Showing posts with label IDF. Show all posts
Showing posts with label IDF. Show all posts

Monday, July 21, 2014

War in Gaza: Some Thoughts

There is a great deal going on this 14th day of Israel's Operation "Protective Edge."  I have not been writing very many articles recently but I thought an article about the ongoing war with Hamas was overdue.  There are many different angles to cover and many different viewpoints across the Internet, the media and public opinion.  Much of the writing is of course very one-sided.  A great deal of the anti-Israel rhetoric has included vitriolic anti-Semitic attacks unrelated to any legitimate points.  On the other hand, some of the rhetoric on the Israeli side can be criticized as well for being propaganda rather than serious commentary.  Ultimately, anyone writing about this conflict will have a set viewpoint that will colour his or her analysis.  But it is not always the case that there are two sides to every story.  Some fights really are fights of good against evil (or various shades of that theme) and history is filled with examples of such conflicts.

It is not my intention to paint everything as simply black and white but rather to review some key points that have emerged from events so far.

1.  Hamas is a terrorist organization that is intent on killing Israelis and has no interest in peace.

While this sounds like harsh, one-sided rhetoric, it is unfortunately true.  Not long after 2005, when Israel pulled up its settlements from Gaza and left most of it, Hamas was elected as the leadership in Gaza and solidified its hold on Gaza society.  Since then, there have been three significant military conflicts with Israel, all precipitated by Hamas intensifying its use of rocket fire at Israel.

How is this really helping or assisting the people of Gaza?  It is really hard to come up with a good answer to this question - other than "it isn't."  When Israel left Gaza, it left greenhouses in tact, and it left the Palestinians in control of a large amount of prime beach front territory.  With enormous amounts of U.N. aid coming to Gaza, the Palestinians could have chosen a different path.  They could have build hotels in Gaza to build tourism.  They could have put the money into schools, education, sewage, infrastructure.  The current war between Israel and Hamas has shown that enormous resources have simply been used to stockpile different types of rockets and to build extensive tunnels that allow Hamas terrorists to make their way into Israel underground to try to kill or kidnap Israelis.

2.  Israel was left with no choice but to fight this war.

This is the corollary to the first point and it has been reinforced in the events that followed the commencement of the war.  The war was not started because of the Hamas kidnapping and murder of three Jewish students nor was it started because of the reprisal attack carried out by some Israeli vigilantes who murdered an innocent Arab boy.  It was started by Hamas making a decision to fire an unceasing barrage of rockets at Israeli civilians.

What would any other country do?  How could Israel not respond to this?

The difficulty that Israel has faced is that the rockets are being fired at Israel from built up residential areas, mosques, schools (even U.N. run schools), and other densely populated places.  Israel has the capability of determining where the missiles originated from.  Most countries, faced with repeated missile fire from a certain area, would simply destroy the whole building or area.  Certainly the U.S., Russia, France and many of Israel's other vocal critics (with respect to the issue of "restraint") would have little hesitation in destroying everything in sight, even if that meant a large number of civilian casualties in order to stop missile attacks on their country.  If Israel were using this method of responding to rocket fire, the deaths of Palestinians would be in the thousands by now, not the hundreds.

3.  The Cost of the War is high for both sides.

The current war has resulted in many deaths and injuries on both sides.  The media love to report raw numbers as if the numbers were the most important thing.  It is true that the Iron Dome missile defence system has done an incredible job of protecting Israelis from most of the incoming missiles.  It is also true that the people of Gaza do not have properly equipped bomb shelters, missile warning systems or sophisticated means of protecting themselves from the Israeli army.

But on the other hand, it is Hamas that is putting these civilians at risk by firing missiles at Israel from civilian locations.  It is no answer to say that Israel should exercise "restraint" or not respond, start a unilateral cease fire or take some other one-sided action that sees Israel continuing to absorb Hamas rocket fire.  Israel must respond, even if the response causes civilian casualties in Gaza.

