.חשיפה: צה”ל מתכונן למלחמה בעזה בחודש מאי. הכתבה צונזרה ע”י הצנזורה הצבאית
حصري: الجيش الاسرائيلي يستعد لشن حرب على غزة في شهر مايو
Last Saturday, Ynet posted a detailed account of IDF war plans against Gaza, Hamas: the Clock is Ticking (Hebrew). The article by Ron Ben Yishai, known as a devout military reporter/stenographer, recounts that the new army chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, has readied his forces for an all-out invasion (the original story uses the term “major battle”) of Gaza towards the end of May. Conveniently, the assault would be timed for a month after the national election, just after Independence Day, and would offer options to either election victor, Netanyahu or Benny Gantz.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the internet: the IDF censor stripped the original article of the elements which identified when the attack was likely. Instead of the specific date of the month of May following Independence Day, the censored version talks about “the beginning of summer.” What follows are a few quotations and a summary of the original uncensored article, which I’ve uploaded as a Word doc. I especially included quotations so you can get a sense of the utter condescension of Israeli media and their military sources toward Hamas.
…The IDF’s battle plans for Gaza have been updated and after the formation of a new government the [army] recommendation to Netanyahu or Gantz will be to act quickly to end the war of attrition. But this will not happen till May.
After reporting that two Palestinian youths were murdered yesterday by Israeli snipers at the Israeli-imposed fence, Ben Yishai adds a passage which couldn’t drip with any more condescension:
Hamas continues to waste, at no expense [to itself], the human capital which is at its disposal in the framework of a teasing strategy which offers it no real benefit [to Palestinians]. In a few months, after the Israeli elections, the whole thing is likely to blow up in its face.
The article continues, that the IDF chief of staff has told his commanders that the next phase of combat against Hamas will bring an escalation in the army’s approach to the Great March of Return, and the ongoing toll it’s taking not only on the Palestinian victims but on Israel’s worldwide reputation. It should be noted that the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has specifically warned Israel that she is reviewing evidence of potential IDF war crimes concerning Israel’s murderous response to the Gaza protests.
The army is tired of its reactive posture which offers few options for responding to the Hamas provocations. Egypt’s mediation efforts have also not brought hoped-for results. More importantly, the Israeli political leadership has foreclosed one of the army’s proposals to reduce conflict in Gaza: a major reconstruction effort intended to offer Gazans new options for employment and improvement of their standard of living. The thinking behind this proposal is that Palestinians will not be willing to sacrifice these economic benefits to further protest, if they are offered them.
Whether or not this approach would work (I strongly doubt it would in the long-term), it’s a return to the bankrupt approach of past peace negotiations among the Obama administration, the PA, and Israel, which substituted economic benefits for genuine political rights.
The IDF blames (conveniently, but perhaps somewhat truthfully) Mahmoud Abbas for refusing to cooperate either with Egyptian mediation efforts to broker a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas; and for his refusal to permit an easing of the economic hardship on Gaza. The latter’s view is that only penury can force the Palestinians there to be subdued to his will. And if they refuse, so Abbas feels, they can all go to hell.
Additionally, Israel’s far-right government refused to approve such a reconstruction plan because (supposedly) Hamas refused to offer anything in return in the short-term. Thus the current approach came about not from any deliberate choice, but from an effort to manage the crisis, rather than solving it. The victims of this policy are, according to Ben Yishai, the residents of the south who face daily air raid sirens and entire days spent in bomb shelters.
Mouthing the perspective of Israeli hardliners, the Ynet reporter says that murdering 250 Gazans and maiming thousand more who participate in what he calls the “March of Folly,” is a “restrained, measured and at times weak response to the provocations of Hamas.” You can only imagine what an unrestrained response would be to balloons and unarmed Gazans waving flags at a fence.
In a bout of true noblesse oblige, Ben Yishai offers sympathy for the 250 Gazan dead and thousands maimed by IDF sniper bullets. Of course, he blames Hamas for their suffering, as if the Islamist movement had to put guns to their heads to force them to protest facing the army’s guns. The reporter notes that despite these human sacrifices, Hamas has failed to lessen its economic crisis and isolation (as if there were any other options left to it–imagine blaming a starving man for not eating when there’s nothing left to eat).
From the IDF perspective, the ideal option would be Egyptian mediation. But these efforts may have been fatally wounded by the rockets fired on Israel, one of which for the first time destroyed a home north of Tel Aviv, in a development that surely must worry military analysts. (Note: this article was published before the current shaky ceasefire took effect, which was negotiated by Egypt).
