Targeted killings do not appear to have affected Hamas’s operational capability.
On the 48th day of Operation Protective Edge, it is clear that the statements to the effect that Israel will not allow a war of attrition to develop with Hamas have mainly been sound bites for the peak-hour news editions. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this morning that September 1, when Israel’s schools go back after the summer vacation, was not a target date for ending the operation, and Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon talks about “patience and stamina”, we can understand that the fighting in the Gaza Strip may last several long weeks more.
At the weekend, Hamas mainly concentrated on short-range fire, chiefly of 81-120 mm mortars, which are considered highly dangerous. The assessment of Israeli intelligence is that short-range munitions are what Hamas mainly has left, and that they hold a few dozen M-75 rockets capable of reaching Gush Dan, compared with hundreds at the start of the operation, allowing them to fire a long-range rocket not more than once a day.
The IDF’s fear is that, in response to the recent targeted killings of senior figures, Hamas will attempt to carry out a ground-based terror attack, whether through tunnels that may still not have been discovered, or on the border. Strong ground forces have therefore been stationed along the border and in settlements, for defensive as well as offensive purposes.
Three days after the killing of the senior Hamas military commanders in a hideout in Rafah, it’s hard to say that this has had an effect on Hamas operations. The decentralized structure of its units enables it to continue firing rockets, and the killing of this or that commander won’t disrupt it.
Each Hamas brigade stationed in a neighborhood is responsible for a certain geographical area and for firing rockets and mortars, say 20 on settlements on the Gaza border, ten on a southern city, and one on Gush Dan in one day of fighting. The fact that their commander has been killed is not likely to affect launches in the short term.
Senior IDF commanders were forced to concede at the weekend that for the time being Hamas is demonstrating robustness in the face of Israeli air raids and targeted killings. The assessment in Israel that the commander of Hamas’s military wing, Mohammed Deif, was at least injured if not killed in the attack on the Sheikh Reduan neighborhood is not at the moment making Hamas go to Cairo on the terms Israel wants. The most important thing for Hamas was and remains extracting civilian gains at the end of the fighting.
Because of the stalemate after 48 days, the IDF has adopted two measures with exactly the same aim. The Israel Air Force has taken the gloves off and has been destroying buildings, among them a 14-storey building in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood, in which there are Hamas command posts sandwiched between residential apartments on the bottom and upper floors, and stepping up preparations for a second ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.
The term senior IDF officers are using is “raid”: making a rapid, surprise incursion with armor into a specific area of the Gaza Strip, causing maximum damage in minimum time, from a few hours up to a day, and then exiting. Will such raids put Hamas off balance? Even senior IDF officers honestly admit that they have no certain answer to that.
What is clear is that the orchestrated and ugly campaign in which cabinet ministers have sought to discredit Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, and present him in a series of cowardly leaks as feeble and hesitant in using force, is divorced from reality.
War’s kingdom of uncertainty could face Israel’s leaders with a real dilemma in the coming weeks. One option is a grinding wait for Hamas’s stockpile of rockets and mortar shells to run out, while agreeing with Egypt that the Rafah area will be sealed against renewed arms smuggling the day after the cease-fire, which could be preferable to any empty understanding with Hamas in Cairo hotels. The other continues to be to strive for a cease-fire as soon as possible and an understanding based on deterrence that will last as long as it lasts.
The writer is the military correspondent for Channel 10.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com