Israel Hasn’t Won or Lost the Gaza War — But Now Hopes to Kill Top Hamas Leaders: Victory?

After the latest ceasefire broke down — with Hamas and Israel both finding it pointless to keep negotiating in Cairo — Israel is attempting “shock and awe” tactics: first, with an airstrike that flattened an apartment building and aimed to kill Hamas’s military chief. Then came another airstrike, with impressive precision, destroying a house in which three senior military men of Hamas were meeting — and all three were killed. But do targeted assassinations help, in the long run?

[Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the new, updated history of Israel's intelligence agencies Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars, wrote this article for Friday's Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

Dead or alive? Was Muhammad Deif, legendary chief of the Izzedin Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, eliminated in a targeted killing by Israel – or did he survive the attack?

Israelis and Palestinians have been asking that question since the early hours of Wednesday morning, when reports of an attempted assassination first surfaced. The assumption is that he was killed or gravely wounded, but more than 48 hours later, we remain in the dark.

Hamas’s websites and spokesmen declared Deif alive and kicking. Some of them even made a mockery of what they described as yet another Israeli failure to assassinate him.

Israel's air force: assassination weapons

Israel’s air force: assassination weapons

Indeed, like a cat with nine lives, Deif has survived at least four attempts by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the military to kill him.

Israeli officials added to the aura of mystery by remaining ambiguous. They hinted he was most probably killed but weren’t sure, and they did not wish to commit themselves to a statement they would regret.

Let’s assume for a moment that Deif was killed in the attack: What would the implications and ramifications of such a hit be?

Already severely disabled due to earlier attacks, Deif had become in recent years more of an “honorary” commander of the military wing . Nevertheless, he was involved in the major strategic military decisions taken by the movement – including transforming Hamas into a semi-military organization with battalions and brigades (with two of its six brigade commanders killed in a joint Shin Bet-Israel Air Force operation this week after Deif was hit). Deif was also involved in the tunnel and rocket programs.

Thus, killing him could be a tactical gain for Israel, a boost to Israel’s morale during the frustrating Gaza war, and a psychological blow for Hamas.

The Gaza war has become more about public relations, images, and spin than about success in the battlefield. Every side aspires for an Iwo Jima-style “victory photo” – and killing Deif could provide that image for Israel.

There is a downside, however: If Deif managed to survive a fifth Israeli attempt on his life, it will elevate his godlike status not just within Hamas, but among the Palestinian constituency everywhere.

The larger question here is whether Israel’s assassination policy is paying off.

For decades, Israeli intelligence chiefs have debated the wisdom and effectiveness of the policy – a debate that is less of a moral or ethical deliberation, but a more practical one.

The late David Kimche, a senior Mossad operative, told me more than a decade ago that he and his colleagues had discussed many times whether the organization should be involved in assassinations and targeted killings. Some argue against it, claiming that the Mossad is not a Murder, Inc., and killing terrorist leaders is counterproductive.

A quick reminder: Less than two years ago, Israel’s previous campaign in Gaza opened with the killing of Ahmed Jabari, then the operations chief of Hamas’s military wing, as Deif was still recuperating from his Israeli-inflicted wounds. Quickly enough, Hamas recovered from the loss of Jabari and replaced him with a new commander, Marwan Issa, who today is still the military wing’s acting chief.

There are many other examples, the most blatant being the 1992 assassination of Hezbollah secretary-general Abbas Moussawi; he was replaced by a more skillful leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

The long history of Israel’s war against terrorist leaders and military operatives reads like the final chapter of the Passover Seder: one killing leads to a new leader, who is then killed, followed by a new leader, and so forth.

But on the other hand, does a country fighting terrorism have a choice? The nature of asymmetrical struggle between a state and a terror group is that it is an ongoing battle – a kind of war of attrition with no knockout blow possible.

Israel – and for that matter, any other nation in a similar situation – doesn’t have the luxury of projecting an image of weakness and thus has to hit, retaliate, and assassinate the enemy’s operatives.

This is not in order to take revenge, but as a step to disrupt future plots and eliminate the other side’s most capable leaders and commanders.

Israel’s intelligence and security apparatus has for years tried to devise a doctrine detailing when and whom to target, based on how useful the termination would be. There are no textbook answers, only general observations.

Killing a leader of a small group – a nearly one-man show – can paralyze that organization. But when it comes to larger terrorist groups well-rooted in the community, sooner or later a new – sometimes even more talented and daring – chief will turn up.

Regardless of whether Deif is dead or alive, it will not change the reality of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Both sides need an exit strategy, a long-term agreement to end the violence. For that to happen, they must swallow their pride and agree to a compromise.

August 21, 2014

Gaza Talks in Cairo May Resume Sometime, but Israeli Leaders Assume Hamas Will Take Over the West Bank: Crises are Certain, Peace is Not

by YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv

[Yossi Melman is co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the new, updated history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars. This is adapted from his article in Tuesday's Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

There were five possible outcomes to the Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo — which abruptly ended, when the violence resumed on Tuesday night (19 August): a long-term agreement, which is not very likely at this point; an Egyptian announcement that the sides had agreed to extend the truce; simultaneous announcements by Israel and Hamas that the truce would be extended;  a “narrow” agreement, which would allow for the truce to be extended while a number of measures are implemented in the field, such as the opening of crossings; or another 24-hour extension of the truce, in an attempt to reach a long-term arrangement.

However, in the background there was always an additional possibility that neither side seemed to desire: the resumption of the war.

Therefore, the IDF and the Israeli defense establishment were not taking any chances and were also prepared for this outcome. The train route from Sderot to Ashkelon, part of which is exposed to fire from Gaza, was shut down on Sunday. At some of the kibbutzim near Gaza, the kindergartens were reinforced with concrete walls (which begs the question: Why was this done at the last minute? The defense establishment had 14 years to do it.)

