Showing posts with label Hamas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hamas. Show all posts

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Day 6 - Israel's War with Hamas: Some Comments and Updates

We are in the 6th day of Israel's war with Hamas - that was launched by Hamas on Saturday October 7, 2023.  Israel military and political spokespeople are talking about a "lengthy war" that it is still in its very early stages.  Israel has been talking about completely limiting the military capabilities of Hamas as a war aim - in other words, the destruction of the organization.  The key to Hamas' military and communication capabilities is its massive network of deep, hidden, tunnels under Gaza.  Israel would need to destroy most of this network including the munitions being stored there and the leadership hiding there.

One question is whether Israel can actually accomplish this objective and if so, what the cost would be - in terms of lives of our soldiers, civilian casualties on both sides and other costs.  We would like to think that between the U.S. and Israel - there would be remote weaponry that we could send - drones, robots, whatever, to do much of  this work.  But I am concerned that sending large numbers of our young soldiers to booby trapped tunnels will cost us a very heavy price in young lives.  I hope that our military leaders have appropriate plans, using the newest technologies available that make sense.  

Extent of Saturday's Disaster

When I first wrote an update on Sunday, the extent of the atrocities that had been perpetrated by Hamas was not yet clear.  We are still finding bodies, gathering information and learning about what took place.

I am not going to get into great detail here as the information is now available in many different places including extensive articles in the New York times, the Jerusalem Post, The  Israel Times, and  many other  news  outlets.  But I want to mention a few things.

As you probably know by now, Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel by  breaking through security fences in twenty different places. There are estimates that more than 2,000 terrorists crossed into Israel and this number may be closer to 4,000.  (As  of yesterday, Israeli authorities report that they have more than 1,500 bodies of dead Hamas terrorists in Israel)

The terrorists spread out and went to several destinations.  One group of at least four white SUVs, loaded with terrorists and weaponry, including RPGs, grenades, and mass quantities of ammunition  went straight to the Nova music festival - an outdoor music festival being attended by more than 2,000 young people.  They opened fire from four different directions and began massacring concert goers.  Many tried to get into their cars and leave.  Some succeeded but many cars were destroyed by terrorists by gunfire, grenades, RPG fire and other means. Others tried to flee by foot. Some tried to hide in nearby Kibbutzim, buildings or different  places. The terrorists spent hours hunting down these young concert-goers. There are reports of rapes, mutilations, and other unspeakable horrors. More then 260 people were murdered and many were taken prisoner, though we still don't have an exact count.

Some of the people who hid themselves managed to survive and others managed to escape in vehicles.  But when the army was later able to get control of the area - the scenes of carnage were horrific. Bodies everywhere, burnt out cars, many with people who had been shot. Unspeakable horrors. Many young people were taken prisoner, some injured, loaded on to vehicles and taken to Gaza.

Other groups of terrorists went directly to the 22 towns, settlements and Kibbutzim that are nearest to Gaza. Many of these places have some defence forces in place but they were overwhelmed. With standing forces of 12-15 soldiers, they could not hold off arriving groups of 100-200 armed terrorists at each location. The terrorists began going from house to house murdering the occupants, setting fire to the homes, and looting property.  In some cases they took hostages. In most cases, they murdered all of the occupants including young children, elderly, men and women. In some cases, people were hiding in their bomb shelters, which are supposed to have impenetrable doors. Where the terrorists could not get in, they tried to use explosives to break down the doors or they set fire to the whole house. Some people died of smoke asphyxiation.  Some opened the doors to get air and then were attacked.  Most of these communities had Whatsapp groups and people were sending messages to each other warning them. But nothing could be done to save them.

From what we now know, it took the army eight hours, if not more, to take control of these towns and kibbutzim. But by then, it was far too late. The damage had been done. The people had been massacred. The towns and  kibbutzim were completely destroyed. It was nothing less than a slaughter and an unmitigated disaster for all of those communities, for the army, for all of Israel, for Jewish people everywhere - and indeed, for all people of goodwill who oppose violence and terrorism.  

We now know that more than 1,200 Israelis have been killed since Saturday by Hamas and more than 3,000 have been injured. The civilians who were killed range from infants to seniors in their nineties. More than 150 have been taken captive of all ages. We do not know exactly how many captives there are and we do not  know how many are still alive.  

Included in that number are 222 Israeli soldiers as of this morning and more than 50 police officers.  Most of the soldiers are young people between 18 and 21 who were serving as conscripted soldiers.  Some were killed in a training base near Gaza while they were still in their beds.  

Today there are reports that aside from murdering and massacring civilians, the terrorists also looted homes and stole credit cards and bank cards which they have now been using to make purchases.  Israeli banks are taking immediate action to stop this after receiving numerous complaints.

Israel's Response

At the time it launched these attacks, Hamas "declared war" on Israel. Hamas is the governing authority of Gaza and  controls all aspects of life in the  Gaza strip. This is really the equivalent of one neighbouring country declaring war on another and Israel has little alternative but to fight this war.

Israel has stated its objectives as eliminating the military capabilities of Hamas, tracking down and  eliminating those responsible for these attacks and atrocities and taking steps to ensure that there will be no more attacks on Israel from Gaza. Israel has called up more than 330,000 reserve soldiers to add to its standing forces of more than 170,000. These forces are not all destined for Gaza. Israel has used some of these forces to strengthen its northern border (with Lebanon/Hezbollah) and some to strengthen its Northeastern border (with Syria). Other forces have been sent to Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"). Israel's initial response has been a massive air force campaign to attack military and strategic Hamas targets from the air.

Israeli forces have sprung into action and have still been fighting pockets of terrorists in and around the Gaza strip - included suspected reinforcements from Gaza that may have been sent through tunnels or in other ways.  Many soldiers have fought for their lives to fend off Hamas terrorists, protect and rescue civilians and take whatever action is needed to help defend their country. And sadly, many have been killed in action.

At some point, Israel will need to attack the  Hamas underground. I am not a military strategist and I have no idea as to how and when they will move to this next phase but I am praying for the welfare of our young soldiers - who are - all of us.  Our family, our extended family, our friends' children, fellow synagogue members, residents of our city - the army is made up of everyone in Israel - the people - and these brave young  people are the ones supporting us, risking their lives and fighting for the future of this country.


We also know that Hamas is holding at least 150 hostages and the number may be as high as 200. We do not know how many are being held, how many are alive, what condition they are in or where they are. Israel has always made the rescue of hostages its highest priority and I believe they are looking at all possible options including negotiations, rescue attempts and other efforts. They also believe that Hamas believes that the hostages are "assets" and will want to keep them alive to trade for Hamas prisoners later.  For obvious reasons, I think Israeli officials are saying little about their actual efforts, which, I assume, should not be taken to mean that they are ignoring this pressing challenge.

What Now?

It is unclear what may develop in coming days or even coming hours or minutes.  Yesterday, we were glued to the news for most of the day.  At about 8 p.m. Israel time, there were reports that Hezbollah had unleashed a large number of unmanned drones that were headed to different targets across the  country.  It appeared that we were about to open a second massive front with Hezbollah. According to many commentators, this will mean thousands and thousands of missiles sent to Israeli residential areas, all at the same time in an effort to overwhelm missile defence systems. It turned out to be some type of false alarm.

Hezbollah has apparently floated some test balloons. Some Hezbollah fighters were sent over the border in the North on Tuesday.  Israel killed five of them. In other incidents, Hezbollah has fired RPGs, artillery and other weaponry at Israel but in isolated incidents. Some commentators have speculated that they are doing the "bare minimum" to show that they are "supporting" Hamas but not enough to enter the war. We simply don't know if Hezbollah plans to enter this war or not. If it does, Israel will have no choice but to attack and destroy targets all over Lebanon - and that will be a very heavy price for the country. Hezbollah may not care - and Iran (which controls Hezbollah) may care even less about the fate of Lebanon but we must hope that Hezbollah does not see this as a worthwhile action. That being said, as of now, it seems to me that there is a fairly high probability that Hezbollah will be involved in the coming days or weeks - or any minute, really.

World Support

President Biden gave a speech on Tuesday in which he spoke about the horrible acts that Hamas had perpetrated.  He tied these acts to the long history of  anti-Semitic acts and massacres that the Jewish people have faced  throughout history. He was empathetic and  emotional. He pledged full U.S. support for Israel to defeat Hamas and he backed up his pledge by sending immediate assistance including the U.S.S. Gerald Ford to the area and a pledge of various military equipment and supplies. By most accounts, it is the strongest U.S. statement of support for Israel ever during war time. Israelis (including Israeli politicians) across the political spectrum have thanked President Biden for this show of support and in some cases, have stated that they were wrong about the way they viewed Biden. Secretary of State Blinken also delivered an outstanding address this morning, which was empathetic, emotional and  unwaveringly supportive.  I would recommend watching both of these statements, though I don't have the links handy.