The IDF further blames Hamas for not offering anything substantive in return for Egypt and Israel loosening the siege and permitting a return to something resembling normal commercial activity. Yihya Sinwar, Hamas’ leader has thus far refused to restrain Gazans from continuing the weekly “violent” (so he calls them) March of Return protests. Israeli complains that all he will offer is a gradual lessening of protests dependent on Israel, the Egyptians and Qataris fulfilling their obligations to improve economic conditions. Imagine that! A man who’s been robbed at gunpoint multiple times by a thief, and refuses to talk to him till the robber proves he’s unarmed. The nerve of him!
It’s also quite rich that Israel complains that it has offered Hamas to construct a new Gaza port in return for a “breakthrough” in negotiations involving the return of the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge, and the freeing of Israelis who entered Gaza and were detained there. Again, there is no reason for Hamas to trust Israeli promises to do anything benefiting Gaza, because either it reneges on such promises soon after it makes them; or destroys whatever infrastructure it might have built, during the next Israeli invasion. Further, Hamas’ only interest is exchanging Palestinian prisoners held by Israel for the bodies and captives it holds. It would much prefer a live prisoner freed than a shiny new dock, which F-16s will destroy in a matter of minutes whenever it suits Israel’s purposes.
Israel is also apparently nonplussed by Hamas’ refusal to permit Israel to oversee all trade entering and exiting the port. Imagine that as a condition of ending the War of 1812 Canada had demanded that it be permitted to monitor and approve all cargo and commerce in New York harbor. That would’ve gone over swimmingly, I’m sure.
All of this Israeli frustration is compounded by the belief that Hamas not only benefits from the war of attrition, but that it believes, based on statements made by Israeli politicians and the media, that the army is unlikely to mount a large-scale assault on the enclave in the near-term, and even less likely to mount a ground invasion.
Hamas has neglected, so says Ben Yishai, to take into account a new strategy devised by the army, which will be presented to the next government for its approval. These plans have recently been updated and tweaked in order to ensure the achievement of more ambitious strategic objectives. The ultimate goal is to take the initiative away from Hamas and end the war of attrition waged by Palestinian protesters putting their bodies on the line each week.
Sooner or later, so the army believes, a provocation of some sort will come which will require the IDF to mount a major land offensive to silence the rockets. The irony, of course, is that in 2014 Israel invaded Gaza using precisely the same reasoning and the only reasons the rockets were silenced was a negotiated ceasefire. With Israel refusing to permit a full return to normal life in Gaza, there is little motivation for Hamas to end this threat.
The reporter asserts that because such hostilities are likely to drag the residents of northern Israel into the conflict (as proven by the home destroyed near Kfar Saba), the IDF believes it’s critical to take advantage of timing that is most convenient to Israel. Thus, the best time to strike would be sooner rather than later (the report doesn’t make clear why an attack now would be any less damaging for those living in northern Israel).
It’s somehow “reassuring” that Ben Yishai notes that the only “restraint” that must be taken into account is that the IDF must act in a manner that doesn’t “lose Israel international legitimacy through the use of force in its own defense.” Just the sound of that sentence reassures me–doesn’t it reassure you??
An attack is necessary, so the article continues, whether or not the goal is regime change in Gaza in collaboration with Mahmoud Abbas (or without him); and whether or not the next government in partnership with the Trump administration will devise an international initiative to reconstruct Gaza and its infrastructure which will, in turn, lead to long-term stability.
You hear again in this thinking a return to the “it’s the economy, stupid” mentality which so completely (and deliberately) misunderstands the fundamental issues at hand for Palestinians.
In terms of the timing of the coming invasion of Gaza, Ben Yishai declares that no Israeli government would dare inconvenience its citizens by forcing them to spend Passover seders in bomb shelters. Thus the Independence Day period towards the end of May should be the perfect time for the new government to demonstrate its preparedness to address the Gaza problem. If I were a Gazan I’d be prepared for the worst in the next eight weeks.
Of course, all of this is based on a leak from an IDF source. In other words, this is what the army has planned. The politicians leading the next government will have their own thoughts on this. They may or may not approve of such an invasion. However, just the fact that the IDF is lobbying for an all-out attack on Gaza gives those of us who oppose such senseless butchery great pause.