Most importantly, the IDF vowed to respond to every rocket with especially strong firepower. “One thing is clear. We will not accept a war of attrition,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon emphasized on Monday evening.

Israel’s updated military doctrine, in this Gaza war, is to hit back even harder whenever Hamas fires rockets: at the rocket launchers, of course, but also more broadly against key Hamas facilities and leaders.

Shin Bet — the domestic security agency — meantime clarified the timing of its revelation on Monday that Hamas was trying to create a potent military infrastructure in the West Bank: so as to launch major terrorist attacks against Israel from a new direction, but also to stage a coup d’etat that would remove the more moderate Fatah faction from power in the West Bank.

Shin Bet officials said the revelation — which received wide media coverage as a new claim by Israel — was not meant to affect the Cairo negotiations. It was mere coincidence, they said: connected to the filing of indictments against around 70 suspects in the terror ring.

Shin Bet contends that the release of the information on the terror plot was not meant to serve as propaganda or psychological warfare to drive a wedge between Hamas and the Fatah-led PA (the Palestinian Authority) on the day that the future of the Gaza ceasefire was being determined.

Now it is clear that even if the ceasefire were extended, the chances of reaching a long-term understanding between Israel and Hamas through the Palestinian Authority were (and remain) low.

Prime Minister Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu

The bitter truth is that the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which until now was dismissive of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and did everything it could to fritter away nine months of fruitless negotiations (mediated by America’s John Kerry), is now interested in putting Abbas in power in Gaza. It seems obvious that the Fatah faction would be better than the murderous, racist, implacable Hamas.

On the other hand, Israel’s government doesn’t hide its strong skepticism about Abbas and his ability to rule in the West Bank.

This government’s belief is that Hamas, either through the ballot box or by way of the gun, will eventually take over the West Bank.

Either way, the Israeli government does not truly want  a peace agreement or other understanding that it will obligate it to evacuate settlements and relocate settlers. Some in the government simply believe that the entire West Bank is rightfully Jewish territory — based on both the Bible and the lightning Six-Day victory in 1967. Others mostly stress the dangers that Israel would have to cope with, if Palestinians fully controlled the West Bank, leaving the Jewish state extremely thin and vulnerable.

Therefore, all the Netanyahu government does now is manage crises, like that occurring in Gaza today.  Israel will continue to jump from crisis to crisis.

August 19, 2014

Gaza Ceasefire Ended; No Deal — So Israeli Attack Aims at Hamas Leadership

Even before the scheduled end of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire at midnight, explosions erupted on Tuesday night — and the most significant was a long-distance assassination attempt by Israel.

Muhammad Deif, Hamas military chief

Muhammad Deif, Hamas military chief

Hamas said Mohammed Deif, the commander of its military wing, was the target of an airstrike that destroyed a house in Gaza City. Arab media said Deif’s wife and young child were killed. (It was not immediately clear whether Deif survived.)

A barrage of Hamas missiles — imprecisely aimed at Tel Aviv and at Ben-Gurion International Airport — was considered a retaliation for the assassination attempt. Dozens of rockets failed to kill any Israelis or cause significant damage.

And what of the negotiations in Cairo, where Egyptian mediators (with barely hidden advice from the United States) struggled mightily for a deal between Israel and Hamas?

Israeli officials say the head of the political wing of Hamas — Khaled Meshaal, who does his work from a hotel suite in far-off Qatar — intentionally sabotaged the negotiations, because he wants a united Arab stand to make much tougher demands. To show that Hamas gained something from this Gaza war, the radical Palestinian movement insists that a seaport and an airport should be opened quickly — while Israel and Egypt end the “siege” which strictly controls border entries and exits.

Khaled Meshaal

Khaled Meshaal

The core of the Meshaal obstacle, however, was his ego.  He appeared to be fighting for his honor, more than fighting for Hamas or the wider Palestinian people.

As the negotiations limped toward their latest deadline — after several extensions that were difficult for Egypt to arrange — Israel’s government honestly did not know what the outcome would be.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon knew, then they were not sharing that knowledge with the public — and not even with the rest of the cabinet. Ministers felt left out, and that was never going to increase Netanyahu’s chance of getting the cabinet’s backing for any deals that might be complicated or concession-filled.

It turns out that the basic Egyptian concept was — and is — to have an indefinite extension of the ceasefire, with the Israelis and Palestinians promising to hold serious, comprehensive negotiations in a month’s time. Israel and Egypt, though clearly not feeling that Gaza has become moderate or stable enough to have full shipping and flight rights, agreed not to veto the seaport and airport concept.

August 19, 2014

Major Claim by Israel’s Shin Bet — Hamas Launched Serious Plot in West Bank to Overthrow Fatah’s Palestinian Authority

by YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv

Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, claims that it uncovered a serious plot by Hamas – including unprecedented military preparations – to start an uprising in the West Bank: not only against Israel, but against the Palestinian Authority.

According to Shin Bet, Hamas’s goals in the West Bank included – at some stage – “a military coup” to topple the P.A., which is led by the late Yasser Arafat’s al-Fatah faction.  In the Gaza Strip in 2007, after winning an election there, Hamas fighters soundly defeated al-Fatah men – killing many and forcing the survivors to leave.

Shin Bet officials, in issuing details today, insist that this is all true – and not an Israeli invention aimed at jamming a huge wedge between Hamas and the P.A.  The officials deny any connection with the fact that all day Monday, there was high tension over not knowing if a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas would be extended to allow for more negotiations in Cairo.