By contrast, the Israeli media is showing clips of former President Trump, from an event yesterday, attacking Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israeli defence minister Gallant, the Israeli army, Israeli intelligence and ridiculing Israel's preparedness. Among other things, Trump claims that this "never would have happened if he was still President" but cannot point to anything specific he would have done (or not done) that would make this a true statement. I would also recommend that you watch these comments.

Sorry - it is not my intention, generally, in this blog to delve into U.S. politics - but I am writing about how these things are being reported from an Israeli perspective.  

From Canada, we hear that one of Canada's largest unions - CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), which represents 700,000 public service employees - has been releasing statements that can only be viewed as justifying and supporting Hamas attacks.  Quite appalling.  The president of CUPE Ontario, Fred Hahn, has doubled down following the criticism,  On Saturday, Hahn issued tweets about the Hamas massacres of civilians using "#resistance" in his Thanksgiving message.  How anyone could imagine that support for the wanton massacre of civilians is legitimate or "resistance" is simply mind boggling - and frightening. Sickening.

We have heard very little from Prime Minister Trudeau, other than a handful of statements that sound like the statements he and his government issue after any events involving Hamas. On the other hand, it was heartwarming to see so many Canadians gather in Toronto for a pro-Israel rally and there were some very powerful speeches at that rally. There have also been pro-Israel rallies in cities all over the world.

At the same time, Israel is in a very difficult situation. While faced with the imperative of clearing out and defeating Hamas terrorists, the terrorists have significant support in the Gaza strip which is densely packed with civilians.  This is expected to be a fight against guerilla warfare - and the effect on civilians in Gaza will also be devastating.  There are bound to be large number of civilian casualties and at some point, that will shift world opinion against Israel. Israel needs to find a way to destroy the underground tunnels and  Hamas storage and command facilities as quickly as possible while minimizing the civilian casualties - and that is a major challenge. Even if Israel is successful, there will be a vacuum in Gaza and it is unclear what would happen next.  But this is all for a later conversation.


Israelis across the country have  sprung into action - donating blood, putting together packages of supplies for soldiers, helping others in all different ways and, in general, answering calls to help in whatever ways might be needed.  We also see that people around the world are offering financial and other forms of assistance. Magen David Adom, the UJA, the Association  for the Welfare of the Soldiers of Israel and so many organizations are seeing a swell of financial support.  As well there are private initiatives to raise money directly to help groups of soldiers and supply them with more modern and update equipment, food deliveries and other necessities.  All of this is heart warming.

Political - Israeli

After four days of negotiations, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a deal last night with Benny Gantz to form a limited duration war-time cabinet.  This meant bringing in some experienced military leaders to Netanyahu's coalition and that should add some much needed input to the decision-making process and operational capabilities. I am not aware of all of the details of what has been agreed upon.  So far, Yair Lapid and his party have not joined this coalition, nor have other opposition parties. The war cabinet may well expand in coming days. For now, this first war time cabinet arrangement does seem like it will offer a significant increase in competence and reason to the current government.


Needless to say, this is all very difficult, on everyone  here. The macabre nature of these attacks is sickening and devastating. So many lives were lost - so many people massacred -  while at a  music festival - or in their beds or in shelters in their homes. The reports are gruesome and hard to process.  The psychological effect on all of us is overwhelming and difficult to process. Many of  us are looking for ways to deal with this mixture of feelings of loss, anxiety, frustration, anger, guilt and apprehension. Some people are sending around suggestions.  

We are extremely concerned about all of our brave soldiers and the dangers they are now facing. They are  our family, our friends, our  neighbours.  They are defending our homes.  We hope and pray for their safety.

And of course there is the stress of not knowing if and how this war may escalate.  If Hezbollah gets involved, we  will be in a full blown two front war that will unquestionably cause major damage in Israel, even if the damage in Lebanon is much worse. There is also concern about Iranian threats, which seems more remote - though Iran has repeatedly threatened to "wipe out" Israel over the years. The U.S. aircraft carriers in the region may help deter this type of escalation -  or they might provoke it.  

Air Canada has suspended flights to Israel until at least October 18, 2023 and most other world airlines have done the same. El Al is still flying, though they cancelled all of their direct Canadian flights some time ago (well before all of this began). Emirates, Fly Dubai, Bluebird Airways (Greek) are still flying out of Tel-Aviv and today's departure list shows Austrian Airways and Lufthansa operating flights as scheduled.

Of course I am also trying to get some work done. My Canadian clients do not know where I am (some do but most don't) - and a Zoom or Teams call can be interrupted by a sudden missile alarm, requiring me to move to a safe room. These are small problems, of course, next to what so many people in this country are facing. I appreciate that. But I am simply mentioning that all of this affects people in so many different ways.

How to Survive - Logic of a grandmother

A woman and her husband managed to survive after being held  hostage all day by five Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Ophakim. The terrorists entered the house and started yelling "Allahu Akhbar" ("God is great") and told her and her husband to go upstairs. She decided to try to talk to her captives. She offered them coffee or tea. She asked them about their families. She says that she figured if they were hungry, her chances would  be worse - so she asked if she could make them some food and offered to cook them whatever they wanted. At one point, they pointed guns at her and her husband. She started saying "Shema Yisrael" and told them they would be better off keeping her and her husband as hostages. She asked them their names, ages, what they do. She then offered to teach them a song by Lior Narkis, an Israeli  singer. She continued to distract them in all different ways until, almost 8 hours later, her  son, (a commando officer) arrived with a group of other  commandos, entered the house, by surprise, from the roof and the back door - and managed to kill all of the terrorists. Rachel and her husband were taken to the hospital but survived unscathed. Obviously, most stories in Israel from Saturday did not end as well as this one. Rachel, her husband and her son have been interviewed a few times on different channels explaining how this lucky and quick-thinking grandmother was able to survive and save the lives of herself and her husband. I guess it helps to have a commando son with friends but they had to remain alive for quite a long time until they could be rescued.


I want to say that we appreciate all of the messages of support - calls, emails, Whatsapp messages from friends  and family near and far.  These are stressful and dangerous times but we are hoping for the best. I am still hoping to attend a family Bat-Mitzvah on Saturday  Oct 21, 2023, though the prospects are not looking great. For now, I am here with my family, friends and the people of Israel, hoping that we can win and end this war as  quickly as possible - while realizing that we may be in for a long-haul fight.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Day 3: Israel War with Gaza - Limited Update

It is day 3 of the latest Israeli war with Gaza.  I am not a full-time reporter so there is a limit as to how much time I can spend writing these updates. But I wanted to share a few items.  

Numbers Update

First of all, as you might have read, the Israeli government is reporting that more than 700 people have been killed and more than 2300 injured.  Included in this number - more than 260 young people were murdered at a "Nature Party" early on Saturday morning.  Hamas and Islamic Jihad claim that they are holding more than 140 prisoners in Gaza.  It is unclear how many of these people are alive, how many are injured - and if injured, how seriously.  This includes young children, elderly, and others.

In response, Israel has been launching significant air force attacks on the Gaza strip - which reportedly includes a range of military targets including Hamas bases, weapons store houses and other facilities.  Gaza authorities report more that more than 400 Palestinians have been killed.  However, Hamas sent, by its accounts, some 1000 terrorists to Israel to carry out these attacks.  Israel has killed or captured more than 250 of them.  In short, just because a press service reports that a certain number of Palestinians were killed, that certainly does not mean that they were civilians - even though some civilians may have been killed.

Israeli Areas - Surrounding Gaza

The cities surrounding Gaza  -  22 different towns and cities - suffered severe and devasting damage and losses.  Israeli authorities report that all of these areas are now in Israeli control.  However, there are still isolated Hamas terrorists and groups of terrorists hiding  in unknown places.  Israeli forces are combing these cities, door by door, to look for terrorists.  They are also looking for civilians who may still be hiding or injured.  Sadly, they are still finding bodies of those who were murdered.  The army reports that some mines and other delayed timer devices were left in some places in these towns and cities - so they are being very cautious.  Since Saturday morning, Hamas has apparently sent additional reinforcements and Israeli forces have fought and defeated these groups wherever they have encountered them. 


