Friday, July 20, 2018

Analysis: Hamas Military Wing Wants War

Analysis: The chances of restoring the quiet are shrinking by the hour. Hamas's political leadership doesn't want the IDF to enter the strip, but its military wing prefers escalation over reconciliation. With that, it is inviting a large-scale Israeli military operation, even though it knows it'll be more deadly and destructive than ever before.

Hamas's military wing likely wants war. To the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, only another round of fighting in Gaza—in the form of another big war—can shuffle the cards and allow them to reach the results they want. 

It's not at all certain Hamas's political leadership wants another military campaign in which the IDF would enter the Gaza Strip. In fact, it's pretty clear it doesn't want this, but the military wing is the one to decide, and it is the one that initiated the incidents on the border fence on Thursday and Friday, with the clear intention of escalating.

The measures the Hamas men used on Friday in the seemingly "routine" clashes along the border are clearly meant to lead to an escalation. There were others signs—which cannot be elaborated on—that the military wing wants a massive escalation in Gaza. 

This is exactly why Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited the Gaza borderon Friday morning and specifically stated Hamas is dragging the strip to war—against the interests of its residents. The defense minister's comments, which were quickly disseminated in the media, were meant to serve as a grave warning. 

And, indeed, what the defense minister hinted on happened on Friday afternoon. The IDF responded with attacks, and it will likely not end with this initial response. That is why the residents of the Gaza border area are called to listen to the instructions of the Home Front Command and remain alert. 

Still, it might be possible to prevent a large IDF operation in the strip, but the chances of restoring the quiet are shrinking with every passing hour. It's pretty obvious we're in for a stormy weekend, but there is still a slim chance it would be possible to prevent what the Israeli government and the IDF—as well as Hamas's political leadership—don't want.

To Hamas's military wing, escalation will lead to condemnation from the world, and eventually they believe they could get what they want—including humanitarian aid to the strip's residents—without having to compromise on anything. 

The State of Israel knows this, and does not want a large-scale operation in Gaza, at the end of which we'll be back more or less to the same place, or worse, we'll have to stay in the strip for at least a few months. If the losses, the killing, and the PR damage to Israel's image in the world can be avoided, then the State of Israel prefers restraint, even though doing so severely erodes the deterrence. 

But Hamas's military wing has probably already made up its mind. It may not want the IDF to enter the strip, but it clearly wants serious escalation and fighting and is unwilling to make any concessions. 

Therefore, it is essentially inviting a large-scale IDF operation in the strip, even though it knows this time it would be more destructive and more deadly than all of the previous rounds. And it won't start slowly, but rather with a sweeping strike from the first moment.

Israel Launches A Wave Of Strikes Into Gaza After Soldier Killed, As Syrian Troops Near Border, PM Tells Putin He Won't Tolerate Iranian Presence

Israel launches waves of strikes across Gaza after soldier killed 

Israel has launched an intense wave of strikes across the Gaza Strip after one of its soldiers was killed in gunfire along the border, raising fears of renewed conflict.
Explosions were seen across the coastal enclave on Friday evening and Israel said three rockets had been fired at its territory, two of which were intercepted. The military wing of Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2009, said three of its fighters were killed in the strikes.

The Israeli Defence Force did not name the soldier, but said he had been hit by Palestinian gunfire. He was the first Israeli combatant to been killed in the area since the last full-scale conflict with Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, in 2014.

“A terrorist squad shot at [Israel Defence Forces] troops and the IDF soldier was severely injured – he later succumbed to his wounds,” the military said in a statement. “His family has been notified. The IDF expresses its heartfelt condolences, and will continue to support the family.”

It said its aircraft and fighter jets had attacked 40 military targets across Gaza that included Hamas battalion headquarters, a drone warehouse, aerial defence systems, and observation posts. “The strikes are still ongoing,” the IDF said.
A fourth Palestinian was shot dead at protests by the perimeter fence, according to Gaza’s health ministry. The protests were part of a months-long movement that residents had hoped would draw attention to the Israeli blockade.
Nearly 150 Palestinians have been killed since the demonstrations began on 30 March, most of them shot by Israeli snipers. Others have been killed by Israeli air strikes or by tank fire. Thousands have been injured.