Shin Bet's logo: Hebrew words mean "The Defender That Won't Be Seen"

Shin Bet’s logo: Hebrew words mean “The Defender That Won’t Be Seen”

Hamas is branded a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and many other governments. The Fatah faction, which as the P.A. has engaged in negotiations with Israel on-and-off for 21 years, is considered to be relatively moderate. (Rightwing Israelis argue that Fatah also backs terrorism and does not truly want to live in peace alongside a Jewish state of Israel.)

Shin Bet says its information about “military” organizing by Hamas in the West Bank is based on interrogations of recently arrested suspects. Information is being released at this time, because it is in legal documents that formalize charges against around 70 Hamas members.

The officials tell of 93 arrests in the current investigation, including a man who allegedly was recruited in Malaysia where he studied computer sciences. Hamas had him trained for code-breaking and cyberwarfare. 

According to information cleared by Israeli authorities for publication, the Hamas military organizing began in May – unrelated to the kidnap and murder of three young Israeli men in the West Bank a month later.

Over the weekend, the Israeli army destroyed the family homes of two Palestinians who are the prime suspects in the murder of the three Israelis. Human rights organizations complained that this was “collective punishment,” without any court indictments, trials, or convictions.

As for the “military” plot including a coup to take over the P.A., Shin Bet officials say the plan was hatched by Hamas activists in Turkey – with others in Jordan involved in the planning.

The plan included severe terrorist attacks inside Israel, launched from the West Bank, that would trigger harsh responses by Israel.  That, in turn, would lead – Hamas allegedly hoped – to the eruption of a widespread uprising by West Bank Palestinians: a third Intifada.

It seems that Israeli intelligence received some of its information on this plot from Jordan’s security agencies, which is believed to have spies inside various Palestinian factions – and Jordan is reputed to engage in harsh interrogations to extract information about alleged plots.

As part of the Israeli investigation in the West Bank, according to Shin Bet officials, dozens of weapons and hidden storage facilities were found.  Guns, valued at around half a million dollars, are believed to have been smuggled in from Jordan.

Shin Bet believes it broke up this plot before attacks on Israelis – or on the P.A. – could be carried out.  But one Shin Bet official said the information obtained proves that Hamas – and certainly its leadership outside the Palestinian territories – are deadly serious in their objective to take over the entire Palestinian movement.

August 18, 2014

‘Spies Against Armageddon’ Now Published in Czech and Polish — Retired General Gets The Message: “Never Say Sorry. Never Say Never”

The international translations of Spies Against Armageddon have begun – and the book has now been published in Poland and in the Czech Republic.

At our Twitter account @SpiesArmageddon, we mentioned the new Czech edition:

We r proud our book just published in Czech: = Spies Against Armageddon: Secret Wars of Mossad.
Our Book in Polish

Our Book in Polish

The Polish title, as can be seen, also 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.”

August 15, 2014

How to Detect ‘Terror Tunnels’? Israel’s Tech & Military Industries Hurry Up — Mexico, Korea Visited & Russian Technology was Tried

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) insist that the military has been aware, for some time, of the severe danger that Hamas tunnels from Gaza might pose.

IDF briefers have just revealed — without revealing when this occurred – that Israeli experts were dispatched on unannounced trips to countries that had experience with tunnels: Mexico, where smugglers of drugs and illegal immigrants used tunnels leading into the United States; and Korea, where the South’s military had discovered many intricate and solid tunnels built by the Communist North to prepare for a possible invasion in the future — threatening South Korea’s capital, Seoul.

The IDF even obtained and “test drove” a Russian-made radar system which is aimed down, into the ground, so that underground caves, tunnels, movements and sounds can be detected.  But it seemed to work only to a depth of 3 or 4 meters (about ten feet), so that wasn’t good enough.

Israeli Troops Near Tunnel They Discovered (:IDF Spokesman)

Israeli Troops Near Tunnel They Discovered (:IDF Spokesman)

Israel’s reconnaissance satellites also attempted to detect piles of soil, or changes in topography that might indicate tunnels.  But that did not work.

Israeli military and electronics manufacturers are now working quickly to develop appropriate technologies.

One approach would depend on acoustics — a form of radar that’s familiar to pregnant couples who see an “ultrasound picture” of their unborn child in the womb.  The other method would involve seismic detection – receiving an alert from vibrations below the Earth’s surface.

A critic, a retired colonel who is a geologist (Yossi Langotzki), says there is no need to re-invent the wheel, because seismic detection would be an approach ready to use right now. He says the existing seismic technology (used in the oil and mining industries) could be quite useful. Why waste time and money, Langotzki wonders, developing radar-based products that probably could not be ready for use for another two years or so?

As for how Hamas’s tunnels are destroyed after they are discovered by Israel – so far, 32 tunnels — the military is preventing full disclosure of its method for making them unuseable.  It may be said with certainty, however, that they are not simply “blown up” with explosives — not all the tunnels.  There are various ways of filling or blocking them.

The New York Times reported in February 2013 that Egypt was making tunnels from Gaza impassable — or too disgusting to use — by flooding them with raw sewage which could be piped-in or trucked-in from elsewhere.

August 10, 2014

The Gaza War — Featuring an Israeli Intelligence Failure? Who Knew About Hamas Tunnels?

When the Gaza war that Israel calls “Operation Protective Edge” (in Hebrew the name is Tzuk Eitan, מִבְצָע צוּק אֵיתָן, which means Operation Robust Cliff) began over a month ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the key goal was to find and destroy the rockets and launchers that Hamas was using in Gaza — so as to bring calm to southern Israel, which has been targeted on-and-off for nearly 10 years.

IDF photo of a Gaza tunnel's opening

IDF photo of a Gaza tunnel’s opening

After 10 days of failing to stop the Hamas rocket barrage, Netanyahu sent in ground forces. Now the declared key goal became subterranean: locating and destroying a huge network of tunnels — some of which went under the border and had exit points near Israeli residential neighborhoods.

