September 6, 2014

Netanyahu And The Hamas War Of Attrition

by Hal Gershowitz

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to refuse to accommodate Hamas’s war of attrition strategy.  Attrition is derived from the Latin atterere, to rub against (or to grind down). Hamas wants to wage a war of attrition against Israel.  That is, to win by wearing down the Jewish nation to the point of collapse.  The Israelis, however, aren’t accommodating the Hamas strategy…nor should they.

Netanyahu, no doubt, has a strong historical memory of, and a bitter taste for, wars of attrition, having been on the front lines during the 1969-1970 war of attrition waged against Israel by Egypt. Netanyahu has no illusions about terrorism either. He fought terrorists for years, even participating in the successful rescue of highjacked passengers on Sabena flight 571 in 1972.  He still carries the scars of the gun shot wound he suffered in that successful rescue mission forty-two years ago.  Four years later his brother was killed leading the remarkable rescue of over 100 Israeli and other Jewish Air France passengers at Entebbe, 2500 miles from Israel.  Western leaders who have never seen a day of combat in their lives or ever served in the armed forces of their respective countries will not easily intimidate him. Nor should they.

Those who protest and demonstrate against Israel’s strong retaliation following weeks (actually years) of Hamas firing rockets at Israeli civilian population centers are, wittingly or unwittingly, playing the role Hamas has written for them.  Hamas wanted a war of attrition – sort of a tit for tat exercise in which Hamas and Israel traded rounds of fire with Israel constrained by the imprecise, unwritten rules of proportionality.  Not a bad strategy for an enemy that celebrates death and whose slogan brags that “we love death more than you love life.

Hamas’s war plans were largely predicated on the assumption that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) policy of avoiding civilian casualties to the extent possible could be used tactically against the Israelis.  Indeed, a Hamas battle manual captured by the IDF is instructive on this point.  It reads in part:

The soldiers and commanders of the IDF must limit (emphasis added) their use of weapons and tactics that lead to the harm and unnecessary loss of people and [destruction of] civilian facilities. It is difficult for them to get the most use out of their firearms, especially of supporting fire [e.g. artillery].

The manual continues, (the) “presence of civilians cause three major problems for advancing troops:

(1) Problems with opening fire
(2) Problems in controlling the civilian population during operations and afterward
(3) Assurance of supplying medical care to civilians who need it.”

Finally, the manual discusses the benefits for Hamas when civilian homes are destroyed:

The destruction of civilian homes: This increases the hatred of the citizens towards the attackers [the IDF] and increases their gathering [support] around the city defenders.”

Civilian Gazan casualties are an integral part of Hamas’s strategy, probably as important to Hamas as Israeli casualties, according to the Hamas combat manual.

 This manual was captured during a bloody battle in Shijaiyah a Gazan neighborhood that also served as a Hamas stronghold. Hamas fired many rockets from Shijaiyah, even during the many ceasefires that Hamas routinely violated. Israeli planes took out a warehouse in which rockets were stored or from which rockets were being fired.  There were many casualties, but credible evidence has been aired that suggests the casualties were the result of exploding rockets in the warehouse and not from Israeli fire. Whether the casualties were from exploding Hamas rockets or Israeli ordinance, many civilians, unfortunately, paid the price.

Israel has been vilified for not fighting by the Hamas rulebook, i.e. we (Hamas) fire at your civilian population centers from our civilian population centers and you can’t fire back.  Israel had a different rulebook. It was to strike at Hamas wherever Hamas launched or stored rockets, and to utterly destroy the vast network of tunnels that were being readied to unleash an immense and unprecedented massacre of Israeli civilians.  Simply stated, Israel refused to play by the Hamas playbook. The widespread condemnation of Israel for responding, as any nation (worthy of the word “nation”) would, in the face of such unrelenting and irresponsible attacks on its civilian population is, in a word, absurd.

Ironically, it is clear that Israel went to great lengths to warn civilians of impending attacks. Hamas was right about that.  Israel would go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties. Has any nation ever telephoned civilians to warn them that the building or neighborhood in which they lived was about to be attacked, or fired duds as a warning before firing live rounds?

Even Pernille Ironside, the Chief of the UNICEF Gaza Field Office, admitted (somewhat reluctantly) during a press conference at UN headquarters in New York that it was the Israelis that sought the UN’s help in clearing civilian neighborhoods of civilians in advance of imminent Israeli military operations directed at military targets imbedded in those civilian neighborhoods.  She explained that the Israelis had informed them through “text messages, phone calls, and leaflets from Israel,” with “notice of some hours.”

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, testified before the UN Commission that investigated the last Israel-Gaza War.  He told the Commission that Hamas is “adept at staging and distorting incidents” and asserted that during that conflict the Israel Defense Forces “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare” and that “Palestinian civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas’ way of fighting, which involved using human shields as a matter of policy, and deliberate attempts to sacrifice their own civilians.” He added that Israel took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, aborted potentially effective missions in order to prevent civilian casualties, and took “unthinkable” risks by allowing huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza during the fighting.

Scour the news to document the record of international protests against the beheadings, crucifixions, shootings and kidnappings by the Islamic State Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, or the mass kidnappings of teenage girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria or the massacres in that country that have claimed the lives of an estimated 20,000 Nigerians in a generation.  Find the mass protests against the massacres in Somalia or the Congo.  Even the Islamic Janjaweed massacre of over 480,000 innocent and defenseless Darfurians hasn’t matched the anti-Israel protests that erupted as soon as Israel began attacking the sites in Gaza from which Hamas’ war was being waged.

Many of the protests are simply peopled by Hamas sycophants.  Some are the reaction of misguided legions of people who, understandably, are appalled by watching the horrors of war in real time, but who have little interest in how the current war started or who fired the first hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians.  Many of the protests, especially in Europe, are little more than indignation that the Israelis have the temerity to strike back and strike back hard when they are attacked.

Netanyahu’s first job is to protect his people, and to do so forcefully and without reservation. Hopefully, the other leaders of the Western world have the same resolve.  Their people will, sooner or later, pay a terrible price if they don’t.

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