Friday, November 23, 2012

Ending Israeli pre-emptive ground incursions into Gaza and air strikes on it, and Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, could avoid constant ceasefire breakdowns and wars – a plan by an Israeli peace activist and a Hamas minister could work to end both

Israeli miitary pre-emptive ground incursions into Gaza triggered escalation to war in November 2008 and November 2012. The ceasefire agreement includes an Israeli agreement to end them, along with targeted assassinations like the one that torpedoed the Egyptian government securing a ceasefire sooner. However it has not so far got any Israeli agreement to end all pre-emptive attacks on Gaza against known or suspected plotters of attacks on Israel. An Israeli peace activist and Hamas government minister’s plan could end any need for the pre-emptive Israeli attacks which have caused almost every ceasefire breakdown. It would do it by Israel sharing intelligence on other Palestinian groups in Gaza who are planning attacks on Israel with Egypt, whose government would pass it on to Hamas, who have enforced ceasefires on other Palestinian groups by force in the past – and are seen as credible at enforcing ceasefires by former head of Mossad Efraim Halevy.

President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt and Hilary Clinton have managed to secure the most comprehensive and fair ceasefire agreement so far between Israel and the Hamas government and other Palestinian groups in Gaza  (1).

It includes Israeli commitments to end military incursions into Gaza and targeted assassinations by airstrike. The escalation to war in both 2008 and 2012 began with Israeli military incursions or raids into Gaza ; and the recent war only lasted more than a couple of days due to the assassination by airstrike of a Hamas armed wing commander imploding ceasefire negotiations brokered by Egypt which were close to success.

What the ceasefire deal has not so far dealt with is the wider issue of Israeli pre-emptive attacks in general. Almost every ceasefire breakdown and return to war has been the result of Israeli pre-emptive strikes claimed to be targeting Palestinians involved in planning attacks on Israel.

On 22nd October and 8th November 2012, as on 5th November 2008, Israeli ground forces entered Gaza (2) – (4).

The timing of the incursions, in both 2008 and in 2012 , weeks after the Israeli government had called an election and months before it was to be held, has led to suspicions of wars fought for electoral advantage, or at the very least the timing of them determined by it. Certainly in both cases the Israeli government was trying to show how “tough” it was in “defending” Israelis to avoid any vulnerability to criticism from opposition parties (5) – (6)

In both the 5th November 2008 and 8th November 2012 incursions the Israeli military said the aim was to destroy tunnels which were being dug out of Gaza, in 2008 to capture Israeli soldiers (this method was used in the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit by Palestinian armed groups); in 2012 to plant explosives for IED attacks on Israeli patrols along the border (one such attack took place after the November 8th incursion) (7) – (8).

The October and November 2012 incursions were described by Israeli spokespeople as “routine” or “patrols”, but the results were anything but routine (9) – (10).

The October incursion alone led to a series of attacks on Israeli border patrols, Israeli air and artillery strikes in response and Palestinian rocket fire out of Gaza that included 80 rockets fired out of Gaza in the two days after it.

In the 8th November incursion which set off the recent escalation, Israeli military spokespeople said helicopters “provided covering fire” as Israeli forces entered Gaza before a later IED attack on an Israeli patrol on the border with Gaza. After Israeli tanks, military vehicles and bulldozers came 500 metres inside Gaza Palestinian militants began fighting with them. A 13 year old Palestinian boy who was playing football was killed  (11) – (18).

In each of the three raids the basic pattern of escalation was the same. Palestinian militants fired on the invaders, just as Israeli forces would if armed Palestinians invaded Israel. Israeli forces responded with air strikes. Palestinian armed groups, lacking an air force to respond in kind with, or any air defences effective against the Israeli air force, respond with rockets (19) – (20).

The only difference with the November 8th raid is that it led to IED attacks on Israeli patrols on the border with Gaza on November 10th, which Israeli forces responded to with artillery and tank fire, which killed both militants and then boys going to try to help the wounded, before rocket fire into Israel was stepped up greatly. (21).

In 2012 as in 2008 the Israeli government could then denounce rocket fire by Palestinian armed groups from Gaza as terrorism and look “tough” on “security” during an election campaign; and claim that Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza were the aggressors, while Israel was just defending itself. 