Didn’t the highly respected — almost mythical — Israeli intelligence know about the Hamas tunnels, now nicknamed “Underground Gaza”? Were the Palestinians able to spend millions of dollars worth of materials, and countless man-hours digging and reinforcing tunnels, without Israel noticing?

Senior Israeli military briefers now say: We knew about the tunnels.

Other officials said that moving against Underground Gaza — before the current conflict broke out in July — would have triggered a war. Israel would have been blamed. Even the Israeli public might not have been supportive of a preemptive invasion.

The briefers reveal that Israel even sent experts to Mexico and to South Korea — to see how smugglers’ and attack tunnels were built there.

Many Israelis are starting to ask, “Didn’t Israeli intelligence detect the tunnels as they were being dug?” Presaging what’s likely to be parliamentary investigation, members of the public are asking, “Did intelligence analysts speak to military commanders, and did they both clearly warn government officials and political leaders?”

Were the dots connected?  One senior briefer (who insists on not being named) was asked about claims by some cabinet ministers that the IDF (the military) and intelligence chiefs did not tell them “loud and clear” about the tunnels as a strategic threat from Gaza.

Hamas could have chosen to attack Israeli civilians or soldiers at any time. Many now are believing reports of a master plan by Hamas to send a large number of terrorists into Israel on the important New Year holiday, Rosh HaShana, this coming September.

The senior briefer responded to reporters — with a touch of sarcasm — that top military officers might speak in complex sentences, containing comprehensive information in just a few phrases, but it was apparent that Israel’s top civilian officials understood what the military was telling them.

August 10, 2014

Trying Yet Again: A Monday Ceasefire with Hamas, and Israeli Troops Stay Outside Gaza — a Surprise Flourish Tried to End the Mini-War

On Sunday evening (10 August) in the Middle East, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to start another ceasefire in Gaza. The Israelis had refused to send a team to the indirect talks in Cairo — brokered by Egypt (with, it is believed, strong American guidance) — as Israel declared it would not “negotiate under fire.”

Now, if this ceasefire starting Monday morning (at midnight) holds, Israel is expected to send negotiators to Cairo. But will Israel agree to open Gaza’s borders (“lift the siege,” as the Palestinians put it)? Israel and Egypt, citing security concerns, both reject the Hamas demand that Gaza have an independently run seaport and airport.

Some European governments, offering to help, have suggested they might oversee a “sea bridge” that would have supply vessels sailing between Cyprus and Gaza. This, in the European view, would relieve the “prison-like” situation that Gaza has been in since Hamas’s takeover in 2007 (two years after Israeli troops and settlers ended a 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip).

Israel’s political and military leaders had sprung a surprise on Tuesday morning (5 August): announcing that by 8 a.m. local time, all Israeli troops would be pulled out of Gaza.  “They will take up positions on our side of the border,” a senior IDF source told a limited number of reporters that morning.  “The soldiers have a good feeling about the campaign.  We destroyed all 32 tunnels that we discovered.  And we acted according to international norms.  There’s plenty of proof of that.”

Netanyahu: Trying to End the Mini-War (photo from BBC April 2013)

Netanyahu: Trying to End the Mini-War (photo from BBC April 2013)

“It’s easy to start a war, but it’s not easy to end one.”  Israeli leaders heard pundits issue that kind of warning, in mid-July, when they sent the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) into Gaza — and now they’ve decided to pull them all out.  This is, practically, a “Mission Accomplished” announcement by Israel.

On Monday night (4 August), Israel and Hamas — though never directly in touch with each other — agreed to accept the latest proposal by Egypt’s government for a 72-hour ceasefire starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Negotiations in Cairo took place, but with a lack of progress Hamas ended the ceasefire on Friday morning by firing rockets into Israel. Israel’s air force and artillery pounded back.

The previous Friday (1 August) a similar arrangement was attempted — but that ceasefire was shattered within 90 minutes when team of Hamas attackers popped out of one of their secretly dug tunnels and ambushed Israeli troops.  Two soldiers were killed immediately, and a third — at first described as a kidnap victim — was later declared dead by the IDF’s chief rabbi (and an investigation panel).

Israel then pounded Palestinian positions and neighborhoods — killing, according to Arab media, several hundred people as apparent revenge for the attack that ruined the August 1st ceasefire.

There still is a definite possibility that the newest ceasefire will break down, and the violence could return. Much will depend on the outcome of the indirect talks in Cairo.

August 10, 2014

Why Was the Missing Israeli Lieutenant Declared “Dead”? And Does the Army Have a Secret Plan to Kill Kidnapped Soldiers, to Avoid Crisis?

Israel was feeling the overwhelming national emotion of having a “missing soldier — kidnapped by terrorists,” but late on Saturday night (2 August) the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) decided to declare that Hadar Golding, a 23-year-old 2nd lieutenant, was dead.  Officials did not want to reveal publicly what they had found at the scene of a suicide bomb explosion on Friday morning — the one that shattered the ceasefire that had just begun in Gaza. Body parts? Pieces of Golding’s clothing? Or just the logical, almost certain conclusion that Golding — though his body was dragged away by Palestinian attackers — could not have survived, as he had been standing with the two soldiers whose corpses were found?

In Israeli society, why is the kidnapping of a soldier considered worse news than the death of IDF soldiers?  Because the army adheres to its commitment, to bring every fighter back home from captivity. Thus a kidnap leads inevitably to a lopsided prisoner exchange. In 2011 Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners — including convicted murderers — in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier who had been held by Hamas in Gaza for five years.

