Even for such a bloody war as Operation Protective Edge has turned out to be, the past 24 hours have taken a particularly deadly turn. In that period, 13 IDF soldiers have died, including seven in a single incident (Hebrew and English) in which an anti-tank rocket slammed into an armored personnel carrier known for its defective, obsolete design. The day before, five soldiers died after being ambushed near an observation post which IDF personnel had left abandoned. This is almost twice the number of troops as died in all of Operation Cast Lead. The first IDF soldier has been captured as well. UPDATE: the IDF denies a soldier was captured. It says rather that the soldier Hamas claims to have captured was among those killed.
It appears that Hamas has changed its method of defending Gaza. During the 2009 incursion, when the IDF occupied a good portion of the enclave’s territory, resistance was spotty and the IDF had almost free reign. But now, the Palestinian fighters have riddled the area with tunnels used both to penetrate Israeli territory and to enable defending Gaza itself. Though I don’t know whether there is a connection, it’s interesting to note that Hezbollah used a similar strategy during the 2006 Lebanon war. It dug underground tunnels which allowed its forces to attack IDF armor and troops concentrations from multiple directions, with the Israelis seemingly unaware where the fighters would appear.
Further, Hamas has told Gazans to remain in their homes and they appear to be heeding that call in significant numbers. Though the IDF doesn’t appear to be hindered by the civilian presence (70 Palestinians were killed last night in a single neighborhood), this has caused a drastic rise in the death toll. This, along with the capture of the IDF soldier, will begin exerting an inevitable “drag” on the Operation.
The Palestinian death toll nears 400, with 70 alone being killed in the Shejaia neighborhood yesterday.
The most devastating attack yesterday against Israelis, was the one on the APC, an American model known as M-113. This model is the oldest in the IDF arsenal. It was built in the 1960s and is 50 years old. It has a design defect which allows penetration of rockets and hasn’t been used in Gaza in a decade. In 2004, a similar incident cost the lives of 11 soldiers.
It is precisely this mounting loss of its own soldiers which may cause Israelis to take stock of this bloody mess and step back from the brink. Clearly, Israelis have no sense of proportion or concern when it comes to Palestinian dead.
John Kerry was interviewed yesterday on FoxNews. Aside from the usual pro-Israel pablum, he made the mistake of telling an aide in front of a “hot” mic, which he didn’t know was on, that Operation Protective Edge had turned into a “helluva pin-point operation.” No doubt, we’ll hear the usual apology from Kerry today or tomorrow. But the cat’s out of the bag. We know what the Obama administration privately thinks of this bloodbath. Of course, a politician’s private thoughts mean nothing if he’s not willing to turn them into action or public policy.
We know that Kerry wants to get to the Middle East to exert maximum pressure on Israel to end the mess. He’s scheduled to travel to Egypt and Israel on Monday (but not to Palestine!). I haven’t a clue why he thinks the Egyptians can play any useful role in this matter since they’re sworn enemies of Hamas. This is typical of the U.S. ham-handed approach to Middle East policy. Since we have no long-term constructive policy of engagement with the Arab states, we resort to discredited military dictators who don’t even have the support of their own citizens, let alone Hamas.
My hope is that by the time Monday comes around, that even Netanyahu will be willing to step back from the quagmire into which he’s sunk. The question will be what Hamas is willing to settle for: will it accept the same empty ceasefire offer cobbled together by Israel a few days ago, which offers Gaza nothing except the temporary cessation of the massacre, with no improvement in their everyday lives? Or will Kerry and Israel be able to create a ceasefire that will offer real benefits to Gazans like removing the Egyptian-Israeli siege and opening borders?
It’s highly doubtful this is possible given the U.S. unwillingness or inability to recognize Hamas or engage with it in any substantive way. Obama is simply unwilling to pay the price to the Israel Lobby which it would extract from such a move. That means Gaza and will continue to prove an intractable obstacle to any long-term prospect for peace. The collapse of the Kerry peace talks proved in part that there can be no deal without Hamas being included in some way. A unity government offered such a possibility till it was sabotaged by Netanyahu’s West Bank pogrom which preceded Operation Protective Edge.