Last week a ceasefire was agreed upon between Palestinian factions in Gaza and Israel:
The aim of the change, in a plan mediated by Egypt and with money supplied by Qatar, is to provide much-needed relief for Gaza, restore calm on the Israeli side of the border and avert another war.
On Sunday night Israeli special forces broke the ceasefire by invading Gaza under disguise. Such incursions happen quite often but are usually left unreported. The invaders wore civilian clothing and some were cloaked as women. Their cars arrived at the house of a local Qassam commander but suspicious guards held them up. A firefight ensued in which 7 Palestinians and 1 Israeli officer were killed. It is not clear what the intent of the Israeli raid was. A car left behind held what appeared to be surveillance equipment. The intruders fled back to Israel.
It is likely that rivalry within the Israeli government was behind this provocation:
[T]he perception that Israel, by allowing the fuel and cash shipments into Gaza, was paying off Hamas set off acrimonious wrangling between two rival right-wing members of Israel’s security cabinet.Earlier Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the cash infusion “protection money.” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused Mr. Bennett of having supported such payments and of having opposed in recent weeks the more aggressive military reprisals against Hamas that Mr. Lieberman favored.
By night’s end Mr. Netanyahu had cut short his trip [to Paris] and was flying back to Israel in response to the Gaza hostilities.
Did Lieberman order the incursion to undercut Netanyahoo ceasefire and his rival Bennet?
The breach of the ceasefire by Israel set off another round of tit for tat strikes. A commando unit of Hamas’ Qassam brigade launched an attack against a bus that had carried Israeli soldiers to the border. To avoid further escalation the shooter waited until the soldiers were out of the way before hitting it. Only the driver was injured. Then the Israeli air force destroyed the al-Aqsa TV station in Gaza city after notifying the Palestinians of its intent. It also damaged a university building. Rocket volleys from Gaza followed and the Israeli air-force hit several buildings. After 48 hours the ceasefire was renewed.
During the conflict the Palestinian side demonstrated a series of new capabilities:
- The Palestinian command published a video of the strike against the bus by a Kornet anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). Since it lost dozens of tanks to ATGM attacks in the 2006 war against Hezbullah in Lebanon, the Israeli army is extremely afraid of such missiles. The arrival of these weapons in the besieged Gaza will be a serious concern.
- The Palestinians also launched over 460 artillery missiles and mortars within 25 hours. This by far exceeds the firing rate during Israel’s 2014 war on the Gaza strip. Some of these missiles had a larger range then previous models. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense systems fired some 100 missiles but their accuracy is questionable and teh price high. Each Iron Dome missile costs some $65,000 while a mortar round or rocket costs a few hundred dollar. Many of the Palestinian rockets reached their targets in the Zionist settlements Ashkelon, Netivot, and Sderot.
- Israel announced only two hits on missile launching cells. It seems that the Palestinians have perfected their camouflage and remote firing capabilities.
- The rival Palestinian groups in Gaza -Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others- operated under a central command. No group claimed missile strikes for itself. In the past each volley of missiles was followed by a news statement in which this or that group claimed responsibility. This time all groups worked from a common operations room. None released responsibility claims or other information that would help Israel’s intelligence.
It was Israel that practically begged to return to the ceasefire. Egypt led the negotiations:
Earlier Tuesday, the Political-Security Cabinet meeting that convened following the escalation in the south came to a halt after seven hours. After hearing the army’s and the security establishment’s assessments, the cabinet instructed the IDF to continue to operate in Gaza as necessary.All the officials from the defense establishment who participated in the cabinet meeting — IDF chief of staff, the head of Military Intelligence, the head of the Shin Bet, the head of the Mossad, and the head of the NSC— supported the Egyptian request for a cease-fire.
“If we had intensified the attacks, rockets would have been fired at Tel Aviv,” senior cabinet officials said.
Since 15:30 local time today the situation is again quiet and calm. But the squabbling within the Israeli cabinet immediately resumed:
All the ministers— including Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Minister Naftali Bennett—did not object to a cease fire.Following this report, the Defense Ministry said that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s support of a cease-fire deal were “fake news.” The statement said that the Defense Minister’s position was consistent and had not changed. Ministers Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Ze’ev Elkin also said they did not support a cease-fire deal with Hamas.
In total 13 people were killed in Gaza and at least 2 on the Israeli side. A Hamas spokesperson accused Lieberman of being responsible for the breach of the ceasefire and demanded that Netanyahoo fires him.
The short conflict demonstrated that:
- Israel is deterred. It does not want to launch another war on Gaza.
- The siege of Gaza, by Israel, Egypt and by the Palestinian authority under Mahmoud Abbas, failed. The reputational cost of the siege became too high after Israel killed some 160 Palestinians during weekly protests along the demarcation fence. It had to allow diesel fuel and money from Qatar to reach Gaza.
- The siege failed to prevent that Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other groups acquired a larger number of missiles and other new capabilities.
- The Palestinians in Gaza are united. The resistance against the occupation is alive and well.
For decades the Zionist entity was able to attack its neighbors as it pleased. That changed. It no longer dares to step into Lebanon for fear of Hezbullah’s reprisal. Syria’s western airspace is closed for Israel thanks to the new S-300PMU2 air defense Russia delivered to the Syrian army. The resistance in Gaza has new capabilities and surprises for Israel should it attack.
Israel’s newly won “friends” in the leadership of Saudi Arabia and the UAE proved to be unstable and of little value. The Boycott, divest and sanctions movement against the self declared apartheid state has undermined its image. Its lobby has been exposed.
The short conflict in Gaza only demonstrated that Israel is weak and that its downward trend continues.