Israel and Gaza- Operation Pillar of Defense- What is it all about?

Updates: I hope to post regular updates on the situation. Links to the updates will be posted here as well.

Update- November 15th

Update- November 17th: Living under fire- I’m in range!

Operation Defensive Pillar- Update November 18th

Israel and Gaza, Day 6, November 19th

One game of scrabble, five rocket attacks (guest post)

Operation Defensive Pillar- Day 7- November 20th

______________________________________

Originally, I planned to come home from work today and write a follow up about the primaries which took place this week in two Israeli parties: in Meretz on Sunday and in HaBayit HaYehudi on Tuesday, ahead of the general election planned for January 22nd.

But in Israel, reality has a funny way of refusing to sit still long enough to be written about. One minute, the elections are one of the only things being talked about, and the next, they have been completely driven out of mind.

 This afternoon, Israel began Operation “Cloud Pillar” (in Hebrew. In English it has been dubbed “Pillar of Defense”), named after the biblical pillar which protected the children of Israel when they travelled throught the desert after leaving the slavery of Egypt. The operation began with an extensive air strike, in which a number of key Hamas militants were sent to join their 72 virgins in hell, including Hamas’s chief of staff, Ahmed Ja’abri, and a large number of long-range missiles were destroyed.

 What is this all about?

To answer that, one has to go back to the year 2005. Israel was occupying the Gaza strip. There were a number of Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip, most of them at the northern end of the strip. The rest of the strip was populated by approximately 1.5 million Palestinians. The IDF controlled the main roads, but did not enter Gaza city often, as it was controlled de-facto by the Hamas and other terrorist organizations.  For five years, the Israeli towns around the Gaza strip had been periodically bombarded by Hamas’s newest invention: Qassam rockets. These missiles are not much more than metal pipes, stuffed with explosives, mounted on simple launchers and fired away in the general direction of Israelis.

Ariel Sharon, who was Prime Minister at the time, decided it was time for a change, and presented his plan for “disengagement”. Israel would leave the Gaza strip entirely, uprooting thousands of Jews who had lived in the strip for over 30 years, after being sent to live there by previous Israeli governments. This was not a withdrawal as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israel expected nothing in return for handing over the land. The idea behind the plan was that if Israel were to withdraw, the Palestinians would no longer have a reason to continue their aggression against Israel. We would no longer be occupying the Gaza strip, thousands of Palestinians who were making a living off terrorism and UN funds would have to find real jobs, and peace would reign at last. A majority of Israelis didn’t buy this story, but the disengagement plan went ahead nonetheless.

 However, it was not a complete disengagement. Israel continues to provide Gaza with electricity, water, fuel and food to this day, even though it has another border- with Egypt, through which it can acquire the supplies it needs. When Israeli electric-company teams need to repair power lines going into Gaza, they need two trucks: one truck lifts the electric-company workers, the other lifts an iron sheet in order to protect the workers from Palestinian sniper fire.

Shortly after Israel left Gaza, Hamas, an armed terrorist organization, which has been behind thousands of attacks on Israelis, including stabbings, bombings, shooting drive-bys and suicide bombings, took over the Gaza strip. Hamas waged battle against Fatah, another terrorist organization which still rules over Judea and Samaria and is considered to be more moderate than Hamas, because it is a secular organization, and it no longer preaches violence, at least not for western ears. At the end of the battle between Hamas and Fatah, Hamas held the entire Gaza strip.

 And lo and behold, the missile fire didn’t stop. It became more persistent. Hamas improved its ranges, and more cities came under the reign of terror coming from Gaza. Hamas is believed to possess missiles capable of reaching as far as Tel-Aviv now, although it has not used them. Yet.

Israel’s spokespeople often compare the situation thus: imagine that a drug cartel takes over Mexico and begins firing rockets at Arizona. The reaction of the United States would most likely be to send its massive army to “facilitate a regime change”. Heck, the last time the US was hit by a major terrorist attack, it conquered two countries.

  

Why has Israel not fought back?

It has. But Israel has no interest in holding onto Gaza. A full scale attack on Gaza, for some reason, does not garner the international support that the US enjoyed when it destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of the time, Israel has used its technological capabilities to launch pinpointed air strikes against missile launching teams, arms stores and in extreme cases, also against Hamas leaders.

 At the end of 2008, during the Hannukah holiday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided that enough was enough, and launched operation “Cast Lead”, named after a verse in a well-known Hannukah song by Haim Nahman Bialik (“My teacher gave me a dreidel/ of cast lead/ do you know what for?/ for Hannukah!”). During the operation, thousands of Israelis were called up for reserve army service (myself included). The IDF entered Gaza and attempted to destroy missile launching and other military capabilities of Hamas. After three and a half weeks, a cease fire was called.

What led to Operation Cloud Pillar?

Over the past months, Hamas and the other organizations in Gaza have been becoming bolder. Missiles have been raining down on towns in the south of Israel without stop. Every few weeks, Hamas escalates the violence and instead of firing one or two missiles a day, they fire a few dozen. Israel retaliates with air strikes, and after a few days things calm down until the next round.

