Operation Cast Lead – Update and Analysis


Israeli Ground Troops Entering Gaza (AP)

Israeli Ground Troops Entering Gaza (AP)

The night of Saturday, 3 January 2009, Israeli ground troops entered Gaza. Since then, they have killed over 50 Palestinian gunmen, destroyed what was reported to be Hamas’ military headquarters, multiple tunnels in the Philadelphi corridor, a mosque which had been used to store and fire rockets, and several other targets. Approximately 500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the beginning of the Operation. Over 400 of these were Hamasmen. With a force of approximately 1000 men, this means that Hamas lost approximately 40% of its force – a dire loss for any military apparatus. The IDF is moving to encircle the densely populated Gaza City, where Hamas has concentrated (or hidden) the bulk of its forces. The IDF has explained that this phase of the Operation, that of the employment of ground forces, is to function as a “root canal” against terrorism.

Why was the ground necessary? On the small scale, it is to stop rocket fire. How do you stop rockets from being fired? Destroy the rockets. For our purposes, rockets can be broken down into two subgroups: short and long range. Long range rockets can be destroyed by bombing, such as by an aerial assault. These rockets are larger, require more fuel, and thus render themselves more susceptible to destruction by air strike. Short range rockets, however, are not so easily destroyed from the air. (As a side notes, short range includes those rockets which can reach Ashkelon). These rockets are shoulder launched, relatively small, easily fired, and, also, easily hidden. The only way to stop them from being fired is to control the territory from which they are being fired. This has proven true statistically in that 73% of the rockets fired on Israel over the last week were fired from areas which the IDF now controls, and from which rockets are, now, not being fired. [Note: this does not mean that Israel wants to annex or occupy Gaza. No one, not the Likud or anyone to the Left, wants to occupy Gaza and another 2.1 million Palestinians].

The real goal of the military campaign, however, is not a body count (i.e. of gunmen, rockets, munitions, etc). Rather, it is to deter the enemy from using those means which are in their possession
(i.e. the ones you haven’t managed to prevent them from acquiring). At present the goal is to break the taboo that Israel would not put troops on the ground. This taboo was believed by Hezbullah in 2006 and was believed by Hamas for the last few years. It is the essential problem with casus belli. If you fail to act after stating that a given assault would be seen as casus belli, then you risk looking like a paper tiger. This is what allowed Hamas to attack a country which it knows to be 100 times stronger than it. A lack of a red light is perceived as a de facto  green light. Without going into the reasons for which Gaza began to launch missiles into Israel quite heavily over the last 6 months (which includes an attempt to renegotiate the ceasefire terms in their favor, including the opening of the “border crossings”), it is evident that Hamas did not actually believe that Israel would attack them back, and certainly not with a ground incursion. The Operation will likely result in a ceasefire. The ceasefire will, in all likelihood, be broken in another year, 2 years tops, at which point there will have to be another, stronger, ground incursion. However, if Israel responds well, as in with a crushing force, there will not likely be a third time, or if so, it will be far smaller than the second time. Deterrence is built over time. We cannot convince these people to recognize Israel’s right to exist, nor can we convert them to Zionists. However, we can convince them that it is not in their interest to continue attacking Israel. [In deterrence literature, the parallel chosen is that of the school yard bully. You may not be able to convince him that it is wrong for him to steal your lunch money, nor can you make him like you, butif you punch him in the nose enough times and stand up for yourself, you can convince him that its not worth it for him to mess with you]. Let us hope that Israel continues to do well during this second part of Operation Cast Lead, and not withdraw too soon.

כל הכבוד לצה”ל


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13 Comments

  1. Tom Morrissey

    1/5/2009 at 3:55 pm

    I understand (and support) the operation as a means of destroying Hamas’s capacity to stage terror attacks, which (to my primitive mind) means destroying the Hamas infrastructure and leadership. But can radical Palestinians be deterred, as you suggest? Is that a realistic goal? Isn’t there two generations of evidence to the contrary?

  2. themiddle

    1/5/2009 at 5:09 pm

    Tom is correct. Anything less than destruction of the Hamas leadership and ability to wage serious war (they will always be able to run small operations) will be a failure as outcome for this operation.

  3. Leon

    1/5/2009 at 5:56 pm

    You can’t really destroy the Hamas, as long as radical views such as those of the Hamas continue to exist, Hamas will continute to exist – and if not as the Hamas, then under another name.

    though Hamas does have a nice terrorist organization ring to it, they should trademark it.