Hamas continues to fire thousands of missiles at civilian areas across Israel.  We had one alarm this morning  and spent some time in the shelter.  We heard a very loud noise - that sounded like one missile made it through the Iron Dome system but it is unclear where it landed.  Later, Hamas fired another barrage of missiles and one was a direct hit on a house in Ashdod.  There are reports of injuries from  that hit.  As I write, missiles are being fired by Hamas at locations all over the country though, fortunately, few of them are hitting targets.


More than 300,000 reserve soldiers have been called to report to duty.  Israel is in a state of mass preparedness outside of Gaza, on its northern border, in Judea  and Samaria (the "West Bank") and other areas.  Just about everyone  we know between the ages of 21 and 30 who are eligible for reserve duty have been issued an "Order 8" - and order to report too duty. It is truly frightening.

It is unclear at this point what military decisions will be made. A massive ground assault on Gaza is a definite possibility but Israeli officials will have to weigh carefully whether they can actually win this type of war against guerilla forces that are hidden among civilians in densely populated areas.

Israel is also making military calculations with respect to the possibility that Iran-backed Hezbollah might open up a second front against Israel from the North.  This would be a massive escalation of the the conflict and would lead to tremendous damage in Israel and across Lebanon. It may also involve Syria and  Iran.  We certainly hope that things will not head in this direction, but Israel must be prepared for this possibility.


I don't really have very much to report here.  There was apparently a meeting between Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning to discuss some type of expanded government - but nothing has been resolved.  It is too early to discuss any type of resolution and it appears that we are likely to be in for weeks, if not months, of fighting before any resolution is possible.  There are few countries with the ability to influence Hamas - other than Qatar and Iran - and to a much smaller degree, Egypt.  But Hamas has nothing to offer now, other than the return of the prisoners that it is holding.  They have launched a self-defined "war," killed more than 700 Israelis, mostly civilians, and injured more than 2300.  Israel will certainly proceed with a massive response of some sort.

Prisoners and Hostages

This is a very difficult situation for Israel.  The government would like to take every possible step to rescue every single one of the hostages - and hopefully most if  not all of them are alive.  But faced with the potential loss of thousands of additional lives if steps are not taken immediately, the government is faced with some extremely difficult decisions.  We hope and pray that all of the prisoners are returned home safely as quickly as possible.

The Streets

The homeland authority in Israel is advising people to remain in their homes and stay near bomb shelters.  Many stores, especially supermarkets and pharmacies, are still open - but many other places are closed.  Highways are fairly deserted.  The airport is still operating but fewer and fewer airlines are flying to Tel-Aviv.  As of this morning, El Al, Turkish Airlines, Emirates and a few others were still flying.  But most European, North American and Asian airlines have suspended their service.   On a personal note, I now have no idea when I will be back in Canada.  I was supposed to fly this Thursday.

Psychological Impact

This attack has had a severe psychological impact on Israelis across the country.  With such high numbers of casualties, almost everyone seems to know someone who was killed or injured.  Beyond that, there is a sense of disappointment, anger and frustration at the apparent failure of  intelligence, preparedness, operations and defence.  Further, the Prime Minister and senior leadership continue to be AWOL.   Prime Minister Netanyahu has not held any press conferences or taken other steps to address the public - other than one brief statement.  None of his senior cabinet ministers have filled in.  For many Israelis, it feels like the ship is moving along without a captain.

Israelis are glued to news stations to stay updated and most of the news is not very good.   So that also has a significant impact on people.

That being said, the military leaders have shown great determination.  Other Israelis, including Prime Minister Bennett and other former members of the government have been actively assisting the army, visiting people in hospitals and helping in other ways.  Despite the current lack of political leadership, there is a real sense that Israelis will pull together and deal with this massive threat.


I do  not plan on doing this every day - and there are numerous news sources out there for up-to-the- minute updates.  Since today is Canadian Thanksgiving, work issues were less pressing and I had a bit of time.  I will try to provide further comments and updates in the coming day though that will depend on being  able to find the time.   

We thank everyone for the warm notes of support and kind wishes.  We are hoping for a quick but decisive end to this situation though we are realistically prepared for something that will take a while. I wish everyone all the best and hope and pray for the safety of our soldiers and civilians in this difficult period.


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

May 18 2021: Israel-Gaza War Update and Other Updates

Irone Dome System
We are in day 9 of Israel's "Guardian of the Walls" Operation.  It is unclear whether this operation is going to end any time soon - or whether it is going to spread like a brush fire.  There are many different sources for news of these events - and once again, I have to say that I am not about to provide comprehensive news coverage.  For that, I would have to work 24/7 these days - just on publishing blogs.  But I wanted to cover a few things that are making news here.

Gaza Operation

As  you know, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both recognized terrorist groups, have been firing rockets, aimed at civilians, towards Israel since last Sunday.  Fortunately for Israel, there are Iron Dome stations set up around the country which have been able to shoot down a high percentage of these rockets.  But Hamas has fired thousands of them - and quite a number have scored direct hits which have injured and killed civilians.  Two were killed today as a result of a rocket attack.  They were foreign workers from Thailand working in a factory.  These attacks are all aimed at killing civilians  That is the primary purpose of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket fire.

The IDF has responded with a massive aerial bombardment.  It has targeted the Hamas underground tunnels that encircle Gaza and provide sanctuary for Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters.  It has also targeted the homes of Hamas and  Islamic Jihad military leaders and a range of other targets.  Israel's army has made extensive efforts to avoid civilian casualties, including warning residents of attacks in certain places.  But despite those efforts a number of civilians have been killed along with a  much higher number of militants.   I should add that many of those who have been killed in Gaza have been killed by errant Hamas rockets.  Apparently, a sizeable number of the fired rockets don't make it out of the strip and explode or land in Gaza with often catastrophic results.

According to various news reports, Egypt is leading the efforts with Qatar, to negotiate with Hamas and Israel and try to bring about a cease fire.  According to some recent reports, the Egyptians told Hamas that if they were to stop firing rockets, Egypt would take the responsibility of ensuring that Israel  agreed.  Moreover, Netanyahu announced earlier today that we have "attained significant accomplishments," which some have interpreted as indicating that Israel is ready for a cease-fire.  But Hamas apparently refused the request and has continued to fire hundreds of rockets.   They are trying to get a major "achievement" - whether a significant hit on a civilian target, a military target, an economic target or some other type of "gain."  As long as Hamas continues to fire rockets, Israel will continue going after a wide range of  Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.

Internal Problems

Unlike in the case of some of the past Gaza wars and operations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have managed to stir widespread sympathy and  participation in the form of rioting within Israel itself.  Last week, there were protests and riots in Lod, Akko, Nazareth, Haifa, all Israelis cities  with sizeable  Arab  populations.  I wrote  about this in an earlier blog.  In response, some extremist Jewish groups - including the Kahanist Religious Zionist party and its members reciprocated with comparable and equally deplorable attacks on Arab Israelis, under the auspices of "protecting" Israelis in the absence of the police.  There have been many arrests but it is unclear how extensive this problem will become.

In the desert - south of Beer Sheva, Bedouins knocked down highway lights and began throwing rocks and shooting at some passing cars.  Some roads were closed and Israel has had to step up security operations in the  South.  These are all considered "internal" problems but they have  stretched and taxed the Israeli police greatly.

North and East

A few rockets have been fired from Israel's northern border - from inside of Lebanon.  Last week, some of these landed in the water.  This week, some landed within Lebanon itself.  As of now, there are no significant signs that this war will expand to include Lebanon.  But the Middle East is somewhat of a tinder box and things could change at any time.

To our east, the Palestinian Authority called for a "Day of Protest" today.  Now, fortunately, this is apparently different from a "Day of Rage."  But nevertheless, there were at least  two incidents where Palestinians in the disputed territories fired live ammunition at Israeli troops.  The IDF fired back, of course.  The Palestinian leader Mahmood Abbas is very weak politically right now.  He has delayed elections in an effort to avoid suffering an embarrassing loss to Hamas and it is unclear that he can keep a lid on these  protests. 

Palestinians in these territories are heavily armed now as a result of various accords with Israel.  If the rioting and unrest spreads to include armed Palestinians in these territories, this could become a  full scale "Intifada" - this time with both sides using extensive live ammunition.  Great efforts are being made by both sides to  keep this from happening, but they will require a fairly early end to this war.


