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Amos Yadlin: Operation Protective Edge: Six Insights,

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Operation Protective Edge: Six Insights, Six Recommendations
INSS Insight No. 579, July 27, 2014
Amos Yadlin .

SUMMARY: In contrast to the cliched statement that there is no military =

solution to terrorism, Israel has proven it can solve systemic terrorist =

threats against it militarily. Nonetheless, the political solution is alway=
s =

to be preferred. The long term political solution for Gaza is the continued =

weakening of Hamas =96 economically, politically, and militarily =96 and th=
e =

creation of better political alternatives for both the Palestinians and =

Israel. Over the last two years, Hamas has been politically and financially =

weakened. If, after Operation Protective Edge, it is militarily weakened as =

well, it will be possible =96 together with Egypt, the moderate Arab states=
, =

and the international community =96 to bring the PA back to Gaza, ensure =

economic development there, and gradually lift the blockade. This, plus the =

prevention of force buildup and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, wil=
l =

be key factors in stabilizing Gaza and steering it toward favorable =

Six Insights on the Situation

Asymmetrical strategic equilibrium: After nearly three weeks of =

confrontation between Israel and terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, =

during which some 1,500 rockets have been fired at Israeli cities and towns =

and Israel has undertaken some 3,500 aerial strikes on Gaza, there is a =

strategic equilibrium, albeit essentially asymmetrical, between Israel and =

Hamas. The =93asymmetric draw=94 is an important concept that likewise depi=
cts =

some of Israel=92s past strategic situations. The current asymmetry stems =

first of all from the fact that Hamas operates by the rules of a terrorist =

organization firing indiscriminately at civilians, whereas Israel, governed =

by international law, restricts itself to strike only military targets and =

labors to avoid harming innocent bystanders.

A second point of asymmetry has to do with the objective of the =

confrontation and the definition of victory. Hamas can claim that it =

disrupted the civilian routine throughout Israel and damaged Israel=92s =

economy and its foreign relations without being defeated. Given the =

asymmetry of military means, a non-defeat is, from Hamas=92 perspective, a =

victory. Therefore, projecting a picture of victory is easy: it is enough t=
o =

show Israelis lying down on the side of the road when sirens warn of =

incoming rockets and the pictures of soldiers killed in battle on the front =

pages of the country=92s newspapers. Israel, by contrast, must deal Hamas a =

truly heavy blow in order to achieve its strategic objectives.

On the other hand, Israel enjoys an immeasurable qualitative advantage in =

terms of the power of its weapon systems compared to those available to =

Hamas and hence also the ability to escalate the campaign =96 a prerogative =

Hamas has already lost. This aspect of asymmetry has grown even more =

pronounced, because Hamas has resumed operating like a resistance terrorist =

group, having handed responsibility for the Gaza Strip back to the PA and =

the government of technocrats convened following the reconciliation =

agreement with Fatah. Hamas=92 internal balance of power has shifted in fav=
or =

of the military wing, which has bolstered its status as the major element o=
f =

power in the organization.

Defensive strategy: Both sides have excelled in their defensive strategies. =

Israel astounded Hamas and the world at large with its ability to provide a=
n =

almost hermetic response to Hamas=92 rocket attacks, which have hit the =

proverbial brick wall in the form of Israel=92s Iron Dome. Thanks to good =

intelligence and effective, rapid operational activity, Israel has foiled =

most of Hamas=92 surprises, especially mass-casualty terrorist attacks and =

abductions via tunnels dug into Israel. Hamas has concentrated on defending =

its military wing and political leadership, which have disappeared =

underground into reinforced bunkers beneath civilian installations. =

Ironically, the =93iron dome=94 protecting Hamas=92 military wing is Gaza=
=92s =

civilian population =96 the very population that Hamas places on rooftops =

and =96 contrary to international law =96 in close proximity to firepower =

activity and the hideouts of its command structure.