  4. R Marshall

    1/5/2009 at 11:01 pm

    Hammas obtains its support from the population it rules from political rights, intimidation, pay-offs, providing social support systems and from religious sanctions. Convincing a population that their religious rights to fight Jews and obligations to take back complete possession of any land once under the governance of Islam in any way possible (including repopulation, political intrigue, duplicity, force of arms, trojan horse fifth column evolution and so on)is a virtually a waste of time and effort. To undo and deprogram what is taught from the Quran and haddiths (and sunnah) no matter how many contra physical blows or education with comprehensive facts are provided is folly; economic interests and physical well being may be somewhat guided in certain directions but, for practioners of the religion of peace, their religious dogma becomes hardened and armed with religious sanction enraged hate seems to become ever more pervasive.
    Jews of the Quraish tribe learned first hand how nice it was to accomodate their adversaries and have a peace treaty with the virtuous Mohammed. Too late they learned about “hudna”. Shaheeds for Gaza, for Palestine, for Eurabia, for Islam…here they come!

  5. xisnotx

    1/6/2009 at 1:49 am

    Dahlia: ” With a force of approximately 1000 men”

    — where are you getting that from? i’ve seen the figure 15,000 quoted several times in Israeli press.

  6. dahlia

    1/6/2009 at 11:41 am

    Tom: for purposes of my arguement, let us stipulate that a government is controlled by its people. Afterall, Hamas was elected to power; there was not military coup. This being said, if the average person does not want to live with being attacked by the Israelis at any given movement, which I believe we can all concede that the average Palestinian does not wish for (nor does Hamas), then they can deter their government. Thus, perhaps the key is to deter the people, the average Mahmoud, if you will, and not simply the heads of a militant organization.

    themiddle: with all due respect, I disagree. This operation is not only about Gaza. It is, also, about instilling into our enemies the concept that when we say “enough is enough,” we mean it. Furthermore, today I heard the Commander of the Headquarters of the Homefront of the South (I think that’s what it is called in English. In Hebrew it is the מפקד פיקוד העורף לדרום) speak today, and he did not once mention as a goal that of the total destruction of Hamas as an enterprise. He very specifically referred to Hamas’s fighting abilities, infrastructure, and military command. If the army has not set as a goal the complete destruction of Hamas, then their not achieving the non-goal cannot be viewed as a failure.

    Leon: Hamas, unlike other terrorist organizations such as the PIJ, can survive for years without pertetrating acts of terrorism. This is because they are primarily a mutual aid organization, and, now, also, a political organization. As such, they will still be able to survive without terrorist activities. This is what has allowed them to consider the idea of a hudna. This does not mean that they will give up terrorism for good. However, with regards to self interest, they can do so, without losing their support base.

    R Marshall: I wish to remind you that not all people are monalithic. Why are there no shahids among the Turks? Are they not Muslims? How about Wafa Sultan? She is proud Muslim, though she disagrees with Islam. I agree that there are individuals, such as the members of Hamas, the PIJ, Hezbullah, etc. with whom one cannot reason. Yet, I find it difficult to believe that there can exist many countries in the world where the population is majority Muslim, and not extremist (many Turks even eat pork!). Abu Mazen is a Palestinian and a Muslim, yet he accepts the existence of the State of Israel. Thus I reject any statement which blankets an entire populace as being incapable of at least contemplating a peaceful solution, particularly in light of evidence to the contrary. I have no magic ball; I cannot say that peace will ever occur. Nor am I delusional to think that should peace occur, that it is likely to occur soon, or even in my time. I do believe that normalcy may be possible. For if not, Israel will have 2 options left to it: act borderline criminally or commit state suicide.

    xisnotx: from the former Director of Defense R&D Directorate in the Ministry of Defense, who is still very much involved in many aspects of Israeli defense and strategy. Hamas has more than 1000 members, but I, (as does the aforementioned Director), think one can draw a distinction between the Hamas-guy who works as a pediatrician in the Gaza City hospital and the Hamas-guy who walks around with a Kalishnakof shooting at Israelis. This being said, Hamas has the advantage in numbers in that they can “draft” more people (i.e. convince them to join their ranks). Further, with a birthrate of around 9 to each family, it will not take too many years to refresh their reserves.

  7. xisnotx

    1/6/2009 at 6:15 pm

    Dahlia: is that # for the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades, or all Hamas members under arms?

