Hamas Takes Advantage of Israeli Weakness
| Palestinian provocations are forcing Israel to take action. But will it be enough?|
Hostilities between the Palestinians and Israelis have flared up once again following the abduction of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian terror groups on June 25.
In the raid carried out by three Palestinian terrorist groups—the military wing of Hamas and two other Hamas-linked groups—against an Israeli Army post on the Israel-Gaza border, two Israelis were killed, one was wounded and another, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, was captured. This was the first time an Israeli soldier has been taken alive by Palestinians since 1994. The attack was said to be a response to Israel’s targeted killing of Palestinian terrorists.
The abduction demanded action. While Egypt played the mediator, without success, Israel mounted an offensive dubbed Operation Summer Rains against Gaza in order to pressure Hamas to release Shalit. In the past week, Israel has conducted nightly air strikes against Gaza, disrupted power supplies, arrested more than 60 Hamas government officials on terrorism charges, and targeted Hamas strongholds including the Islamic University in Gaza City and the office of the Palestinian prime minister. Less than a year after Israel vacated Gaza in a move Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assured would thwart Palestinian violence and make Israel more secure, Israeli forces reentered Gaza.
Hamas—far from being intimidated or scared—made its own demands: Using the kidnapped Israeli soldier as a bargaining chip, Hamas is insisting that Israel release 1,500 Palestinian prisoners. Since 6 a.m. Tuesday, the deadline the terrorists set for Israel to start releasing the prisoners, the captors have refused to give any further information about the Israeli soldier.
Hours after the deadline passed, Hamas upped the ante when a rocket from Gaza hit a school in Ashkelon, an Israeli city of 110,000. “Though militants have fired many of the small, homemade rockets in the direction of Ashkelon, this was the first one to hit the heart of the city, displaying a longer range than most previous ones and bringing the threat of rocket barrages to a major Israeli population center for the first time” (Associated Press, July 4; emphasis ours throughout). Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Prime Minister Olmert called it a “major escalation” and warned of “far-reaching consequences” (ibid.).
With the terrorists standing firm in their demands and refusing to surrender their hostage, Israeli strikes have continued. On Wednesday, Israeli warplanes struck the Palestinian Interior Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, for the second time. On Thursday, Israeli armored forces reportedly took over a portion of the northern Gaza Strip.
The day prior to the rocket attack on Ashkelon, a small force had entered northern Gaza on a limited mission to uncover tunnels, explosives and weapons caches and put a stop to ongoing rocket attacks—attacks which, in fact, were what led to the current escalation of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities. Since the Gaza withdrawal last year, Israeli towns close to the border have been terrorized by a bombardment of Qassam rockets launched by Palestinians in Gaza—more than 800 in just the past seven months. The situation intensified when the Palestinians blamed Israel for a June 9 explosion on a Gaza beach that killed eight Palestinians, despite Israeli denial of any involvement in the incident upon investigation. It was then that Hamas formally withdrew from its 16-month ceasefire with Israel and openly starting claiming responsibility for rocket attacks against Israel.
In the first two weeks of June, close to 200 rockets were fired from Gaza at civilians in Israel. A single day saw more than 30 rocket attacks, including one in which a man was critically injured when hit by shrapnel at a school in the town of Sderot. “We have decided to make Sderot a ghost town,” said one Hamas spokesman (ibid., June 11).
With the audacious kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and no signs of relenting from Hamas, Israel is being forced to fight back. Still, “Israel’s Gaza incursion has been reluctant, slow, carefully calibrated …” (Washington Post, July 1). Israel has gone out of its way to ensure limited casualties: Empty fields are being shelled, government buildings are being bombed when they are empty, and troops for the most part have stayed out of Palestinian townships.
Though coming under attack in the media and among the international community for “overkill” and being accused of escalating the crisis by its response—it has in fact been Israel’s lack of fortitude in the past that has facilitated the current crisis. It is the weakness displayed by Israel’s use of appeasement, compromise and concessions in its dealings with terrorists, and those who aid and abet them, that is giving Hamas the boldness and confidence to launch such attacks against Israel. Hamas is prepared to do so because it knows Israel’s response will be weak.
Why would Hamas employ the strategy of demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails? Because Israel has a track record of giving in to blackmail. Hamas itself cited the example of Hezbollah, which has previously obtained the release of prisoners in Israeli prisons in exchange for hostages taken.
Effie Eitam, a former Israeli brigadier general, expresses what is a minority view in Israel, saying that “the problem is that over the years, by holding back, withdrawing unilaterally and being sucked into illusory peace processes, Israel has destroyed its deterrent capacity” (Jerusalem Report, July 10). Eitam put it bluntly: “We should send the following message to the Palestinians: If you go on doing what you are doing, we will inflict such damage on you that it won’t be worth your while. They have to be afraid of the price they will be made to pay for trying to attack us.”
Israel may now be attempting to rebuild that deterrent capacity, but it clearly is not working. As Amir Oren of Haaretz wrote, even if Corporal Shalit were to return home, “the crisis stirred by his kidnapping would not come to an end. It would not mean an end to the Qassam rocket fire, attacks on the Israel Defense Forces, and routine kidnappings (three in the West Bank in the past month)” (July 4).
