The Gaza Crisis' Tipping Point
Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was a test of sorts to determine whether unilateral concessions would be met with reciprocating goodwill gestures. The experiment in unilateral concessions was an abysmal failure, evidenced by three major conflagrations and countless minor flare-ups since.
The latest spasm of violence began on Friday when Hamas snipers fired on an Israeli patrol wounding two soldiers, one moderately and one lightly. Israel responded with accurate fire killing two Hamas operatives. Shortly thereafter, Hamas and its affiliate, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad began bombarding southern Israel with rockets and mortars.
An Egyptian brokered ceasefire went into effect on Monday at 4:30 a.m. but since Saturday, the southern Israeli cities of Sderot, Ashkelon, Beersheba and Ashdod, as well as a number of smaller communities along the Gaza periphery were subjected to unrelenting rocket and mortar bombardment.
According to Israel’s military spokesperson, Gazan terrorists fired some 700 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel over a two-day period. Approximately two-thirds of these landed in open spaces. Others were intercepted by Israel’s rocket defense system, Iron Dome. But a few managed to penetrate Israel’s missile defense shield inflicting death and property damage. According to published reports, four Israeli civilians were killed in this latest round of Hamas-provoked violence.
Of the four, one was identified as 50-year-old Israeli Arab, killed while reporting to work at an Ashkelon factory. Hamas rockets do not discriminate between Jew and Arab. Another casualty was identified as a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen in his early 20s, who was killed in Ashdod while running to a bomb shelter. A third, identified as a 60-year-old man, was killed when the car he was driving on Route 34 near the Gaza border was hit by a Russian Kornet anti-tank missile fired by Gazan terrorists. Shortly thereafter, the Israel Defense Forces temporarily closed that particular stretch of road to civilian traffic deeming it unsafe due to its close proximity to the border. A fourth man, aged 58, was killed in the city of Ashkelon while taking a cigarette break.
Israel limited its retaliatory response to airstrikes against Hamas and PIJ targets. Some 350 targets were hit. Israel also halted fuel shipments to Gaza and closed Gaza’s maritime coastline. Thirty-one Gazans, at least 15 of whom were terrorists, were killed in these strikes. Among those killed was Hamed al-Khoudary, identified as a Hamas financier and the group’s liaison with elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC was recently designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Trump administration.
Khoudary, whose movements were monitored by Israeli intelligence, was killed in a targeted liquidation strike. Financiers and moneychangers like Khoudary represent the life blood for Hamas as they facilitate cash transfers to the terror group. Without these facilitators, Hamas would not be able to pay salaries, construct tunnels or purchase arms. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Israel targeted and killed Hamas money man, Mohammed al-Ghoul. He was barbecued in his car after a precision missile strike and the $13 million he was transporting, which was secured from a friendly Muslim country, turned to vapor. A few days later, Hamas cried uncle and agreed to a ceasefire.
Babak Taghvaee, a military commentator who often posts about military developments in the region, stated that Khoudary was killed by a Nimrod air-to-ground missile launched from an Eitan (Heron TP) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported that a pregnant woman and her child were killed in an Israeli airstrike. Claims of this nature issued by the health ministry, which takes its marching orders from Hamas, must be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. The more plausible explanation is that they were almost certainly killed due to a Hamas rocket that either misfired or fell short within Gaza. This is not an uncommon occurrence, and has in fact happened with alarming frequency during previous Hamas rocket launches. Unfortunately, international media outlets often accept Hamas health ministry claims without challenge. When the truth finally emerges, the damage to reputation has already been done and is often difficult if not impossible to reverse.
Hamas and the PIJ are attempting to embarrass Israel, which is due to host the Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv in mid-May. Had the situation escalated to full-scale conflagration, the Eurovision event would have almost certainly been canceled or postponed.
Hamas is also attempting extort Israel by forcing it to allow the unimpeded transfer of Qatari cash into Gaza. The Israeli government had previously permitted such transfers in an effort to placate the terror group and maintain quiet. The most recent cash transfer was delayed for reasons having nothing to do with Israel. Some members of the Netanyahu-led government oppose the Qatari cash transfers, viewing them as nothing but an extortion scheme. That assessment is accurate.
Israel is currently in a quandary. It must respond to the attacks but in doing so, risks escalation, and possible cancelation of the much anticipated Eurovision. More importantly, Israel views the real and far more dangerous threat as emerging from the north. The IRGC’s overseas branch, the Quds Force, is attempting to entrench itself in Syria. They are trying to open up a new front against Israel opposite the Golan Heights. Moreover, Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy group that controls Lebanon is believed to possess 150,000 rockets and missiles including guided missiles capable of leveling city blocks. In terms of both quality and quantity, this stockpile dwarfs the combined arsenals of Hamas and the PIJ. Hezbollah is also believed to possess indigenous missile production capabilities thanks to generous technical and financial assistance from the Islamic Republic.
Israel does not wish to get bogged down in a war in the south when the greater danger is to the north. But Israel may be left with little choice if the ceasefire is breached and the rocket fire continues. A new operation similar to ones undertaken in 2009, 2012 and 2014 may be necessary to impose quiet. But this is only a temporary solution which past experience has taught will only purchase 3 to 4 years of calm until the next round.