Thursday, July 24, the 17th day of the IDF’s Gaza operation, Israeli ministers were discussing a possible “humanitarian ceasefire” in IDF-Hamas hostilities, which could last up to five days. According to debkafile's military sources, it is Hamas which, behind its tough stance, is keen on a pause – and not just out of sudden concern for Gaza’s civilians. Its tacticians are desperate to find a chink in the Chariot-4 tank’s Armored Shield Protection-Active Trophy missile defense system, known as the Windbreaker. The 401st armored brigade is the only IDF unit with this armor.
Hamas has tried to stop these tanks with two kinds of advanced guided anti-tank missiles, the Russian Kornet-E, and the 9M113 Konkurs. But Windbreaker repels them and blows them all up.
Wednesday July 23 the IDF deliberately placed brigade commander Col. Sa'ar Tzur, one of the outstanding commanders in Operation Protective Edge, before TV cameras, while standing in front of a Chariot-4 tank.
He spoke at length about the brigade’s unstoppable performance under anti-tank missile fire. Those missiles are blown up without penetrating the tanks’ armor, he said, and are powerless to slow their advance.
Hamas has found no answer for the Active Trophy defense system, any more than it has for the Iron Dome anti-missile defense batteries, which keep Israeli civilian populations safe from its rockets. Both systems are home-made, developed by Rafael advanced armed systems industries.
Hamas is not giving up, which is why it is holding out against a long ceasefire, but aiming for just enough time to come up with new stratagems, debkafile's military sources say.
This was the message conveyed in the statement Hamas leader Khaled Meshal made Wednesday July 23 in Qatar: He rejected a long-term ceasefire, but left the door open for a "humanitarian" pause.
While its forces have taken serious punishment, most of Hamas’ underground command and military infrastructure is still far from knocked out. But if the Israeli military decides to go for a decisive coup against those core facilities – defined by the Israeli security cabinet’s euphemism of "expanding the operation” – Hamas chiefs expect it to be spearheaded by a fleet of Chariot-4 tanks hurtling towards them behind the protection of their impenetrable “Windbreakers.”
To maintain any kind of draw with the IDF, Hamas stands in urgent need of two resources: 1) Technology for neutralizing the Windbreaker; and 2) Missiles able to pierce it.
While Khaled Meshal haggles with ceasefire brokers in Qatar, his agents are known to have appealed urgently to Tehran to find the weapons they need and deliver them at top speed to the Gaza Strip – possibly from Libya by the Iranian-terrorists’ arms smuggling route through Egypt.
A reference to this appeal was made in a comment by a senior military intelligence official Wednesday, when he disclosed that Iran had promised to rebuild Hamas' military machine, including its rocket production and launch systems. Hamas and Tehran also broached the problem of the Chariot-4 armor. Both fully understood that unless it can be solved, Hamas may have no way of defending its high command and arsenal in their elaborately furnished underground bunkers.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has all these facts to hand, fed by a steady stream of intelligence from US informants in and over the battlefield. His efforts for a ceasefire are based on his perception that Israel has so far not managed to inflict a clear defeat on Hamas and needs to expand its operation to tip the scales.
He calculates that if Israel launches its final thrust, which has not yet been approved, it will not accept a ceasefire before achieving its goal, and this may take at least a week to ten days.
But if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon hold off on Israel’s decisive attack, then negotiations can start for a truce of some kind, while both sides size up their respective situations and decide whether or not it is to their advantage.