Israeli troop exit from Gaza without achieving all goals bodes war of attrition
As the first Israel troops began pulling out of the Gaza Strip Saturday night, Aug. 2, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pledged that Operation Defense Edge would continue until security and calm are restored to all Israel’s citizens – however long it takes. But in his televised news conference, he also said: “The IDF will deploy according to the needs of Israel’s security – and only Israel’s security.”
After expressing deep gratitude to the American people and its leaders for their support, Netanyahuu underlined the importance of the links Israel had established with regional countries as a great asset for the future.
In the view of debkafile’s military experts, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have been guided in their management of the Gaza operation by four major misapprehensions:
1. That Hamas wanted a ceasefire;
2. That the Hamas tunnel network has been largely discovered and disabled;
3. That Hamas will take years to recover from the thrashing the IDF administered in the 25 days of its counter-terror operation in the Gaza Strip. (Netanyahu: “We struck many thousands of terror targets and many hundreds of terrorists.”)
4. That rocket fire will die down after Hamas fully appreciates the terrible devastation its war has inflicted on the Gaza Strip population.
The slogans of the last four weeks reflected these assumptions: “Quiet will be met with quiet” was one, or “We shall degrade Hamas’ military strength,” and “We’ll wipe out Hamas’ entire tunnel empire.”
But a change in tenor was apparent Saturday night: Variations on the theme of “No accommodation, only deterrence” were to be heard, as well as “No more ceasefires,” and “We’ll end the operation unilaterally as and when it suits our security needs.”
Those ideas reflected the rationale for Israel’s decision not to send envoys to the truce talks opening in Cairo Sunday.
Shortly before the Netanyahu-Ya’alon news conference, the parents and siblings of the captured Israeli officer, 2nd Lt, Hadar Goldin appeared before reporters for a moving appeal to the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff not to evacuate Israeli troops from Gaza before ecovering the missing officer. His father and four siblings, all IDF officers on reserve or active service, maintained that it was unthinkable according to the most hallowed traditions of the Israeli army to abandon a serviceman in the field..
One of the prime minister’s answers to reporters’ questions can be traced to the deep impression the Goldin family made on the public. He said the IDF will act solely according to security and no other considerations.
The new set of war slogans are designed to soften the impact of a decision reached by the two war leaders last week, which was to pull the bulk of the troops out of the Gaza Strip and redeploy them behind the border fence in offensive formation. The Rafah sector in the south will remain beleaguered.
As for the claim that all the tunnels will be dealt with first, debkafile reports that despite the weeks of fighting, the IDF has driven no deeper than 1-3 kilometers into the territory, leaving the western areas untouched. Therefore, the soldiers can only deal with the tunnels that come out in the eastern sector or cross under the border into Israel.
To truly finish off the warren of passageways, the IDF needs to burrow much farther west- up to their starting points. But Hamas, with the help of Iranian and Hizballah engineers, constructed the labyrinthine system so that each tunnel forks off into another passage every few dozen or hundred meters. Some of these interconnected passageways lead under the border to places in Israel; others go further underground in Gaza.
The system is totally baffling. IDF spokesmen have said repeatedly that the troops have more or less dealt with the tunnels, while the politicians promise this will be done. They are anxious to allay people’s visceral dread of ferocious enemies jumping out of the bowels of the earth on kibbutz lawns, a terror that has driven more people north than even the rockets.
The truth is that only the tunnel sections reaching the Israeli border have been neutralized, whereas the honeycomb buried deep inside territory which the IDF has not reached has defied Israeli intelligence’s best efforts.And the surprises keep on coming. A capacious, cement-lined passageway leading into Israel was revealed Saturday night with two motorcycles parked inside, ready for terrorists to make a dash to their prey.
As for the rocket fire, Hamas still holds more than a third of the 9,000 rockets with which it launched its blitz – more than enough to keep Israeli civilians within a wide radius running for cover. The IDF has seriously trashed rocket production plants, but at least one-fifth of the facilities remain functional and can continue to replenish depleted stocks.
The assumption that Hamas will need years to recover may turn out to be a losing gamble if Iran and Hizballah decide to step in and rehabilitate their Palestinian ally from scratch.
At all events, if the IDF pulls back the bulk of its ground forces now, with its goals only partly attained, Israel and the communities and towns bordering Gaza will soon be caught up in a lengthy war of attrition and forced to repeat the ground operation.