The hostilities with Islamic Jihad have drawn to a close. Sputteringly.
On Saturday, Egypt announced that a ceasefire would begin at 10 PM that night. But on three occasions after the announced time, IJ launched rockets. There seems to be something in the blood of these terrorists – Hamas and Islamic Jihad alike – that urges them to “have the last word.” This is a routine pattern. The first two times there were volleys of rockets coming out of Gaza 15 minutes and then an hour after the ceasefire was due to begin. The final time was Sunday night when a single rocket was launched from Gaza – Islamic Jihad claims because of a “technical malfunction.” (Believe this or not as you wish.) In all instances, Israel responded.
Now the ceasefire appears to be holding, how long it will hold remains to be seen.
In the south of Israel, life has returned to normal. People who had gone north for the duration have come home. Schools are opening and trains are running. There are no longer instructions to remain within close proximity of a shelter.
The people of Gaza celebrated at the news of the ceasefire. The Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings from Israel into Gaza, closed for the duration of the fighting, were opened again – fuel and humanitarian goods were allowed through. And individuals with permits could again enter Israel to work.
Hundreds of legal Gazan workers who had been caught in Israel when the crossings closed, were able to go home; one such worker had been killed and another badly injured by an IJ rocket that landed at a construction site near the Gaza border.
During the course of five days, Islamic Jihad launched 1,469 projectiles towards Israel. The Iron Dome intercepted 437 of them that were headed towards populated areas – a 95% success rate. Roughly 20% of the rockets fell short, injuring civilians in Gaza in some instances.
One Israeli woman was killed. Some 77 Israelis were injured lightly (some wounded by shrapnel or hurt when falling on the way to a shelter); of these, 40 were treated for shock. There was some damage to homes and cars, not just in Sderot, but also places such as Ashkelon, Netivot and Rehovot.
Israel’s most stunning achievement was the elimination of six Islamic Jihad commanders, the last, Iyad al-Hassani, was killed on Friday. He had just been promoted to run operations in place of his predecessor who had been killed on Tuesday. The IDF struck over 420 Islamic Jihad targets including command centers and dozens of rocket-launching sites.
The IDF also struck ten squads situated on the border that were involved in launching attacks. Officials report that this effort resulted in a 50% reduction in mortar fire on the south compared to the last round with Islamic Jihad; there were no successful anti-tank missile attacks.
All in all, then, this looks very, very good for Israel: the element of surprise at the beginning, the superb intelligence work coupled with sharp military action.
Add to this a great deal of international, diplomatic support for Israel. This is particularly good news.
“Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (pictured) praised ‘the hard and professional diplomatic work’ by his staff at home and around the world for the fact that the ‘legitimacy’ Israel enjoyed to defend itself ‘remained stable throughout the entire operation and even strengthened’…
“According to Israel National News, officials at the ministry said that Jerusalem had received ‘broad support’ not only publicly but also ‘through diplomatic channels,’ i.e., from countries who may have internal reasons for not wanting to be seen as supporting Israel over Palestinians.”
It is a mark of the international acceptance of Israel, that Foreign Minister Cohen on Monday went to Stockholm to meet with his counterpart – the first Israeli foreign minister to do so in over 20 years. Sweden currently holds the presidency of the EU, making this visit all the more important.
And then we have the good news that Standard & Poor did not reduce Israel’s credit rating, sustaining it at AA-.
On Sunday, at the weekly Cabinet meeting, held after the ceasefire, Prime Minister Netanyahu enthused that the execution of Operation Shield and Arrow was “perfect.”
The execution was indeed superb and there is much to celebrate. Yet, this is hyperbole, spoken in a rush of enthusiasm. For the Operation must be examined in a broader context. And now the hard questions must be asked:
What was gained, if anything? And what are we facing down the road with regard to various terror entities?
I would like to look first at the ceasefire agreement. Very little was reported about its terms when it was announced by Egypt. What we had been told earlier is that specific demands by Islamic Jihad – stop the Flag Parade on Yom Yerushalayim, promise not to assassinate any more IJ leaders, hand over the body of Khader Adnan, who died in prison following a hunger strike, etc. – were rejected by Israel (I wrote about this previously). There would be quiet for quiet, without conditions, we were informed. If Islamic Jihad stopped attacking, we would stop as well. Period.
And indeed, after the ceasefire took effect, Foreign Minister Cohen declared, “We did not promise anything.”
Apparently, however, that may not quite be the case. According to Reuters, this was the agreement:
“The two sides will abide by the ceasefire which will include an end to targeting civilians, house demolition, an end to targeting individuals immediately when the ceasefire goes into effect.
First, there is a question about “house demolitions.” Surely this cannot mean what it seems to mean, if the Reuters report is correct. We will know in due course.
But then there is the phrase about “targeting individuals” after “targeting civilians” had already been mentioned. Is this a simple redundancy? What I have read elsewhere is that the phrasing was deliberately vague (a fairly normative diplomatic tactic), so that Islamic Jihad would be able to claim we promised not to target their leaders, and we would be able to say we promised nothing of the sort. There is a logic to this, as IJ commanders cannot be defined as “civilians,” and so a separate category might have been deemed necessary.
If this is an accurate assessment of the ceasefire agreement, does it not at some level diminish the deterrence impact of the Operation? We did not bring them to their knees, so that they yelled, “Enough!” We punished them hard, delivered our message, and were ready to be done.
Perhaps the message was sufficiently tough so that deterrence was not reduced by this. The jury is out on this, as on many other things.
Two other major issues have been raised by analysts.