Israel tends to be fairly isolated internationally in these situations and has historically relied heavily on the United States, particularly at the UN and the UN security council.  There are only about 15 million Jews in the world and more than 1.8 billion Muslims.  So it is not surprising that Israel does not receive widespread support - irrespective of the specifics of any particular war or operation.  

To this point, most Israelis have been pleased to see that President Biden has held his ground in the face of significant international pressure - as well as significant pressure from many members of his own Democratic party.   These "progressive Democrats" and  some others have urged Biden to put  all of the pressure on Israel to stop the  operation but without corresponding calls for Hamas to end its rocket fire - or even a  recognition that the Hamas rocket fire was the source of this war in the first place.

For Israel, some of the statements from a handful of vocal Democrats, led by Bernie Sanders, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and others, have been outright frightening - and would lead to a significant U.S.-Israel rift if such sentiments were to become  policy.  On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi and others have bolstered President  Biden and refrained from taking the bait and turning  support for  Israel into a partisan issue.   

Ultimately, I certainly believe that the U.S. should  make meaningful efforts to bring this operation to a close and prevent it from spreading more broadly.  But that does not mean creating an equivalency between the actions of Hamas and the actions of Israel - or placing all of the onus squarely on Israel to end this war.  To this point, it seems to me that President  Biden has been dealing with this appropriately.  I would imagine that his actions now will also play into his future credibility with Israel and others in negotiating more long term solutions, which are desparately needed.  

At the same time, it seems clear that President Biden will only be able to hold out so long and that within a few days, the U.S. will begin to exert greater pressure on both sides to end the fighting  if the Egyptian efforts are not successful.  Prime Minister Netanyahu also seems to have begun to recognize that it is time to push harder for a cease fire even if, politically, he might prefer to stretch things out a bit longer.

A Bit of Israeli Politics

Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, has 15 days left to try and  form a government. But his putative partner, Naftali Bennett has officially abandoned him - and his potential Arab coalition partners have become politically averse to joining this type of coalition with corresponding aversion among some of Lapid's intended partners.  As a result, it seems highly unlikely that there will be a "Change Coalition" forming a new government in Israel over the next two weeks.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has circulated rumours that he is now negotiating with Gideon Saar, had of the New Hope Party (who was firmly in Lapid's camp before the war  started) and even with Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party.  It is,  of course, unclear whether there is any truth to these rumours or whether they are Bibi's way of trying to "divide and conquer" the  opposition.  Ultimately, a fifth consecutive election in Israel is becoming an increasingly likely event.  There may also be some chance that Prime Minister Netanyahu will succeed after all in forming an "all right wing government"  at the last minute to avoid another election.


Tonight is the semi-finals of the annual super-hokey "Eurovision" song contest. It was cancelled last year as  result of Covid.   Israelis love to watch it and pick the Israeli contestant by  running  a season-long reality show - "Rising Star."  The easy winner in 2019-2020 was the super -talented Eden Alene.  She has a powerful, wide-ranging, yet incredibly precise voice.  The judges were so impressed by  her first appearance in 2019's first episode, that it was instantly clear that she would win - even at the start of the three-month season.  Probably reminiscent of the year in which Kelly Clarkson won American Idol - 2002, I believe.   There too, it was instantly clear that there was a contestant that  no other singer could beat. 

Alene's entry in 2020, was the highly acclaimed "Feker Libi" which included a wide range of musical influences.  Many Israelis thought she had a very good chance of winning the contest.  But alas, Covid arrived and Eurovision 2020 was  one  of its casualties.

Since the 2020 event was cancelled, Alene was given another chance.  But the Israeli production team put together a new song called "Set Me Free."  The song is somewhat less compelling.  Now Ms Alene not only has an inferior song to work with - she is also facing the political fallout of the Gaza war.  Eurovision is a notoriously political event.  Given the events that are currently taking place - it is very unlikely that Alene will have a chance of winning - even though she is incredibly talented.  As cheesy as the contest is, we will probably try to watch some of it to support her but she is facing quite an uphill battle.  Even if she loses, I would predict that she will still become a superstar in Israel and perhaps, internationally as well.


Shavuot has come and gone here in Israel (it is only one day long whereas it is two days long everywhere outside of Israel).  I couldn't pass up on an opportunity to  include a small photo of my promised cheese blintzes which we were able to enjoy  over an outside evening dinner  on Sunday night - even despite the difficulties taking  place across the country.  There are still a few left so if you are planning a visit - just ask and we will save a few.

I think I will end this for  now by noting that I am quite excited, as a distraction to see the Toronto Maple Leafs playing against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs (that's Ice Hockey in case you weren't sure).  While in Israel, that means watching games that start at 2:30 a.m.  Perhaps I will be in Toronto for some of the games though it doesn't look  like there will be any fans in the stands in Canada any time soon (unlike the U.S. where hockey arenas are being filled up thousands of fans as if the virus had ended).  Usually, the Toronto Maple Leafs find a way to  disappoint their fans.  After all, they have not won a championship since 1967.  I'm not optimistic that this year will be any different but I always enjoy watching hockey playoffs.

Hopefully things will calm down here in Israel very soon - and will stay calm in the rest of the world as well (I have seen some very disturbing reports of demonstrations and  violence aimed at the Jewish community in London and other cities around the world - including Toronto and Montreal).  

Wishing everyone the best of health and hoping to see some of you soon in Toronto - or, of course, here in Israel.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Kerry's Peace Proposals - Status of Current Negotiations

It is often said by mediators that a good deal between two sides is one which leaves each side equally unhappy.  That is the essence of a negotiated settlement where two parties have diametrically opposing demands and are trying to find a peaceful way to resolve their differences.  Indications are that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to find a way to come to some of these middle ground positions in an effort to present a plan to Israel and the Palestinians that has some chance of acceptance.

Certainly, there is no shortage of naysayers on either side of the conflict.  Israeli cabinet ministers Naftali Bennett and Ze'ev Elkin have been pushing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to walk away from the talks and reject Kerry's imminent proposals.  Similarly, officials on the Palestinian side of the table, including PLO Secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo have indicated that Kerry's proposals will not be acceptable to any Palestinians. 

At the same time, there are a number of high ranking Israeli cabinet ministers, including Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid who maintain that a deal that is acceptable to Israel is within reach.  Any such deal, from the Israeli side, could necessitate a change in the current Israeli government.  Given statements made by Minister Naftali Bennett, he and his party would leave the government rather than agree to the type of peace plan being presented by Kerry.  On the other hand, there is significant skepticism in Israel that the Palestinians will accept this type of deal, even if Kerry can get the Israelis to agree.  Moreover, Israelis have real concerns as to whether the current Palestinian leadership could deliver the type of "peace" contemplated by the agreement.  Statements by various Palestinian officials seem to suggest that this type of deal will not be good enough and the Palestinians will reject a U.S. brokered proposal, yet again..  But that remains to be seen.

What are some of the key issues?

1.  Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State and Resolution of the Palestinian Refugee Issue.

In a sense, these issues are very closely related.  From an Israeli perspective, the UN partition plan in 1948 contemplated a two state solution - one state for the Jewish people and one state for the Palestinian people.  There can be little historical dispute that the Palestinians rejected the plan and declared war on Israel.  Over the course of that war, some areas were seized by Jordan and Egypt that would have been parts of the Palestinian state.  Other areas were captured by Israel and many Palestinians fled those areas.  Yet between 1948 and 1967, the Palestinian and pan-Arab animus was still directed at Israel with the goal of eliminating Israel's existence.  Such was the Arab rhetoric leading up to the 1967 war and the 1973 war - and for many years afterwards.  It is still the rhetoric of Hamas.   

The reason that Israel has insisted on recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state" as part of a peace deal is to signify that both sides accept a two state solution as a permanent peace deal.  It is not a stepping stone towards greater conflict.  Israel would recognize a Palestinian state with all of the trappings that a state might have, subject to security considerations.  The Palestinians would be expected to do the same and would agree to Israel's right to exist.  

What does a two state solution really mean?  It means that each side gives up its dream, goal or aspiration of taking over all of the territory held by the other side.  It also means that each side solves its own refugee problems within the borders of its territory.  For the Palestinians, this type of deal should leave them free to bring every single Palestinian refugee, from across the world, to the nascent Palestinian state, if they so choose.  Should that not be the purpose of a two state resolution?  Since 1948, Israel has absorbed millions of refugees, including Jews who were no longer welcome in Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Iran and other Arab countries.  The Palestinians will need to do the same and absorb the Palestinian refugees in their new state.

