Friday, February 15, 2013

Operation Pillar of Defense - Now Three Months On

Many people asked me, as a reservist who was called up, what I thought. Did I think that we should have gone in on the ground? Didn’t not going in this time just postpone the inevitable? I always answered that it was just too early to tell, and that we would have to wait at least three months to be able to judge. 

Yedidya Kennard..
Times of Israel..
14 February '13..

Three months ago, I got a call one Friday night. As an orthodox Jew, I usually turn my phone off from sundown on Friday evening for 25 hours. I don’t call my friends on Shabbat, and my friends don’t call me. But I was half-expecting this call. A few days earlier Israel had announced the start of Operation Pillar of Defense (Amud Anan in Hebrew), and I was aware of the possibility of receiving an emergency call-up since the operation began. That Friday night, my call came. Half an hour later, I was packed, in uniform, in a taxi, and headed for my reserve base. A day later, I was lying in a ditch at the side of a road watching as Iron Dome shot down a dozen rockets over my head. Over the next week I lost count of the number of times I ran for cover after hearing rockets and mortars fall around us – we were too close for sirens to be effective. I watched mortars hit around Israeli towns, and saw Iron Dome shoot down tens of rockets. I watched as terror sites in Gaza erupted in mushrooms of fire and smoke.

The background to Amud Anan was clear. For over a decade southern Israel had been under a constant barrage of rocket fire, denying at first thousands, then millions of Israelis the chance to live a normal life. The names of cities like Sderot had become synonymous with living under threat. In November 2012 this came to a breaking point. During November’s escalation, terrorists fired over 100 rockets in a single day, an intolerable rate not seen since before the previous anti-terror operation in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. During the preceding month, 171 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel. Public pressure was building, and it was clear that something had to be done.

On 14th November, Israel initiated Amud Anan by targeting Ahmed Jabari, Hamas’s military commander. Israel announced that “The first aim of this operation is to bring back quiet to southern Israel, and the second target is to strike at terror organizations.” Within minutes, Hamas’s long range Fajr-5 rockets had been almost completely destroyed. A few days later, on that Friday night, Israel called up tens of thousands of reservists in preparation for a possible ground offensive, which never came. Instead, on Wednesday 22nd November, with Egyptian mediation, a ceasefire was reached with Hamas.

Feelings in Israel were mixed about this conclusion. One the one hand everyone was relieved that it was over without the need for a fully fledged war. But there was also a general undercurrent of disappointment, of a missed opportunity to truly destroy Hamas once and for all.

Many people asked me, as a reservist who was called up, what I thought. Did I think that we should have gone in on the ground? Didn’t not going in this time just postpone the inevitable? I always answered that it was just too early to tell, and that we would have to wait at least three months to be able to judge. Well, now it has been three months, and here is my answer.

One of the goals stated in Hamas’s charter is the destruction of Israel. This conflict, therefore, can either only end with the elimination of Israel, which would be tactically impossible for Hamas, or the elimination of Hamas, which would be politically problematic for Israel. Thus, with viable long-term solutions non-existent, Amud Anan must be evaluated based on its short and medium-term results.

After the operation, Hamas (predictably) claimed victory. It said “the Zionists” had shown they were incapable of a ground invasion – that it had called Israel’s bluff. A quick look at the ceasefire agreement (as reported by Egyptian sources) dispels that notion. According to those sources, Hamas promised to end all violence against Israel, and to ensure that all other groups refrain from attacks as well. Hamas promised to stop smuggling weapons, and Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood government) promised to ensure that. Israel promised to not attack them, except if there was an immediate threat. In other words, Israel got exactly what it wanted. Hamas leaders got to stay alive if they still were. That wasn’t calling Israel’s bluff – that was folding after going all in. Since Amud Anan there have been no rockets – not a single one – fired into Israel. These have been the quietest three months for a decade.

Before the operation, Hamas assumed that Israel would never invade. Public pressure would never allow for it. The international community wouldn’t allow it. Its long-range rockets threatening Tel Aviv were too much. Hamas assumed that it could continue shooting at Israel with relative impunity. Amud Anan changed that. Against Hamas’s predictions, Israelis decided that enough was far, far more than enough. The Israeli public and leadership was even willing to tolerate having sirens go off in Tel Aviv if it would ultimately mean quiet for a million people living in the south. Tens of thousands of reservists were ready and willing to do what it would take to impose peace and quiet – and the government was willing to let them. Iron Dome proved itself to be a stunning success, effectively nullifying the threat of Hamas’s rockets, and giving Israel more freedom to act. The international community supported Israel’s right to self defense. And so, Hamas folded. Three months on, it is clear that Hamas understands the new rules of the game. Any rocket attacks on Israel are unacceptable and can be met with a devastating response.

I’m not naive enough to think that this will last for ever. It won’t. At some point Hamas or another group in Gaza will forget the lessons they learned over that week. Or they will test us again, to see how far they can provoke us. As long as there are rockets pointed at Israel, they can and quite possibly will be used.

Taken in context, though, Amud Anan succeeded in its goal: the south is quiet. People in Sderot, in Netivot, Ofakim, Eshkol, Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon and countless other places have had three priceless months of normality. And three months on I’m proud to have been a very small part of making that happen


Yedidya Kennard is an oleh from the UK, a computer science / political science student at Bar Ilan and a reservist in the IDF

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