Whether this was a calculated plan or just taking advantage of events is hard to say. Either way the pre-emptive incursions led to the same kind of attacks they were supposed to be intended to prevent, just as Palestinian armed groups’ rocket fire on Israel doesn’t “defend” Palestinian civilians but gets them killed by Israeli retaliation.

(And, no, I am not saying using rocket fire which is inaccurate and likely to kill civilians as revenge for the killing of other civilians or combatants is justified – it’s not ; nor am I saying Israeli air strikes’ targets are always legitimate, many are not – I’m just stating facts on the escalation to war in each case.)

Targeted assassination torpedoed first Egyptian attempt to broker ceasefire-

For several days after the 8th to 10th November incidents and resultant Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli missile strikes it still looked like the escalation could be ended. Hamas had the agreement of all major armed groups in Gaza to end rocket fire and restore a ceasefire brokered by Egypt. Exactly this has happened after dozens of brief escalations over the years, most begun by either Israeli pre-emptive strikes or targeted assassinations by missile strike, or by groups other than Hamas firing rockets out of Gaza. On one night (between the days of 12th and 13th November) just one rocket was fired into Israel and only three Israeli airstrikes carried out on Gaza (22).

Then on November 14th the Israeli government ordered a wave of new airstrikes on Gaza, which, apart from killing two children as collateral damage, included the targeted assassination of Ahmed Al Jabari , head of Hamas’ armed wing (the Qassam brigades) who had organised the enforcement of previous ceasefires ; and was in favour of a long term ceasefire (though not peace) with Israel, and was considering a plan for a ceasefire agreement drafted in Egypt by Israeli peace activists and Hamas deputy foreign minister Ghazi Hamad, according to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin. (23) – (25).

Pre-emptive Israeli attacks by ground forces or missile strike main cause of ceasefire breakdowns – and the plan to end them and most rocket attacks from Gaza through intelligence sharing via Egypt during ceasefires

Israel has always previously “reserved the right” to carry out pre-emptive strikes on any group it suspects or knows to be planning attacks on Israel. These often kill civilians as collateral damage, particularly as missile strikes often target the family homes of militants, killing wives, children and the elderly ; and even where they don’t, they lead to Palestinian armed groups retaliating – usually with rocket fire into Israel.

The ground incursions into Gaza, like the air strikes, are said to be aimed at preventing terrorist attacks on Israeli forces or civilians before they happen , but as Baskin points out that they often lead to the collapse of ceasefires and cause more attacks than they stop, especially due to civilian collateral deaths.

Baskin was negotiating with Hamas foreign minister Ghazi Hamad (26). Together they devised a plan to avoid the breakdown of ceasefires due to Israeli pre-emptive strikes, by Israel passing on intelligence on any planned attack on Israel by Palestinian groups in Gaza during ceasefires to the Egyptian government, who would pass it to Hamas, who would have 24 or 48 hours to act to stop those plotting it in order to avoid an Israeli pre-emptive strike (27).

This is not so far-fetched as it may sound. Hamas have frequently got the agreement of other Palestinian factions in Gaza to maintain ceasefires, and even enforced the ceasefires on any group breaking them (28). For instance it’s police and paramilitary “security forces” arresting members of Islamic Jihad in April 2010 who had fired rockets during a ceasefire, taking their weapons from them and making them sign an agreement not to break the ceasefire again if they wanted to avoid jail and similarly arresting and jailing members of an even more extreme group for ceasefire breaches in 2011 (29) – (30).

In 2007 the Jewish magazine Forward quoted former head of Mossad Efraim Halevy as saying that Hamas were “not very pleasant people, but they are very, very credible”.  Halevy says Hamas’ past actions show they are capable of maintaining a ceasefire by their own armed wing and largely enforcing it on other groups in Gaza (31).

When there are hundreds of rocket attacks on Israel each year, with the majority causing no casualties, there would be plenty of scope for Israel to test if particular leaders in Hamas used the intelligence it was given to try to warn those planning the attack, or to stop them and it. The risks for Israel, with it’s vastly greater military strength, are trivial, while the benefits to both sides of an end to the cycle of ceasefire breakdowns could be huge.

