Today, IDF commandos invaded Gaza in a night-time raid and murdered seven Hamas operatives, including the commander responsible for the tunnel defense system maintained by the Islamist rulers of the enclave. According to various media sources, the raid was exposed and Palestinian militants fought back fiercely. In order to free the IDF forces, the Israelis had to lay down a massive drone and air attack which permitted them to withdraw back to Israel.
The Israeli military censor has prohibited domestic media naming the Israeli commando who was killed. But an Israeli source has informed me he is Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kheireddine from the Druze village of Hurfeish. Another officer who was wounded is from Isfiya. They both served in Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s equivalent of the Navy SEALs. Kheireddine was deputy commander of the unit. Given the death of so high-ranking an IDF officer, something went terribly wrong on this mission.
In response, Hamas has launched missiles into southern Israel and driven hundreds of thousands into air raid shelters. Once again, just as both sides thought they might be close to a ceasefire and/or a prisoner exchange, Israel rescued defeat from the jaws and victory and almost guaranteed a new escalation, if not war, against Gaza.
A former IDF general has suggested that the raid was not an assassination attempt, but an attempt to capture the Hamas commander:
Maj. Gen. (res.) Tal Russo, a former commander of the IDF Southern Command, indicated that the operation was likely an intelligence-gathering mission gone wrong, rather than an assassination.
“Activities that most civilians aren’t aware of happen all the time, every night and in every region. This action — an operation that was apparently exposed — wasn’t an assassination attempt. We have other ways of assassinating people and we know how to do it much more elegantly,” Russo told Channel 10 news.
The retired general, who until recently was responsible for the IDF’s missions abroad, also told Army Radio that Baraka was likely killed in a rescue effort to extract the special forces soldiers.
I have never heard of the IDF entering Gaza to kidnap a Hamas commander. There have, on the other hand, been scores if not hundreds of assassinations by Israeli forces of such military figures. So I would guess that Russo is trying to divert Palestinian anger by suggesting that Israel hadn’t intended to murder the Hamas military leader. The other possibility is that in the current negotiations over a prisoner exchange, the Israelis may have sought to improve their bargaining position by capturing a leading commander and use him as a bargaining chip to get favorable terms for a deal.
The utter hypocrisy of the Israeli approach may be seen in Bibi Netanyahu’s permission granted just yesterday for Qatar to deliver $15-million to Gaza in order pay employees who haven’t received paychecks in months. The Gulf state also bought millions in Israeli fuel and arranged for delivery to the Gaza power plant so that electricity and water supply could increase from four hours a day to twelve. In the midst of this momentary lull, Netanyahu even announced that he was opposed to “unnecessary wars.” Meaning, he saw no reason to engage in an attack on Gaza.
Either he was deliberately seeking to lull the Palestinians into letting down their guard; or he didn’t know what his own military-intelligence apparatus had planned. It’s also possible that he was briefed on the raid and approved it believing it had a higher degree of success than it did.
Though it’s hard to read too much into this: the raid took place when Netanyahu was visiting Paris for the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. At the ceremonies, Netanyahu surely hoped to meet with various leaders like Putin and Trump (among others) who could advance Israeli interests. In the midst of this international diplomacy, Netanyahu discovers that all hell has broken loose at home and he’s forced to return home to face the prospect of a renewed war in Gaza.
In Netanyahu’s absence, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was essentially running the show. He would’ve given the order to execute the failed raid. The defense minister has made no bones about his opposition to the softening of the Israeli siege of Gaza. He has advocated for a far more hawkish line and seemingly been squelched by Netanyahu. Did Lieberman wait until Netanyahu left town to embarrass him with this severe military escalation?
Add to this that numerous Israeli political and media sources have predicted that the prime minister will call for new elections in the coming weeks. The political winds are propitious; there is no organized opposition; though Israelis are increasingly tired of Netanyahu, there is no uprising in his own ranks to threaten him. All this bodes well for new elections.
Netanyahu seemed to think he was sitting so pretty that he didn’t need another military adventure like Operation Protective Edge to seal his electoral success. But now all bets are off. Either Netanyahu wanted this excuse to go to war; or he didn’t expect the raid or its failure, but could exploit it to commence hostilities. In 2014, 95% of Israelis supported the war. If there is a new set of hostilities, Netanyahu undoubtedly believes he can ride them to an even greater majority.
Finally, this abortive raid proves once again that Israel’s word is worth nothing when it comes to agreements, whether they be peace treaties or ceasefires. It adheres to no principles except naked self-interest defined in the crudest of terms. If it has the opportunity to murder a leading military commander it will do so regardless of the resulting consequences; regardless of efforts being pursued by allies like Egypt to advance an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire.
Egypt had succeeded in persuading Hamas to tone down the Great March of Return weekly protests at the fence. Last Friday saw the lowest level of violence in many weeks. Israel and Egypt announced that they would reopen some border crossings and permit increased flow of goods into the starved enclave. The Qatari donation offered slightly improved quality of life for residents who’ve endured years of privation. Qatar and Israel announced a preliminary plan for a sea route between Cyprus and Gaza to enable increased trade with Europe. Now all of that is wiped out in an instant.
The question is did Israel do this deliberately, intending to destroy the peaceful hiatus; or did it miscalculate based on erroneous judgement by its intelligence and military leadership?
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.