25 November 2012

The Pillar of Defense fiasco

I had a rare opportunity to be (mostly) detached from the media - both TV and radio - for the duration of the Pillar of Cloud (for some reason dubbed differently by the media). Still, I had to watch the mutual backscratching appearances by Bibi, Barack and Lieberman, each one lauding his own achievements during the operation and thanking the other two for their support.

One detail that may have escaped two of the speakers, Bibi and Barack, was especially foreboding: Israeli citizens watching them on the local channels have also seen and heard the air defense warnings breaking into the speeches and, in what became a routine during the days of the operation, announcing rocket launches from Gaza and the areas where people should take cover asap.

The trio did their puny best, trying to milk whatever they could from what is emerging out of the Cloud as an unmitigated disaster that will follow us all for years to come. They cannot make us forget the true old maxim: don't start something you can't finish. And never get into a situation from which you don't have at least one prepared in advance exit.

The trio had started something without considering enough the consequences and without having an acceptable exit strategy. As a result we are facing a military, political and financial calamity that, while seeming to be relatively minor, is carrying long term effects that will go deep and be very painful.

Military conundrum

The biggest mystery of the operation is in its interpretation. If, as our Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, claimed, all the objectives laid out ahead of Operation Pillar of Defense were met successfully during the eight days of fighting, why then the hugely expensive mobilization of almost 70,000 reservists? To impress Hamas? Hamas leaders are not easily impressed by threats of this kind, just the opposite - they thrive on new "shahids", especially when the inevitable civilian toll caused by a ground operation rises.

The only sensible explanation of the about-turn executed by our leadership on the ground operation is presented by Rob aka JoshuaPundit (see "Political" below).

There is no doubt that during the weeks leading to the Pillar of Cloud the intensity of both rocket attacks and ground provocations from Gaza increased quite drastically. On the other hand, there is no doubt whatsoever that while Hamas, closely followed by the bevy of other "freedom fighting" outfits like PFLP, Islamic Jihad, Popular Committee for this or for that etc., is the ruling force in Gaza, the attacks will never cease, varying in intensity from week to week.

As in previous rounds of violence, Gazan rocket scientists didn't present anything serious that changes the game. The Fajr-5 rockets introduced to the scene this time, while having a larger range, have a drawback of being more easily identified, located and subsequently destroyed by IAF, which by and large is what has happened. And of course, militarily speaking, IDF is easily able to kick Hamas to kingdom come on any given day - provided IDF is allowed to do its job. Which it wasn't allowed to, as in many other cases in Israel's relatively short history.

As far as public perception goes, Hamas won this round. Their depleted stock of Qassam rockets will be replenished fairly quickly with Iranian sponsorship, their killed operatives (including the late and unlamented Ahmed Jabari) are already replaced by new and eager martyrs-to-be, and the cycle of violence will be restarted fairly soon, as we all know and fully expect. Yes, there is a considerable damage to infrastructure and buildings, but when did Hamas care about that? Aside of using the bombed buildings as background for photo-ops, of course...

And when I mention public perception, this time I mean the Israeli public as well. Not many people remember Bibi's solemn election promise of 2009 to eradicate Hamas, but who remembers (or believes) election promises? However the current sentiment regarding the results of the Pillar of Cloud is quite clear.

Political defeat

After a painful concession on Iran, offered by Bibi to Obama (or, rather, forced by Obama on Bibi) before the US elections, which concession's details are still hidden by the veil of secrecy, another political defeat by Bibi raised its ugly head, according to Rob:

But then the Obama Administration intervened.

They were perfectly happy for Israel to go in to Gaza and take out Hamas, but insisted that they then turn Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority. This was supposed to strengthen PA President Mahmoud Abbas as 'Palestine's savior' . [And] as a kicker, President Obama insisted that Israel immediately declare a Palestinian State in Gaza and most of Judea and Samaria, including areas currently under Israeli sovereignty from which the Jewish residents would then be removed. These were also to be turned over to Abbas.

If the Israelis were unwilling to have the IDF do Mahmoud Abbas' dirty work for him and then give up large areas populated by Jews, then the Obama Administration told the Israelis the U.S. would not back an IDF ground assault in Gaza.

So they Israelis took the ceasefire, essentially meaning that Hamas is going to be left in place to regroup and fight another day. And can claim a victory.
I don't know how precise the above version of events is in its details, but by and large it is the only one that makes any sense.