Lt. Hadar Goldin, declared dead by IDF

Lt. Hadar Goldin, declared dead by IDF

[The folowing analysis -- which dismisses the notion of a secret IDF plan to kill Israeli soldiers when they have been captured -- was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for the website of the private TV news service broadcast from Israel, i24news.tv.]

Before the death of the Israeli army’s Second Lieutenant Hadar Golding was publicly declared, based on ‘findings in the field,’ Israeli intelligence did not have precise information to determine the fate of Goldin, who had been dragged away by Hamas fighters on Friday morning — approximately 90 minutes after the start of a ceasefire that was thus immediately shattered.

While the house-to-house search continued in the Rafah area (where the incident took place) to find out what exactly happened to him, a senior IDF officer said on Saturday morning that several scenarios were possible and under consideration. Initially, four scenarios were discussed. He could have been taken alive. He could have been taken alive and wounded. He could have been killed in the heat of the battle. He could have been killed later at the hands of his captors.

It is clear now that Hamas leaders were highly embarrassed by the incident. Some of their officials issued contradictory statements and details.

Musa Abu Marzuk, Hamas’s deputy chairman of the Political Bureau, said in Cairo a few hours after the incident that an Israeli soldier was in Hamas’s hands and gave his name. Friday night, Hamas’s military wing – Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — posted an official statement on their website saying that they lost contact with their unit involved in the operation and that they assume that their combatants — together with the captured soldier — were killed by Israeli bombs.

Then came another statement by another senior Hamas official who said in Qatar that “honestly,” the organization doesn’t have any information. Hard to believe. Hamas is a highly hierarchical and disciplined organization and despite wartime difficulties, the chain of command and information from top to bottom and vice versa might be rusty — but it works.

So what really happened on Friday morning in Rafah? What went wrong? Israeli troops were involved in a mission to search for tunnels. This was allowed in the ceasefire terms announced by the United Nations and America’s Secretary of State John Kerry, and they said that Israel and all the Palestinian factions were on board.

One possibility, which is ruled out by most experts, is that Hamas leaders or the military wing commanders cynically played a double game, seemingly accepting the cease fire but deciding covertly to sabotage it.

A more plausible explanation is that it was an act of a local low-level commander or even of a unit which was hiding in a bunker for a mission — featuring one suicide bomber and other fighters to follow-up — and did not know that a ceasefire was declared.

Now, Hamas — and Palestinian civilians in Gaza — will pay a high price for the mistake. The Israeli security cabinet decided Friday night that negotiations with Hamas for another ceasefire are pointless.  Israel lost any faith it had in Hamas as a partner in a deal.

Instead, Israel will make a unilateral decision in regard to the continuation of its military operation in Gaza.

Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced on Saturday night that Israel will continue to pound Hamas terrorists, Israel is highly likely to end its Gaza operations soon.

The IDF can credibly declare that most of its stated goals – the destruction of the tunnel network and the rocket arsenals – are accomplished. Israel, from now on, will rely on deterrence.  That’s in the belief that Hamas was so badly hit in this war that it is losing its appetite to renew the hostilities.

Peace and quiet — at least for a couple of years — may have been bought again, at the price of Palestinian and Israeli blood.

Practically, Israel returns to its simple strategy: Calm will be met by calm, and fire will be matched by more fire.  The Israelis are not ashamed, in any way, of the fact that they have a lot more firepower than does Hamas.

Following the 2011 deal that released Gilad Shalit — in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinians — Israel’s top military and political echelons have reached a tacit understanding: They will not agree again to release a high number of terrorists, to win the freedom of one or a few Israelis. And they do not intend to free large groups of prisoners in return for Israeli corpses held by the enemy.

This realization ignited many discussions – mostly based on rumors – regarding a supposed order known as “the Hannibal Directive.” Hannibal was a military code word used in the 1980s to report when a soldier was kidnapped.

Since the ’80s there were many serious theoretical debates on how to deal with incidents in which Israeli soldiers are kidnapped. Some proposed that it was better that the enemy would have a corpse rather a live soldier.

But although this proposal had never actually formed into any procedure, many in Israel and outside it – especially fans of conspiracy theories – spread the belief that the Hannibal Directive instructs the army to kill its own soldiers, rather than let them be captured.

In 2011 the Chief of Staff, General Benny Gantz, made it absolutely clear that there is no such procedure or directive. Hannibal is a figment of the imagination. The army doesn’t kill its own troops intentionally. But it’s very hard to stop a scandalous rumor.

August 3, 2014

Netanyahu Tried to Assassinate Hamas’s Meshaal — Flashback to 1997

Khaled Meshaal, the head of the political wing of Hamas, told Charlie Rose (of CBS and PBS) — in an interview in July at Meshaal’s home “in exile” in Doha, Qatar: “The Palestinian people have been dying slowly. So now they do not fear dying instantly.”  

And what about Meshaal himself?  In 1997, he was walking on a street in Jordan’s capital when Mossad combatants sprayed a powerful poison in his ear. He was near death, saved only after King Hussein forced Israel to hand over an antidote.  Why would Israel’s prime minister — who happened to be none other than Benjamin Netanyahu — do that?  Because the Mossad assassins had been arrested, and an angry King Hussein was going to release them only in exchange for the antidote.]

This excerpt from Spies Against Armageddon (the history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies, updated this year by authors Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman) starts with a new Mossad director in 1997, Danny Yatom, reacting to a wave of Hamas suicide attacks inside Israel. It was an ugly time, marked by blood and fear.

-o-

SPY-HALF_version2CAt Mossad headquarters, Yatom instructed [the operations department] Caesarea and the research department to find him someone to strike.

The pool of possibilities, known in the Mossad as the “bank of targets,” was limited and poor at the time. There were
no suitable and operationally reachable targets available immediately among Hamas leaders.