As Halevy says “It may not work, but aren’t we strong enough to be able to try it?” (32).

As current Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in 1999 “The Palestinians…are the weakest of our adversaries. As a military threat they are ludicrous.” (33).

If it worked it would increase trust between the two sides (act as a “confidence building measure” as the jargon goes) and could lead to more willingness to negotiate, at least indirectly through third parties like the Egyptian government, President Abbas of Fatah (now back in coalition with Hamas as the other half of the elected Palestinian government since they won the 2006 Legislative Elections) and Israelis not connected to the Israeli government, like Baskin.

That’s assuming the Israeli government wants peace rather than just keeping the Gaza conflict as a useful distraction from it’s accelerating settlement of most of the West Bank as a prelude to annexation of most of it.


(1) = Reuters 21 Nov 2012 6.55pm ‘TEXT: Ceasefire agreement between Israel and Gaza's Palestinians’,

(2) = BBC News 24 Oct 2012 ‘Gaza militants killed in strikes following rocket fire’,

(3) = 05 Nov 2008 ‘Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen’,

(4) = Human Rights Watch 15 Nov 2012 ‘Israel/Gaza: Avoid Harm to Civilians’,

(5) = 01 Feb 2009 ‘Israel threatens 'disproportionate' response to Palestinian rocket fire’, preparation to launch fresh attacks on Gaza comes two weeks after Israel halted a three-week onslaught and claimed its aims were "attained fully".…With nine days to the election and with the ceasefire unravelling, Kadima is scrambling to gain ground on its rightwing rival, Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party, which looks set to win the election... Despite waging a 22-day war in Gaza, Kadima's coalition government is still scrambling to prove its national security credentials in the face of continuing rocket fire and Netanayahu's calls to purge Hamas from Gaza.’

(6) = CNN 10 Oct 2012 ‘Netanyahu calls early election for Israel’, ; ‘The election will ideally happen in three months' time, he said, rather than in October 2013, as originally scheduled.’ (3rd paragraph – i.e January 2013)

(7) = CNN 10 Nov 2012 ‘Funeral held for boy killed in Gaza’, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich.…Leibovich said that 300 meters inside Gaza, Israeli border soldiers had discovered a cache of explosives in a tunnel adjacent to a security fence’

(8) = 05 Nov 2008 ‘Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen’, ; ‘Israeli troops crossed into the Gaza Strip late last night near the town of Deir al-Balah. The Israeli military said the target of the raid was a tunnel that they said Hamas was planning to use to capture Israeli soldiers positioned on the border fence 250m away.’

(9) = Al Jazeera 09 Nov 2012 ‘Israel blames Hamas for Gaza blast’, 4th and 5th from last paragraphs ‘A military spokesman on Friday…"During a routine activity west of Nirim, troops found a number of explosive devices and detonated them in a controlled manner. As a result of earlier fire toward them, they fired towards open areas in the vicinity," he said.’

(10) = BBC News 24 Oct 2012 ‘Gaza militants killed in strikes following rocket fire’, ; ‘Two members of the groups were killed in an Israeli air strike on Monday. The Israeli military said it had targeted the militants after they fired mortars at a ground patrol. Palestinian sources said the patrol had entered Gaza near Beit Hanoun…

(11) = Human Rights Watch 15 Nov 2012 ‘Israel/Gaza: Avoid Harm to Civilians’, ; ‘The current round of fighting began on November 8, during an incursion by Israeli forces into southern Gaza, east of Khan Yunis. The Popular Resistance Committees, an armed group, said it fired at Israeli tanks and bulldozers near Khuza’a and detonated an explosive device in a tunnel in the area, according to Ma’an, an independent Palestinian news site. An Israeli military spokesperson said an Israeli soldier had been lightly injured, Ma’an reported. Residents told the The New York Times that Israeli tanks and helicopters opened fire during the clash……….. …..Several armed groups invoked the November 8 clash as a reason for the Palestinian attack on November 10, which wounded four Israeli soldiers. Israeli forces fired several tank or artillery shells in response. One shell wounded members of a Palestinian armed group, one of whom later died. International media and Palestinian rights groups reported that civilians in the area went to the site of the shelling to help the wounded, and that several minutes later more shells struck the area, killing four civilians and wounding perhaps several dozen more