Most Palestinians have continued to demand the "right to return" to Israel.  This insistence is nothing more than a rejection of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and the expression of an intention to override Israel demographically.  It is, quite simply, for Israel, a non-starter.   If, as some suggest, Palestinians continue to insist that a large number of Palestinians be permitted to return to Israel rather than the new Palestinian state, this would be a deal breaker, in my view.

2.  Status of Jerusalem

Under the U.N. partition plan, Jerusalem was going to become an "International City."  It was never envisioned as part of the Palestinian state and certainly not its capital.  Between 1948 and 1967, much of Jerusalem was held by the Jordanians, with little push by the Palestinians to declare it the capital of Palestine.  In 1967, Israel recaptured parts of Jerusalem, including the old city and ultimately annexed most of the city.  Regardless of what some countries in the world might formally maintain, Jerusalem is not "occupied territory" as defined under the Geneva conventions. It was not legally held by Jordan nor was its status clearly defined. Since Israel has controlled Jerusalem, from 1967, the holy cites have been fully accessible to the different religious groups that claim access to them.  The Muslim Waqf has controlled the Al Aqsa Mosque and Christian holy cites have been overseen by Christian authorities. This contrasts with the picture that existed in Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967, during which time Jews were barred from attending the Jewish religious cites in old Jerusalem.

One of the key Palestinian demands is that East Jerusalem, including the Old City, become the capital of the new Palestinian state.  Once again, this is something that is simply not going to happen any time soon.  There would be no political will in Israel for dividing Jerusalem and certainly no appetite for Israel to relinquish the one place in the world that is holy to the Jewish people.  So Secretary of State Kerry has proposed using suburbs of Jerusalem, including Kafr Aqab or Abu Dis and calling those suburbs "Greater Jerusalem" or some other terminology so that "Jerusalem" can still be listed as the Palestinian capital.  While this would be unpalatable to many on both sides, it may be a reasonable resolution of the issue, especially when combined with the fact that Palestinians would continue to control the Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem as they do today, even though the Dome of the Rock sits on the very spot that was once the Holy Temple.

3.   The Settlements, the Border and Security

The United States has proposed a formula involving an approximate total amount of land for each side, equal to the 1967 borders.  The idea of "land swaps" would mean that Israel would keep the largest major settlement blocs while giving up other areas to the Palestinians.  There are certainly many on both sides who oppose this proposal entirely.

Many Palestinians have demanded that Israel withdraw, entirely, from all land that Israel has held since 1967. This would include major residential blocs, some of which were inhabited by Jews before 1948 (such as parts of Gush Etzion).  Some Israelis have demanded that Israel retain the vast majority of the West Bank and refuse to agree to turn over any territory, whatsoever.  Neither side is likely to get everything it is after in a negotiated settlement.

Media reports suggest that the settlement issue would be resolved through a number of approaches.  Under Kerry's proposals, which have not yet been formally announced, Israel would keep or annex the largest settlement blocs, but it would also agree to evacuate some areas of the West Bank on which there are now Israeli settlements.  Palestinians would receive other territory, with the total territory under Palestinian control for the new state the approximate equivalent of the 1967 borders.

The real challenge is security here, particularly security for Israel and even for Jordan.  Israel can ill afford, from a security perspective, to agree to the establishment of another fundamentalist terror-sponsored regime on its borders.  After Israel evacuated Gaza, the Gazan people promptly elected the rejectionist, terrorist group Hamas as its leadership.  Shortly afterwards, Hamas began lobbing rockets at Israel.  A repetition of this, in a different area, would be entirely unacceptable to Israel and would threaten Israel existentially.  Kerry's plans have apparently floated various approaches to address this security concern including a continuing, but gradually lessening Israeli presence in the Palestinian state or some type of U.S. presence.  This could present one of the greatest challenges for Israel and one of the biggest leaps of faith that Israel would have to make to agree to a deal.

Israel has a very small margin of error here the wrong decision or concession on security issues could be suicidal.  That is not to say that this is the plan of the current Palestinian leadership.  But looking at events in Syria, Egypt and other Arab countries in the Middle East, it is reasonable for Israel to insist on security measures that will be honoured and verifiable, irrespective of the type of Palestinian government that might get elected.  Some of these precautionary security terms are likely to be unacceptable to the Palestinians and that is where Kerry is working with both sides to try to find some way to reach a deal.


There are, of course, numerous other issues.  After all, many books have been written about this issue, from various historical, political and other vantage points.  I have reviewed some of them elsewhere on this blog.

The real question is what is going to happen now - and will anything come of this.  Most Israelis apparently remain unconvinced that a deal will be possible, according to recent Israeli surveys reported on by YNet News and Haaretz.  Many Palestinians have signified that they would view this type of deal as a "sell-out" and would reject it entirely.  So it is far from clear that there will be any kind of resolution.  Nevertheless, here are a few possibilities:

1.       Israel could agree to the deal, whether unconditionally or with some reservations.  In order to do this, it  appears that Israel's government would change, at least somewhat.  It is likely that Bennett would leave the government and that Labour, under the leadership of its recently elected new leader Yitzhak Herzog would join.  It is unclear whether some or all of the "Yisrael Beitenu" MKs would leave the government and if they were to leave, whether Netanyahu could still cobble together a majority that would support the deal.  If a Netanyahu-led government were to support the deal, my sense is that a deal could also win support in an Israel-wide referendum, even if the margin of victory was slim.

2.  Israel could agree to the deal, as above, but the Palestinians could reject it, either in connection with the ongoing talks or as part of some form of referendum.  This is probably the outcome that most Israelis anticipate, although there are signs that Abbas may be prepared to agree to a proposed deal, even if he does so conditionally or with some reservations.  It is unclear what the Palestinians will do if these talks fail.  They may look to the world community to try and exert economic pressure on Israel by advocating boycotts and divestment.  Some countries in the world have already been susceptible to these overtures.  Or they may declare a third intifada.  Either of these approaches would likely be disastrous for both Israel and the Palestinians and would probably set back a peaceful resolution by another twenty or thirty years, at least.

3.  The Palestinians could agree to the deal, as above, with some reservations or unconditionally.  However, Bennett could then cause the collapse of the government and Netanyahu could prove unable (or unwilling) to put together a coalition that would support the deal.  This could result in new elections in Israel or it could bring about a new right wing government that includes the religious parties and that has no interest in any type of peace deal.  In this scenario, (i.e. if the Netanyahu government were to fall) my guess would be that we would see a new election fairly quickly, though I am not about to predict the results.  It seems to me unlikely that Netanyahu would cling to power by cobbling together a far right -wing government.  I think he would be more inclined to hold an election. 

Stepping back from all of this, there are many reasons for pessimism and it seems unlikely that we will see an Israel-Palestinian peace deal any time soon. There are so many complicated issues, so much "bad blood," and so much hatred.  Yet, as I have told some of my friends, we are living in an age which has seen the collapse of the U.S.S.R; a peaceful resolution of the dispute in Ireland; the end to South African Apartheid; and many other world changes that people would have believed to be possible in our lifetime.  So maybe, just maybe, a peace deal between Israel, the Palestinians and the neighbouring Arab states will be another one of those historical moments.

It seems to me that both sides need this type of deal if they truly wish to avoid sentencing their children and grandchildren to generations more of bloody conflict.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Operation Pillar of Cloud: Wrapped Up - For Now?

It has been a relatively quiet day so far in Israel, with the sound of thunder replacing the sounds of airplanes and rockets.  A rain storm is expected in parts of Israel and that certainly beats a missile storm.  A cease fire, sponsored primarily by Egypt, was put into place last night at approximately 9 p.m..  Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions continued to fire rockets at Israel for about another 2 hours after that time, but Israel did not respond to these provocations and the cease fire took hold.

It was a particularly bitter day of fighting for both sides yesterday.  A terrorist bombed a passenger bus in central Tel-Aviv, injuring a large number of people, and many rockets were fired at Israeli cities and towns in the south.  Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force responded by stepping up its campaign and bombing numerous targets in the Gaza Strip.

Many Israelis, particularly in the south, opposed the cease fire and were urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to make the decision to launch a full scale ground invasion of Gaza in an effort to make it less likely that Hamas would launch another barrage of rockets at Israel any time soon.  However, Netanyahu faced enormous world pressure from numerous quarters, including, most significantly, the U.S. and chose not to proceed with the ground assault.   There were also many in Israel who viewed a cease fire as a possible opportunity to work on some sort of longer lasting arrangement with Hamas and the Palestinians.