For Israel, the soldiers are mostly conscripts from Israeli society who are serving their country and who are asked to trust that the political and military leadership are making decisions that will minimize the short and long term likelihood of a prolonged war.  They hope that Israel's leadership will protect the security interests of Israel's citizens.  The soldiers are friends, family members, acquaintances.  They are called into action to protect the people of Israel and answer the call.  The loss of even one soldier in Israel is a difficult, tragic and heart wrenching event for the people.  The loss of 18 soldiers over this past weekend and 7 more today was simply horrible.

This is not all intended to downplay the value of life or the loss of life of Palestinians.  Many Palestinians have been killed and injured.  The numbers are much higher than the number of Israelis.  But that is the unfortunate and tragic result of this type of war, which was started by Hamas.  Hamas was offered two different cease fires so far, after the war began, both of which were brokered by Egypt, accepted by Israel but  but rejected by Hamas.  Hamas has chosen to fight or continue the fighting three times now where there were alternatives.  It is Hamas that is endangering Palestinian civilians by continuing this war.

One can only hope that the people of Gaza will start to see that a different approach in dealing with Israel would have very different results.  Contrast the situation in Gaza with the situation in the West Bank to understand that point clearly.  Under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, many West Bank Palestinian are working with Israelis in productive ways and are reaping the benefits of economic progress, stability and relative calm.

4.  Hamas has very few friends right now - which makes a cease fire difficult to arrange.

Much of the world realizes that Israel has few alternatives and that Hamas is a terrorist organization.  In the past, Hamas relied on Egypt to quietly supply it with weaponry, permit it to smuggle items in to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing and then pressure Israel into a cease fire before it could damage Hamas.  The situation is quite different now.  The current Egyptian government has little time for Hamas and recognizes that Hamas has embarked on a dangerous operation with no realizable end-goal that makes any sense.  Russian President Putin has been remarkably restrained, at least as reported publicly.  Canada has been strongly supportive of Israel and the U.S. has been publicly supportive.  While there have been anti-Israel demonstrations across the world, most western governments seem to have realized that Israel is facing a terrorist threat and has few alternatives but to continue its current operation.

The most vocal supporter of Hamas has been Turkish president Erdogan, who has made the ludicrous allegation that Israel is "far worse than Hitler." Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rightly commented in a press conference that this is the type of statement we would expect to hear from Hezbollah, Al Qaidah, or Iran - not from Turkey.  That is all not necessarily a surprise but it is quite disappointing to consider that this is the direction Turkey seems to be heading.  Of course the proper response would be to ask Erdogan about Turkey's genocide against the Armenian people and to put everything into context.  How crazy is it for the leader of a country which has never really accounted for its massacre of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Armenians to be comparing Israel to the Nazis in the context of a war in which hundreds of civilians have been killed, unintentionally.

The challenge that the world faces right now is the lack of a broker to arrange a deal between Hamas and Israel.  John Kerry has no credibility with Hamas (the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Hamas and views them as a terrorist organization).    So Hamas has turned to Mahmoud Abbas, Turkey and Qatar.  To be an acceptable mediator, it seems, you have to be prepared to describe Israel in Nazi-like terms.  Much like Palestinian leader Hanan Asharawi has done in calling the Israeli operation a giant war crime while refraining from saying anything about Hamas and its tactics.  So the question remains - who can broker a cease fire or push Hamas into accepting some type of deal?  The answer is unclear.  For the Israeli political and military leadership, the best answer is that more time is needed to further limit Hamas' ability to start another war any time soon.

5.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has been very measured

Prime Minister Netanyahu has generally acted in a manner which has been statesman like and impressive.  He pushed his cabinet to agree to two different cease fire proposals, even though acceptance would have meant that Israel would fall short of its aims.  He made every effort to avoid launching a ground war in Gaza until he was forced to do so.  He has ordered the army to take every precaution to minimize the number of Palestinian civilian casualties even while Israel has been facing unceasing rocket fire.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has been holding together a coalition that includes members who have publicly advocated re-occupying Gaza completely - along with other members who strongly support continuing peace talks as quickly as possible.  