(12) = Washington Post / AP 08 Nov 2012 ‘Israel’s military says explosive-filled tunnel explodes near soldiers on Israel-Gaza border’, ;  (7th paragraph and 3rd from last para) ‘Palestinian militants and Israeli forces were exchanging fire at the time….Before the blast, Israeli soldiers had entered dozens of meters into Gaza, protected by military helicopters firing a cover of bullets to search for explosives, Leibovich and Palestinian officials said.’

(13) = Al Jazeera 09 Nov 2012 ‘Israel blames Hamas for Gaza blast’, ;"Witnesses confirmed that Israeli helicopters had opened fire as tanks carried out an incursion, sparking a brief exchange of fire with fighters. A military spokesman on Friday confirmed troops had been operating in the area and had fired "towards open areas in the vicinity" after coming under attack by gunmen.

(14) = CNN 10 Nov 2012 ‘Funeral held for boy killed in Gaza’, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich.…Leibovich said that 300 meters inside Gaza, Israeli border soldiers had discovered a cache of explosives in a tunnel adjacent to a security fence… Palestinian sources said that, before the boy was shot, a number of Israeli military vehicles and tanks had entered Gaza some 500 meters east of Khan Younis, where they came under fire from militants. The tanks responded by firing two rounds towards farmland’

 (15) = 05 Nov 2008 ‘Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen’, ; ‘A four-month ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was in jeopardy today after Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into the territory.

Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured. The violence represented the most serious break in a ceasefire agreed in mid-June, yet both sides suggested they wanted to return to atmosphere of calm.

 (16) = Reuters 05 Nov 2008 ‘Israel-Hamas violence disrupts Gaza truce’, fired dozens of rockets at Israel on Wednesday after Israeli forces killed six Palestinian militants in an eruption of violence that disrupted a four-month-old truce along the Gaza Strip's frontier….On Tuesday, Israeli airstrikes killed five militants and Israeli soldiers shot dead a gunman during an incursion into the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces quit the coastal enclave in 2005 and Hamas took control after routing Fatah forces two years later….The Israeli military said the aircraft went into action after militants attacked soldiers who entered Gaza to destroy a tunnel that Hamas had planned to use to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

(17) = CNN 10 Nov 2012 ‘Funeral held for boy killed in Gaza’ ; ‘Funeral services were held Friday for a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and killed while playing soccer in Gaza a day earlier…the Gaza Health Ministry accused the Israel Defense Forces of killing the boyInitially, the ministry said the boy was shot in the head by an Israeli helicopter. Witnesses disputed that account…saying the boy was shot in the side and the gunfire came from Israeli military vehicles…Israeli Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich told CNN that an initial investigation by the military "did not indicate the Israeli military had any connection to the shooting."

(18) = Human Rights Watch 15 Nov 2012 ‘Israel/Gaza: Avoid Harm to Civilians’, ; 14th Paragraph, 4th sentence – ‘Palestinian rights groups, the Gaza Health Ministry, and photojournalist Anne Paq, working for the Israeli-Palestinian ActiveStills media group, reported that a bullet from Israeli machinegun fire fatally struck Hamid Abu Daqqa, 13, in the abdomen as he was playing near his home in ‘Abasan al Kabira, hundreds of meters from the fighting.

(19) = 05 Nov 2008 ‘Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen’,  ; 3rd and 4th paragraphs ‘Israeli troops crossed into the Gaza Strip late last night near the town of Deir al-Balah…Four Israeli soldiers were injured in the operation, two moderately and two lightly, the military said….One Hamas gunman was killed and Palestinians launched a volley of mortars at the Israeli military. An Israeli air strike then killed five more Hamas fighters. In response, Hamas launched 35 rockets into southern Israel, one reaching the city of Ashkelon.’

