hours. And they did.
[This article by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, was written for the website of the 24-hour privately owned TV news service from Israel, i24news.tv .]
As time goes by, the chances of finding the three missing Israeli yeshiva students — who were probably kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank on Thursday — grow slim. The efforts to trace them are now focusing on intelligence reports. Israel’s Security Agency (Shin Bet) and the military’s intelligence agency (Aman) are utilizing all possible means to find the missing students, including human resources and agents as well as through the interception of communications.
There are five possible scenarios for the fate of the Israelis and where they might be. Incidentally Israeli officials are also at dark
They are alive.
They are dead and buried.
If they are alive, they may have been smuggled to a safe shelter in Gaza or even better (from the kidnappers’ perspective) to the Sinai Peninsula.
They are in a safe house in the West Bank.
They are somewhere else in the West Bank.
Never before in the bloody history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were three Israelis kidnapped in a single terrorist attack. So far, all indicators point to a well-planned and professionally-executed operation. The kidnappers likely persuaded or forced the students who were hitchhiking to get into their car. This scenario is quite probable as past precedents have shown that previous kidnappers posed as Israelis, and these abductors probably spoke fluent Hebrew with no accent and wore typical Israeli clothes (maybe even typical of orthodox Jews).
An unknown Salafist organization from Hebron took responsibility for the operation. But the announcement may well be just a decoy, a kind of disinformation created in order to conceal the true identity of those who are behind the attack. Therefore, it should be regarded with suspicion. The burnt car that was discovered in the vicinity could also just be a distraction.
For now, the prime suspects are Hamas and the Islamic Jihad who have both in recent years attempted to launch kidnapping operations, which were all thankfully foiled. But the timing of this incident is bad for Hamas. Just a few weeks ago the militant group joined a national unity government led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Claiming responsibility for the kidnapping would greatly embarrass Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.
Eventually, those who truly initiated and carried out the kidnappings will step out into the open by publishing a statement taking responsibility for the crime and presenting their demands.
Israeli security sources are confident that the operation is aimed at bargaining with Israel to release Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails. For the past 30 years, kidnapping soldiers and civilians has proven to be the most effective tool for Palestinians. Subsequent Israeli governments promised to never surrender to terrorism and caved in time after time, releasing thousands of terrorists in the process (many of them who had been serving life sentences for murder).
<Will There Again Be a Campaign to Do a Deal to Free Israeli Hostages?>
Three years ago Israel was forced to free more than 1000 terrorists in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped near Gaza by Hamas. As a result of the public outcry that ensued regarding the heavy price paid by Israel, the government set up a special committee to come up with recommendations for similar scenarios in the future. In the end, the committee recommended that Israel draw “red lines” so as to minimize the cost of prisoner swaps: Israeli bodies would be exchanged for Palestinian bodies and not living terrorists, for each soldier kidnapped Israel would release just a handful of terrorists and not dozens.
But Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet never adopted the recommendations out of fear that its negotiating power and maneuvering space would be limited in the future.
It seems that the moment of truth has arrived. If the kidnapped students are alive and currently being held by terrorists and if a military rescue operation is not viable, Netanyahu will have to make a tough decision under pressure from families and the public to once again release hundreds of terrorists.
[This piece was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and many other books, for the website of the non-stop TV news channel that broadcasts from Israel, i24news.tv .]
The similar yet different cases of U.S. Sgt. Bergdahl and Israeli Sgt. Shalit
These are the similarities.
Both came from small communities. One in the Upper Galilee in Israel. The other in Idaho, USA. They were born the same year – 1986. Both were soldiers. The Israeli served in a tank battalion. The American as an infantryman. Both were held in miserable conditions in captivity by cruel enemies, and were subjected to psychological pressure and brain wash.
Both were taken prisoner under dubious circumstances without putting up any resistance. The Israeli did not fire a single bullet at his Hamas captors from Gaza and it remains unclear whether he fell asleep when he was supposed to be standing guard over his tank comrades, two of whom were killed by the terrorists who captured him. The American probably deserted his unit and went over to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Both were held in captivity for about five years and eventually released in prisoner swaps between their respective governments and terrorist groups. For several years both governments had refused to bend to the terrorists’ demands and rejected proposed deals. Until the leaders of the two countries, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu of Israel and US President Barack Obama, changed their minds.