6.  Things must change or this will happen again soon

What can Israel do to prevent this from happening again soon?  That is the really challenging question.  For those on the left and sometimes, for Israel's critics, the answer is that Israel should simply "end the occupation" and everything would be fine.  But isn't this what Israel tried in 2005 in Gaza?  Israel left unilaterally.  The result has been three wars.  Unilateral disengagement has not worked in Gaza and it will not work in the other territories.  Ultimately, Israel needs a genuine, enforceable peace deal with a partner that is committed to the arrangement.  As long as Hamas continues to run Gaza, there can be little hope of an arrangement like this any time soon.  Perhaps the people of Gaza will realize this and will bring about a change in their political leadership.  But at this point, many will have been scarred bitterly by this war and will want nothing to do with a government that takes a moderate approach to Israel. 


Unfortunately, the picture is grim.  A cease fire deal with Hamas in the short term will not lead to peace or to any long term solution of the current issues unless Hamas changes its positions dramatically which is not about to happen.  Accordingly, Israel has little alternative but to destroy as much of Hamas as it possibly can and destroy the terror tunnels that lead from Gaza to Israel.  Perhaps in these circumstances, a different type of government will emerge that has an interest in some kind of deal with Israel.

In the meantime, I am certainly hoping and praying for a speedy but successful end to this war and for Israel's soldiers to return home safely and in good health.  I am also hoping that civilian deaths in Gaza can be minimized and that the Palestinians can find a way to make much better decisions.  They deserve better than these Hamas-led wars.






 
 




  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Induction Day to the IDF...

וילכו שתיהן יחדיו...
It was an emotional day today as our eldest child, our daughter entered the IDF (the Israeli Defence Forces or צה"ל).  In Israel, there is universal mandatory conscription for 18 year olds, both men and women.  While some Israelis are exempt from military service, the vast majority serve for at least two to three years.

The  IDF is one of the more organized institutions in Israel, out of necessity, since Israel faces so many different types of threats.  High school students are tested, interviewed and screened for a whole range of positions.  Some of the more coveted positions can involve multiple interviews, physical and academic testing and even role-playing exercises.  Ultimately, many conscripts have a significant say in the type of service that they would like to peform.  Many recruits will learn a range of valuable and highly marketable skills during their service, some in sophisticated scientific, technical or computer related areas.  Many also develop a range of important leadership skills, especially those who become officers. 

Many Israelis take a year off to travel after comleting their military duty and then look at options for entering university, college or looking at other career opportunities.  But this is all down the road...


On induction day (יומ הגיוס), the conscripts are asked to show up at one of the IDF conscription centres.  The hundreds of 18 year olds entering the army are accompanied by family and friends to one of these large IDF bases.  Names are called out and the conscripts are asked to board a bus which will take them to the actual induction facility.  The newly inducted soldiers will then proceed to some type of "basic training," which can vary in length depending on the unit in which they will ultimately be serving.  Typically, basic training may last anyone from one to three months.  After basic training, the soldiers are dispersed to their assigned bases.

It is certainly difficult to see your 18 year old child entering the army.  But, sadly, it is a reality of life in Israel that the country requires a strong, capable and ready military, that is based on civilian involvement.  That is the price of living in the only Jewish country in the world - and being able to spend most of the time in relative peace, even while surrounded by hostile neighbours.  It is these young conscripts. along with Israel's full-time military personnel, who contribute so much to making that possible. 

Israelis are hoping for the day when such a strong and active military will not be required.  But that day seems like a long way off now.  For now, we are forced to wish our kids an "easy induction" - a "גיוס קל" which is an all too common Israeli greeting.

We hope that our daughter's service will be rewarding and successful for her.  We also hope that over the course of her service, Israel and its neighbours will come that much closer to a more peaceful coexistence.  While there are few signs that this is likely, it would simply be too depressing to give up all hope.

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.