Preparedness for the confrontation: Hamas prepared well for this round of =

fighting. It seems to have studied the IDF strategy and operational tools o=
f =

the 2009 and 2012 operations and devised a systemic response to them. The =

IDF, which did not initiate the current confrontation, was dragged into it =

without an up-to-date strategy, an effective opening strike, new operationa=
l =

ideas, and sufficient understanding of the enemy=92s rationale. Israel seem=
s =

to have assumed that Hamas would be pressured by the increased scope and =

intensity of the attacks and would therefore be forced to end the =

confrontation in similar fashion to the way it ended previous rounds. =

However, relinquishing responsibility on the civic and political fronts =

freed Hamas up to ignore Israel=92s attacks on =93the State of Gaza=94 and =

concentrate instead on the military wing. This change in Hamas=92 approach =
did =

not penetrate IDF thinking, which tallied airstrikes instead of =

concentrating on targeting the military wing=92s commanders and capabilitie=
s. =

The IDF clung to the concept of =93another round=94 and the graduated use o=
f =

force, instead of changing its paradigm and treating this as a confrontatio=
n =

unlike those of the past.

Attainment of goals: At the time of this writing, the strategic goals of th=
e =

operations have not been achieved. Israel has not yet formulated a systemic =

approach and the appropriate offensive operational tools to achieve its =

strategic goals. Ten days ago Israel was forced to act to upset the =

strategic stalemate in light of the understanding that even the modest goal=
s =

of the operation presented by the Prime Minister =96 restoring the calm, =

rehabilitating Israel=92s deterrence, and dealing the military wing of Hama=
s a =

harsh blow =96 were not achieved by the aerial phase alone. However, the =

limited ground maneuver Israel has undertaken, designed to destroy the =

tunnels, has likewise not changed the situation dramatically. This phase, =

which neutralizes a significant Hamas strategic capability and thereby =

denies Hamas the opportunity to escalate the situation, is very important, =

but is by no means enough. The survival of Hamas=92 military wing is an =

achievement for Hamas, along with its ability to continue launching rockets =

at Israel=92s civilian front throughout the fighting and even to disrupt =

civilian air traffic to Israel. The ground incursion as it has unfolded to =

date is far from maximizing IDF power, is focused primarily on defensive =

activity, and is not marked by the requisite creativity =96 whereas Hamas h=
as =

clearly internalized lessons from previous rounds. Is the inadequate damage =

to Hamas=92 military wing the result of intelligence flaws? Or, if the =

inadequate damage is intentional, does it stem from the justified concern =

not to harm innocent bystanders? Or is the operating assumption =96 that Ha=
mas =

should be preserved as responsible for Gaza =96 simply incorrect?

The importance of legitimacy: Israel enjoys a relatively high degree of =

legitimacy, among its allies and even in the Arab world, stemming from Hama=
s=92 =

