Israel’s New Strategy for Keeping Hamas on the Defensive

March 21 2018

For the past several years, the IDF’s approach to Gaza has primarily been reactive: it has responded to occasional rocket fire and other attacks with limited, precision strikes aimed at deterring Hamas from going any farther. But Israel’s response last weekend to the targeting of its border patrol by means of an explosive device speaks to a new strategy. Ron Ben-Yishai explains:

Now, the IDF [uses] every event and incident on the Gaza border to destroy Hamas’s most important military abilities, primarily the tunnels. These are no longer acts of retaliation, punishment, and deterrence, but real warfare against Hamas, which will make it easier for the IDF to manage the next round of fighting in the Strip and protect the Israeli communities in the Gaza vicinity.

This is a new type of “war between wars” [as the IDF terms this low-intensity conflict]. Whereas the war between wars in the north is aimed at preventing the delivery of high-quality, precision-guided weapons to Hizballah and the Iranian entrenchment in Syria, the new southern war between wars is aimed at thwarting the ability of Hamas and Islamic Jihad both to infiltrate Israel through underground tunnels and to fight IDF forces within the Strip by transferring fighters, weapons, and rockets through tunnels excavated in Gaza. . . .

This has all been made possible thanks to the quick development and use of new technologies [for the] discovery, detection, and location of tunnels both in the area close to the Israel-Gaza border and deep within the Strip, [along with the] modern technologies for close and remote neutralization of tunnels, both from the air and from the ground. . . . Furthermore, these technological abilities, whose nature has been kept strictly confidential, make it possible to destroy tunnels and target Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s most important military assets without killing Islamic Jihad or Hamas members, based on the calculation that these organizations won’t embark on a major escalation if none of their members have been killed.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, IDF, Islamic Jihad, Israel & Zionism

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy