Khaled Meshaal rock firm against truce. Hamas-Gaza fires upgraded rocket to maximize casualties
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis August 26, 2014/
Battered by Hamas’ escalating rocket and mortar assaults, Israelis are again tossed on the uncertain waters of an imminent ceasefire which never materializes. This illusion is propagated again by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi. Washington has also been enlisted to the effort by drafting a resolution for the UN Security Council. It was tabled at the request of the White House with quiet backing from Netanyahu for the purpose of blocking the European measure, which is backed by Qatar, one of the Hamas’ few supporters and host to its political leader Khaled Meshaal.
Why is President Barack Obama standing behind Egypt and Israel this time?
His reasoning is complicated. Netanyahu and El-Sisi, who speak regularly and discreetly by phone, have been persuaded by their intelligence services that Meshaal is an impediment – not just to a temporary ceasefire, but to any sort of accommodation for ending the Gaza conflict. They are convinced that all the Palestinian factions, including Hamas-Gaza, would go for an end to the war, in the hope of a Gaza deal leading to a settlement between Israel and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Those intelligence analysts cling to the hypothesis that Hamas-Gaza really wants to end the war, and this assumption dominates top-level thinking in Jerusalem and Cairo, in the face of all Hamas’ actions to the contrary in 50 days of escalating Hamas warfare up until Tuesday, Aug. 26.
This dichotomy leaves Israelis increasingly confused and uncertain about how to conduct their lives, especially in the areas closest to the Gaza Strip, which have been largely depopulated by non-stop Hamas short-range rocket and mortar fire.
The theory found a champion this week in an unexpected quarter: Khaled al-Batsh, one of the top men of Islamic Jihad, the pro-Iranian Palestinian terrorist movement which is Hamas’ most active partner in the offensive against Israel.
He suddenly announced he was in favor of a truce.
Lest he be suspected of overnight conversion to peace-lover, DEBKAfile’s intelligence services turns to another hidden aspect of the Gaza conflict for an explanation: The Palestinian group’s patrons, Iran and Hizballah, are working hard to paint their ally Syrian President Bashar Assad as the only force in the Middle East capable of fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – IS. If their proposition is accepted, they will reciprocate by bringing about a halt in the Gaza hostilities. They would also be able to show themselves in the light of the real forces of peace and moderation in the region.
The US-Egyptian-Israeli line therefore hinged on the presumption that a deal introducing Tehran to the Gaza equation would be beneficial, because Meshaal, who relies heavily on Iranian support, would not be able to spurn an Iranian demand to stop the fighting in Gaza.
But this math has not panned out. Meshaal showed his nerves were strong enough to withstand the potion mixed for him in Washington, Jerusalem, Cairo, Ramallah. He not only stuck to his guns against ending the Gaza conflict, he outmaneuvered them all by enlisting Hamas’ secretive military chief Muhammed Deif to this end. The object of an Israeli targeted assassination on Aug. 19, Meshaal said that Deif had survived the attack and they were in close contact.
Whether he spoke the truth or not cannot be determined at this point. But by bandying Deif’s name and claiming he too was flat against a ceasefire, Meshaal set a clear course for the war to continue, irrespective of efforts to bring about a truce in the fighting. Deif’s word in the movement is law, which no Hamas member would dare defy.
So, at this point, all the schemes and machinations for ending the Gaza crisis by diplomacy are in deadlock, DEBKAfile’s intelligence and military sources report.
The two options remaining to the leaders of Egypt and Israel are: 1) Unable to break Khaled Meshaal’s will, they must find a way to persuade Hamas-Gaza that it is in their best interests to defy, or even sack, him. 2) To apply military pressure that is beyond Hamas’ capacity to resist – i.e., effective IDF ground action – to stop the fighting by sheer force.
Of course, if the Hamas political chief were to surprise everyone by caving in and accepting a truce, that would be a third option. But there are no signs of this happening. His movement continued meanwhile to signal its true intentions in no uncertain terms Tuesday, Aug. 26, Day 50 of the Gaza conflict, by unveiling a new 340mm rocket with an extra large warhead which crashed down on a private home in Ashkelon, injuring 59 people – the largest number of casualties by any single rocket so far. Two houses were leveled and dozens more damaged.
And so Hamas Gaza graphically belied the hypothesis of its intentions which guide – or misguide – Washington, Jerusalem and Cairo.