Netanyahu was impatient and kept pressing Yatom. The Mossad director, in turn, impatiently pressed his underlings. It took a while, but they came up with a few minor targets. These were considered, but dismissed. One man was too unimportant. Another lived in a European country, and that was ruled out. A third, in the United Arab Emirates, would be very difficult to reach.

The process resembled the person who loses a valuable piece of jewelry, then searches only in places around him that are well lit. It is a lazy, but common, approach. In the Mossad’s search process, the easy solution they alighted upon was Khaled Meshaal, and the location would be Jordan’s capital, Amman.

There were two problems with this choice: Meshaal was not truly important in Hamas and certainly had no role in the group’s terrorism campaign. More significantly, Jordan was Israel’s strategic asset in the region. King Hussein had met secretly with Israelis—including dozens of times with Mossad chiefs—long before signing a peace treaty in 1994. He provided information and coordinated his political stands with Israel.

Jordanian intelligence was one of the Mossad’s best allies, to the point that they acted together against their common enemy: the Palestinians.

The Jordanians were tipping off the Mossad about terrorists, handing them over to Israel on occasion, and letting Israelis observe interrogations of radical Palestinians. Jordanian intelligence even showed a readiness to assassinate Hamas and Hezbollah militants.

Neither Netanyahu nor Yatom gave enough thought to the grave risk of jeopardizing that relationship. An assassination in Jordan, even if successful, could backfire, yet no one in the Mossad’s upper ranks seemed to recognize the danger. Everyone seemed to buy into the group-think of being yes men.

The operation was initiated hastily, and that was further hastened by another Hamas attack in early September. This time, the group sent three suicide bombers to the main pedestrian mall in Jerusalem. Five Israelis were killed, and 180 people were wounded.

[The rest of the story, a botched assassination attempt in Amman, is told on pages 291-295 of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars -- the latest history of the Mossad and other Israeli security agencies, by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.]

August 3, 2014

New Assessment: Militarily, Hamas is Defeated

Yossi Melman‘s “interim assessment” is that Hamas has been defeated.  In his Twitter stream @Yossi_Melman the journalist/historian (co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books) says:

  1. My interim estimate; #Hamas was defeated. Tunnel project destroyed & so 70% of rockets. It crawled begging for a ceasefire (CF). It will take it years to recover.

    Israel seems to be moving toward a stand that critics globally may call a renewed occupation of Gaza: declaring the total right to take military action, as and when necessary, to stamp out threats.  But not to advance further or continue shelling and bombing targets.  That could and should reduce the civilian casualties among Palestinians.
    Yossi Melman also sees signs of more coordination beween Israel and Egypt’s government — led by the longtime army general, now, president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
  2. #Israel designed a new policy of taking unilateral steps in war & peace to be coordinated with Egypt & gave up the chance of a deal with Hamas.

August 2, 2014

Who in Hamas Decides to Make — or Break — a Ceasefire? How Can Anyone Arrange an End to the Gaza War?

[This article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince -- and the newly updated Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars -- for the Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

Israeli intelligence chiefs, cabinet ministers and media commentators are puzzled about one of the most important questions of the Gaza war: Who calls the shots in Hamas? An answer to this question is vital to understand when and how a cease-fire and a long term agreement will be put in place.

Listening to some commentators and to official briefings, the impression is that they don’t have a clue.

On one occasion, we receive an elaborate and seemingly educated explanation that the ultimate decision maker within the organization is the military wing – the Izzadin Qassam Brigades and its top commanders.

On another, a senior media commentator or ex-IDF general or a past senior Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) official claims the opposite – that the political leadership makes the strategic decisions.

“The fact of the matter is that nothing substantial has changed in the decision making process of Hamas,” I was told by a former senior Shin Bet official who asked not to be named. “Hamas was and is an organization in which decisions are seriously deliberated and taken by consent, and therefore the process can be tiresome and long” –especially during times of war when the communication between the leaders in Gaza and abroad (as well as within Gaza itself) is difficult.

The Hamas Banner (according to Hope-of-Israel.org)

The Hamas Banner (according to Hope-of-Israel.org)

Hamas was co-founded in 1987 in Gaza by the crippled Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a disciple of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement. He was assassinated by an Israel Air Force (IAF) strike in 2004 during the second intifada.

Yet despite being created by a religious scholar and the religious nature of its covenant, Hamas is by and large a sociopolitical organization that is rooted in Palestinian national politics.

Hamas has three major governing bodies. One is the Majlis al-Shura (“consultative council”) – a religious body that is supposed to make the ultimate strategic decisions and to be responsible for supervising all Hamas activities. Benedetta Berti, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies who studied Hamas, observes that the Shura members are not named publicly in fear that they would be assassinated by Israel.

Subordinated to the Shura Council is the Political Bureau that is currently headed by its chairman Khaled Meshaal, who lives “in exile” in Qatar. One of his deputies, Ismail Haniyeh, is known as the “Hamas prime minister” in Gaza. This geographical reality has created the impression that within Hamas there are two wings: Hamas inside and outside of Gaza.

Under the Shura and the Political Bureau is the military wing. The chief and undisputed commander of the military wing is Muhammad Deif who escaped a few Israeli assassination attempts. On July 12, 2006, Israeli aircraft bombed a house in which high-level Hamas leaders were meeting. Deif survived the blast, but suffered severe spinal injuries. After this event, he relegated his responsibilities to Ahmed Jabari who became the acting commander of the military wing. In the meantime, Deif was recuperating and gradually he returned to active duty.

Unlike the current war, the November 2012 Gaza-Israel conflict known (to Israel’s military) as Operation Cast Lead began with a shock-and-awe blow. Precise intelligence enabled the IAF to assassinate Jabari.

After that war, Deif returned to lead the military wing. But because of his health problems he is assisted by a few military chiefs such as Marwan Issa. But still Deif is considered to be first among equals.

