Israel’s offensive against HAMAS in the Gaza Strip is stymied. The operation Protective Edge has produced no results. With 2 thousand civilians dead and hundreds of houses demolished not a single mission is accomplished; no matter experts believe that Tsahal is the strongest Middle East force. The HAMAS leadership and armed formations command have suffered no losses; Israelis prefer not to remember their own first statements about complete elimination of the group. HAMAS still has the major part of its missiles stockpile intact. The missiles’ range covers the larger part of Israel, including Ben Gurion international airport. The network of tunnels dug under the territory of the Strip was partly destroyed and, probably, rapidly restored. Reaching the first densely populated areas Tsahal suddenly stopped and even pulled back…Then a large part of the Israeli army was withdrawn. It may entail a government crisis. Israel is at crossroads faced by the need to take urgent actions to rectify the situation. But there is no final decision on what to do in sight. Some ministers remember the experience of fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. They offer to declare “Victory” and then concentrate efforts on reaching armistice at any price. Others, like Avigdor Lieberman, call for the war to proceed till the victorious end to have the mission really accomplished. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still hesitant.
Jacob Kedmi, former head of Nativ special service, is an experienced political analyst and commentator. He tried to explain the behavior of the government. According to him, before the decision to start the operation the cabinet members had been informed on possible losses in case of complete occupation of the Gaza Strip. The predicted figures were stunning, so the ministers did not even bother to vote. 1 The hopes to undermine the morale of HAMAS fighters were in vain.
Tsahal evidently tries to evade urban warfare. The scenario of conquering the entire Gaza Strip, said to have been put before the security cabinet in the debate on tactics for the next phase of the operation, would have cost hundreds of lives of Israel soldiers and led to a five-year Israeli occupation for purging the territory of 20,000 terrorists and disabling their military machine.
The difficulty of eliminating the numerous tunnels in Gaza was confusing. The myth has it that the tunnels lead to Israeli populated areas to commit terrorist acts there. It’s not true because the nearest towns and villages are situated at the distance of 7-10 kilometers from the Palestinian sector’s edge; one needs a real subway train to reach the place of destination. There are only desert or rare kibbutzim with few workers, mainly coming from Thailand, on the Israeli side of the border. The tunnels are dug and well equipped since a long time ago. Initially the purpose was to overcome the blockade. Mainly the heavy weapons, including rockets, were transported not through tunnels but using ground routes at the time of unrest in Egypt as the Arab Spring unleashed by the president Obama’s Cairo speech was in full swing. It’s him the Israelis have to thank to having their cities bombed. By the way Israeli military destroyed the tunnels leading to Egypt and did it with delay. Cairo did it earlier because it was gravely concerned over close ties between Muslim Brothers and HAMAS. According to Israeli media, the military were surprised to find a real underground city in Gaza, something Israeli special services had failed to inform about.
The long history of stand-off with Palestinians has taught Israelis to effectively fight as they enter narrow streets with housed built close to each other and high fences hard to climb. Israel has the whole range of special weapons and equipment for such urban warfare. For instance, armed bulldozers to break through to the place of destination along the shortest way, curbed barrel weapons to shoot (corner shots) safely from around the corner, air and sea intelligence gathering equipment, ground radars immediately offering a bearing in case a target pops up. The entire staff happened to be useless this time. The fighters moving underground can get to the enemy’s rear positions undetected or lay explosives on the way of armor and vanish underground. The tunnels leading to Israel are dug to allow fighters approach Tsahal block posts and bases along the Gaza perimeter. Israeli experts say the tunnels are like an underground submarine going deep into the enemy’s positions.
Abu Leit, one of commanding officers of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said the group learned well the lessons of the operation Cast Lead in 2008. Under the Israeli’s air strikes a strategic decision was taken to relocate the warfare underground. HAMAS started to use timers to launch rockets from special camouflaged launchers. To prevent treason the majority of fighters don’t know each other. HAMAS has a 30 thousand strong force. The tactics envisage actions with forces divided into small groups. Only group members know each other personally. Few top commanders, like Muhammed Deif, for instance, are known. It complicates the mission for Israeli intelligence. Even if there is a traitor inside a group he cannot provide information on the fighters of other groups. Only a few engineers have access to secret maps and know how many tunnels actually exist and where exactly they lead to. The majority of tunnels going beyond the Gaza Strip borders are kept secret till the very last moment before the operation.
Normally experts believe this kind of tactics appeared as the Hezbollah experience in Lebanon was studied. But the combat actions in Lebanon were just a start. The military art greatly evolved in Syria. This tactics are often effectively used by the anti-Assad opposition. HAMAS learnt the lessons well. By the way, in Syria the rebels are advised on underground war by the instructors from the West, or even Israel. He, who sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind. Damascus has spent years to learn the way to counter the tactics but it’s too early to say if there are efficient ways to wage underground war. I wonder how much time Israel will spend to invent countermeasures.
No wonder HAMAS has no plans to surrender under the circumstances. It is adamant insisting on its 10 conditions for cease-fire, including:
1. Mutual cessation of the war and withdrawal of tanks to previous locations and the return of farmers to work their land in the agricultural border areas.
2. Release of all the Palestinians detained since 23 June 2014 and improvement of the conditions of Palestinian prisoners, especially the prisoners from Jerusalem, Gaza and Palestinians of the interior [present-day Israel].
3. Total lifting of the siege of Gaza and opening the border crossings to goods and people and allowing in all food and industrial supplies and construction of a power plant sufficient to supply all of Gaza.
4. Construction of an international seaport and an international airport supervised by the UN and non-biased countries.
5. Expansion of the maritime fishing zone to 10 km and supplying fishermen with larger fishing and cargo vessels.
6. Converting the Rafah crossing into an international crossing under supervision of the UN and Arab and friendly countries.
7. Signing a 10-year truce agreement and deployment of international monitors to the borders.
8. A commitment by the occupation government not to violate Palestinian airspace and easing of conditions for worshipers in al-Aqsa mosque.
9. The occupation will not interfere in the affairs of the Palestinian government and will not hinder national reconciliation.
10. Restoration of the border industrial areas and their protection and development.
The ongoing talks between Palestinians and Israelis on the situation settlement evoke no great expectations. One of the stumbling blocks is the demand for construction of port to be operated by Turkey and Norway. Israel stands like a real “protective edge” on the way of implementation of such plans. This is another indirect reason for sparking fighting in the region. Tel Aviv wants to maintain monopoly on natural gas extraction in the eastern Mediterranean; it won’t share it with Palestinians. The development of Gaza shelf area could entail a strong competition with Israel and give an impulse for economic development of Palestine. Norway has very rich experience of developing seabed gas fields. Naturally it stokes concern in Israel. The divisions over gas development are becoming one more obstacle on the way of Middle East peaceful settlement.