Although many Palestinians in Gaza are reportedly celebrating - and Hamas has declared November 22 to be a "national holiday," it is really hard to believe that this was a victory of any sort for Palestinians.  More than 100 Palestinians were killed, hundreds more were injured, and Gaza suffered major damage as a result of Israeli attacks.  Although Hamas succeeded in hitting Israeli targets and causing damage, it sustained very major damage to its military infrastructure and weapons caches and other types of damage as well.

This was also not a victory for Israel.  Although Operation Pillar of Cloud caused significant damage to Gaza's military capabilities and its leadership, Israel also suffered from several missile attacks that hit its cities and killed and injured its residents.

YNet News has reported the following statistics:

More than 1500 rockets and missiles were fired at Israel by Hamas and its cohorts;
875 exploded in open areas in Israel;
421 were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, which only intercepts projectiles that are likely to cause damage;
152 rockets and misssiles landed in the Palestinian territories;
More than 500 people were treated in Israeli hospitals for war-related innjuries over the 8 day operation.

Al-Jazeera reports that an estimated 162 Palestinians in Gaza were killed during Operation Pillar of Cloud but it is unclear how  many of these people were civilians.  It is also unclear whether this number is even accurate.  Various sources report that the IDF attacked more than 1,000 targets in Gaza over the course of the 8 day operation.

Haaretz printed an excellent post-mortem article, written by Chemi Shalev called Gaza Requiem which provides a fairly balanced picture of things, in my view.

It is unclear how long this "truce" will last.  It could be days, weeks or even months.  Hopefully both sides, and other international players interested in a peaceful resolution, will make a push to broaden the cease fire and make efforts to reach a wider and longer lasting peace deal.  Failing to do so will simply usher in another round of violence and the fighting in the region will continue.  While many pessimists insist that this is bound to be the case, we can only hope that the pessimists can eventually be proven wrong.

On a personal note, I was at a wedding in central Israel last night.  Invited guests included more than 100 military personnel, many of whom were close friends of the groom.  With the current military situation, the groom had been advised that very view of his friends would be able to attend.  As the cease fire was announced, just in time, a large number of these invited guests were able to come straight from their posts to the wedding - dressed in full military gear and fully armed.  But it was a bit of joyous timing for the bride and groom who were able to celebrate with many of their friends and were also able to enjoy their wedding with the knowledge that a truce had been reached.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day 8: Close to a Deal? Fighting Continues.

There was a flurry of diplomatic activity yesterday in Israel, Egypt and Gaza as various countries and organizations tried to broker a cease fire deal of some sort. Word began leaking out that a deal had been struck to commence a cease fire - or at least a "lull" by late yesterday evening.  TV stations (and the Egyption president) announced that the Hamas government would announce a cease fire arrangement of some sort at approximately 9 p.m., followed by the official commencement of a temporary truce at about midnight. 

As the cease fire approaches, Hamas ramped up its efforts to cause maximum damage to Israel and its civilians.  Tens of rockets were fired at the city of Beersheva, as well as other southern Israeli cities, some of which scored direct hits.  A shopping mall was hit.  Missiles also hit a bus with some passengers and a residential home.  A young Israeli soldier, Yosef Fartuk, age 18, was killed, along with a contractor.  In total 5 Israelis have been killed since hostilities began.

This condominium building was hit yeseterday in the central Israeli city of Rishon L'Tzion, early in the evening,  by an  Iranian made Fajr 5 Rocket.  The residents heard the alarm and all went into the "Shelter Room."  The rocket went through four stories but the residents were mostly uninjured with a couple of people suffering minor bruises.  Newer buildings in Israel are all buillt with a "shelter room" surrounded by thick concrete walls.  Israelis have been urged by the Israeli Government to take shelter in these rooms as soon as they hear an alarm in their are.  In this case, listening to these instructions saved lives.

Building in Rishon L'Tzion - Nov 20, 2012 Courtesy of YNet News
With the combination of stepped up attacks from Hamas aimed at Beersheva and other areas, the amount of damage and the missiles sent to central Israel, the Israeli government responded by having the IDF step up its attacks.

Diplomatic efforts are apparently continuing in an effort to diffuse the crisis and come up with a cease fire arrangement.  U.S. Secretary of State is in the region and is meeting with Israeli, Egyption and Palestinian leaders.  Many other international diplomats are involved.  It does appear that a deal was close yesterday but may have been disrupted by the severe attacks and damage caused  by Hamas as the cease fire time approached.  Reports also suggest that Hamas was only pushing for a short "lull" rather than a longer term arrangement.

Israel is not interested in a truce deal that will simply allow Hamas to use a short pause to obtain more rockets from Iran and that start filing missiles in another few days or even weeks.  Israel is insisting that any type of  deal address at least some of the broader issues and include guarantees from Egypt or other countries that Hamas will not continue to bring rockets and weapons into Gaza.  In exchange, Israel is reportedly willing to ease its control of Hamas borders but only if it can be satisfied that a military embargo will be put in place.

Meanwhile, as the fighting continues, Israelis have been watching the news and seeing Hamas rockets fired at their homes and other civilian areas.  While the IDF faces world pressure to avoid civilian casualties at all costs, the Hamas goal is to cause maximum civilian casualties.  Some Israelis can't help but think that Israel should lob rockets into crowded Gaza civilian centres in response to the attacks on its civilians if that is the only way of deterring Hamas.  But of course, Israel will not do that.  It is committed to mainting the ethical and moral highground and fighting the war agains these Hamas terrorists as humanely as possible.

Despite IDF efforts to avoid civilian casualties, Palestinian sources have indicated that more than 100 people in Gaza have been killed by Israeli attacks, some of whom have been civilians.

This pattern of violence is all too familiar in this region.  At least some Israelis are hoping that this war will lead to a renewed sense of urgency to address broader issues and try to resolve the whole Palestinian-Israeli dispute.  It is hard to say that there are many Israelis who believe that this is likely - since Hamas controls the Gaza strip and has stated repeatedly that it is committed to the goal of destroying Israel.  Nevertheless, some believe that Hamas does have a pragmatic side and that it might even be a negotiating partner that will be more likely to enforce and uphold commitments that it makes unlike Fatah (the PLO). 

In any event, the ongoing costs of this constant struggle are staggering.  They take a heavy toll on both sides, economically, militarily and in so many other ways.  We continue to hope that we will be able to find a deal with the Palestinians that will work for both sides and that will put an end to this conflict.  Unfortunately, looking the trends in the region and, particularly, the spread of radical Islam in Egypt, Turkey and other countries in the area, it is difficult to be optimistic. 

Update - at 12:30 p.m.:

Two terrorists placed a bomb in a bus in central Tel-Aviv just after 12:00 p.m. today.  The bomb exploded injuring more than 10 people, 5 of them seriously.  The two terrorists reportedly ran off the bus.  The explosion shattered the bus but, fortunately, was not as lethal as some of the bus explosions that suicide bombers have undertaken in the past in Israel.  The combination of the ramped up level of attacks on Israel yesterday (which may have derailed the cease fire plans) and now this type of attack may well harden Israeli resolve to continue or broaden the campaign against Gaza.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day 7: Operation Pillar of Cloud: On the Edge

Some Assembled Israeli Troops - Sunday Nov 18, 2012
There have been a number of developments in Israel's latest battle with Gaza.  It appears that Operation Pillar of Cloud is now at a critical point.  If Israel and Hamas do not reach a truce deal within a day or two, it appears likely that Israel will commence a, full scale ground invasion of Gaza.  According to the IDF, there are approximately 57,000 troops assembled and ready to commence the attack.  Last night, Israel's cabinet met late into the night to discuss truce options.  The cabinet is said to have concluded that there were no viable cease fire options at this point but that it was committed to trying to reach a deal.  Israel's main concern is that a limited cease fire deal that would simply allow Hamas to rearm with new weapons from Iran and then start another round of fighting after a short lull.  This would not be an acceptable outcome.

There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity.  Secretary General of the U.N. Ban-Ki Moon has become involved, a joint French-Qatari truce proposal was presented to both sides and various other countries have been meeting in Cairo with Egypt acting as the lynchpin to most of these discussions.  The German foreign minister just completed a meeting with Israeli officials.  U.S. Secretary of State Clinton in en route to Israel.  In a televised interview yesterday, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal taunted the Israelis to begin a ground invasion and made various threats about the damage that Hamas would cause if such an invasion were to incur.   He insisted that Israel had "requested" the cease fire talks even though Israelis spokespeople stated that this comment was about as accurate as Hamas claims that it had attacked Israel's parliament or shot down F-16s (neither of which have occurred).  Of course, this may have been posturing to try to claim victory on behalf of Gaza residents, who have faced some very serious attacks from the Israeli air force and have suffered heavy losses.