Israel accuses Hamas of hijacking the rallies to carry out attacks. The two sides have traded rocket and mortar fire for airstrikes during the past few weeks.
Last weekend saw the most severe exchange of fire in Gaza since a 2014 war. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed and about 200 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from Gaza. Four Israelis were wounded when a projectile hit a house.

In recent days, the Israeli army has started to open fire at groups attempting to launch kites attached to cans of petrol that have torched close to 3,000 hectares (7,410 acres) of Israeli fields. Israel has tightened its blockade, closing the only goods crossing.
The United Nations envoy for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, said on Twitter that “everyone in Gaza needs to step back from the brink”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin as Israel continues to press its demands that there be no Iranian military presence in Syria.
The call came Friday with an evacuation effort underway to transfer rebel fighters and civilians from a southwestern sliver of Syria near the Golan Heights to opposition territory further north.
The transfers come under a surrender deal agreed this week between Russia and Syrian rebels in Quneitra province that will see the sensitive zone on the Israeli border fall back under regime control.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that Israel would continue to act against the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria,” his office said in a statement on the call.
The Kremlin said Putin and Netanyahu discussed regional developments “with an emphasis on the Syrian settlement process.”
Netanyahu has spoken and met with Putin regularly in recent years about Syria and military coordination between the two countries there, most recently during his visit to Moscow last week. Along with Iran, Russian forces are backing the regime of President Bashar Assad in the country’s civil war.

Israel has warned it will not tolerate the military presence of Iran and its proxies in Syria and has carried out airstrikes against Iranian targets.
The Syrian army and its allies since June have been on an offensive in southern Syria, raising concerns Iranian backed-forces could take up positions in formerly rebel-held areas bordering the Golan Heights. Israel has called for the 1974 disengagement agreement between it and Syria to be upheld and warned Syrian forces against entering the demilitarized buffer zone along the border.

Also Friday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, his office said. The talks reportedly focused on the coordination mechanisms set up between Israel and Russia to avoid accidental conflict between their respective forces operating in Syria.
While Russia has called for all non-Syrian troops to leave southern Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month it is “absolutely unrealistic” to expect a complete Iranian pullout from the country. Iran has said its forces will only leave Syria at Assad’s request.
During a joint press conference after his meeting in Helsinki with US President Donald Trump this week, Putin said the two agreed on securing Israel’s border with Syria, in accordance with the 1974 disengagement of forces deal following the Yom Kippur War.
Putin said this would bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also provide security to the state of Israel.”
The Russian leader said that during his “very successful” one-on-one meeting, Trump paid “special attention” to the issue, “and I would like to confirm that Russia is interested in this development and will act accordingly.”
Trump, for his part, noted that “President Putin also is helping Israel.” He said that both leaders had spoken with Netanyahu, “and they would like to do certain things with Syria having to do with the safety of Israel… We absolutely would like to work in order to help Israel, and Israel will be working with us. So both countries work jointly [for this purpose].”

Liberman: Hamas Leaders Dragging Israel Toward 'Large And Painful War'

Liberman: Hamas leaders dragging Israel toward 'large and painful' Gaza war

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Friday indicated that Israel was prepared to go to war if the stream of incendiary kites and balloons and other forms of violence from the Gaza Strip did not cease.
“We see in the newspapers that you don’t go to war over kites and fires. However, any reasonable person who sees a natural grove burned or thousands of dunams of agricultural fields scorched understands that this situation is unreasonable,” Liberman said at a press conference in the town of Sderot, just outside the Palestinian coastal enclave.
The defense minister blamed the heads of the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, for the recent weeks of violence and the looming threat of war.

“We are trying to be considerate and responsible, but the heads of Hamas are forcibly leading us to a situation of not having a choice, to a situation in which we will need to carry out a large and painful military operation — not something that’s just for show, but a large and painful military operation,” he said.

