The Day HAMAS Almost Won the War

Rome, December 7, 2014—Hamas had a couple days of triumph.

Finding a dispassionate analysis of the 2014 summertime war between Israel and Gaza is difficult, but West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Center has come up with one.

Generally the CTC, I find, is a wealth of detailed analyses on terrorist and conflict events and trends across the globe. This report, called “A Classical Analysis of the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict,” examines the moves and counter-moves by Israeli and Palestinian commanders on the ground and in the air during the 50-day war. Essentially, the Israelis were out to weaken HAMAS’ ability to fire rockets and to infiltrate Israel proper (worked for now), while fundamentally HAMAS was trying to get Israel to open its borders to the outside world (hasn’t happened).

The report’s conclusions:

  • It is too early to know if Israel achieved its main objective, but as of the end of November 2014, Israel had severely damaged Hamas’s tunnel network and infrastructure, denied Hamas most of its 10-point list of demands, and thwarted Hamas’s desire for conflict mediation through Turkey and Qatar, because Israel had secured Egypt as the sole mediator.
  • Hamas achieved several objectives in this conflict as well. It gained international legitimacy, garnered power in the Palestinian political arena, shut down Israel’s international airport for 48 hours, caused the suspension of Israel’s southern train line, threatened 70 percent of the Israeli population until the last day of the conflict, and managed to utilize its counter-doctrine in a manner that resulted in international criticism against Israel.

It appears that the question of which side was more successful during the conflict remains open. The fragile deadlock between Israel and Hamas remains, with both sides already preparing for the next round.

Of course, variations of the last two sentences could be used to describe the results of any of Israel’s wars with its neighbors.
I would quibble with the CTC report in a couple of areas. It almost ignores the late bombing of major civilian structures by Israel and the unexpected success by HAMAS in shutting Ben Gurion International Airport.
On the first question, the bombing of four big buildings, the justification seemed to have little to do with military necessity. Israeli ground forces left the Gaza Strip on August 4, signifying that the effort to destroy underground tunnels had ended. Curbing rocket fire had only partially succeeded; Hamas fired them into Israel until the end of the conflict.

On August 23, Israel bombed the Zafer 4 Tower, a twelve story residential building. The same day at 10:30 p.m., two warplanes bombed the Municipal Commercial Center, a shopping and office edifice, in far southern Rafah. Near midnight on August 25, bombs flattened part of the 16-story Italian complex, including a two-floor mall at its base. The next day before dawn, the Al-Basha 16-story building was brought down by bombing. It contained media and other offices. Israel warned residents and tenants of all the buildings to leave before the attacks; no one was injured. Israeli officials said that the places were either used to launch rockets or served as HAMAS military control centers.

Amnesty International disagreed. In a report issued this month, AI declared that the attacks “amounted to the deliberate targeting of civilian objects.”
Making civilian objects the object of attack is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and is a war crime,” it concluded. In my view, the bombing was linked to Israel’s desire to force a ceasefire. Negotiations mediated by Egypt had been going on for weeks. Israel’s military objectives had been largely met. Assaulting essentially civilian targets was a message: things could get worse.

The closure of the airport was one of the most intriguing—and for Israel, economically dangerous– moments of the war. On July 22, a HAMAS rocket landed about a mile from Ben Gurion. Delta, American and United Airlines all cancelled flights right away. The Federal Aviation Administration quickly issued a ban on all US flights given “the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza.” Europe’s Aviation Safety Agency followed with a recommendation that airlines stay away from Ben Gurion airport and several European airlines suspended service to Tel Aviv.

After weeks of pointing out how HAMAS rockets were damaging to Israel’s economy, the Israeli government suddenly told everyone that the rockets were in fact not effective. Israel’s Transportation Ministry issued a statement saying that, “Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize.” Giora Romm, the director-general of Israel’s civil aviation authority, told the Financial Times that, “Israel is connected to the world via aviation, and when there is a curfew on aviation the kind of which we have experienced in the last 24 hours it has a very negative impact on the economy.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the decision. “There’s no reason whatsoever for the mistaken FAA decision to instruct American planes not to come here,” Netanyahu said. “I think this decision only rewards the Hamas terrorists for nothing.” He called US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Cairo, to request the ban be lifted.

On July 24, both the FAA and European flight regulators lifted their bans.
HAMAS rockets are in fact inaccurate. The CTC report pointed out that HAMAS fired 4,600 rockets and mortars into Israel but 3,600 landed in the middle of nowhere. Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system shot down 735 of the rockets, CTC said.

Yet, one rocket landing not far from Ben Gurion Airport was enough to send international aviation into a self-protective crouch and worry Israel that the costs of war with HAMAS was higher than it imagined. It’s unlikely that the Islamists running the Gaza Strip don’t recognize this. The question they are undoubtedly pondering is how to make their rockets modestly accurate. And Israel will be working out how to make sure none can reach such a sensitive facility as the airport.
As CTC said, both sides are already in planning for the next conflict.

Read CTC’s analysis here
Read Amnesty International’s report here

Daniel Williams

Published by Daniel Williams

I am a former correspondent who, for more than 30 years, did time in China, Southeast Asia, Central America, Mexico, the Middle East, Europe and Africa and covered wars that went from episodic to non-stop. My book, "Forsaken," about Christian persecution in the Middle East came out January, 2016. NextWarNotes is a news and analysis blog designed to fill gaps, provide background and think about what’s next. The name of the site comes from a 1935 article by Ernest Hemingway in Esquire Magazine called “Notes on the Next War,” in which he predicted the coming conflagration in Europe, told why it would happen and warned Americans to stay out.

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