Nevertheless, there is no cease fire in place at this point.  This morning, Hamas ramped up its rocket attacks.  More than 60 rockets were fired at Israel between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. alone, with 20 of these rockets fired at Beersheva.  Although many of these missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome, three rockets hit targets in Beersheva, causing significant damage.  A shopping mall was hit, a home was destroyed and a passenger bus (with passengers) was hit.  There are reports of numerous injuries, some of which are apparently very serious.

YNet News Photo - Beersheva Nov 20, 2012
While it is often common in these situations for the two sides to ramp up their final attacks just before a cease fire, this latest round of attacks on Beersheva and Ashkelon is bound to harden the resolve of Israel's southern residents who are demanding results from this operation.  It is Israeli residents in the south who have been facing rocket barrages for years and who have pushed the government most adamantly to take action on behalf of their cities and on behalf of the whole country.  It is crucial for the Israeli government that any truce deal guarantees a fairly lengthy period without rocket fire.  |Without this kind of deal, it would make little sense for Israel to halt its operation.

Meanwhile. the IDF continued its attacks on different parts of Gaza overnight, aiming at military targets, weapons storage facilities, missile launching sites and Hamas military leaders.  Reports from Gaza have indicated that more than 100 Gaza residents have been killed since the start of these hostilities, at least 20 of whom have been civilians.  It is hard to imagine that a continued battle with Israel is really a good thing for the people of Gaza.  It seems that it would be much better to negotiate a longer term deal that would address concerns that both sides have.  However, at this point, there is little indication that the two sides have been able to reach this type of deal.  It remains to be seen whether talks will progress today and tomorrow or whether the situation will deteriorate further.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Day 6 - Operation Pillar of Cloud

On Friday evening, we ate Shabbat dinner outside in the Rehovot area.  At some point over the course of dinner, we saw some bright flashing lights in sky, off in the distance.  Soon afterwards, we heard a large explosion.  We later learned that Israel's Iron Dome system had intercepted a rocket that had been fired at the Gadera area.  Yesterday, sitting at our home in Ra'anana, we heard a loud sound late in the afternoon.  The windows in the house shook.  We then learned that the Iron Dome had intercepted two rockets that were fired at Tel-Aviv, about 15 km away from here.  Fortunately, for us, these two incidents are about as close as we have come to any kind of involvement in the current hostilities.  But the situation has been much more difficult for many Israelis and for Gaza residents.

Dozens of rockets were fired today from Gaza at Israeli towns and cities in the south, including Beersheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Sderot.  Many were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, although there were reports of explosions in Ashkelon.  According to IDF reports, between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. today, more than 60 rockets were fired at Israel by Hamas and its allies.  Hamas issued a statement on Sunday night indicating that it fired approximately 1,090 rockets at Israel by Sunday night.  The IDF has claimed that it has intercepted 310 missiles and/or rockets since the start of the operation.

The IDF has been carrying out a vigorous air bombardment campaign in an effort to put a stop to the Hamas rocket bombardments.  The IDF reported earlier today that approximately 1,350 targets have been hit, many of which have been missile launching sites.  It has been reported that approximately 85-90 Palestinians have been killed with several hundred injured.  Israeli spokespeople, from both the government and the IDF, have emphasized that Israel has made every effort to avoid civilian casualties and has used the best intelligence that it has to target Hamas military sites, including missile launching sites.   In this kind of battle, is, of course, impossible to eliminate all civilian casualties.  The flip side is that Hamas has been sending its rockets with the explicit purpose of attacking and terrorizing civilians, even though it has not been that successful in causing casualties.

As of the time of this writing, there are reports of significant dialogue between the two sides over the possibility of some type of cease fire.  Egypt is apparently brokering these talks, which are said to have involved the U.N., the U.S., France, Germany and other countries as well as, of course, Israel and Hamas.

From the Israeli side, Israel is wary of concluding a cease fire that only lasts for a few days or weeks.  There have been quite a number of situations over the past seven years, since Hamas took power in Gaza and began firing rockets at Israel where a cease fire or truce of some sort has been put into place.  However, within days or weeks, or in some cases, months, Hamas has started firing rockets at Israeli towns and cities, sometimes blaming other "militant factions" in Gaza and claiming that it could not control them, even though Hamas is the governing power in Gaza.

To end the current operation, Israel has therefore reportedly asked for a 15 year truce, to be "guaranteed" by Egypt.  Israel has also asked that there by an outright ban on the importation of weapons into Gaza and that Hamas agree to prevent the firing of any rockets at Israel - not only by Hamas but by any other faction as well.  Thousands of Israeli reserve troops have been called to report to duty and are now in place.  These are primarily civilians, who serve in the IDF for one month per year of reserve duty or whenever else they are called to report.  IDF spokespeople have indicated that the army is prepared to proceed with a full scale ground invasion at any moment if an acceptable cease fire deal cannot be arranged.  Neither the Israeli government nor the Israeli public is interested in a temporary cease fire which will simply require Israel to conduct another similar operation in the coming days, weeks or even months after Hamas has had an opportunity to rebuild its rocket supply.  If that is all that is being offered, there is significant support in Israel for an expansion of the current operation even if that involves alienating world opinion in Europe and other places, even the U.S.

From the Hamas side, the Palestinians have issued their own demands, which include asking that Israel lift its "blockade" of Gaza, agree to cease Israeli policy of targeted killings of key terrorist targets and agree to refrain from any kind of strikes in Gaza.

The fascinating thing is that all of these discussions are being carried out through intermediaries since neither Israel nor Hamas recognize the other.  Nevertheless, the successful resolution of a deal to exchange Israeli prisoner Gilad Schalit, who had been held by Hamas in Gaza, provides a ray of hope that Israel will be able to negotiate some sort of deal with Hamas.   There are reports that Israel is willing to discuss lifting a blockade of Gaza, if there is an inspection process put into place, with mutually agreeable inspectors who will ensure that weapons are not being brought into Gaza.

In the meantime, both sides are actively continuing their activities.   Hamas continues to launch rockets at Israel and the IDF continues to conduct aerial bombardments against targets in Gaza.  Against this backdrop, Israel faces significant world pressure to cease its operation, much of which comes from countries which are hostile towards Israel in any event.  There have also been a barrage of false or misleading media reports just as there were in Israel's previous operation in Gaza.

For a demonstration of the type of propaganda that Israel faces, here is a link to a compelling story involving CNN.  The web site "Elder of Zion" reports that CNN has now retracted a false accusation that it publicized against Israel.  When Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil visited Gaza, he was photographed holding a dead four year old child.  Reuters publicized the allegation that the child had been killed by an Israeli attack.  It soon became clear, initially from the Palestinian side, that the boy was actually killed by a Hamas rocket that was misfired or exploded prematurely.

As of the time of writing, Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas is holding a press conference in Cairo to discuss the situation.  It is likely that we will hear from Israeli government spokespeople shortly afterwards.  The next 24-48 hours will undoubtedly be critical.  If a cease fire deal is not reached, there is every indication that Israel will embark on a full scale ground operation in Gaza.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Day 5: Operation Pillar of Cloud

It is the fifth day of Israel's Operation "Pillar of Cloud," in Gaza, an operation which the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) undertook to put a stop to the rocket fire that Israeli towns and cities had been absorbing for weeks from Gaza.

Estimates of the number of rockets that have been fired from Gaza vary between 400 and 500.  All of these rockets, sent by Hamas and affiliated organizations, have been aimed at civilians.  Most of these are "Grad" Rockets, with a maximum distance of approximately 40 km.  This puts cities like Ashdod, Ashquelon, Beersheva and Sderot at risk but not Israel's major population centres.  Hamas also has a number of "Fajr 5" rockets, which apparently have a range of up to 75 km.  These rockets could hit cities as far away as Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and other population centres in the Sharon region.  However, the IDF claims to have eliminated many of the more sophisticated launching platforms for these rockets through its pinpoint air attacks.  As a result, only a small number of Fajr 5 rockets have actually been fired.

Earlier today, a Hamas rocket hit a building in the coastal city of Ashquelon.  Two people were injured and the building suffered significant damage.