“I think that the only people responsible for this are the heads of Hamas, but unfortunately all the residents of Gaza will be forced to pay the price,” Liberman added.
The defense minister said Israel was prepared to “carry out an operation that is of a much wider scope and much more painful than Operation Protective Edge” — the Israeli name for the 2014 Gaza war.
Liberman said a source of the renewed violence and tensions was the loss of Israel’s deterrence over Hamas, which it needed to restore.
“We are acting responsibly and with restraint, despite the fact that the real problem is the erosion of the deterrence, a shift in the balance, and, of course, the feeling of security, which is no less important than the security itself,” he said.
Liberman’s comments came as the military prepared for another day of violence along the Gaza security fence. Last Friday, riots along the border resulted in an IDF officer being moderately injured in a grenade attack by Gazans and a 15-year-old Palestinian teenager being killed by IDF gunfire.

“Accepting a reality like this, when last weekend residents of the Gaza periphery were forced to run to bomb shelters and preparing safe rooms is an inseparable aspect of preparing for Shabbat — this is intolerable,” Liberman said Friday.

According to the defense minister, during the IDF’s airstrikes last Saturday — some of the most extensive since the 2014 Gaza war — the fighter jets dropped “almost 50 tons of ordnance on Hamas key strategic sites.”
Thursday saw another bout between the two sides, albeit a far smaller one, after a member of Hamas’s military wing was killed in an Israeli airstrike against a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into southern Israel. In response, a number of mortar shells and rockets were fired at the Eshkol region, causing no damage or injury, and Hamas vowed revenge.
“There’s no communications with Hamas. We are in close contact with the relevant bodies: be it Egypt or the United Nations representative,” the defense minister said.

There are signs already that the hoped for calm may fail to materialize.
Thursday’s airstrike on Gazans taking part in launching incendiary balloons over the border marked a serious escalation in Israel’s efforts to stop the flying objects, which have wreaked havoc in Israeli communities near the border and upped political pressure for the military to take a harder stance against perpetrators.

Russia Seeking To Prevent Military Escalation Between Iran And Israel

Russia concerned about military confrontation between Israel and Iran

Moscow seeks to prevent a military escalation between Iran and Israel, the Kremlin’s ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan said in an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant on Wednesday.

“Sometimes conflicts do arise, and we are naturally concerned about the possibility of military confrontation between the Iranian and Israeli forces in Syria. We do everything possible to prevent it. To prevent the escalation of the conflict,” he said.

Iran is a “friendly country” and “one of our key partners” which cooperates with Russia in “various spheres” including ending the seven-year-old civil war in Syria, Dzhagaryan said. Iran’s presence in the war-torn country is legitimate because it was invited by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, he added.
“Iran is not a country that you can put pressure on. This is a big state, pursuing an independent foreign policy. Work with Iranians can only be a method of persuasion,” Dzhagaryan noted.

Tensions between the two foes has risen in recent months and Jerusalem has repeatedly said it would not allow Iran to set up a permanent presence in Syria.

In recent weeks top Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have repeatedly met with their Russian counterparts, both in Moscow and Jerusalem, Russia and in Israel, to stress the issue.

Last week Liberman reiterated Israel’s concerns, saying “the Iranian presence in Syria is unreasonable. We are not prepared to accept an Iranian presence in Syria anywhere, and as you have heard more than once, we will act against any Iranian consolidation in Syria.”

In recent weeks Syrian government forces backed by Russian airpower have seized territory on the Syrian Golan Heights from rebel groups. Iranian forces and affiliated Shiite militias are also said to be playing a minor role in the offensive, which is approaching the Israeli border.

In response, the IDF has reinforced the Golani Division. Israel has vowed to protect the frontier “until the last millimeter.”

In a joint press conference in Helsinki with US President Donald Trump last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin concurred that Israel’s border with Syria must be preserved in accordance with the 1974  Separation of Forces Agreement signed following the Yom Kippur War.

Doing so, Putin said, will bring “peace to the Golan Heights and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also provide security for the State of Israel.”