All the military leaders, as well as some political chieftains, know that they are wanted by Israel — so in the current conflict they went into hiding underground.

On Tuesday (29 July), Deif made a rare taped TV appearance in which he reiterated Hamas’s conditions – previously stated by Meshaal – to end the war by lifting “the siege” imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt.

“Since 2007,” added Berti, “we can detect some divisions between senior Hamas officials that are expressed publicly in regard to the attitude to Israel. This is interesting, if we compare Hamas to other religious groups such as Hezbollah. Hezbollah would never launder its dirty laundry in public.”

But despite the debates and arguments, serious experts — including within Israeli intelligence — admit that when it comes to strategic decisions Hamas speaks in one voice.

In other words, those who argue that Deif is calling the shots or that Mashaal is the voice of the organization are wrong.

They are also wrong, added the former senior Shin Bet official, if they think that Hamas makes spontaneous emotional or/and capricious decisions.

“No way. It is a very hierarchal, disciplined, and calculating organization. It does not shoot from the hip.”

Indeed the decision to launch the rockets against Israel was a calculated risk that the organization took, knowing that provoking Israel could lead to a war.

Hamas political and military leaders — both in Gaza and abroad — unanimously decided that their isolation and economic bankruptcy left them no choice but to launch the war.  Things had been going badly for Hamas in recent years.

“They felt that they had nothing to lose,” said the former Shin Bet official.

It’s true that because Israeli intelligence is (almost certainly) bugging their phone lines and computers, Hamas leaders may feel it is difficult to communicate and deliberate in an organized matter. But still, Hamas manages to evaluate the situation and to make rational decisions.

If there are cracks and miscommunications in the organization, it’s among the rank-and-file mid-level commanders and the top echelon. There is a growing sense by them that their leaders have abandoned them. For example, a Hamas combatant arrested by the IDF during the current operation told a Shin Bet investigator that he stayed for three weeks in a tunnel living on water and dates without being instructed or visited by his commander.

“We sense some cracks in the determination and steadfastness of the leadership,” a senior Israeli military source told me, adding, “the fighting will has weakened due to the devastation we inflicted on their military structures such as tunnels and rocket caches and [by] killing hundreds of their combatants.”

Because of it being a sociopolitical movement, it does care to a certain degree about the people’s feelings and moods. The leaders are not totally blind to the suffering and misery of the people in Gaza, but probably so far the situation is manageable for Hamas.

Yet if Hamas decides to agree to a cease-fire and respect it next time, it will be a collective decision with no single leader or wing having the upper hand. And because of this, it will likely be a time-consuming process until a final decision — one way or another — is made.

August 1, 2014

A Weekend Ceasefire: Gives Talks on Gaza a Chance — Israel Still Gets to Destroy Tunnels

The surprise announcement by the United Nations, jointly with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, of a 72-hour ceasefire to begin on Friday morning gives an entire weekend for diplomacy to do what it can.  The talks will take place in Cairo.

Hamas is expected to be part of a single, multi-party Palestinian delegation.

Israel sent officials to Egypt’s capital, too, to engage in the talks.  The Israelis appear to have scored one victory by gaining the right to keep troops in Gaza — and they intend to keep searching for and destroying Hamas’s tunnels.

Below, click for analysis by Spies Against Armageddon co-author Dan Raviv, who is based at CBS News in Washington. These remarks were made on CBS TV, a full day before the ceasefire began.

 

August 1, 2014

In the Air, Not Only in Tunnels: Hamas Planned to Attack Israel by Paraglider

[Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, wrote this article for the website of the private TV news service broadcasting from Israel, i24news.tv.]

Israel’s Shin Bet discovered the existence of a Hamas air commando unit. In 2010, ten Hamas commandos were sent to Malaysia to participate in paragliding training, with the end goal being to use it to carry out terror attacks on Israel.

[Malaysia on Thursday (31 July) denied training Hamas terrorists, but it's worth pointing out that paragliding could be taught at a private club in Malaysia.  It is, in general, a civilian sport.]

This information came to light during the investigation of a Hamas fighter arrested by the IDF a few days ago and investigated by the Shin Bet. According to the Shin Bet, overnight on July 20th, the IDF arrested a Hamas military man apparently in charge of a terror cell in the area of Karara in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

from AmericanParagliding.com

from AmericanParagliding.com

During the investigation of this man, his involvement in the paragliding training came to light as well as the intention of Hamas to use this training to kidnap Israeli soldiers. In addition, the suspect revealed preparatory plans for an anti-tank ambush and revealed a sniper position on the tenth floor of the Palestinian Red Crescent building in Khan Yunis.

The suspect joined Hamas in 2007 and was assigned to its Qassam military wing. He went through a short training course on how to use a Kalashnikov, including putting together, dismantling, and cleaning the weapon, and training with live fire while kneeling, lying flat, and standing.

The suspect spent time in guard training, where he spent one shift a week between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m., marching with a Kalashnikov.

After a few months, the suspect went on to another training course, this time for shooting a Kalashnikov, training on and shooting a PKG machine gun, and the use of hand grenades. This additional training took place over five months.

In 2012, the suspect was placed in a reserve unit whose mission was to carry out special tasks if there was a bombing or war. In 2013, he went into another unit where he received his own Kalashnikov and gun magazines.

In the middle of June 2014, he went through refresher course that included training on other weapons, among them rifles, Kalashnikovs, m-16 PKCs, RPGs, and the use of explosive material. He also learned different methods for kidnapping soldiers and how to stay in tunnels for long periods of time. The suspect was set to finish the course by the end of Ramadan — just about now.

In 2010, the suspect joined a special force that was sent to Malaysia to train in paragliding with the goal of carrying out terror attacks in Israel. Ten additional fighters were sent on the course with him from various Hamas units.