Imagine living like that. When the siren sounds, Israelis living in Sderot have 15 seconds to find shelter, or else they might be dead. Children have to get up during the night, sometimes several times, to run to the nearest bomb shelter. If their school is open the next day, I doubt their learning is effective. Imagine jumping every time you hear a motorcycle drive by, like we used to jump during the first Gulf War. For a split second you aren’t sure if what you’re hearing is the siren or a motorcycle. If you can’t imagine it, here is a link to a short video clip to show you what it’s like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv1SoFXIhCI&feature=youtu.be

For the past week, over 1 million Israelis have had to live in bomb shelters, or within 15 seconds of them. This is not acceptable. It has to end.

What does Israel intend to achieve by this operation?

Israel harbors no illusions about its ability to destroy all of Hamas’s rockets. The purpose of the operation is to reinstate a balance of fear. Hamas must know that rocket fire on Israeli citizens will no longer go unpunished, and it must know that it is not worthwhile. This afternoon, Hamas’s top military commander was eliminated, along with other high ranking militants. That and more is the price Hamas will continue to pay until the rocket fire stops.

 What can we expect to happen over the coming days?

Hamas has already responded with a barrage of over 100 rockets. The rocket fire will most likely continue for a few days until the message sinks in. Meanwhile Israel will continue to destroy Hamas military targets. Also, the IDF has begun shifting ground forces towards the Gaza strip. If the rocket fire does not cease, Israel may begin a ground invasion. A news correspondent suggested earlier this week that the IDF may re-occupy the Philadelphi corridor, a narrow strip of land along the border between Gaza and Egypt, in order to take control of the tunnels used for smuggling arms into the strip from Egypt.

“But the Israelis are too trigger happy!”

Trust me, we aren’t. A ground invasion means thousands of Israeli men being called up for reserve duty. Thousands of people who with only a day’s notice will have to leave their families and their jobs for an unspecified number of weeks, endangering their own lives in order to protect others. A military operation in Gaza means that until the operation is completed and the rocket fire stops completely, over one million Israelis will be living in their bomb shelters. They will not be able to go to work or school. A military operation is not something to be undertaken lightly.

“But Israel is killing innocent civillians!”

False. As always, Israel undertakes supreme efforts to avoid civilian casualties, even among the enemy. Israel is targeting only terrorist organization members and facilities. However, in war, mistakes are made and civilians may get hurt. Palestinian terrorist organizations capitalize on this and deliberately operate from within densely populated areas. Hamas has fired rockets from private homes, schools, mosques and hospitals, hoping that Israel will fire back and incur international wrath for killing civilians. Naturally, the IDF prefers to protect Israeli civilian lives, but it makes every effort to protect Palestinian civilian lives as well.

“But the Palestinian casualties are much higher than the Israeli ones!”

That is true. This war is an a-symmetric war. One side is firing non-guided rockets at civilian populations, while the other side is launching pinpointed strikes at the perpetrators of this. If a rocket falls in Sderot or Be’er Sheva or Netivot or Ashkelon, most of the people will already be hiding in bomb shelters and will be protected. Ahmad Ja’abri and his ilk, on the other hand, will be hunted personally and by much more accurate means. Therefore, we will be seeing a much higher Palestinian casualty rate than the Israeli casualty rate. Does that mean Israel is committing war crimes? Definitely not.

“But the Hamas spokesmen said that- …!”

I have seen two false statements made by Hamas spokesmen over the past few days:

 1. Hamas has been firing rockets at Israeli military targets.

False. Hamas’s rockets have no guidance systems. They can not claim to be firing at Israeli military targets, because they do not have that capability. All they can do is point the rockets in the general direction of Israeli cities and hope for the worst. Israeli cities have been hit. Israeli homes have been destroyed. Hamas is not aiming at soldiers. It is aiming at anyone it can hit.

 2. Israel is attacking Palestinian civilians.

If you call the chief of staff of a terrorist organization a civilian, that would be true. But Ahmed Ja’abri was as much of a civilian as Osama bin-Laden. Israel has no wish to harm civilians. All we want is some peace and quiet.

A direct hit in a home in Sderot, November 12th.

“What about negotiating?”

Why didn’t the US negotiate with Osama bin-Laden?

Israel has been down the road of negotiations many times, and it has repeatedly hit dead ends. Hamas is not interested in peace. Hamas is interested in obliterating Israel, piece by piece. This is not paranoia, it is written in the Hamas charter. Cease fires have been made many times in the past, but they have not been observed. Negotiations are only effective if the other side has a good reason to fulfill his side of the bargain. The time has come for Israel to make it worth Hamas’s while to keep the peace.

“But I heard that this whole operation is just because of the upcoming election”

The timing is bad. No doubt about it. This operation, if it fails, could cost Netanyahu the election. It could also help him if it succeeds. But the real question is-

If 20% of your country’s population was hiding in bomb shelters every other week, could you let it slide?

Updates: I hope to post regular updates on the situation. Links to the updates will be posted here as well.

Update- November 15th

Update- November 17th: Living under fire- I’m in range!