Whatever the reason, Hamas' political strength has indeed underwent a surge. Not only is Hamas able (with good enough reasons) claim a victory, hollow as it may look in military terms to an unprejudiced observer - Hamas' international position, especially in Muslim countries, chief of them Egypt and Turkey, was elevated to a practical acceptance as a political partner, while the PA and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas with his current stance of non-violence, lost a lot of ground to the victorious Hamas. The mere fact that Egypt's PM visited Gaza during the Pillar of Cloud, without even a nod in the direction of Ramallah, must hurt Abbas terribly, and this is only a small taster of things to come. Who is willing to bet that PA, looking at the success of their terrorist Gazan brethren, wouldn't be inspired to follow suit in due time? After all, they didn't get much out of the currently reigning calm, so why shouldn't they try the other approach?

No matter how far from the truth is Hamas' boasting about their military prowess, the other result of the operation, which is the truce agreement, supports their claims of victory. Hamas won a promise to open the border with Egypt, to review the list of materials allowed to be transported to Gaza via the border crossings with Israel, to expand the fishing area. So why wouldn't Hamas claim a political as well as military victory? They have won this round by any criteria.

And if, as a senior Hamas functionary claims, the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas which ended Operation Pillar of Defense does not include Egyptian guarantees to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Gaza, the whole operation doesn't make any practical sense.

But the most painful lesson of the operation is the growing submission of our leaders to the wishes and orders from the White House. Without going into analysis of whether this submission is good or bad, the fact is that fiercely independent (in his speeches) Bibi is becoming a mere puppet of White House, State Department and (probably) various other branches of power in Washington.

Financials of wartime

Of course, relatively speaking, this was a short operation, however the damage to the property, loss of working days due to the call-up of reserves and the cost of the call-up, the direct expenses of the IAF and related branches, the Iron Dome missiles etc. During the time when Israeli economy is contracting as it does lately, with shrinking income from taxes, the financing of the whole affair wouldn't be a simple issue, what with IDF demanding (and, as usual, receiving) more financing to cope with the future threats.

The only visible ray of light is the success of the Iron Dome, but the financial successes stemming from future sales of this defensive wonder to the international customers are still far away to be meaningful.

As for Hamas financials: the answer is already forthcoming:
Less than a week after the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense, and with Hamas boasting of an imminent increase in military aid from Iran, Israeli satellites have spotted a ship at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas being loaded with rockets and other military supplies ostensibly bound for Gaza, the British Sunday Times has reported.
Senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar on Saturday said that Iran will increase the military and economic aid to Gazan groups because of the victory Hamas claims against Israel in Operation Pillar of Defense.
Next round is already looming, the only question is timing.

And this is the way it goes.

As a side remark: some people have done an excellent work on the operation on Wiki. While not free of sudden changes and some political infighting, the article is definitely worth your attention.


Dick Stanley said...

Interesting analysis, Mr. Goon. Makes sense to me, especially
Joshuapundit's part about Barry's threat. We can be certain he was
double-talking with his public support while twisting
Bibi's arm in some radical way in secret, and a Palestinian state
threat sounds about right for our Muslim-lovin' prez.

I doubt even Ben Gurion would not have
felt obliged to play along in some way until some capable
alternative to American military support presents itself, or is
found. It's embarrassing to me, but no less than I expected if Barry was
re-elected. His public support for Jerusalem actually is more than I expected.

Our dominant Democrat media, slumbering as usual with a Democrat in
the WH, especially a "black" one, isn't likely to uncover anything
else, nor to pay much attention to that one. Will the Brit media?
Maybe. Lots of informed Americans already rely on parts of the Brit
press (not the Guardian) to tell them what is going on behind the
veil in D.C.

BTW, I think it was Jerusalem called the op "Pillar of Cloud." From
what I've read, the IDF, knowing the media doesn't know any history,
let alone Bible, figured they wouldn't understand the reference
(Exodus 14, according to Google; I'm almost as ignorant as my former
brethren and sistren) so they called it Pillar of Defense, which is
a fair interpretation of HaShem's supporting cloud, though it was
guiding as well as defending.

As for Iron Dome, it is a wonder, though I finally read of someone's
house being hit by shrapnel from the aerial takeout of a Hamas
rocket. Which answers my question about how far out Iron Dome engages. Not
that far, apparently. It does seem to be more capable, in that regard, than the
Patriot, which was not designed to defend civilians but only a
forward military headquarters where everyone is wearing a helmet and
body armor.

