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ISRAEL DECIDES ON SEVERE BUT CALIBRATED CRACKDOWN ON HAMAS

The brutal execution of three Israeli youths near Hebron marks a turning point in Israeli-Hamas confrontation

Israeli government decides to smash Hamas infrastructure on West Bank but apparently in a calibrated crackdown

The Hamas atrocity comes amid greater regional picture of Islamist terrorism that is also threatening neighboring Arab states

 'Hamas is responsible, Hamas will pay!' Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has warned that Israel is about to take off the gloves, after the bodies of three Israeli youths were found near Hebron, a hotbed of Hamas terrorism on the West Bank. After the massive 18-day search, the bodies of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach were uncovered in a hole. Two suspected Hamas terrorists from the Hebron area, named as Marwan Kawasme and Amer Abu Aysha, are believed responsible. The manhunt continues for the two suspects, who are believed to be hiding out in the West Bank. Apparently, pretending to be religious Jews, the two killers gave a lift to the three hitchhiking Israelis and then shot them dead when Gil-ad Shaar tried to contact the Israel police on his cell phone. A police recording of the call indicates all three were shot dead in the car where bullet casings were found. 

 While there has been international condemnation of the killings, there have also been the cautions that Israel should act proportionately and not overdo it. Just what is a proportional reaction to Palestinian terrorists deliberately shooting dead three innocent Israeli students hitch-hiking a ride home for the Sabbath? But what of the Palestinian children who have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops during rioting by Palestinians who hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails? When their lives are threatened, IDF soldiers shoot rubber bullets that are designed not to kill or seriously injure (nor would Israelis ever consider using children as human shields). Secondly, there is the argument that Palestinians must resort to kidnapping and killing because they have no other choice. Really, the fact is the Palestinians could have achieved their own state years ago if they had been willing to recognize the right of the Jewish people to their own state in their ancient homeland. All the rest is empty rhetoric. 

 

 'Let the punishment fit the crime' 

 
Marwan Kawasme & Amer Abu Aysha - suspected murderers of the three teenagers

 How will Israel react? Prime Minister Netanyahu has twice convened his inner security cabinet of eight members to determine how Israel will retaliate. There is no question that the killings are a defining moment in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. While Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennet, the Jewish Home leader want to launch a full-scale military operation to topple Hamas in Gaza, the government will apparently adopt a calibrated but more severe response. Netanyahu has spoken of three goals: 

 

  •  'Track down the kidnappers and all those who participated in the kidnapping - 'their blood is on their heads'. (In order to do so it is important to take the two suspected killers alive in order to interrogate them about their accomplices (DE). 
  •  'We will continue to smash the Hamas infrastructure in Judea & Samaria - we have already been operating and our hand is still poised'. 
  •  'Israel will continue operating against Hamas in Gaza, which encourages kidnappings these very days (Hamas has denied culpability in the killings but has praised it (DE). Moreover Hamas bears direct responsibility for the launching of rockets and mortar bombs at Israel. If need be we will strengthen the campaign - Hamas is responsible, it is paying a heavy price and will continue to pay'. We will track down every last one who participated in the brutal killings and bring them to justice'. 

 

'Hamas will continue to pay a heavy price, but at the same time we must use our heads and not act on our gut feeling'. - Moshe Yaalon

 This sounded similar to the secret orders to the Mossad by Prime Minister Golda Meir after the kidnapping and massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. A special hit team was formed that eventually executed the ringleader in Beirut and every other Palestinian terrorist involved in the atrocity. Although no details have been released about the security cabinet's decisions, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon made this telling statement: 'Hamas will continue to pay a heavy price, but at the same time we must use our heads and not act on our gut feeling'. (The Hebrew expression means to react intelligently to what has happened and not out of blind rage DE). IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who gives the impression of always being cool, calm and collected, spoke along the same lines as the Defense Minister. 

 
While [assassinating Hamas leaders] might salve the understandable passion for revenge, it would lead to a full-scale escalation that would not be in Israel's interests at this time.

 But in the public debate, some voices are calling for Israel to launch a campaign to assassinate Hamas leaders, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in Gaza. The argument is that Haniyeh calls for Israel's destruction and bears responsibility for the rocketing of Israeli citizens, a sort of Osama bin Laden. While it might salve the understandable passion for revenge, it would lead to a full-scale escalation that would not be in Israel's interests at this time. Moreover, the Hamas kidnapping has angered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the West Bank and may have put an end to his recent reconciliation agreement with Hamas. If Israel conducts a campaign of overkill it could drive Abbas and Haniyeh back into each other's arms. 

 

 Wider regional considerations - Egypt  

 
Newly elected Egyptian President el-Sisi

 Egypt's new President al Sisi and Israel are on good terms and are cooperating in confronting Islamist terrorism in Sinai. The Israeli response to the killings near Hebron should not upset the apple cart. This also applies to the regional situation where there is now a major clash between Sunni states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states, and radical Islam such as the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria - that also includes Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank). The ISIS is waging the battle in Syria and Iraq, but its ultimate goal is also to topple other Arab regimes as well and extend its Caliphate across the Middle East. There is then the possibility of Israel building on its silent understandings with these neighboring states, if it plays its cards right. How does Israel view the cataclysmic contest now being waged between Sunni and Shiite Islam that has erupted in Iraq? Like everyone else, there is no indication that Israel's vaunted intelligence services knew anymore than anyone else. But in order to get some idea of what is going on, it is useful to understand where we've been in the context of recent developments that have rocked the Middle East to its very core. 

