(Washington, D.C.) — Why did Hamas start firing rockets at Israeli civilians in mid-June, and why have they intensified their attacks in July? What are their goals? What are they trying to accomplish? And would an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza be effective in restoring calm and degrading Hamas’ capabilities, or make matters worse?
These are critical questions the Netanyahu war council is asking at this moment.
A few thoughts:
Hamas has been severely weakened in recent years.
- The leaders of Hamas have done a terrible of running the government in Gaza.
- They’re not providing efficient and effective services for the Palestinian people, creating jobs and economic growth, or building a healthy, well-functioning society.
- They’ve been deeply affected by the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the rise to power of Egyptian general Al-Sisi — the Egyptian military hates Hamas and thus has been fighting terrorist groups in the Sinai, destroying smuggling tunnels between the Sinai desert and Gaza, intercepting shipments of Syrian and Iranian missiles and arms headed for Gaza, and slowly strangling Hamas.
- Hamas’ tactics of attacking Israeli civilians year after year after year has caused most of its Arab allies around the region to grow weary or even opposed to the terror group.
- They still have the backing of Iran and Turkey, but overall external funding for Hamas has been drying up.
- And the Israelis have been doing a better job intercepting arms shipments to Hamas, and isolating the group internationally.
Hamas’ first plan to reassert itself was to create a “unity” government with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
- Hamas agreed to the deal with Abbas and his Fatah party earlier this year, shortly after peace talks broke down between Abbas and Netanyahu.
- The goal of Hamas leaders — most of whom live in Gaza and have had very little access to the West Bank — was to gain new legitimacy in the West Bank and allow their allies to come “above ground” so that they could eventually gain popular support there and overthrow Abbas and seize power for themselves, just like they did in Gaza in 2006 and 2007.
- Abbas tried to paint the deal as evidence of Hamas becoming more reasonable — he said this new unity government would reject violence, and that the deal was evidence that the Palestinian Authority could unify differing factions in the West Bank and Gaza and be ready for statehood.
- But many of Hamas’ radical members bristled at the thought of a deal with Abbas — they said they were still committed to jihad and to annihilating Israel, not creating a two-state solution.
Now Hamas leaders have reversed course — they decided they looked weak by making a deal with Abbas and chose to rebrand themselves as true jihadists.
- It’s hard for Hamas to recruit violent, angry young men to the cause if they aren’t showing active armed resistance to Israel.
- Hamas leaders see the success violence jihadists like ISIS are having in Iraq and Syria and don’t want to be left in the dust.
- So much of this rocket war is an internal re-branding effort to look tough and recruit new members and divert the attention of the Palestinian people of Gaza from how poorly Hamas is running basic services in the Gaza Strip — better to get people unified by focusing on their enemy Israel.
Hamas leaders know they cannot defeat Israel militarily, but they believe they can defeat Israel in the court of global public opinion.
- By firing rockets at Israel, Hamas gets Israel to shoot back.
- By using Palestinian civilians as human shields, Hamas increases the chance that Palestinian civilians — especially women and children — will be killed by Israeli forces.
- The more Palestinian civilians who die, the better for Hamas leader, because by getting Israel to kill a growing number of Palestinians Hamas believes Israel will seem more and more like the evil aggressors and international public opinion will turn harshly against Israel.
The big question for Israeli leaders now is how to stop Hamas from firing rockets without getting sucked into the Hamas trap and appearing as the “bad guy” on the international stage.
This, in large part, is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war council are being so cautious about a massive ground invasion of Gaza. Yes, Netanyahu knows it may take IDF ground forces to capture Hamas terror leaders and operatives, find all or most of the rocket launches and stockpiles of rockets and other arms, and bring a final end to these relentless rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. However, if he can use air power to accomplish many or most of his goals, Netanyahu would far prefer this. He doesn’t want to get sucked into a war in Gaza on Hamas’ terms.
I’m not saying he won’t order a large ground operation, possibly soon. I’m just pointing out that while many Israeli political leaders and commentators are urging him to move harder and more decisively into Gaza, Netanyahu is trying to carefully gauge how much can be accomplished from the air. Remember, he was an IDF special forces commando. He knows the IDF’s capabilities and the difference between air power and “boots on the ground.” But remember that he also lost his older brother, Yonatan, in a special forces operation in Entebbe, Uganda. He knows the grief families suffer when a soldier falls in the line of duty, even when the mission is essential. He is trying to decide at this moment if a ground operation is essential.
Here’s some of the latest reporting from Israel on the internal debate under way inside the Netanyahu war room.
“As rocket fire from Gaza almost completely stopped for several hours Saturday morning, the IDF completed preparations for an initial ground incursion into the Strip and now only waits for orders from the prime minister and defense minister,” reports Ynet News. “It’s been revealed to Ynet that even amid the fight between senior government officials there is almost complete consensus that a ground operation in Gaza is necessary in order to deal a devastating blow to the infrastructure of terror – a blow that will have long term affects.”
“However, Major General Amir Eshel, commander of the IAF, is trying to convince the Chief of Staff and Defense Minister that the Air Force can accomplish the same goals itself, destroying Hamas’ rocket manufacturing capabilities and striking smuggling tunnels used by terror cells,” the Israeli news service adds. “The Air Force commander claims that the methods of attack, quality intelligence, the ability to hit multiple targets in a short amount of time and precision guided weapons, can be effective no less that a large scale ground offensive which is bound to involve heavy losses and many errors.”
“Eshel’s opinion has been at least partially adopted and the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff are giving the IAF free reign to act according to the strategy that he has presented,” notes Ynet. “Along those lines the IDF continued the full pace of attacks on Friday night and Saturday morning and even increased the attack on the houses of Islamic Jihad and Hamas commanders all over the Gaza Strip.”
Let’s keep praying an invasion won’t be needed. Let’s pray all this will end very soon, and let’s pray for the Lord to show mercy to Israelis and Palestinians on both sides. Thanks.
The Big Picture:
Since the start of the operation, according to the IDF blog.
- over 809 rocket have been launched at Israel.
- 635 of those rockets hit Israel
- approximately 145 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
- The IDF has targeted over 1320 terror targets, with both naval and aerial capabilities.
Saturday, July 12 — Day #5
Summary of the day, according to the IDF blog:
- More than 129 rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel.
- At least 117 rockets struck Israel.
- 9 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
- The IDF hit 120 terror targets in the Gaza Strip.
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