1) Important points about Pillar of Defense
Jodi Rudoren reports in the New York Times, Brigades That Fire on Israel Are Showing a New Discipline:
Mr. Manama was one of as many as 15,000 Qassam fighters who are responsible for most of the rocket blitzes that have blanketed southern Israel and reached as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the five days since the brigade’s operations commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated, experts say.
Highly organized and increasingly professionalized yet still secretive and cultlike, Qassam is emblematic of Hamas’s struggle to balance its history as a resistance movement and its governing role in Gaza since 2007.
Israel has blamed the growing number of civilian casualties in Gaza on the fact that Qassam and Hamas are inextricable, and military storehouses are woven into residential neighborhoods.
Most Qassam fighters have day jobs — as police officers, university professors, ministry clerks, and Mr. Manama’s relatives said he had been sleeping at home even during last week’s widening war.Ethan Bronner reported, With Longer Reach, Rockets Bolster Hamas Arsenal, also in the New York Times:
A number of recent Israeli military attacks were aimed at cutting the supply chain into Gaza. In late October, a munitions factory in Sudan was hit from the air. Israel did not acknowledge carrying out the attack, but the winks and nods of officials here make clear that it did. Israel has carried out several other such attacks on Sudan, including on convoys, in the past few years.
In addition, Mossad agents killed a Hamas official in a Dubai hotel in early 2010 because he was thought to be crucial to the Hamas supply chain of weapons and rockets into Gaza.
One official here said that until Israel ended its military occupation of Gaza in 2005, there were only primitive weapons factories there. The Hamas rockets had a flight capacity of about a mile, they could not be aimed and they flew in a wild cylindrical pattern. Hamas then built better rockets that could fly up to 12 miles.Israel's war with Hamas was necessary as Hamas has acquired significant new capabilities and threats. Once Hamas decided to increase the level of terror directed against Israel, Israel had to degrade the terrorist group's new power.
But it's important to keep the real story in mind. Melanie Philips has documented evidence of the care Israel has taken to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties. (via memeorandum) For example:
Since the beginning of Israel’s operation Pillar of Defence last Wednesday against Hamas rocket attacks, there have been more than 1000 Israeli air strikes. At time of writing, the Palestinian death toll is 69. That is a staggeringly small number of fatalities for more than 1000 bombing raids.
It shows beyond doubt that the Israelis are not only doing everything they can to avoid civilian casualties, but have achieved a degree of precision in doing so which no other army can match. For sure, every civilian casualty is regrettable, and the deaths of children are always tragic -- today’s apparently heavy toll particularly so, including at what appears to have been a mistaken target. Such mistakes inevitably happen in war.
2) Restraining Hamas (through Egypt)
David Kirkpatrick reports in the New York Times, An Outgunned Hamas Tries to Tap Islamists’ Growing Clout:
Hamas, badly outgunned on the battlefield, appeared to be trying to exploit its increased political clout with its ideological allies in Egypt’s new Islamist-led government. The group’s leaders, rejecting Israel’s call for an immediate end to the rocket attacks, have instead laid down sweeping demands that would put Hamas in a stronger position than when the conflict began: an end to Israel’s five-year-old embargo of the Gaza Strip, a pledge by Israel not to attack again and multinational guarantees that Israel would abide by its commitments.Abigail Houslahner reports Hamas finds greater support in a changed Middle East
in the Washington Post:
As the conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip intensifies, Arab governments are throwing their weight behind the territory’s long-isolated Islamist leaders in a reflection of the region’s shifting political dynamics after nearly two years of upheaval.
Long kept at a distance by Arab autocrats wary of Hamas’s hard-line ideology, the group has found a new set of highly influential friends — including the democratically elected governments of Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey, all U.S. allies. Those backers give Hamas stronger standing internationally, and perhaps greater room to maneuver as it faces the second major Israeli operation in Gaza in four years.Both of these reports take the view that the Islamist support for Hamas is important now.
In contrast, Jonathan Spyer argues in Hamas's miscalculation:
The Hamas rulers of Gaza understand this point well. They regard themselves as part of an historic process of an Islamist advance. The swift and stunning rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in particular led to a sharp change in the movement’s assessment of the balances of forces and what was possible at this moment in its long struggle against Israel.
This change at the level of strategic perspective led in recent months to changes in tactics. In the first years after Operation Cast Lead, Hamas made some efforts to prevent Islamic Jihad and the smaller Salafi organizations from firing at Israel and bringing down retribution. The movement focused on rearming and improving its capabilities. Hamas’s own fighters were rarely responsible for the rockets.
In the course of 2012, this changed. Believing it had its fellow Muslim Brothers in Egypt at its back, Hamas began to allow freer rein to the smaller groups, and to participate in actions against Israel along the border.(By the way, Spyer makes a fascinating observation about the Arab spring.)
The support now, according to Spyer, is mostly superficial. Though the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power may have emboldened Hamas, Egypt is too dependent on the West to offer anything more than moral support to Hamas.
This fits nicely with what Eric Trager wrote last week:
For this reason, Washington must send Morsi a message - now - that by effectively encouraging Egyptians to cross into a war zone, he is putting his own citizens at risk. Moreover, Morsi must be told that if something happens to the Egyptians visiting Gaza, the international community will not accept him using this as an excuse for revising Egypt's commitments.
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