The swaps were controversial and generated heated political debate and public emotion. Israeli Sgt. Gilad Shalit was released in October 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian terrorists – hundreds of them serving life sentences or, as they are known in Israeli parlance, “with blood on their hands.”
American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released in May 2014 in exchange for five senior Taliban commanders known as the “Taliban Five.”
But here the similarities end. The differences are rooted in precedents, experience, national ethos as well as historical and cultural dimensions.
The Shalit family, funded by the Israeli government, accused the government of abandoning its son. From day one they campaigned publicly here and abroad for his release at any cost.
After crossing the border from Gaza and being flown into an Israeli airfield, Gilad Shalit was personally received by Netanyahu and later received a hero’s welcome in his village. The Israeli media was ecstatic, with live broadcasts on radio and television. Upon his release, Israelis swept their differences under the carpet and gathered around their national consensual “campfire.”
Very few politicians (mainly from the Israeli far right), military men or journalists dared raise questions about the wisdom of the deal, the heavy price paid by the state and the unclear circumstances of his capture.
His tank and platoon comrades refuse to divulge the truth about what happened the night Shalit was captured. He became a celebrity, was invited to trendy parties, was an item on gossip columns and a columnist for the influential. mass-circulation Yediot Ahronot.
In the United States, the opposite has happened. While in captivity, Bergdahl’s family was not seen in public. The media showed very little interest in the US prisoner.
Bergdahl was handed over by the Taliban to a Delta Force team and flown for medical treatment and intelligence debriefings to an American air base in Germany. The US media was not present and the US government did not release any imagery of the swap. The only footage made public courtesy of the propaganda department of the Taliban, which released a video recording showing its version of the handover.
Unlike the Israeli public, the American public remains highly polarized over the release and refuses to bury the tough questions surrounding Bergdahl’s capture.
His comrades rushed to open the closet and reveal Bergdahl’s skeletons. They said he was not taken in combat, but rather laid down his weapon and walked away from his unit and disappeared. For some, he is simply a deserter.
He may yet be court martialed, and it is thus doubtful that President Obama will greet him at the White House.
And still, one more common trait stands out. Israeli and American governments state with inflammatory rhetoric that “we shall never surrender to terrorists” and yet they do, time and again. Israel, though, does so more often and with greater readiness to pay a higher price.
[Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, wrote this for the website of the non-stop private TV news channel broadcasting from Israel: i24news.tv.]
Europe is in trouble. The terror attack inside the Jewish Museum in Brussels last month exposed basic flaws in the work of French and Belgian security and law enforcement.
A security-camera image of the killer in Brussels
First, why were there no armed guards? It is not clear why and who made the unwise decision to define the museum as a cultural center, thus leaving it unguarded, unlike other Jewish institutions – kindergartens, schools, community centers and business offices – which are heavily protected. Now, various Belgian organizations and individuals – the museum director, police chiefs and security services – are blaming each other for the shortcoming.
In France, the security services and police deserve credit for the swift arrest of the French terrorist who carried out the Brussels attack, Mehdi Nemmouche. On the other hand, it is hard to understand why this man, who was on the French blacklist of potential terrorists, managed to travel between countries with weapons. This clearly reflects inadequate coordination between the security services of the two EU neighbors.
One wonders if such is the case between two close-knit intelligence communities, how EU nations will be able to meet the upcoming challenge of monitoring, shadowing and preventing the potential threat posed by more than 1,000 young European militants expected to return home from the Syrian battlefields — should they survive.
Europe should have known better and should have learned the lessons of the aftermath of 9/11.
After the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the toppling of the Taliban regime and the disintegration of Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims who had been fighting alongside the Taliban returned to their respective home countries. They had been trained in the use of weapons, had battle-proven experience, were networked, well-connected and highly radicalized and motivated.
The consequences were soon apparent. Some of them went to join Bosnia’s Muslims in the Balkan wars,, while others volunteered to battle the “U.S. invaders” in Iraq. Still others participated in a serious of murderous terror attacks that shattered Bali, Morocco, Turkey, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, London and Madrid, resulting in hundreds of innocent victims. Many more terrorist attempts were foiled by good intelligence.
Europe’s growing fear, as well as that of the United States – in late May, revealing that a U.S. citizen fighting on the side of the rebels carried out a suicide bomb attack in Syria – is that they will suffer a repeat of the Afghanistan experience.