 
Since the so-called Arab Spring captured the world stage three years ago, it has swept like a brushfire from Tunis in the Maghreb through Libya, Egypt, Yemen, then on to Syria and now to Iraq.

 Since the so-called Arab Spring captured the world stage three years ago, it has swept like a brushfire from Tunis in the Maghreb through Libya, Egypt, Yemen, then on to Syria and now to Iraq. Jerusalem viewed with despair Washington's support for the Morsi election victory in Egypt (after all, the feeling in Washington was that even if Morsi represented the undemocratic Muslim Brotherhood, that despises the U.S. and Israel, the main thing was that he was elected democratically). Fortunately, the Obama administration later came to its senses and realized that Gen. Abdel Fattah al Sisi was still the best hope for Egypt's future and the region; and in the last election, a majority of Egyptians decided, after a taste of Morsi, that they opposed the Muslim Brotherhood turning their country into another Iran. 

 
Bashar Assad

 Obama's policy in Syria has blown hot and cold - first he warned 'there would be consequences' if President Assad used chemical weapons again, and when the Syrian tyrant did so, his Secretary of State John Kerry read the riot act to Assad. But then Obama dealt a blow to his own credibility by appealing to Russia's President Vladimir Putin to get him off the hook with a scheme to defang Assad of his chemical weapons. But predictably, although Assad gave up some of his chemical weapons, he is now suspected of again using chlorine gas in that ongoing bloodbath. 

 
Within a period of days, an estimated five thousand Jihadists routed some 50,000 Iraqi troops from a large swath of Western Iraq, and now threaten the capital of Baghdad.

 And suddenly the ISIS - the ' Islamic State in Iraq and Syria' has reshuffled the Middle East deck with its astounding gains against the Iraqi Army armed with American weaponry. Within a period of days, an estimated five thousand Jihadists routed some 50,000 Iraqi troops from a large swath of Western Iraq, and now threaten the capital of Baghdad. The Iraqi officers and soldiers were so spooked by the mass executions by the ISIS that they left behind quantities of American weapons in their retreat. As a result, the ISIS is now armed with American weapons. 

 

 The Middle East Scorecard…

 
A map of the Sykes–Picot agreement, which was signed by Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot on May 8, 1916. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 Once upon a time, a British diplomat and a French diplomat sat down together with a map of the Middle East, a ruler, and pencils with erasers and decided how to divvy up part of the Middle East under Ottoman control. With typical imperial arrogance and with little grounding in the communal or religious composition of the peoples involved they drew frontiers, and haggled over which empire would get what and so on, until they reached a settlement. In fact this was no fairy tale. It really happened in 1916, in the midst of the First World War. The British diplomat, Sir Mark Sykes, and his French opposite, Francois Georges Picot, actually carved out a map for a new Middle East, once the Ottoman Empire was defeated. This is what it looked like: Britain was to receive the coastal region from Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River (Palestine) as well as the East Bank of the Jordan and southern Iraq. France came away with Syria, Lebanon, Northern Iraq and part of southeast Turkey. 

 
The atrocities perpetrated by this hodge-podge of warring factions now resembles a 21st Century replica of Dante's Inferno, with over 160,000 people killed, hundreds of thousands wounded and tortured, while millions of refugees are fleeing in all directions.

 This master plan has survived for nearly one hundred years, but it is now unraveling at the seams. Syria is no longer a unified state under an Alawite dictatorship, but the ongoing civil war has turned it into cantons ruled by its various communities: Alawite, Sunni, Kurdish, and rebels of numerous stripes, who are not only battling the Assad regime but also one another. The atrocities perpetrated by this hodge-podge of warring factions now resembles a 21st Century replica of Dante's Inferno, with over 160,000 people killed, hundreds of thousands wounded and tortured, while millions of refugees are fleeing in all directions. Does anyone seriously believe there is a chance of Syria rising from the ashes and reconstituting the territory demarcated by Sykes-Picot? 

 

 Shiite Iran is backing the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The Sunni ISIS and al Qaeda are trying to topple Assad and gain territorial footholds in the breakup of what was Syria. After slowly building its strength in Syria, the ISIS, like a Mongol horde crossed into Iraq, sweeping toward the capital of Baghdad. Although the Iraqi army is now putting up stiffer resistance after fleeing from the city of Mosul, Iraq appears to be following in Syria's footsteps. 

 
Kirkuk Citadel (photo credit: Chad.r.hill)

 The good news is about the Kurds, who number some 30 million in a triangle across Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq! Nonetheless, Sykes and Picot ignored them when they carved up the region for Britain and France. Over the years, Israel has at times known to lend the Kurds secret military aid, mainly in their campaign against Turkey and Iraq. Now Prime Minister Netanyahu has voiced public support for Kurdistan's independence after their gains in Iraq that include the oil center of Kirkuk (although this may have riled the U.S., which still believes it's possible to put the pieces back together under Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki). With the Hebron killings, the ISIS threat in Iraq, and Iranian nuclear talks soon coming to a head, forget about the metaphor of the shifting sands in the Middle East - this is a full-blown sand storm.

 

  

 PS: Believe it or not, Israel supplies Gaza with most of its electricity despite the Palestinian rocketing and terror attacks. In the recent kidnapping of the three youths, could Israel have issued this ultimatum: If the boys were not returned safely within 24 hours, Israel would turn off the power to Gaza? The same applies to the rocketing: for every rocket or mortar fired at Israel from Gaza, Israel should immediately turn off the power for one hour. Desperate situations require desperate solutions!

 

 

 

 

 David Essing
 

 

 

 

 

 

 Editor Rivki Matan

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