At some point, it seems to me, Jerusalem is going to have to rebel
against Barry, perhaps even take his threat (whatever it is) to the media (which
would be an excellent if potentially dangerous behavior), and it may be near if
what I have read that Ganz is threatening is real, i.e. to attack and destroy
any attempt to resupply Hamas with rockets, instead of going
kippah-in-hand to Cairo, assuming they do a good enough job of tracking
the shipment before it gets to the tunnels.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Yep, Iron Dome: the only good thing that came out of that affair. As for the Patriot, if my memory serves me in this case, it was developed to take down planes, and the missile defense task was kind of an add-on to its functions. So far Patriot didn't do very well, the reason why US and Israel are working hard on various new systems. And in any case Patriot was used against long range missiles only, not of the Qassam's type.

yitzgood said...

The star Hamas weapon had no defensive value. The star Israeli weapon had no offensive value. I'm getting tired of all the moral superiority--just defeat Hamas.

BRian Goldfarb said...

Snoopy, you may well be right, after all, you're on the spot. But you might like to view and consider this 8 1/2 minute interview with Colonel Richard Kemp (one of the really good guys - we've heard him speak) over on the Elder of Ziyon site: http://elderofziyon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/saturday-night-links_24.html#disqus_thread. He is, after all, a military man.

See what you think.

Dick Stanley said...

They better keep working. $40,000 (I have read) to take out a Qassam is pretty expensive.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

You are right, Yitzchak, but how to persuade Bibi and Obama?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Hi Brian,

I don't see anything in Kemp's presentation of the case that clashes with what I said in the post. The post is taken as a call for ground operation, but it is not.

My main point is that our leaders should have foreseen the upcoming pressure from the White House before they decided to eliminate Mr Jabari, with full understanding that this act will cause an escalation of the hostilities.

Unfortunately they didn't. And the blame is fully and squarely on their shoulders. The result are - well, the results are described in the post.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Yep. Some even say it is closer to $60K, so we need to start selling the darn thing asap.

Dick Stanley said...

Don't try to persuade Obama. You can't. Thwart him. Ignore him. Press on. Expose his refusal to provide ammo and arms. Raise hell about it.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I guess it would have to be done sooner or later anyway. Bibi or no Bibi...

Dick Stanley said...

Barry's political reputation is of a man who will not deal. His idea of negotiation is to get all of what he wants, or nothing. So give him nothing. Of course it's easy for me to say, but even if he tried to deny military support, his party would not allow it, once it became public, because they know Israel has plenty of secular American support well beyond American Jews and fundie Christians and they still need to be elected.

Rob Miller said...

Hi Dick,
Minor quibble...when Ben-Gurion was Israel's leader, the U.S. wasn't giving it any military aid. That didn't happen until Nixon.

And if you recall, BG also backed down when faced by a furious Eisenhower after the '56 war...though to his credit Ike put a UN peacekeeping force in the Sinai to end the fedayeen raids that kept things quiet until Nasser ordered them out and remilitarized the Sinai prior to the '67 Six Day War.

Take care, OK?

David All said...

Hi Snoopy,

Sorry that I am so late with my comment, but I have been sick off and on close to two weeks. Am feeling better now.

I think that Pillar of Cloud or whatever you want to call it was a limited success. Iron Dome got a good trial run. Teheran cannot believe that many of its missiles would get through in an Iran-Israeli war. Hamas has stopped lobbying missiles into Israel and for its bragging is not likely to do so again for a while. True, Hamas got a lot of the Muslim world to say that they support it, but lets wait and see if any of that is more than rhetoric. As for a ground war, if the IDF had gone into Gaza, it would have been a bloody horrifying contest with plenty of house-to-house street fighting with heavy casualities on both sides. Then having expelled Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etec: What would Israel do? turn Gaza over to Abbas and proclaim a Palestinian state as the White House might want Israel to do? Occupy the Gaza Strip, that would really require a major force to do so.

So unsatisfactory as some of the results might be, I still think that Israel came out ahead with only 5 dead.

David All said...

PS: During the fighting, Hezbollah, for all of its 40,000 or so Iranian supplied missiles, did and said nothing. After the cease-fire, Nasarallah aka the Ground Hog of Lebanon made a defiant sounding video from whatever burrow he is hiding out at. Israel may not have to worry about Hezbollah too much until the fighting in Syria ends, which is likely to be at least several months away.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

First of all, I hope that you are feeling well now, David.

As for your comment: I agree with everything but the definition of "win". Technically you are correct, but in perception of both sides it's a loss for Israel. This operation either shouldn't have started at all or, if started, should have been brought to the end. This is not saying that I personally would have been cheering at such operation or happy with its bloody results... just trying to be logical. As far as it is possible in this crazy world.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

That is true,but Hezbollah is another example of a successful ground operation that caused a shock to Hezbollah leader and made him very cautious.