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The Gaza War Perspective

January 13, 2009

Regional Powerplays, an analysis of strategy.

by Mike R. (coincentral)

Today is Week 3 of Israel’s operation inside Gaza to clear and disable Hamas’ capability to launch rockets and mortars into Israeli territory and civilians.  After 17 days of intense bombardment and pressure on Hamas targets, there is significant political and international pressure on Israel to end its offensive and pursue a mandated cease-fire with Hamas.

The details of the proposed ceasefire have not been made clear yet, but it is known that both Hamas and Israel have rejected the Egyptian/French plan. The intense shuttling between Egyptian intel chief Omar Suleiman and the Hamas leaders produced nothing substantial so far. There arealso  rumours that Hamas rejected the plan based on orders imposed by outside Syria-based leadership headed by Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas “political” wing, who seeks to continue fighting Israel to the last Gazan.

Omar Suleiman

Omar Suleiman - Egyptian Intel chief

The problem arises when a possible ceasefire is finally implemented sometime in the near future (since Hamas will run too low on munitions to continue fighting and Israel will face too much political heat for operating in a highly populated area). The question is not whether Israel can defeat Hamas and stop the incessant Qassam rocket attacks permanently, it can’t. This is simply impossible since Hamas is a widespread Jihadist movement and is able to flux itself into and out of structured positioning, i.e, unlike a regular army, it neither abides nor respects Geneva Conventions nor basic law of war, and when under threat, they can go undercover to reassert themselves at a later, more convenient time. Stopping rocket attacks by use of military and political pressure is a more achievable goal, although it has its limits as well, and I will talk more about this in upcoming articles.

What is Hamas?

As with other insurgencies, Hamas relies on both the civilian and external help in order to sustain itself and assert itself through the population. Hamas uses a variety of means to establish its control over the Gazan population, partly by use of charity-organizations and a reputation of incorruptability as compared to PLO’s Fatah organization. Hamas is also ruthless in its enforcement of sharia law and authority, and has recently killed and drove out any Fatah sympathizers from Gaza, and extending total control over the population.

The question arises, can Hamas do business with Israel after this latest war, assuming most of its rocket launching capabilities are wiped out and they lose a lot of men in the process.

In my opinion, no. Here is why.

First, Hamas unlike Fatah is driven by religious ideology, the belief that Israel is an abomination and is an obstacle to an Islamic caliphate that must be wiped out. Although many have pointed out that this ideological zealotry will wear out once Hamas starts ruling, so far this has not been the case. Hamas ideology is parallel to the general Sunni Wahabbi-inspired drive to spread Islam by the point of sword and eliminate ‘kuffar’ states like Israel. It is a strand of the Saudi-exported ideology that influences groups like al-Qaeda, GIA, Ansar al-Islam, Lakshar-groups in Pakistan and dozens of others in the region.

Hamas suicide bomber

Hamas suicide bomber

The ideology and belief system alone is not the only thing that separates Hamas from other regional players like Syria, Fatah and others. Hamas is also one of the 2 main proxies of the Iranian push to spread influence in the region and challenge Egypt as the region’s main dominant power. Iran has been moderately successful in implementing its strategic goals, now that they are not spending resources on containing their former enemy, Iraq. According to both Egyptian and Israeli military intelligence, Gaza’s southern Rafah border has been used to smuggle Iranian-provided munitions for last 3 years, beefing up Hamas’ stock of Grad missiles which were heavily used to hit Israeli cities of B’er Sheva and Ashqelon.

The Iranian squeeze

With Hamas to the south and Hezbollah to the north, Iran is extending its grip via proxy groups and is in position to dictate and influence regional actions. While Hezbollah has been quiet so far, there is no guarantee that they wont start a salvo of missiles on Israel’s northern towns once Iran sends a signal to bail out Hamas. In fact, I believe that this is indeed what will happen.

The Hamas leadership in Damascus is calculating its next step at the moment, as they cant afford to accept a ceasefire which will enforce an international peace-keeping force and sign themselves into an agreement not to attack Israel’s south. This would be a setback for Iran and its weight-by-proxy policy.

They may in fact order Hezbollah to strike, since they know that the price of losing domestic support in Lebanon is small compared to being presented as a champion of the Palestinian cause on the Arab street, especially when Egypt is asking for a ceasefire and Iran is asking Hamas to keep fighting. At the current moment, Hezbollah is still sensitive to launch major attacks in fear of Israeli retaliation, but this calculation may change the more Palestinian civilian casualties flood Arab networks like al-Jazeera and heavily tilt Arab opinion towards the Iranian action.

Israel’s next step

At this point many people are asking, what should Israel’s endgame here be? There is considerable understanding for the situation in Sderot and the understanding of the justification for protecting one’s borders and citizens, but this is slowly changing as more Gazan civlians are killed in the crossfire.

IDF infantry

IDF infantry in Gaza

It is also still unclear whether Hezbollah is holding back due to deterrence over the 2006 summer war or over some indirect pressure on Iran to reign in its attack dogs.  In any case, Israel has very limited time left to do as much damage as possible to the Hamas terror network before an inevitable cease-fire is implemented. So, what should be done?

  1. Israel must kill Mashaal or significant part of the Syrian leadership. It is not enough to simply hit the body, the head must be cut off as well in order to deal a truly heavy or even deadly blow. While killing random Qassam teams is beneficial, it will not deter Hamas from striking again. Before IDF ends its operation, they must strike a last defining blow, eliminating the heads of the organization in a similar fashion that was seen in 2005, when Israel withdrew from Gaza. IAF strikes decapitated Hamas leadership by 1-2 knockout strikes on Hamas ‘spiritual’ chief Ahmed Yassin and then the top Hamas operative, Abdel Rantisi. While IDF succeeded in eliminating Nizar Rayyan, there are more large targets that need to be hit to ensure the success of the operation.While some may say that eliminating negotiating heads of Hamas may lead to an escalation of fighting, I do not believe so. Past experiences have shown exactly the opposite, whether dealing with Palestinian, Kurdish or Chechen Islamist groups, taking out top leadership results in significant weakening of the movement as a whole.
  2. Insist on bringing in international troops on Egypt/Gaza border just as there are UN patrols along the S.Lebanese border. This will give more legitimacy to any Israeli accusation of smuggling and arming by Iran.  Egypt will also be strengthened by having the UN deal with Hamas, and alleviate pressure from Mubarak regime to police the border, which has become a giant headache for his government.
  3. Use deterrence with a resolute force to force Gaza’s civilian population into de-legitimizing Hamas and its end-goals, which I suspect will already be happening after this brutal war, the brunt of which was taken by Gaza civilians.  IDF should focus its resources on a large scale psychlogical operation to try and delegitimize Hamas and offer another alternative to the population there, especially with economic or medical benefits. In other words a 2-pronged approach must be used, both hard and soft powered.- more to come.
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