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

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.

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.