More than a thousand young militants from France, the UK, Spain, Belgium, Holland and other western European states are currently in Syria, fighting alongside their Islamist Mujahideen from Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, against Bashar Assad’s regime. In the process, they undergo religious radicalization.
European countries, and certainly the United States, as well as Arab governments, are more experienced now and should be ready and determined to repel the threat.
Their security services are drawing up lists of the Syria veterans and keeping a close eye on them. Public sympathy for the governments’ anti-terror agenda and the rise of right-wing parties, as the recent EU elections showed, are providing a tail wind for these counter-terrorism efforts. But still, as the Brussels attack shows, there is a long way to go to effectively combat the threats.
If you’d like to see Dan Raviv answer questions from the C-SPAN television host and many members of the public who phoned in, please click here or watch on the video box below. The one-hour appearance was on Tuesday morning, May 27.
It’s a 40-minute video:
On Wednesday night (May 28), the cable channel Shalom TV interviewed Spies Against Armageddon co-author Yossi Melman for a full hour. Main subject? The history of Israeli espionage — including the Mossad and many other secretive agencies. The channel is also viewable at ShalomTV.org (and on Roku boxes). (When Shalom TV repeats the interview, we’ll post the dates and times here.)
[The following opinion article is by Yossi Melman, analyst for i24news.tv and co-author of SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON and other books.]
It took the important visit to the Holy Land by Pope Francis to prod Israel’s security agency – Shin Bet – into taking strong action against rightwing Jewish extremists.
Pope Francis (r) smiled with Netanyahu, then flew home to the Vatican (Israel Government Press Office photo)
Fearing that the extreme Right — which already has burned and damaged Christian churches and monasteries — would try to disrupt the Pope’s visit with violence, police and Shin Bet took preventive measures. Days before the Pope arrived on Sunday, dozens of suspects were detained and moved to remote locations — far from their homes.
These “administrative measures” are controversial, of course, in a democracy. But they are based on emergency laws dating back nearly 80 years to the days when the British ruled Palestine.
It would be better for a free country not to use these powers at all — or abolish them — but if they are used they should be used equitably. However, in the 47 years since Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza (in the Six-Day War), these draconian measures have been mainly used by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians linked allegedly with terrorism in the captured territories. Not against Jews.
This is despite the fact that, in the past 5 years, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of incidents in which Jewish radicals have resorted to violence — mainly against Palestinians in the West Bank and their property. On occasion the targets have been Arab citizens of Israel, and sometimes mosques and churches have been attacked.
According to police and Shin Bet data, 20 mosques and Christian sites have been desecrated since 2010 – either with obscene and hate graffiti or, worse, by setting them on fire.
True, this is less lethal — “softer” — than Palestinian acts of terror. Arab attackers have killed Jews in recent years, some of them settlers but some simply visiting friends and relatives.
The right-wing Jewish gangs have not murdered anyone — one has to be cautious and add, “so far” — in the past few years. The victims have “only” been beaten and injured. Cars and houses have been set on fire and olive trees cut and uprooted.
The weapons of choice for the Jewish terrorists are not “so far” firearms and bombs — but stones, clubs and Molotov cocktails.
Yet, Jewish terrorism undermines Israel’s foundations as a democracy and portrays it instead as a lawless state.
It gives the impression that Israeli justice and law enforcement agencies use what English writer George Orwell termed “double speak” (in his prescient novel, 1984). One set of methods and laws is used to counter Palestinian terrorism, and a very different set is deployed against Jewish terror.
One law applies to Israel in its pre-June 1967 borders and another to the military-administered West Bank which is known to most of the world as occupied.
No less worrying, double speak and double standards distort Jewish values and tarnish the image of Israel among enlightened nations.
The Shin Bet unit which is tasked with countering Jewish rightwing radicals knows who are the spiritual leaders – the rabbis- who sanction the acts of violence, who are the commanders who issue the orders, and who are the foot soldiers who carry them out.
Yet, the failure to stop the violence lies not only on the doorsteps of the Shin Bet. It is a comprehensive one, a failure of the entire system. The blame has to be shared also by the police, the military, the attorney general, the state prosecutors, the Ministry of Justice and the courts.
In short, it is a colossal failure on the part of successive Israeli governments, which for years turned a blind eye or simply tolerated various degrees of political violence and hate crimes used by Jewish settlers against Palestinians.
