Is the Hamas ‘terror army’ unbeatable?
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Is the Hamas ‘terror army’ unbeatable?

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 IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi refers to Hamas as a “terror army.” He’s not wrong; you can see it by the last two weeks of fighting between the Israeli military and the terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.In 10 days of fighting, the Israeli military kept carrying out intensive strikes against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets, stating that they were hitting key infrastructure and personnel belonging to the two groups.

But, Hamas and PIJ kept on fighting. They fired over 4,000 rockets and mortars to Israeli cities in the south and center of the country, whenever they wanted, killing 12 civilians and one soldier.

The fighting between the IDF and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip entered its second week with heavy rocket barrages toward southern Israel and continuous airstrikes across the coastal enclave.

Despite diplomatic pressure on Israel – Hamas has been ready for a ceasefire since week 1 – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants a clear victory over Hamas, and the IDF says it has many more targets at the ready. Whether those targets will be hit remains to be seen.

Operation Guardians of the Walls, a campaign against both Hamas and PIJ that the military had planned for years, received the green light after Hamas launched a barrage of seven missiles toward Jerusalem where thousands were in the streets celebrating Jerusalem Day on May 10.

The plans, with several stages and hundreds of targets, is aimed at destroying the military capabilities of the two terrorist groups in order to bring about a quiet lasting years. It has, according to senior military officials, been successful so far.

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“Hamas knows us well enough that firing toward Jerusalem would lead to a strong retaliation,” said former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Gadi Eisenkot on a panel organized by the Institute for National Security Studies.

Hamas, he said, was struck very hard during this latest round of fighting and will be deterred for several years. The group’s tunnel network, which was built over a decade, was a strategic asset for the group “where they felt safe” and has now been destroyed. That, Eisenkot said, is a major achievement in this operation.

Despite a 14-year blockade imposed by both Egypt and Israel, over the past seven years the groups have been able to amass an extensive military arsenal.

Combined, the two groups have around 14,000 rockets – both long-range and short. The majority, if not all, of the rockets and mortars are locally produced. Hamas also built explosive drones, naval weaponry and more.

The two groups also used the quiet to expand their strategic asset, dubbed by the IDF as the “Metro.” The groups dug a sprawling network of tunnels used as bunkers, command and control centers, weapons storage and to move their fighters and commanders throughout the Strip without the IDF seeing.

But Israel wasn’t just sitting around and twiddling its thumbs; the IDF was busy building up its target banks, relying on intelligence gathered by various corps, as well as stocking up on precision munitions to use in an attempt to reduce the civilian casualties as much as possible in the densely populated Gaza Strip.

IN THE past week the IDF has hit hundreds of targets: rocket launchers, rocket manufacturing, production and storage sites, military intelligence offices, drones, residences of commanders, and Hamas’s naval commando unit, where Israel has destroyed most of the group’s infrastructure and weaponry, including several autonomous GPS-guided submarines that can carry 30 kilograms of explosives.

The IDF also has killed over 150 PIJ and Hamas operatives, many of them considered senior commanders or irreplaceable in their roles, especially those who led the R&D in the missile projects. The IDF has made it clear that all who belong to the group, including the Hamas political leader in the Strip, Yayha Sinwar, and the group’s military commander, Mohammed Deif, are targets.

Just as the IDF strategized and built its war plans, so did Hamas and PIJ.

A senior officer in the Southern Command told reporters that Hamas had many “surprises” up its sleeves, such as conducting large-scale cross-border raids using their tunnel system or more heavy barrages toward Tel Aviv.

Hamas, which was ready during the first week for a ceasefire, is looking for any sort of “victory” over the IDF, and on Thursday fired an anti-tank guided missile toward a bus near Zikim. The bus was empty, and only one soldier, who was nearby, was lightly wounded by shrapnel. But had that bus been full, that would have been a major victory for the terrorist group.

It would have been a deadly surprise that would have destroyed any chances of a ceasefire.

The IDF said that most if not all of those “surprises” have been thwarted by the military, which has strengthened its intelligence gathering and developed techniques and capabilities during the fighting.

But a senior officer in the Southern Command did admit that a massive barrage of over 150 rockets fired towards the city of Ashkelon by Hamas in the first days of the fighting caught the military off guard.

While they were ready for heavy salvos, they did not anticipate one of this size. Compounded with the fact that the Iron Dome missile defense battery in the area experienced a minor malfunction, the barrage was deadly – two women were killed and dozens more were injured.

THE LAST major conflict with Gaza was Operation Protective Edge in 2014, but there have been several rounds of violent escalations with hundreds of rockets fired towards Israel and dozens of targets destroyed in Gaza.