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8 comments

  1. ABC (that;s Australian Broadcasting Corporation) is disturbingly PRO-HAMAS today 15/11/2012. The news-reader uses only emotive language (indiscriminate…. cruel….bloody..etc) when describing ISRAEL defense actions, but keep a cool neutral tone when referring to HAMAS attacks. How can I block my taxes to Australian ABC I wonder?

  2. The Zionist movement which controls the state of Israel, is one which is against the orthodox teachings of Judaism. Before Israel was born out of the desire of Zionism in 1917, there was peace between Muslims, Jews and Christians. I find, what you have written load of rubbish and false, but that’s understandable when people talk about conflicts.

    1. Before Israel was founded, Jews were slaughtered by Christians and Muslims alike, wherever they went. They were second class citizens in the countries of their diaspora.
      Judaism is completely compatible with the State of Israel according to all Jewish Orthodox groups, except for a small radical sect. This sect sees Zionism as a rebellion against God, by not waiting for God himself to come down and hand us a state. Well, that is in fact what happened. The foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 was nothing short of a miracle.
      Throughout history, there have only been three independent states in the land of Israel. Guess what- they were all Israeli.

      I considered deleting your comment, but I think people deserve to know the truth, and if they get it by reading my refutation of your comment, so be it.

  3. Thank you for allowing my comment to appear on your blog and for the time it remains on the blog. I’m also happy and in agreement with you that ‘Israel was founded’ and re-established or re-occupied – as some have claimed. Judaism, well the one I know of, isn’t compatible with Zionism, the people of Israel cannot build a state, and a material one, without having the glory of the creator upon them, as was the case some two thousands years ago. The state of Israel, today, in middle east is based on materialistic and worldly values.

    Zionism is fairly new and was foreign growth but in the body of Jewish people, just short of hundred years and when it arrived by force into Palestine, it disregarded the the Jews, Muslims and Christians that were already living there, and in harmony. It’s agenda, well, history since 1948 (or in my view) and 1917 speaks for itself.

    I cannot make the connection between the ‘state of Israel’ and the ‘Jewish people’, as the state of Israel is the desire of the Zionists, who, have been proven to disregard the the orthodox teachings of Judaism and the Torah Sages of the that time.

    I’m disturbed by your claim that ‘the state of Israel in 1948 was nothing short of miracle’, well if what we have seen since 1948 is a miracle well you are welcome to it – for the world has seen nothing but death and destruction – and continues to witness this ‘so called’ miracle till this very day.

    The first paragraph of your last comment is a load of rubbish, and you need to do you home work in history, from Spain, Ottoman Empire to the very day of 1917 or in your case 1948. But I guess, history for you does not exist pre-1948 and what is said or written is somewhat made up especially if the Zionist manuals say so.

    1. This is not the place for a lengthy theological discussion about Judaism. But I will say that the overwhelming majority of Jews worldwide support the state of Israel as the Jewish homeland. There is a very small sect of Jews which hold by your opinion.

      There is a known Jewish story about a man in a flood, praying to God to save him from the flood. Meanwhile his neighbors offer him a place in their boat, but he refuses, claiming that he trusts God to save him. He dies, of course, and when he gets to the pearly gates, he asks why, as such a devout Jew, he was not saved? God answers him: “I tried to save you. I sent you your neighbors’ boat, but you wouldn’t take it”.

      The state of Israel is that boat to the Jewish people. I am saddened that all you see of us is death and destruction. It is true that mistakes have been made, we’re only human. It is not true that Israel represents nothing but death and destruction. But that is what gets reported by the media. Peace and tranquility just doesn’t sell newspapers.

      My blog is dedicated to showing the world the other sides of Israel as well, and I hope you continue reading, so I can show you them.

  4. Whether there is a small sect that hold popular views like mine, or majority of Jews worldwide support Zionism, and therefore the created state of Israel, is simple debatable and up for a discussion, I also agree this probably isn’t the place.

    As for the Jewish story, I have heard many versions of this story but not relating to any Jewish or Zionist ideology, but there is a second part to this very story, and it continues like this: When God said “I sent for you, your neighbours boat, but you wouldn’t take it” the man then replies and says “I was influenced by Zionism, and those neighbours where Palestinians with the boat, I knew that if I got into their boat, I’d probably occupy them and chuck then into the flood and have the boat all to myself”, God then put head in his hands and said “Palestinians are my people and that boat also belonging to my people”

    1. An interesting adittion to the story. I am pretty sure the original story predates the modern state of Israel, and definitely predates the “Palestinians”.

      I have not yet addressed the question of whether Israel is an “Occupation”. I was planning a post on the subject, but then current events took over. I hope to write about it in the not to distant future.

      1. Yes interesting it is, I think there are many things that I know for sure pre-date the created state of Israel, including the mirror on my wall – it is Victorian.

        I look forward in reading your version of the (illegal) occupation of Palestinian land (by Palestinian, I don’t just mean Muslims, but Jews and Christians). It will be an interesting read, especially coming from the belly of the state.

        I look forward to it.

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