This lax attitude is clearly illustrated by the way in which the Israeli media and the authorities demonstrate verbal flexibility when it comes to naming the perpetrators. Instead of labeling them as what they are – terrorists – journalists and politicians have adopted the label “price tag” for their intolerable and despicable acts of violence.
This stems from the rightwingers’ claim that they are extracting a “price” for every hostile act by Palestinians. In the Bible, this was the principle of “eye for an eye” justice.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has many dimensions – national, political, territorial, cultural and religious. In the worst case scenarios drawn by Israeli analysts, the most feared and dangerous one is that the religious aspect will take over and dominate the conflict.
A religious war, after all, might draw the billions of Muslims around the globe into fighting against Israel. And if such a scenario is not frightening enough, the acts of Jewish terrorists targeting Christian holy places have the potential of infuriating Christians, especially the Evangelist congregations in the U.S. which are considered among Israel’s most fervent supporters.
The perception and approach of the authorities, the media, and the public at large here in Israel must change. Indeed, in recent weeks one can sense a change of mind and heart by the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Minister of Police and Domestic Security who are promising that they are now more determined than ever to “uproot” the phenomenon. Let’s optimistically say: Better late than never.
Thanks to the hundreds of people — interested in Israel, the Middle East, and espionage — who attended our 3 lectures this month (May 13-14-15) in New York City and Washington DC.
To see the entire one-hour program, recorded at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, click here:
And on Tuesday (May 27), co-author Dan Raviv will be on C-SPAN television (and satellite radio) talking about the Middle East, spies, and more: Tuesday morning’s “Washington Journal” at 9:15 to 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time.
On Wednesday night (May 28), the cable channel Shalom TV’s founder Rabbi Mark Golub will interview co-author Yossi Melman for a full hour. That’s also viewable at ShalomTV.org (and on Roku boxes). The interview is at 9:00 p.m., repeated at midnight and the next day at 3:00 p.m.
Yossi Melman (left) and Dan Raviv sign books for lecture audiences
[The notion that Israel is unusually active in spying on the United States is again being discussed -- because of aNewsweek item -- so we offer this excerpt from Every Spy a Prince, by Dan Raviv & Yossi Melman. This is from the middle of Chapter 18, "Spying on Friends."]
When Jonathan Pollard was arrested in Washington DC in 1985 and his espionage activities were revealed, most American authorities were not very surprised. The CIA, for one, always assumed that Israeli spies were active in the United States. A secret study by the agency declared that after gathering intelligence on its Arab neighbors, the second and third priorities of Israeli intelligence were the “collection of information on secret U.S. policy or decisions, if any, concerning Israel,” and the “collection of scientific intelligence in the United States and other developed countries.”
Believing that there was now an opportunity to send Israeli intelligence a very stern message—that it should stop all espionage in the United States—federal prosecutors came down very hard on Pollard. The government attorneys declared: “This defendant has admitted that he sold to Israel a volume of classified documents, ten feet by six feet by six feet” if all gathered into one huge pile.
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote his own letter to Judge Aubrey Robinson: “It is difficult for me to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant.” Weinberger said privately that Pollard deserved to be hanged or shot, adding that repairing the damage he caused could cost the United States a billion dollars.
Pollard, meantime, made the mistake of boasting that he had been “quite literally, Israel’s eyes and ears over an immense geographic area stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.” His own memo to the judge also offered the opinion that the information he gave to Israel “was so unique” that the country’s political leaders must “have known about the existence of an agent working in the American intelligence establishment.”
The way the Israeli handlers had “tasked” him, Pollard wrote, indicated “a highly coordinated effort between the naval, army, and air force intelligence services.”
True as the assessment may have been, inflating the importance of his undercover work certainly did not get him a lighter sentence.
On March 4, 1987, nine months after pleading guilty in a bargain that was supposed to mean he would not have to spend the rest of his days in prison, Pollard was given a life sentence anyway. Weinberger’s letter had swayed the judge.
Pollard’s wife Anne was sentenced to five years, and she served three. The Israeli government, though caught red-handed in November 1985, evaded questions for a few days but then had no choice but to admit that Pollard’s actions were an Israeli operation. Prime Minister Shimon Peres told President Reagan by telephone that it had not been authorized and would not happen again.
[There is a lot more, including America's use of the CIA to spy on Israel, in our book Spies Against Armageddon.]