Operation Guardian of the Walls is not just “another round,” but it’s not being called a “war” either.

In 2007 Israel was hit by 2,433 projectiles; and in 2008, during Operation Cast Lead, terrorist groups fired 3,557 projectiles. In 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel was struck by 2,771 rockets; and in 2014, which coincided with the 50-day Operation Protective Edge, Israel was bombarded by 4,897 projectiles.

A total of 71 rockets were fired between 2015 and 2017, while a total of just over 1,571 projectiles were fired toward Israel in 2018 and 2,045 rockets were fired in 2019.

In the past week alone, over 4,000 rockets and mortars have been fired – PIJ has been responsible for the majority of the mortar fire, while Hamas has mostly launched the rockets. This round of fighting has been the deadliest so far, with 12 civilians and one soldier killed in the past two weeks.

After 10 days of deadly conflict, Israel and Hamas are close to finally putting down their weapons – for the time being.

Over the past 14 years since Operation Protective Edge, Israel was able to have several years of relative quiet in the South, interspersed with several rounds of rocket fire.

Those years allowed Israel to focus much of its military attention to the North, where Hezbollah and Iran had been attempting to entrench themselves in Syria and build precision missiles. Under Eisenkot’s command, Israel began the “war between the wars” campaign, where the military worked hard to prevent that project from succeeding.

But by doing so, some military officials said, the threat on Israel’s southern front didn’t get the attention it needed.

Even with several violent rounds between the terrorist groups and Israel, a long-term ceasefire that was aimed at rehabilitating the Gaza Strip saw truckloads of aid as well as suitcases full of cash enter the Strip. The millions of dollars that entered the blockaded enclave could have led to new schools being built, new equipment or medications for hospitals, fuel and electricity for civilians. But Hamas used much of the aid for itself.

Eisenkot defended his decision to focus on the North, where Hezbollah had been building tunnels as part of the Conquer the Galilee plan. But while the “war between the wars” campaign has been successful in Syria, “the reality in Gaza is different than in Syria. It’s more complicated,” he said.

According to Eisenkot, there needs to be a new political strategy where the Palestinian Authority is viewed as a partner, and the Gulf states along with the Egyptians and the US are part and parcel of any ceasefire signed.

But Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Israel Ziv, who served as the head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate, told The Jerusalem Post that a ceasefire would be a loss for Israel.

“SIGNING ANY ceasefire with Hamas is a gain for them and a loss for Israel,” he said. “It isn’t worth the paper it’s signed on. It gives Hamas the trigger. Israel has always kept the ceasefire, and Hamas always breaks it, whenever it wants. They don’t respect ceasefires.”

According to Ziv, even though Hamas will still be able to fire rockets on Israel, the strikes against the terrorist organization during Operation Guardian of the Walls will make it so that “it will take years for Hamas to recover.”

So, how does Israel, and specifically the IDF, make sure that this doesn’t play out again? How can it make sure that Gaza be rebuilt without the funds being siphoned off by Hamas to rebuild what was destroyed by Israel?

Ziv, who served as the Head of the Gaza Division from 2001 to 2003, said that while Hamas may have had certain achievements at the beginning of the fighting, “they are now a loser… time isn’t on their side.”

And that’s why any agreement signed should be done “above their heads.”

“Israel should say, okay, we agree to stop the fire, but we are keeping our hands on the trigger,” he said, explaining that there could be two reasons for Israel to strike Gaza, one of them being to assassinate Hamas leaders like Sinwar, Deif or Ismail Haniyeh.

“They have blood on their hands. They are to blame, especially with what is happening now. Whenever we have the opportunity, we should kill them…. It’s good to show that someone is paying the price for their wrong decisions.”

The second reason, he said, is that while Israel must demand that Hamas be demilitarized, “the moment they open their arms manufacturing plants, Israel should tell whoever is going to oversee the ceasefire that they are re-arming and then attack. Israel won’t be breaking any ceasefire by doing so.”

Hamas, Ziv continued “won’t change their character tomorrow morning…. Why should we sign a one-sided agreement? Any agreement should allow us those two conditions where we can fire and not be viewed as provocative.”

The fighting he said, “was forced on Israel and the IDF; we didn’t initiate it.” But despite that, he maintains that Israel has achieved more than Hamas, and “with them under such stress, this agreement will humiliate them and put them in the right place.”

But, will that really stop the terrorist army of Hamas and PIJ from rearming and bring about quiet in the South? Or will we just find ourselves back at the same starting point in another few years, or less? A look at the past suggests that’s exactly what will happen.

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