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Day 22 of Protective Edge: Hamas Still in the Game

Analysis: terror organization's human shield, tunnel tactics proving successful against IDF's limited warfare.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 7/29/2014, 8:58 AM

IDF soldiers.
IDF soldiers.
Flash 90

If war were a boxing match and each day a round, Round 22 of Operation Protective Edge would go to Hamas. The terror militia succeeded in killing ten IDF soldiers in several incidents and surprised the IDF in its ability to coordinate an effective multi-pronged offensive despite the heavy attrition it has undergone in three weeks of punishment from the vastly superior Israeli military machine.

The first IDF soldier killed Monday was a D9 Caterpillar tractor operator. A terrorist fired an RPG at the tractor, killing the operator.

Later in the day, an IDF Givati Brigade infantry force encountered eight terrorists who opened fire at it and fled into a nearby building. A D9 tractor demolished the building, burying the terrorists beneath the rubble.

In the afternoon hours of Monday, Hamas fired several mortar shells at an Armored Corps staging ground. Four soldiers were killed in the explosions.

In a separate incident, a Hamas squad numbering 4-7 terrorists emerged from an attack tunnel on the Israeli side of the border, near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. They fired a missile at a nearby pillbox compound, killing five combat soldiers from the Squad Commander School.

A soldier who was manning the elevated position in the pillbox saw one of the terrorists trying to abduct a soldier or steal a body. He fired at him and killed him. The rest of the terrorists escaped.

Rocket salvos overnight failed to kill anyone but scratched Israeli pride, forcing hundreds of thousands into shelters in Tel Aviv and the main population centers on the central coastal plain, and reaching northward almost to Haifa. 

The IDF attacked about 150 targets overnight – a much larger number than it has attacked on an average night in Operation Protective Edge. The targets included terror headquarters as well as the homes of Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and of the Sejaiya Battalion commander.

Sovereignty subverted

The public mood in Israel is mixed: on the one hand, there is dismay and disappointment that Hamas, a relatively small and poorly armed terror-guerrilla force whose main asset is its shamelessness, appears to still be going strong, and is able to deal painful blows to the IDF inside Israeli territory despite three weeks of intense fighting.

There is also a gnawing sensation that Israeli sovereignty is being subverted from within, as Arab Knesset members mount increasingly brazen attacks on the state that employs them, and Muslim rioters and thugs, both inside and outside the Green Line, appear to be able to act with impunity. Arab Muslim violence is felt daily, in arson attacks, rock ambushes against motorists, grave incidents like the sacking of the Temple Mount police station, the burning of Light Rail stations in Jerusalem, massive rioting at Kalandia, recurrent severe violence at the Mount of Olives and more.

The sensation of subversion is perhaps more worrisome than any external attack. As Shas MK told leading Arab MK Ahmed Tibi (Raam-Taal) Monday, in the plenum: "You are the most serious tunnel that leads from Gaza into the Israeli Knesset."

On the other side, a sense of solidarity that few in Israel thought possible is also emerging. For example: tens of thousands of Israelis spontaneously attended the funerals and "shiva" mourning weeks of soldiers who made aliyah on their own and have few or no next of kin in Israel. Thousands of Israelis have been voluntarily flocking to the front lines to lavish the soldiers with food, clothing and other items. In the hareidi world, too, there is more open identification with the military than ever before. For instance, a large hareidi newspaper, Mishpaha, published photographs of fallen soldiers and biographical details, in a show of solidarity that has no precedent in the hareidi world.

On the other hand, the military, long seen as a bastion of secular Israeli identity, is providing more and more scenes that show a religious mindset has permeated the ranks. Soldiers fresh from the front, with and without kippot, can be seen dancing in circles to the tune of Torah verses and receiving strength from Jewish spirituality, in viral Facebook videos. A video of soldiers with their war makeup still on, exuberantly shouting out Rabbe Nachman's refrain -- "and the main thing, is not to be afraid at all" -- radiates the unmistakeable redemptive energy of a nation that, in the words of American revolutionary John Paul Jones, has "not yet begun to fight":

A do-or-die moment 

There is also a sense that this is a do-or-die moment for Israel: as the Middle East descends into chaos on all sides of the Jewish state and within it, the Jewish nation seeks the unity and fighting spirit that will mark the start of a new chapter in its glorious history.

Without doubt, this is a moment in which Israel's leadership is being tested. It has proven hesitant thus far to go all the way in fighting Hamas, and has been careful to indicate only limited and fuzzy goals to the counterterror operation, with phrases like “reduce Hamas's ability to launch rockets” or “eliminate the tunnel threat.” Hamas, however, has proven surprisingly resilient, unmoved by deaths of its own civilians, which it leverages for propaganda, and able to keep on suprising Israel and inflict heavy caualties at an advanced stage in the fighting.

United in its support for the Gaza operation, the Israeli public is markedly less tolerant, in this round of the fighting, toward politicians, journalists and artists who speak out against Israel and the armed forces. On occasion, the backlash against infuriating statement by celebrities has been so harsh that they hurriedly apologized for what they said. Ultraleftist, pacifist performers like Aviv Gefen have been touring the front lines. These things are not taken for granted anymore in Israel, in which core values have been under vicious attack for decades.

Israel's morality, too, is being out to the test, as more and more Israelis question whether the policy of studiously avoiding enemy civilian casualties – even at the expense of Israeli casualties – is a sign of morality, or perhaps of the opposite. IDF videos and public advocacy have concentrated on showing the cruelty of Hamas, as opposed to the humaneness of the IDF, which goes so far as to offer medical treatment to terrorists and their kin. Meanwhile, enemy propaganda, when not about hatred, humiliation of the other side and naked bloodlust, is all about victory, a term whose meaning many in Israel seem to have forgotten, and which some say is impossible to achieve.