refusal to accept the Prime Minister=92s =93calm for calm=94 proposal in th=
e =

initial days of the operation, its refusal to accept the Egyptian ceasefire =

proposal, and the blatancy with which it violated the humanitarian =

ceasefire. Not only President Obama and Chancellor Merkel support Israel=92=
s =

right to defend itself against rockets aimed at civilians; the Egyptian =

Foreign Minister held Hamas responsible for the civilians killed in Gaza du=
e =

to its refusal to endorse the ceasefire accepted by Israel. At the same =

time, while Israel may have the understanding of Western leaders, it does =

not enjoy the support of international public opinion affected by the =

graphic photographs of civilian death and destruction coming from Gaza. Wit=
h =

the dissemination of photographs taken during the humanitarian ceasefire, =

the pressure of public opinion has risen and become a subject of =

consideration for Israeli decision makers, although not to the same degree =

as in previous confrontations

The regional aspect =96 risks and opportunities: Thus far, concerns and =

forecasts of a regional escalation have proven unfounded. Demonstrations by =

Arabs in Israel and the West Bank in the first two weeks of the operation =

did not exceed the scope of demonstrations prior to the operation. With the =

third week of the operation, initial signs of greater unrest surfaced, alon=
g =

with fatalities on the West Bank. Nonetheless, the assumption remains that =
a =

violent third intifada is not the option preferred by President Abbas and P=
A =

leaders in Ramallah. Its cost is understood and represents a serious =

deterrent. The few rockets fired from Lebanon and Syria were not the openin=
g =

volleys of a second front, and Israel contained these isolated events well. =

The rockets were launched by small, fringe Palestinian organizations =

incapable of setting another front ablaze. Neither Hizbollah, enmeshed in =

fighting jihadists in Syria, nor Assad will open a military front on behalf =

of Hamas, which two years ago abandoned the radical pro-Iranian axis. The =

nuclear talks with Iran, which were extended last week, also did not end in =

a crisis or a =93bad deal,=94 thus diverting Israel=92s attention. Addition=
ally, =

the crisis exposed the regional set of alliances and overlapping interests. =

The fact that Israel, Egypt, the PA, and the Arab Gulf states (excluding =

Qatar) are aligned against Hamas and its allies represents opportunities fo=
r =

diplomatic and financial activity against Hamas and the channeling of other =

issues in a positive direction in the wider Palestinian arena.

Six Recommended Action Items

Changing the basic assumption that Hamas must be preserved as the entity =

responsible for Gaza: This assumption causes multiple damage: it prevents =

extremely harsh damage to Hamas lest it fall; it makes Hamas think it can =

extend the fighting without paying for it with its own demise; and it =

prevents the possibility in the long term of restoring the PA as Gaza=92s =

dominant power. The assumption that if Hamas falls it will be succeeded by =

more radical groups requires closer analysis. What organization can threate=
n =

Israel more than Hamas and shoot rockets farther than Haifa? What element =

can dig dozens of terrorist tunnels? It is time to rethink the doomsday =

forecasts of =93a global jihad tsunami=94 that haven=92t materialized in th=
e =

past =96 neither from Afghanistan to Iraq, nor from Sinai to the Golan. Any =

radical organization that seizes control of Gaza should Hamas collapse (and =

it is not at all clear that every Hamas substitute would be radical) would =

have to spend years building the terrorist infrastructure Hamas has already =


Continued military pressure =96 from both the ground and air =96 to inflict =

severe damage on Hamas=92 military wing: Once we shake off the assumption t=
hat =

Hamas must be preserved as the responsible party in Gaza, attention must =

focus on expanding the military move to deal a severe blow to Hamas=92 =

military wing. The military wing is preventing the ceasefire and must =

therefore be pummeled and weakened. The entrance of ground troops has =

already resulted in some achievements: the discovery and destruction of =

tunnels, limited damage to the military wing, and engagement that has =

yielded new, high quality intelligence. Still, the current ground campaign =

is not a maneuver that unsettles the enemy=92s equilibrium. Thus the campai=
gn =

should continue, and Gaza should be sectioned into different units. This =

would generate pressure on specific areas from which Hamas is firing and in =

which it has a significant military presence. Surprise maneuvers, =

encirclement, the destruction of rocket launch sites, evacuation of =

civilians, and intelligence and operational efforts to reach Hamas=92 =

manufacturing, launch, and command and control centers are all necessary =

moves. The leadership of Hamas must decide that a ceasefire is preferable t=
o =

continued fighting. It must feel that the noose is tightening and the IDF i=
s =

closing in.