(20) = BBC News 24 Oct 2012 ‘Gaza militants killed in strikes following rocket fire’, ; ‘Two members of the groups were killed in an Israeli air strike on Monday. The Israeli military said it had targeted the militants after they fired mortars at a ground patrol. Palestinian sources said the patrol had entered Gaza near Beit Hanoun…

(21) = Human Rights Watch 15 Nov 2012 ‘Israel/Gaza: Avoid Harm to Civilians’,

(22) = Al Jazeera 14 Nov 2012 ‘Israel and Gaza reach tacit truce’,
Israel and Palestinian leaders have reached a tacit truce that could prevent a new war in the Gaza strip after five days of clashes.The agreement, brokered by Egypt, was made on Monday night…. Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Gaza's Hamas government, praised the main armed factions in the occupied Palestinian territory for agreeing to the truce.

Israel struck three targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Tuesday, including what the army said was a weapons depot and two rocket launch sites. There were no casualties. Only one Palestinian rocket strike was reported in Israel by 0800 GMT on Tuesday.

(23) = USA Today 14 Nov 2012 ‘Israelis brace for attacks after Hamas leader killed’,

(24) = Haaretz 14 Nov 2012 ‘Israel killed its subcontractor in Gaza’,

(25) = New York Times 16 Nov 2012 ‘Israel’s short-sighted assassination’ by Gerwin Bashkin,

(26) = See (25) above

(27) = Huffington Post 18 Nov 2012 ‘Gershon Baskin, Israeli Activist, Explains Truce Plan Given To Ahmed Jabari Before Gaza War’ ,

(28) = 22 Nov 2009 ‘Gaza militant groups agree to stop firing rockets into Israel’, ; ‘Hamas has won an agreement from other militant groups in Gaza to halt rocket fire into Israel for the first time in almost a year, as both sides indicated progress on a deal to release a captured Israeli soldier.

(29) = Haaretz 12 April 2010 ‘Gaza militant: Hamas stopping rocket fire into Israel’, ; ‘Hamas is forcing other Gaza Palestinian factions to guarantee they do not launch rockets or mortar bombs at Israel, a source told the French AFP news agency on Monday. ..a member of the Strip's Islamic Jihad militant group, told AFP that members of Hamas' security force arrested four Islamic Jihad militants, forcing them to sign a document stating that they pledged not to fire Qassam missiles or mortar bombs at Israel.The official added that the Hamas men also confiscated the weapons found on the Islamic Jihad militants. Last week, Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha told the BBC that Hamas was working to curb rocket attacks against Israel by Gaza militants.’

(30) = Al Arabiya 07 Aug 2011 ‘Hamas arrests Salafists for firing rockets into Israel’, ; ‘Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip on Saturday detained two members of an Islamist group suspected of firing rockets at Israel, the group said in a statement. Tawhid wal Jihad, a Salafist organization, confirmed that Hamas security forces had detained two of its members in an early morning raid. …The group acknowledged that the arrested members were part of a group firing missiles from Gaza, confirming earlier reports that Hamas forces had detained fighters who have fired dozens of missiles into Israel this month….In the statement, the group warned that it would continue to fire rockets at Israel….“We urge the police not to heed the decision of the government to stop the holy warriors and protect the defenses of the enemy against the holy warriors’ attacks,” the statement added.’

(31) = Forward 09 Feb 2007 ‘Experts Question Wisdom of Boycotting Hamas’, ; 16th paragraph ‘According to Halevy, Israel should take up Hamas’s offer of a long-term truce and try negotiating, because the Islamic movement is respected by Palestinians and generally keeps its word. He pointed to the cease-fire in attacks on Israel that Hamas declared two years ago and has largely honored. “They’re not very pleasant people, but they are very, very credible,” Halevy said.’

(32) = ‘ ; 2nd sentence of 15th paragraph , ‘“It may not work, but aren’t we strong enough to be able to try it?” said onetime Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, who was a top adviser to former prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon.’

(33) = Ehud Barak in an interview published in Haaretz newspaper 18 June 1999 , cited by Avi Shlaim (2000) ‘The Iron Wall :Israel and the Arab World’ , Penguin paperback , London, 2001 , page xii

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