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Israeli air strikes reduce Gazan high-rise towers to dust, while Israelis flee in droves from Hamas fire
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis August 25, 2014
Community leaders of 40,000 dwellers of the dozens of kibbutzim, moshavim and small towns adjoining the Gaza Strip spoke out Monday, Aug 25: “It is no longer possible to hide what is going on and the country must hear the truth,” they said: “The populated front line facing the Gaza Strip is no more.” Some bluntly blamed this fiasco on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and their management of the operation against Hamas.
The collapse of the Israeli line outside Gaza is analogous in strategic terms to the fall of the Bar Lev line 41 years ago which permitted the Egyptian artillery and tank assault across the Suez Canal, some veteran reservists said. Others pointed out that, whereas the IDF should have carved out a sterile security zone inside the Gaza Strip, Hamas had managed to depopulate a strip of territory on the Israeli side of the border by relentless cross-border short-range rockets and mortar fire, and was now dictating events in southern Israel.
On the 50th day of Operation Defense Edge, people living in the south were outspokenly critical of Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkott, in contrast to the early days of the operation. They are now blamed for failing to present the security cabinet with “creative military solutions” for combating Hamas tactics.
The prime minister and defense minister this week turned to covering their dilatory tactics against a full-scale war by disseminating predictions “from official sources” that this would be a “week of diplomacy” and truce negotiations would be resumed in Cairo. This kite didn’t fly for long. Hamas was too full of triumph over the Zionist foe to bow to terms dictated by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority and refused to be cowed in compromise – even by the heavy ordnance the Israeli air force is throwing at the Gaza Strip’s tallest buildings and high officers. Indeed, history shows that aerial blitzes rarely cause their objects to capitulate, unless augmented by ground action. In an interview Sunday to Iranian TV, Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal acclaimed the “great Hamas victory” over the Israeli army and thanked Tehran for the assistance which made it possible. Monday morning, Palestinian Hamas leaders Izzat Rishak and Osama Hamdan added their voices to Meshaal’s by rejecting “talk” of an imminent ceasefire in Gaza and flatly turning down the amended Egyptian truce proposal as a basis for negotiations.
The exclusion of a “diplomatic option,” say our military sources, puts the ball back in the Netanyahu-Ya’alon court.
Air strikes are again proving unequal to halting or deterring Hamas’ rocket offensive – exactly as they did before Operation Defensive Edge began. So Israel’s options boil down to a choice between a war of attrition – which Netanyahu has publicly vetoed – and overcoming his revulsion to ground operations in the Gaza Strip – preferably a series of short, sharp surgical strikes.
Three days ago, debkafile reported: Both sides were preparing Saturday night, Aug. 23, for an impending battle on Gaza Strip soil. Heavy IDF ground forces were poised ready to enter the territory – initially to demolish Hamas’s short-range rocket and mortar launches, which have disrupted the lives of neighboring Israeli communities and forced their mass evacuation. Hamas has been firing those short-range weapons from 3-7 km inside the Gaza Strip. Once they appreciated the effectiveness of their tactics, Hamas planners escalated the barrage Monday, launching 140 rockets and mortar shells, salvo after salvo, against a broad Israeli population, which has begun to register casualties and extensive damage. This was meant as a goading challenge to the commanders of the Israel army ranged around the Gaza border, to come in and fight – if they dare. Netanyahu government can hardly avoid calling a spade a spade, namely calling the conflict a “war” instead of an operation and treating Hamas as “the enemy,” which has to be beaten in a ruthless all-out national effort by every means available. The present situation, whereby Israeli air strikes reduce Gaza’s buildings to dust without stopping Hamas rocket attacks, juxtaposed opposite vanishing Israeli communities reduced to refugees is untenable.
Though militarily inferior, Hamas has hit Israel strategically with attrition and population flight
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis August 24, 2014/When Israeli troops entered Gaza in July, 2014, they were armed with superb tactical intelligence as well as superior weaponry and training. The soldiers on the ground were supplied at every level with astonishing detail which saved lives.
But thanks to the a radical shift in Israel’s intelligence focus, initiated 10 years ago and followed through since, those calling the shots in the IDF’s war on Hamas were short of a deeper picture and insights into the enemy’s mindset and guiding motives, data that transcends tactical knowledge
This revision of Israel’s operational intelligence orientation began in 2003 under Meir Dagan, with the approval of the late prime minister Ariel Sharon. It refocused the work of Israel’s clandestine agencies on collecting tactical intelligence and giving up on digging for strategic data on the dynamics of the region and world and their key players. This revolution affected the short and long term operations of of Israel’s external and internal security and counterterrorism arms, the Mossad and Shin Bet, as well as military intelligence AMAN.