The first is the fact that Israel scrupulously avoided conflict with Hamas, restricting all attacks to Islamic Jihad persons and installations. This is at variance with Israel’s previous position, that Hamas, which rules Gaza, is responsible for everything that goes on there.
We wanted to deliver our message – demonstrating our determination and skill – without taking on the larger Hamas now.
Does this diminish our deterrence? Here, too, there are varying opinions.
After the Cabinet meeting on Monday, Netanyahu went to Ashkelon, where he declared: “We changed the deterrence equation…”
Military affairs analyst Yaakov Lappin, writing in JNS, agrees with Netanyahu (emphasis added):
“The strikes on military leaders and command and control centers placed PIJ under pressure, ultimately pushing Beirut-based PIJ leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah to accept a truce, according to the official. Hamas pressure likely played a role in al-Nakhalah’s decision as well.
“Gaza will remain a hornet’s nest of terrorism where Islamist factions hold hostage 2.3 million civilians and use them as human shields to threaten millions of Israelis, all using Iranian funding and know-how.
“’Operation Shield and Arrow’ was not designed to change that basic reality. But as a byproduct, larger Israeli adversaries, Hamas and Hezbollah, witnessed Israeli determination to eliminate those who threaten Israeli security, to overcome the human shield tactic, and to employ world-leading intelligence and firepower capabilities in urban warfare settings.
“The threat to the safety of their own terror commanders, operatives and assets will not have been missed.”
Lappin’s take on the situation is much akin to my own. Over the past days I have observed a different, stronger tone coming from our government.
Emanuel Fabian, writing in Times of Israel, however, gave voice to a different opinion (emphasis added):
He believes that “the next potential escalation [is] just around the corner,” in spite of the fact that “on a strictly military basis, Israel emerged as the clear victor…
“The cycle of limited battles in recent years against Islamic Jihad, the second-largest terror group in the Gaza Strip, is sounding like a broken record…
“So quiet will now reign — until the next inevitable round of fighting, which may come sooner than later, once Islamic Jihad replaces its slain leaders, restocks its rockets, and prepares for battle.”
Hamas did not want to be involved – their declarations of unity with IJ notwithstanding. Does this mean they were deterred by Israel’s demonstrated military prowess? Or is it just a matter of timing: they are not afraid of Israel but prefer to strengthen before doing battle?
There are several commentators who believe we should have gone into Gaza and finished the lot, finally, with a major ground operation.
There were many times over the years when we were doing battle with Hamas and stopped altogether too soon. On those occasions, I, along with many others, wanted to see them finished once and for all.
But now? We have so much on our plate. I believe it would have been a serious mistake at this juncture. Taking back Gaza, which should never have been relinquished in the first place, is something to aim for as a long-term goal. But it should not be advanced blithely, without recognition of the weight of such an operation. First, we must unify our people again and come to a place of determination on this. There would have to be a broad consensus because of the costs that would be entailed. This includes weighing our readiness to deal with Hezbollah, which might well begin launching its rockets at such a time.
I think Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (chair, Religious Zionists) expressed it properly (emphasis added):
“The time will probably come to return to Gaza, disassemble Hamas and demilitarize Gaza. This too will be carried out according to the broad interests and considerations of the State of Israel. I believe the moment will come when there won’t be a choice but to reconquer Gaza.
“At the moment it is not relevant…”
The first test of the strength of our deterrence will be coming within days. Yom Yerushalayim is Friday, the traditional Flag Parade is scheduled for Thursday, so as to avoid running into Shabbat. Already Hamas is making threats but the assessment here is that there will be no rocket-fire. A massive contingent of police will be on hand as the parade winds its way through the Old City.
And one other matter with regard to Islamic Jihad before turning to other issues: The presence of this terror group in Judea & Samaria.
About a week ago, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (chair, Otzma Yehudit) put out a demand for a major military operation against terrorism in Judea & Samaria.
In my opinion, he is on the mark. The Shin Bet and the IDF have been doing excellent work in Judea & Samaria – stopping attacks that are being planned, arresting terrorists, etc. But it is all piecemeal, one operation against one terror group in one location at a time.
There is a parallel here with one operation in Gaza at a time, never routing out the terrorists entirely. In Gaza, achieving that will be a huge project; with determination, much more can be done in Judea & Samaria, where Israel has an IDF presence.
It’s past time to rout them out more aggressively.
Once matters settle down with regard to Gaza, attention will turn again to matters such as the unresolved judicial reform legislation. I was mightily annoyed this past week when pockets of opposition demonstrators turned out in the course of the war, and in spite of the rallies being officially cancelled. When one pays attention to the stance of those joining the rallies, it becomes quite clear that the concern is not with judicial reform, but with a wholesale criticism of the government designed to bring it down.
So too with the “negotiations” at the president’s house, which have been going on for many weeks. There is a demand now from the opposition to also discuss other issues, such as draft for the ultra-Orthodox.
There are two possible conclusions to be drawn from this: One is that the opposition now entertains the seriously mistaken notion that anything a democratically elected government wishes to advance can be thwarted by this sort of maneuver.
The other is that dragging out those negotiations indefinitely serves the purpose of preventing judicial reform from happening.
Clearly, it’s time to call a halt on this process and move forward. Justice Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) has indicated that if legislation regarding judicial reform is not passed soon, he will resign.
And now one of the architects of the judicial reform legislation, MK Simcha Rothman (RZ), chair of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, says that if no agreement with the opposition is reached soon, the coalition will advance some of the bills in the judicial overhaul plan in the current summer session of the Knesset.
“I’m convinced that parts of the reform will pass” during this term, Rothman said.
Fervently do I hope so. The bill that is prepared and ready to be voted on is the one concerning makeup of the committee for selection of new justices.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.