It began as a covert intelligence operation, one of many conducted by Israel in the hostile and densely populated Gaza Strip. Most of these operations occur without incident but on Sunday, we were reminded that these covert activities are not without extreme risk.
An undercover force reportedly from the elite Sayeret Maglan unit entered the Strip in civilian clothing using a nondescript vehicle. While in the Gazan city of Khan Yunis, the vehicle drew the suspicions of Hamas operatives who were in the vicinity. As the terrorists closed in, the Maglan boys opened fire on the AK-47 toting gangsters instantly sparking a ferocious firefight.
Three of the terrorists were shot dead during the initial exchange. The Israeli vehicle then frantically made its way through narrow streets of Khan Yunis toward the safety of Israel all while Hamas vehicles were giving chase. The Israelis called in for air support. Drones hovering above fired at the pursuing vehicles, destroying them, and killing an additional four more terrorists.
When it was over, seven terrorists, including a senior Hamas commander and one Israeli soldier were dead. The senior terrorist commander was identified as Nour Baraka, who oversaw terror tunnel operations. The deceased Israeli was a Lt. Colonel and a member of Israel’s Druse minority sect. His name has not been released to the public and he has only been identified as Lt. Col. “M.”
Israel braced for the inevitable response, and it came in the form of intense rocket and mortar barrages shortly thereafter. As of this writing, Hamas and its affiliate terror partners, which include the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, have fired approximately 400 rockets and mortars at Israel. Israel’s rocket defense system, Iron Dome, has thus far intercepted some 100 rockets. Most of the other rockets landed in open spaces but some hit residential areas causing casualties, property damage and disruption to normal daily living.
One rocket scored a direct hit on an apartment complex in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon killing a man and seriously injuring two women. The 48 year old man killed was a Palestinian, authorized to work in Israel. He is listed as the bombardment’s only fatality.
Gazan terrorists also fired a Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missile at a commuter bus parked close to the border, near the Israeli Kibbutz of Kfar Aza. The bus had been chartered by the army to transport soldiers but had no identifying military markings. Amazingly, all of the bus’s occupants disembarked just moments before the missile strike, and only one soldier, who was standing in close proximity to the bus, was wounded. After two surgeries, his condition, which was initially listed as critical, has drastically improved.
Indiscriminate firing of rockets at civilians is a war crime. Hamas has thus far committed 400 war crimes. Most of the civilized world, including the United States and the European Union, has roundly condemned Hamas for it abhorrent conduct. The usual suspects, including Turkey’s thoroughly unhinged dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, offered knee-jerk support for Hamas.
Israel has bolstered its anti-rocket defenses in the south, deploying additional Iron Dome batteries. Hamas is attempting to overwhelm Iron Dome by firing clusters of rocket salvos but the system continues to live up to its reputation as one of Israel’s wonder weapons.
Since the start of the Hamas-initiated hostilities, the Israeli Air Force has hit more than 150 targets throughout the Strip including the Hamas-controlled Al-Aqsa television station, and a building which served as the group’s intelligence headquarters. Both buildings were obliterated. Seven terrorists have been killed in the air strikes, making for a total of fourteen dead terrorists when added to the initial batch of seven killed in the Khan Yunis incident.
If the first wave of strikes fails to convince Hamas to cease its aggression, the Israelis will likely begin to target the homes of senior Hamas commanders. If that doesn’t do the trick, a ground invasion is all but inevitable. It is a virtual certainty however, that those brave stalwart leaders of Hamas are hiding in subterranean tunnels or beneath Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, while they use their expendable foot soldiers as fodder.
Just before the instant crisis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that “There is no diplomatic solution for Gaza, just as there is no diplomatic solution for ISIS.” That is an accurate assessment. Israel certainly has the capability to topple Hamas and liquidate its leadership but at a substantial cost in terms of lives lost as well as political and financial capital. Moreover, toppling Hamas will not necessarily solve the problem as the substituting group may be as, or perhaps more radical. Finally, the greater threat facing Israel is to the north where the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization has amassed a mammoth rocket arsenal dwarfing anything possessed by its Gazan cousins in terms of both quality and quantity. Moreover, Israel must contend with Iran’s increasing entrenchment in Syria and its construction of missile bases and subterranean missile-production factories.
In light of these realities, Israel will have to resort to the doctrine of “cutting the grass,” a euphemism for cutting Hamas down to size every time the group gets out of hand. While this is not the ideal solution, it represents the best possible choice in a field of bad choices.