The Mossad shut down stations world wide, sacking or sidelining agents who disputed the Dagan overhaul.. The desks specializing in the strategic research of international events were streamlined out of the organization. The new entity began to resemble the US Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Operations Division (SAD), a covert paramilitary unit that focuses on gathering tactical intelligence for the use of operatives serving on foreign soil, especially in the Mid East.
Those agencies eventually became small armies geared more to cooperating with the IDF in times of tension and war, as they strikingly demonstrated in the current Operation Defensive Edge.
During this evolution, spread over years, the Mossad scored some major coups. One was the targeted assassination in 2008 of the lethal Imad Mughniyeh, who for two decades, in the service of Hizballah and Iran, secretly masterminded large-scale terrorist and kidnapping atrocities against Israel and the US.
Another was the Stuxnet malworm invasion of the computer systems of Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities which slowed Iran’s nuclear program. A series of assassinations inside Iran targeted key figures of this program; and, in 2007, an Israeli special force raided and destroyed a plutonium reactor, which Iran and North Korea were building in Syria, shortly before it went on line.
But the overhaul, though beneficial in some respects, left Israeli intelligence short of important tools for fighting terrorism and fundamentalist Islam when it went on the march. Generations of new personnel were hired on the strength of their ability to think tactically. Strategic evaluation and research departments went by the board.. When it came to th crunchs, the Mossad, Shin Bet and AMAN lacked the tools for supplying Israel’s political and security leaders with professional analyses of the bigger picture.
This deficiency was conspicuous in Israel’s failure to evaluate the US-Iranian détente and its import for the Jewish state; in mistakenly forecasting Bashar Assad’s early downfall in the Syrian war – and, more immediately, in failing to second guess Hamas in Operation Protective Edge.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources award top marks for the quality of tactical intelligence provided Israeli troops during the month of hostilities in Gaza. It was outstanding by any standards of modern warfare. The troops were constantly updated, even when engaged in the smallest, most localized field operations, on such details as the layout of buildings before going in, the placement of windows and likely enemy hidey holes.
As they moved forward, tank commanders were warned what lay beyond the next corner. Much valuable information was extracted from Hamas prisoners by advance intelligence units and provided the troops with instantaneous data feeds in a steady stream that saved lives.
But tactical intelligence could only take the IDF so far in Gaza – as in other hostile arenas. Israel’s leaders found that, for charting their own moves, they missed essential strategic data on Hamas’s top-level planners’ intentions.
This deficiency was the cause of the glaring error in judgment made by Israel’s war leaders – an error that persisted right up until Sunday, Aug. 24, the 48th day of Operation Defensive Edge. This was the fallacious assumption that, if only its Gaza strongholds were hammered hard enough by the Israeli military, Hamas would fold and sign a long-term truce on terms dictated by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.
This misreading of the motives governing Hamas’ actions was the source of the statement Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon made Sunday, that the operation would end “only when quiet returns to southern Israel. Till then, we shall continue to hammer Hamas, for the moment by air.”He went on to say: “We stand by our policy of avoiding direct confrontation with Hamas or a decisive end to the war; rather preferring diplomatic closure.”
This approach leaves the initiative in Hamas hands and Israel ignorantly navigating its military moves towards a ceasefire instead of winning the war. Despite its inferiority in fighting strength and weaponry, Israel’s enemy uses this ambivalence to retain the element of surprise and keep the IDF moving without direction.
This week, by focusing on its strategic objectives, Hamas scored two major goals:
1. It dragged Israel willy-nilly into a war of attrition – with no end in sight, according to its leaders. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s repeated assertion that attrition would be countered by hammer blows ddid not alter the fact that the rockets and the mortars keep coming from the Gaza Strip in a steady flow which is attritioning the civilian population.
2. And indeed, around 70 percent of the population of the villages around the Gaza Strip have packed their bags and left their homes. Despite the aid offered by the government, these people and their families have become refugees or displaced persons in their own country, in order to escape the relentless Hamas pounding of rockets and mortars. This is a strategic achievement on a par with Hamas’ success in closing Ben Gurion international air port for a couple of days last month.
The Islamists are coming close to a third strategic achievement: Israel’s inability to start the school year on September 1 – and not just in the near neighborhood of the Gaza Strip. Voices are being raised in Ashkelon, Ashdod and further north in Greater Tel Aviv and its densely populated satellite towns, by parents who say they will not send children back to school in the current state of security.
So while Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs use tactical yardsticks to weigh their steps and assess Hamas’ intentions, Hamas operates on the strategic level to keep Israel guessing.