The Guardian of the Walls operation of May, 2021 caused far less casualties among both Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and Israeli soldiers, than the Protective Edge operation of 2014. It also lasted much less time; 11 days compared to Protective Edge’s operation of 50 days. The damage to Hamas’ military infrastructure was, however, much more severe. Its top engineers, who headed its rocket program, were eliminated, as well as top military leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas. Its attack tunnels, built with huge monetary and human investments, were largely destroyed.
In the seven years since Protective Edge, Hamas improved its capabilities. Hamas possessed more rockets with longer range and larger warheads, more attack tunnels, more fighters, and more sophisticated electronic warfare. As a result, in the most recent confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Hamas was able to surprise the IDF with its ability to fire non-stop barrages. Hamas also showed that it had a more sophisticated command and control system, which the IDF didn’t completely destroy. While Hamas’ new technique of firing barrages with multiple rockets to confuse and get through Israel’s Iron Dome system, over 90% of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome batteries, and those rockets projected to land in open uninhabited areas were disregarded. Iran has provided Hamas and PIJ with technical support as well as millions in financial aid. Israel’s blockade in recent years reduced Iran’s ability to supply Gaza with arms; hence, Hamas has built its rockets in local shops.
Israel’s intelligence services performed exceptionally well in being capable of pinpointing individual targets of Hamas and PIJ operatives, without causing collateral damage and killing innocent bystanders. Intelligence provided the Israeli Air Force (IAF) with the exact location of the “Metro” – a confluence of various Hamas attack tunnels. The IDF had some impressive strategic and tactical achievements, including the destruction of Hamas’ rocket production workshops. The navy sank Hamas’ mini submarines aimed at attacking Israel’s offshore gas facilities. Some called these submarines “suicide subs,” others submarine drones. Israel’s home front deserves credit for displaying discipline as well as moral and psychological strength. The IDF Home Command issued warnings, while the prepared shelters and safe spaces saved many lives. That’s a strategic achievement.
The IAF dropped over 1,000 bombs on terrorist targets, and while civilian losses are regrettable and unintended, only 100 non-combatants died. (In Operation Protective Edge 1,394 Palestinians were killed according to B’Tselem). Quite a number of non-combatants were killed by Hamas’ misfired rockets. The Palestinian advocacy group Defense for Children reported on May 11, 2021 that, “A homemade rocket fired by a Palestinian armed group fell short and killed 8 Palestinians, including two children.”
In the long term, the full effects of the Guardian of the Walls operation are yet unknown. As for the short term, Israel’s deterrence has seemingly been restored. Hamas and PIJ terrorist groups in Gaza will not be in a rush to resume firing on Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip or central Israel. The Israeli government must however, focus on maintaining its deterrence by preventing Hamas from restoring its military capabilities. Israel must henceforth react disproportionally on the slightest violation by Hamas of Israeli sovereignty. This means responding with full force to Hamas’ or PIJs’ use of balloons with explosive devices against Israeli agricultural fields, or attacks by drones laden with explosives. Israel must change the rules vis-à-vis Hamas in Gaza. No more reacting to Hamas’ sporadic provocations. Israel’s political leadership must be more resolute, and end the lackluster way it has reacted in the last few decades. It must seize the initiative and make sure that Hamas fully understands the consequences of the slightest provocation against Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated that warning to Hamas. “If Hamas thinks we will tolerate a drizzle of rockets, it is wrong.” He vowed to respond with “a new level of force” against aggression anywhere in Israel.
Given the radical Islamist credo of Hamas and its agenda, it would be naïve to expect Hamas to seek peace and harmony with the Jewish state. Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. Yet, the two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip desperately need a “Marshall Plan,” restoring its economy, and finding proper living conditions for those living in squalid refugee camps. Hamas, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the Arab world have done nothing to uplift those people, and in fact, have intentionally kept them in misery as a propaganda weapon against Israel, and as a source of suicide bombers. Israel had offered, in the past, to help build housing for the refugees in Gaza; it was flatly rejected by the Palestinians and the Arab states. Nevertheless, Israel would offer humanitarian aid to Gaza if and when the territory is pacified.
Next time the Qatari regime plans to deliver cash to Gaza, Israel must condition it on Hamas returning the bodies of the fallen Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin, and Oron Shaul, in addition to Israeli citizens Avera Mengistu, and Hisham al-Sayed. In any possible exchange with Hamas, Israel mustn’t free Hamas or PIJ terrorists with blood on their hands. Israel must make it clear to the Egyptian mediators that it will not tolerate Hamas’ attack tunnels aimed at kidnapping and killing Israelis.
Hamas succeeded in the area of consciousness. It was able to establish itself as the defender of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It had thus scored a major political victory over its rival, the PA, and the Fatah party. Mahmoud Abbas’ cancellation of the parliamentary and presidential elections due respectively in May, and June, helped Hamas portray itself as the activist organization on behalf of Palestinians everywhere. Palestinian public opinion in Eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank, and among Israeli-Arab young people tilted sharply toward Hamas. They cheered Hamas for causing Israelis to flee to shelters, and compelled the Israeli government to cancel planned activities already approved, including the Flags March through the Shechem (Damascus) Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. Hamas was also able to incite Israeli Arabs in mixed cities, and Arab towns, to riot and attempt lynching’s of Israeli Jews.
PM Netanyahu summed up the results of the war by pointing out that Israel inflicted major damage on Hamas’ military capabilities, killing 200 Hamas and PIJ operatives, including 25 senior commanders. He added that the IDF struck more than 60 miles of terrorist tunnels, as well as rocket launchers and other military infrastructure. On Friday, May 21, 2021, the Israeli security cabinet agreed to the Egyptian mediated cease fire. The decision was criticized by many of Netanyahu’s constituents for prematurely ending the war without vanquishing Hamas.
In the final analysis, one crucial strategic result stemming from Israel’s Guardian of the Walls operation is that it sent a message to Iran and Hezbollah, who must have clearly recognized Israeli superiority in intelligence, the effectiveness of its aerial power, as well as its cyber capabilities. The IDF believes that at least five years of calm from Gaza would constitute a success for operation Guardian of the Walls.
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