Neither Israeli Defense Minister Barak nor the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are the ones setting the flame intensity lately
Those playing with fire are Hamas and the organizations deemed “rebellious” in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, there is still a reasonable chance that once the weather clears, the present round of hostilities too will die down, for a few days at least.
There is a big difference between the situation in Southern Israel and the state of affairs along its Northern border, disturbed yesterday [Nov. 11] by a single incident of shooting, when a warning round was fired into Syria by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [in response to a mortar shell fired by the Syrian army into Israeli territory]. The situation vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip is by far more explosive than that prevailing in the north of the country. As a matter of fact, the IDF could have pushed by now deep into the Gaza Strip. The way to a military operation on any scale would have been much shorter had the explosive tunnel detonated on Thursday [Nov. 8] caused [God forbid] numerous casualties or enabled the abduction of an IDF soldier; or had the casualty toll of the missile targeted at an IDF jeep on Saturday [Nov. 10] been higher than “just” the four soldiers wounded; or had one of the dozens of rockets fired at southern Israel in the past few days directly hit and killed civilians.
In a pre-election period, the political echelon is quick to flare up and snap into action on the spur of the moment, all the more so when Defense Minister Barak is pulling together every potential vote in an attempt to pass the electoral threshold. In the Defense Minister’s bureau they have been talking in recent days of the electoral potential an operation in Gaza may have for Barak, an operation which is likely to get him some more votes, the way the [2008-09] Cast Lead operation earned him unexpected popularity in the polls on the eve of the 2009 parliamentary election.
Not that, Heaven forbid, anyone suspects the Defense Minister of being motivated by popularity considerations in these fateful days of escalation. Yet, last night [Nov. 11], Ehud Barak attended a formal black-tie event in Israel Trade Fairs & Convention Center [in Tel Aviv] wearing an open leather jacket and, addressing the audience of voters, told them: We are strong, we will beat whoever is firing at us in the South of the country or up North, and so on and so forth.
The truth is that neither Barak nor the IDF are the ones setting the flame intensity lately. Those playing with fire are Hamas and the organizations deemed “rebellious” in the Gaza Strip. As far as the IDF Intelligence Branch is concerned, the so-called “rebellious” organizations are all those bodies in the Gaza Strip who have an agenda of their own, which is not necessarily compatible with the aspirations of the Hamas leadership. In the past, the “rebellious” organizations were for the most part the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) that were active in the southern Gaza Strip. These days, the Gaza Strip is swarming with organizations whose ideology is inspired by the Global Jihad (and which are quite often acting under its direct orders).
Unlike these organizations, the basic interest of Hamas at present is to keep the peace in the area, primarily so as to enable the Muslim Brotherhood to consolidate its control over Egypt without bothering about the northern sector [namely, Gaza]. At the same time, Hamas is currently under heavy pressure to enable terror attacks on the IDF forces along the border, all the more so now that the IDF’s room for maneuver in the Gaza Strip is seen by elements in Gaza as being significantly limited on the eve of the [parliamentary] election in Israel.
It is evaluated in the IDF that in response to the pressure exerted on Hamas, the organization has been trying to channel the belligerent passion of the “rebellious” organizations into an attrition war along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip and that to that end, it seeks to set the rules of the game vis-à-vis the IDF in this sector. It is against this backdrop that the recent series of attacks [on Israeli military and civilian targets alike] have been launched from Gaza. The wintry weather of the past few days provided the Gaza organizations with a perfect opportunity for an especially violent round of fighting against the IDF, as well as for the barrages of fire at Southern Israel, serving as a camouflage under which they could hide from the IDF’s aircraft that have already displayed, on clearer days, an amazing skill at hunting down rocket launchers.
Barak delivered yesterday [Nov. 11] aggressive messages not only for domestic [ballot-box] purposes of the Independence faction that he chairs, but rather, first and foremost, to signal to Hamas in Gaza that, as far as Israel is concerned, the organization carries the full responsibility for the situation and should thus take prompt action to quench the fire. Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office talk about getting the international public opinion ready for a military operation [in Gaza], while in the IDF, the Chief of General Staff has been holding briefings in preparation for a potential ground offensive. Nevertheless, there is still a reasonable chance that once the weather clears, the present round of hostilities too will die down, for a few days at least.
As to the situation in Northern Israel, it seems that in case there are no more incidents of shooting from Syria towards Israel, the Israeli warning round of fire targeted back at Syria yesterday [Nov. 11] will be remembered, if at all, as a mere isolated episode.
The IDF fired an anti-tank “Tamuz” missile at an open area in Syria after a Syrian mortar shell struck [near] an [IDF] post at Tel Hazeka [in the Golan Heights] without causing any injuries or damage. The mortar shell was standard military ammunition, which indicates that it was fired by regular Syrian army forces [apparently while] fighting the rebels.
It is generally assessed in Israel that it was an errant mortar shell fired by mistake towards Israel. Be that as it may, this recent shooting is not nearly as dangerous as the really menacing scenarios contemplated by the IDF Northern Command. According to these scenarios, which no longer seem so far-fetched, the Israeli-Syrian border is bound to eventually become a no man’s land, where Global Jihad militants, who are gaining power in Syria too, will run wild almost uncontrollably — those same Global Jihad elements who have managed to set the rules of the game in the Gaza Strip, for the time being at least.