Working toward an unequivocal balance favoring Israel: Ending the campaign =

against Hamas with a strategic deadlock would project Israeli weakness =

elsewhere as well. Hamas is Israel=92s weakest enemy. Hizbollah has many mo=
re =

missiles and rockets and many more warheads of much greater accuracy. =

Damascus and Tehran too will study the results of the current campaign. To =

be sure, every arena has its particular features and Israel=92s deterrence =

against states is much more effective than against terrorist organizations. =

However, a drawn-out campaign without a clear-cut decision =96 the fourth i=
n a =

row =96 in which Israel undertakes a limited ground maneuver while leaving =
its =

enemy with strategic military capabilities because it is protected by =

civilians, and failure to destroy Hamas=92 military and civilian leadership=
s =

are only some of the factors constituting the final balance liable to erode =

Israel=92s deterrence and lead to other confrontations in arenas much more =

complex than Gaza. The systemic rationale driving the IDF must be that Hama=
s =

must pay an immeasurably high price, not only in infrastructures but =

primarily in its key force components, the leadership and senior military =

command, and the ability to attack the State of Israel.

Preventing future force buildup is essential for a long period of calm: =

Neither Operation Cast Lead nor Operation Pillar of Defense created =

effective mechanisms for preventing Hamas=92 subsequent force buildup. When =

examining the arrangement that will be reached at the end of the operation, =

it is critical to understand that without dealing with force buildup, the =

next round will be postponed only because of deterrence. Israel=92s deterre=
nce =

vis-a-vis Hizbollah is extremely strong (thanks to several factors: the blo=
w =

Hizbollah was dealt in 2006, which far exceeded what it expected; its =

responsibility for the Lebanese state; intra-ethnic sensitivities in =

Lebanon; and the fact that it has no legitimacy for attacking Israel). =

Against Hamas, Israel=92s deterrence was not effective enough and did not =

ensure a long period of calm. It is therefore important to ensure that Hama=
s =

force rehabilitation be very slow to nonexistent. The fact that Egypt is =

currently effective in preventing smuggling, the understandings with other =

Arab nations opposed to Hamas about joint activity against Hamas=92 force =

buildup, and Israel=92s right to act against the domestic manufacture of =

strategic weapons and rockets must all be part of any arrangement at the en=
d =

of Operation Protective Edge.

Ending the economic blockade: Part of Hamas=92 ongoing endurance is explain=
ed =

by its spokesmen: =93We have nothing to lose; the situation in Gaza is so d=
ire =

that we=92re not afraid of military blows or the Israeli occupation.=94 Thi=
s is =

propaganda that will not survive the test of more pressure on Hamas. =

Nonetheless, in any future arrangement, it behooves Israel to distinguish =

between the economic blockade, which must be relaxed, and the military =

siege, which must be strictly enforced. Wherever there is tension between =

economic development in Gaza and possible force buildup, the prevention of =

any force buildup must be paramount. Economic development of Gaza, which =

will turn the Gazan population to a more positive channel, reduce support =

for terrorism based on despair, and underscore the cost Gazans will have to =

pay in another round of violence, is a vested Israeli interest. Therefore, =

Israel must enlist the international community and moderate Arab nations in =

an economic development project for Gaza.

A political horizon: In contrast to the cliched statement that there is no =

military solution to terrorism, Israel has proven it can solve systemic =

terrorist threats against it militarily. Nonetheless, the political solutio=
n =

is always to be preferred. That said, a political solution without a =

militarily advantageous position and the other side=92s understanding that =
a =

military confrontation will not promote its political goal can only fail. =

The long term political solution for Gaza is the continued weakening of =

Hamas =96 economically, politically, and militarily =96 and the creation of =

better political alternatives for both the Palestinians and Israel. Over th=
e =

last two years, Hamas has been politically and financially weakened. If, =

after Operation Protective Edge, it is militarily weakened as well, it will =

be possible =96 together with Egypt, the moderate Arab states, and the =

international community =96 to bring the PA back to Gaza, ensure economic =

development there, and gradually lift the blockade. This, plus the =

prevention of force buildup and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, wil=
l =

be key factors in stabilizing Gaza and steering it toward favorable =

IMRA – Independent Media Review and Analysis

Since 1992 providing news and analysis on the Middle East with a focus on A=
rab-Israeli relations


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