IDF Soldier watching Iron Dome Interceptor Deploy
On the Israeli side, one of the major stories of this operation so far has been the "Iron Dome" missile defence system.    Produced by Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, the Iron Dome system fires interceptor rockets in incoming missiles and blows them out of the air with an estimated 80% success rate.  Two Fajr 5 missiles, fired at Tel-Aviv, have been stopped by the Iron Dome sytem.  In total, reports have estimated that Israel has shot down between 220 and 250 incoming missiles using this system, out of a total of between 400 and 500 rockets.  Using satellite rader, the Iron Dome system detects where the missiles are headed and makes a decision about whether or not they should be intercepted.  If the incoming missile or rocket is headed to an open space area or into the water, the Iron Dome does not fire.  If the missile is headed towards a population centre or other important target, it deploys.  Without the Iron Dome system in place, Israel would have sustained very significant damage during the first four days of this operation.

Different sources from Gaza have estimated that between 40 and 50 people have been killed in Gaza as a result of the IDF operations, with between 10 and 15 of these characterized as "civilian casualties."  Considering that there are estimates that Israel has carried out more than 1,000 different attacks, there is ample evidence that the IDF is taking significant precautions to minimize if not eliminate civilian casualties.  Despite what some of the world's media might have people believe, this is certainly nothing like the situation in Syria where thousands of civilians have been targeted and killed by the Syrian military. 

That is not to say that this is a very good situation for the people of Gaza to put it mildly.  But it is important to remember that Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005.  The people of Gaza elected a Hamas government, with the avowed goal of destroying Israel.  Rather than invest in infrastucture, economic opportunity and education, the Hamas government has spent an enormous amount of money building up its weapons supplies and has insisted on firing rockets and missiles at Israeli towns, with or without Israeli provocation.  Hamas supporters respond by indicating that Israel has "blockaded" Gaza and turned it into an "open air prison."  While there is some truth to the fact that Israel has tried to control what goes into Gaza, the main concern is, of course a ban on weaponry entering the strip.  Israelis (and everyone else around the world) know full well that Hamas would use any weapons that it had against Israel without any concern about the ramifications.  At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt has opened the borders with Gaza and Hamas has been able to bring large supplies of more sophisticated arms to Gaza from Egypt and other countries. 

Contrast Gaza with the other Palestinian Authority areas.  Many of these areas have seen an increase in Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation, signfiicant growth in the Palestinian economy and relatively few military confrontations.  With a large area of beachfront access, monetary contributions from countries around the world and a population in need of economic opportunity, Gaza could make significant progress if it were to devote its attention to economic development rather than ongoing hostility with Israel.

Meanwhile, as far as the current operation is concerned, there is mounting worldwide political pressure on Israel to agree to some sort of cease fire.  Many Israelis are opposed to an early cease fire as are most of Israel's southern residents.  Israel has had many skirmishes with Hamas over the seven years since Israel withdrew from Gaza.  Each time, once there is some sort of cease fire in place, after a few days, or weeks, Hamas soon starts to fire rockets once again at Israeli towns and cities.  The situation becomes untenable for Israeli residents of the towns and cities that are under fire and they are forced to again call on the IDF to respond.  Many Israelis have been calling for the IDF to launch a full scale ground operation and cause much more severe damage to Hamas' ability to continue its attacks against Israel.  However, the cost of this type of operation would be quite high.  Both sides could suffer a large number of casualties and the Israeli government is wary of putting its troops in harm's way if it is not absolutely necessary.

Beyond the concern about the troops, and the possible casualty level in Gaza, there is no assurance that a sustained ground assault would actually improve the political situation.  If the people of Gaza are intent on supporting a Hamas government, which much of the world views as a terrorist organization, there is little chance that Israel will be able to reach a peace deal, even a short or medium term arrangement, any time soon.  Unfortunately, this may mean that Israel will have to conduct this type of operation again, even after a cease fire, once Hamas again begins firing rockets and missiles at Israel.

While the Israeli cabinet on Friday approved of an order for the IDF to call up to 75,000 reserve troops to report for duty, it is unclear whether or not the IDF will actually proceed with an all out ground assault.  Comments from worldwide political leaders seem to suggest that a cease fire of some sort is imminent and Prime Minister Netanyahu is apparently under a great deal of worldwide pressure to agree to terms of a truce.  Israel continues to maintain that any cessation of hostilities arrangement must include an absolute ban on any kind of missile or rocket fire from Gaza.  Without this type of deal in place, it is unlikely that Israel will agree to an early cease fire. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef - A Review

Mosab Hassan Yousef is a former Hamas member who began working for Israel while living in Ramallah. He eventually converted to Christianity and left Israel to seek political asylum in the United States. He is now living in California.

Yousef's book Son of Hamas is an autobiographical account of his life growing up in Ramallah. Yousef's father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, was one of the founders of Hamas. Yousef, the oldest child, with five brothers and three sisters, traces his life growing up in Ramallah. He provides a detailed discussion of a very observant Muslim lifestyle in which he was raised. His book, written years after these events, is highly critical of Islam and, in particular, as Yousef sees it, of the propensity for violence that is taught and expected of children, even from a very young age.

Arrested as early as age 10 by Israelis for throwing rocks at settlers, Yousef became increasingly radicalized as he grew older. He was arrested by age 18 after purchasing guns that he intended to use in some type of operation against Israelis. During the first part of the book, he is highly critical of Israel and of the manner in which Israel treated his community. He justifies his early activities and details his arrest and alleged abuse at the hands of Israeli soldiers and officials.

As the book progresses, Yousef details the increasingly violent and dangerous escalation of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians between 1986 and 1997. He begins to question some of the Palestinian tactics and is particularly upset at the Palestinian decision to support Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. He details the corruption and moral bankruptcy of the PLO leadership and Arafat and describes how Arafat, in particular, was concerned more with lining his pockets than of advancing the cause of the Palestinians. He writes about the PLO's covert but direct support for terrorist attacks against Israel, even while the PLO was publicly renouncing violence. And he describes the horrific Hamas suicide bombing attacks that were carried out in Israel, killing large groups of civilians.

Yousef's father was in and out of Israeli prisons for his own role in inciting or participating in terrorist activities. Yousef himself was a senior member of Hamas. Yousef claims that he began to have doubts about Islam and about Hamas as he watched Hamas carry out these horrible attacks against civilians. He was also troubled by Hamas' brutal vigilante justice against any perceived traitors, many of whom were often innocent.

Yousef claims that in 1997, he agreed to work for the Shin Bet, and become an informant. Known secretly as the "Green Prince," Yousef details how he provided information to Israel that led to the prevention of suicide bombings and assassination attempts. He claims that he provided information to Israelis only if they agreed to arrest rather than kill those about whom he provided information. According to Yousef's account, he seems to have been instrumental in almost every single Israeli counter-terrorism operation between 1997 and 2005. One gets the sense that his account is somewhat exaggerated. Yet he claims it was all with the goal of reducing violence in the region and had nothing to do with the significant sums of money he was paid.

By 2000, Yousef, had been introduced to Christianity, to which he converted by 2005. In the process of converting and ultimately revealing his collaboration with Israel, Yousef's father disowned him. Yousef was eventually granted political asylum in the United States, with the evidentiary support in court of the Shin Bet agent who had worked with him over a number of years while he was in Ramallah and with whom he remained friends after these events. Much of the later part of Yousef's book is filled with his description of the oversimplified version of Christian religious dogma that he came to accept and embrace.

Yousef's story is an interesting one and there is certainly a great deal of information of about Hamas, its activities and the activities of the PLO that make for fascinating reading. It is at times highly critical of Israel and challenges Islam repeatedly. The earlier sections of the book provide a thoughtful description and Palestinian viewpoint of day to day life in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

At the same time, something just doesn't sit right about Yousef's account.

At times, he appears to suggest that his activities were all related to his conversion to Christianity. He finally saw the light and decided to adopt non-violence as a political viewpoint. According to Yousef, it seems, if all of the Jews and Muslims would simply convert to Christianity, there would be peace across the Middle East. Of course that doesn't sound very realistic. One wonders if Yousef's change, and his eventual conversion, has much more to do with finding a way to escape from his overbearing, fanatically religious father.

Certainly, Yousef's story is not a model for bringing peace to the region. One would hope that Muslims and Jews, without the fanciful prerequisite of being required to renounce their families and religious affiliations, could find ways to sit down and negotiate a peaceful co-existence. Maybe this is just as a unlikely as Yousef's proposed solution, but we have to remain optimistic.