The will of the Jews and their leaders to do what it would take to assure their nation’s security simply does not exist. The Israeli government is publicly talking tough, maintaining that it will not give in to extortion, but privately officials say “that Israel would pursue all options to get Shalit back. Israel has released prisoners before in lopsided exchanges for captured citizens or the dead bodies of soldiers killed in battle” (Associated Press, July 3).
Whatever moves Israel takes to advance its own security, we can anticipate they will not be enough; its enemies will continue the fight. Because the State of Israel has lost the pride in its power, as prophesied in the Bible (Leviticus 26:19-20), its strength is spent in vain and it is not viewed with fear and respect by its enemies. The recent abduction and response to it is a clear demonstration of that truth.
Once it was different. Jeff Jacoby, writing for the Boston Globe, cites the spectacular rescue mission of July 4, 1976, when Israeli commandos raided the Entebbe airport in Uganda to free more than 100 Jewish hostages. Shortly after, Newsweek reported: “Once again, Israel’s lightning-swift sword had cut down an enemy, and its display of military precision, courage, and sheer chutzpa won the applause and admiration of most of the world.” Jacoby went on to write, “Israel’s foes were once more reminded that while the Jewish state might be tiny, it was indomitable. Those who called for its destruction were wasting their breath, and any attack on its people would bring painful retaliation.” He then asked, “Does that Israel still exist?” (July 2).
The loss of Israel’s fighting spirit is the very thing that has gotten it into this present crisis. “[F]ar from demonstrating that ‘Entebbe rules’ still guide Israeli policy, the latest crisis merely proves what folly it was to abandon them” (ibid.).
Indeed, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year—epitomizing the policy of retreat Israel has been pursuing—has been proven a failure. When Olmert proposed the pull-out, he promised, “If this will be done, then everything will be changed.” Israelis were told they would be better off without Gaza. Of course, the Palestinians just took the territory for the gift it was and apparently became even more convinced of Israeli weakness and that terrorism works. The tempo of terrorist attacks against Israel increased immediately. Jacoby wrote last September, “In just the past two weeks, a Palestinian knifed a Jewish student to death in Jerusalem’s Old City, an Israeli policeman was stabbed in the throat by an Arab in Hebron, Kassam rockets were fired from Gaza into the southern Israeli town of Sderot, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Beersheba’s crowded bus station, a Katyusha missile launched from Lebanon exploded in the Israeli village of Margaliot, a firebomb was thrown at an Israeli vehicle on a highway outside Jerusalem, and a 14-year-old boy from Nablus was caught with three bombs.” And so it has continued. “All that changed” with the Gaza withdrawal, wrote Jacoby, “was the frontline.” Without the buffer of Israeli troops in Gaza, terrorism became further entrenched and was able to reach deeper into Israel.
Yet will Israel learn from this? Don’t expect Israel to shelve its plan to retreat from the West Bank. Though, with its back to the wall in Gaza, Israel is being forced to take action, its leaders show no signs of having learned the lesson: that the abduction happened in large part because of Israel’s retreat from Gaza.
However the current standoff between Israel and Hamas ends, it is clear Hamas will not give up. If a temporary truce is reached, Hamas will extract whatever political or strategic concessions it can and regroup to keep fighting tomorrow.
Alternatively, the situation may continue to deteriorate with an increase of Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel resulting in a prolonged state of warfare. If Israel continues its offensive, the armed wing of Hamas threatened it would resume attacks inside Israel, predicting the region would sink in a “sea of blood” (Daily Telegraph, Australia, July 4). “The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades warn the Zionist enemy: If its operations continue, we will hit the targets we were previously reluctant to strike,” a Hamas statement said.
In any case, the Israeli government’s attitude toward Hamas has hardened; it has been forced to take a tougher stance against the Hamas-controlled Palestinian government. “Israel is not aiming for a complete dismantling of the Palestinian government,” according to Stratfor, “but it is setting a precedent for future responses to provocations by the Hamas political leadership …. Israel is conveying to Hamas that it cannot seek to emulate Hezbollah by drawing a distinction between its political and military wings, thus giving it cover to use its political position to threaten Israeli security” (June 29).
Israel’s offensive is in turn provoking further attacks by Hamas and increasing tension in the region.
This turn of events is something editor in chief Gerald Flurry foresaw when Hamas took over Palestinian politics at the beginning of this year. In March, prior to the Israeli elections, he wrote, “it is almost certain the new government will act with more caution toward the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government.” Hamas’s boldness has since forced Olmert’s government to do just that. Mr. Flurry then stated: “That is going to bring the crisis to a head much more quickly.” This crisis, Mr. Flurry explained, basing his statements on a prophecy in Zechariah 14, will escalate to the point where the Palestinians will take half of Jerusalem by force.
That crisis is building now. Read “Jerusalem Is About to Be Cut in Half” from our March issue to find out why we anticipate the Palestinians seizing half of Jerusalem.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
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