When the suspect got back to Gaza, he was instructed, along with the ten other training participants, to practice the terror attack while shooting their Kalashnikov rifles. The participants were warned to keep the mission secret, in particular the part about the parachuting.

In 2014, the suspect went through one last training in paragliding. The training, which took place in the Gaza Strip, had all 10 of the trainees practice paragliding in a group. The suspect said they did not know when they would be asked to carry out the terror attack against Israel.

In addition to finding out about the paragliding training, Shin Bet also learned from the prisoner about Hamas’s investment in the building of commando fighters. In addition, in preparation for a land confrontation with Israel, Hamas had built a network of tunnels that were supposed to be used to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

The final detail that came to light during the investigation was that Hamas was striving to carry out a “quality” terror attack that would be singular in nature and important: hence the plan to use paragliders.

July 31, 2014

Exactly 100 Years Since World War 1 Began — Why Israel Should Quickly End the Gaza War

[The following article was written by Yossi Melman, Tel Aviv-based co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars, for the website of the private TV news service broadcasting from Israel, i24news.tv.]

One hundred years ago today (Monday) the First World War broke out. “The Great War,” as it was then called, was the first total war which did not differentiate between front lines and the home front. It started in a euphoric mood. Masses wrapped in patriotism and national fever went happily to the army. They talked about “victory,” “conquest” and “revenge” — even “the war to end all wars” — but soon their enthusiasm evaporated.

Yossi Melman

Yossi Melman

When the war was over 51 months later, “the lost generation” – bombed, shellshocked and traumatized – emerged from the battlefields and trenches. After mourning for their fallen comrades they became cynical and disenchanted with silly old generals and war-mongering politicians who sent them to die for undeserving causes.

In Israel, too, most wars – the Suez Campaign of 1956, the June 1967 Six Day War, the first Lebanon war in 1982 and the Second Lebanon War in 2006 – began with great enthusiasm. People talked about “smashing the enemy,” “victory,” “deterrence,” and other appealing phrases. In that sense, the Third Gaza War is no different. There is almost a national consensus that it is a justified war.

But what really characterized the First World War and engraved it in historic memory was its military nature. It was a static war, conducted in trenches that became death traps, and it turned into a war of attrition.

This is also the growing danger of the current Gaza War. The death toll — on both sides — is mounting to highly painful levels.

And already this war is entering the record books as one of the longest wars in Israeli history. The second Lebanon War lasted 33 days. The 1973 Yom Kippur war 22 days and Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza – 21 days. We are entering the 21st day of the war with a humanitarian truce but no visible long term ceasefire agreement.

The Israeli cabinet will soon have to make a tough decision. Militarily speaking the war in its current phase has exhausted itself. The Israel Air Force has fewer and fewer meaningful targets to bomb.

The stated goal of the ground incursion was to eliminate the threat of the “attack” tunnels leading to Israel. This goal, it could be convincingly argued, has been achieved. The IDF uncovered 32 tunnels and all have been destroyed or will be soon.

There may be more, but the problem with intelligence is that you don’t know what you don’t know and, in any case, even several additional tunnels are not sufficient reason to continue the bloodshed.

As of Monday night, Israel already lost 43 officers and soldiers, as well as three civilians. More than 300 soldiers are wounded, some very seriously.

The Palestinian suffering is, of course, much greater: over 1,000 dead and more than 6,000 wounded. According to the IDF, among the dead are between 250 to 500 Hamas militants. These include some of the organization’s best commanders and combatants from its naval commando and rocket launching units. Half of Hamas’ rocket arsenal (around 5,000) was either destroyed or used in some 2,500 launchings.

Israel conquered a strip of between one and three kilometers in width and turned it into a “security belt.” This area can be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations on a lasting agreement. Israel can offer a withdrawal in return for additional Hamas concessions

The risk is that the more Israel stays in Gaza in static lines, the greater the risk of Hamas hit-and-run operations and Israeli fatalities. Israel could find itself dragged deeper and deeper into the Gaza sands.

One must remember the Lebanese lesson from 1982. Israel launched a limited campaign supposed to last 72 hours and penetrating only 40 kilometers. It took Israel 18 years and 1,000 dead to get out.

This is the right time to think, quickly, about an exit strategy. An indirect but comprehensive agreement with Hamas is preferable. But Israel would have to recognize that Hamas needs a face-saving gain, minimal as it might be. This is the nature of a compromise.

If an agreement is not viable, Israel should withdraw without one. It can adopt the idea put forth by US Senator George Aiken in 1966 regarding a way to end the Vietnam War: Let’s declare victory and get our troops home, the Vermont senator suggested.

The Israeli cabinet can tell the public and the world that most of its goals have been accomplished and hope that the tremendous damage to Hamas will deter the organization from resuming hostilities for at least a few years.

July 28, 2014

No Ceasefire? So the Gaza-Israel War Will Go On and On in Bloody Stalemate?

[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.

July 24, 2014

There is an Israeli Soldier Missing — Don’t Expect Hamas to Clear Up the Mystery Soon

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.

i24 black logoWhile 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.]

July 22, 2014

Dangerous Battleground in Gaza — and Intelligence Officers Advance with the Troops

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)

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

[On the rising Israeli military death toll, click here to see a comment by Yossi Melman on i24news.tv July 20.]

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.

July 20, 2014

Israel’s Expected Surprise: The Incursion into Gaza — Likely to Go On for Weeks

[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.]

i24 black logo

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.]

July 19, 2014

Hamas has Nothing to Lose — That’s Dangerous for Israel

[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.

yossi melman, spies against armageddon, iran nuclear

Yossi Melman

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.

 

July 19, 2014


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