Israel believes that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Corps and Quds forces are continuing to entrench themselves despite repeated IAF strikes against Iranian bases in Syria. Last week Israel again pummeled air defenses in Aleppo province.

Israel believes that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Corps and Quds forces are continuing to entrench themselves despite repeated IAF strikes against Iranian bases in Syria. Last week Israel again pummeled air defenses in Aleppo province.

Hungary's PM Orban: Antisemitism Rising In Western Europe While Declining In Eastern Europe

Orban: Antisemitism rising in western Europe, declining in eastern Europe

Carrying signs reading “Never Again,” “Shame on you,” and “Every tyrant has a Yad Vashem,” several dozen protesters briefly blocked the motorcade of visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban when he left Yad Vashem Thursday.

Orban, seen as a symbol of a sharp rightward turn in parts of Europe and as someone who has fanned the flames of antisemitism in Hungary by saluting World War II Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy and by his continuous attacks on Hungarian-born Jewish financier George Soros, had just toured the Yad Vashem Museum and laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance.

Police quickly removed the protesters. Demonstrations against visiting leaders, as well as demonstrations at Yad Vashem, are rare. Amnesty International called earlier this week for demonstrations against Orban during his visit to the Holocaust memorial.

Following that visit Orban and his wife Anikó Lévai went to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence for a private dinner. The two leaders met earlier in the day.

Orban arrived Wednesday as the first Hungarian premier to visit Israel. He is scheduled to leave Friday after visiting the Western Wall.

Yad Vashem issued a statement after Orban’s visit saying that the Hungarian leader is a guest of Israel, and that “Yad Vashem receives guests of the state in accordance with an itinerary set by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for official visits.”

According to the statement, Orban toured the Yad Vashem museum and was guided by Robert Rozett, a historian of Hungarian Jewry during the Holocaust.

Before his meeting with Netanyahu Wednesday, Orban said that antisemitism in Western Europe is on the rise, while it is declining in Eastern Europe.

Orban said that he is willing to work together with Israel in the struggle against antisemitism, which he said includes harsh statements against Israel.

“I want to tell you that in Hungary there is no tolerance for antisemitism, and all Jews in Hungary are protected by the government,” he said through a Hebrew interpreter. “We are proud that in Hungary those who declare themselves Jews and live a Jewish lifestyle can feel secure.”

Orban noted that the Hungarian government has done a great deal to build Jewish culture in the country, including refurbishing synagogues, preserving cemeteries and investing in education.

The Hungarian leader lauded the “excellent” relations between Israel and Hungary, and said it is due to his friendship with Netanyahu. Both countries, he explained, have “patriotic leaders,” and a “Hungarian patriot and a Jewish Israeli patriot can always find something in common.”

Orban said that he and Netanyahu see the challenges facing the world in the 21st century in similar ways. “There is full agreement between us that security is the most important thing, and that each nation has the right to defend its citizens, and our obligation is to give our citizens a sense of security.”

Orban, who is staunchly opposed to the refugee influx into Europe, said that Europe is facing a dual crisis of refugees and terrorism, with terrorists taking advantage of the refugees to get into Europe.

“We need to take steps against this phenomenon,” he said.

Netanyahu, in his remarks, said that he and Orban understand that the threat of radical Islam is a “real one” that could endanger Europe and the world, and which “certainly endangers us and our Arab neighbors.”

“You have stood up for Israel time and time again in international forums,” he said. “It is deeply appreciated. An important goal of Israeli foreign policy is to change not only our bilateral relations with so many countries, and indeed our relations are flourishing as never before. It is also to change the way Israel is treated in international forums and on this Hungary has led the charge many, many times and I thank you for it.”

Among EU countries, Hungary has consistently abstained rather than vote against Israel in the UN. It abstained in December in the UN General Assembly vote condemning the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem; in May when the UN Human Rights Commission voted to establish an investigative committee into the violence along the Gaza border; and in June when the general assembly condemned the Gaza violence and passed a resolution calling for protection of the Palestinian civilian population.

Hungary was also instrumental in thwarting an EU resolution in December that would have condemned the US for its decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.