  8. Ephraim

    1/6/2009 at 7:30 pm

    Not sure why a body count is not the objective. I figure the best deterrent is a high number of dead terrorists, the higher the better. If you don’t have guys to fire the rockets, or they’re too scared to do so, that works even better than destroying their weapons. A gun is useless if you’re afraid to use it. And we’ve seen that the “glorious martyrs” of Hamas are all cowards. The second the fecal matter impacts the rotary wind device, they hide. Kill enough of them and they’ll think twice, just like Hizballah has done. Notice that they’re leaving their Hamas “brothers of the resistance” twisting in the wind at the mercy of the IDF?

    I also question the 1,000 number. All reports I’ve seen put it at least 10 times higher than that.

  9. Ephraim

    1/6/2009 at 7:33 pm

    Oh, yeah:

    Abu Mazen doesn’t really accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. He’s just pretending he does because he knows that’s what the US and the Euros want to hear. The only real philosophical difference between Fatah and Hamas is that Fatah knows how to lie a bit better.

  10. dahlia

    1/8/2009 at 1:41 pm

    xisnotx: I have e-mailed the aforementioned person. He has not yet replied back, but as a Knesset Minister, is probably a bit busy at present. As soon as I have the msot accurate data, I will post it. (I just want to make sure that we have the most accurate information).

    Ephraim: I agree with you that a high body count is helpful. Far be it from me to say otherwise. However, I do not believe that it should be the primary goal. Rather, I believe it should be the means to achieve the ultimate goal, which is deterence. Also, I disagree with you about Abu Mazen. I do not think that he is a Zionist or even likes Israel. However, I think that he has come to the accurate conclusion that Israel cannot be easily eradicated, and as such, it is in his best interest to accept Israel’s righ tto exist (at least for the present. Remember, even the closest of alliances can break down. How much the more so for nations in a state of semi-warfare)

  11. Tom Morrissey

    1/8/2009 at 2:04 pm

    There are plenty of leaders and plenty of countries that, in a perfect world, would like to do away with their neighbors. Does Putin “really accept” the right of the FSRs to exist? Does Hu Jintao accept the ROC, or Greece, FYR Macedonia? Does it matter?

    Ultimately, we have to judge Abbas on what he does, not what we surmise him to believe. If you require Zionism from a Palestinian leader, you’ll be waiting a long time.

    I don’t think you need view Oslo as a crowning success to conclude that a political strategy of some sort toward the Palestinians is needed. Dahlia seems to believe that periodic applications of the stick, without a carrot, will be enough to “deter” the Palestinians (from what– rockets? Revanchism?). Sixty years of evidence suggests the contrary. True deterrence requires the prospect of a positive alternative. Unfortunately, the utter fatuousness of Annapolis and its aftermath have only made that more difficult.

  12. Ben-David

    1/8/2009 at 2:20 pm

    Morrissey:
    True deterrence requires the prospect of a positive alternative.
    = = = = = = = = =
    1) Sounds nice, but not really a binding dichotomy.
    2) Here’s the positive alternative:

    – Stop attacking us
    – Put all that energy into building your own thang
    – After proving that you can be trusted not to blow up industrial zones or Jewish co-workers, live like kings relative to the rest of the Arab world off the scraps of the Israeli economy.

    What’s not to like?

    The positive alternative has always been there – which leads us to:

    3) Israel is not responsible for the Palestinians. Nor do we partake in European post-colonial guilt.

    There’s more than a whiff of nanny-statism (to say nothing of infantilizing PC “progressive racism”) in the expectation that Israel has to come up with a “positive alternative” for the Palis.

  13. Tom Morrissey

    1/8/2009 at 3:04 pm

    I don’t think Israel has to engage in nation-building or anything of the sort (let the EU bankroll the Palestinians). But why not give them their state, holding out for now the near-term prospect of one? They’ve already got one de facto, right?

    I have a hard time understanding why “trust” is required. (The notion somehow evokes Bush’s infamous glimpse of Putin’s peaceful soul.) Doesn’t that consign power to the Palestinians? Wouldn’t Israel be better off settling on is own vision of the future, and taking steps to implement that vision?

    You’ve written in favor of resettlement, which is indeed a political strategy and an alternative to endless conflict. If the Israeli governman has a strategy of its own, I’m unaware of it. In the meantime, Israel’s new chief adversary and its terrorist proxies are getting stronger.

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