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Gaza Expert Warns of Large Escalation

Also what Operation Pillar of Defense has to do with the Likud primaries

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(AP)

As the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Defense took aim at Hamas’ leadership and weapons capabilities both on the ground and under, a lot of questions immediately surfaced. What is the likelihood that Israel will send ground forces into Gaza? What do we need to know about Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas chief who was blown away this afternoon? What factors prompted Israel to take on such a bold military initiative? What about reports that Hamas is taking aim at Dimona?

I called Nathan Thrall to talk about what’s happening. Thrall is a Jerusalem-based analyst with the Middle East Program of the International Crisis Group for which he covers Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank. You might have seen his work in the New York Times, The New Republic, GQ, Slate, and the New York Review of Books. He’s also contributing editor at Tablet. Earlier today we spoke about Israel’s operation in Gaza, a place where he has lived and reported from extensively.

What is the biggest takeaway from what’s happened today?

It looks like it’s going to be a large escalation; it seems very likely that Hamas is going to retaliate strongly. They’ll probably use longer-range weapons than they’ve ever used. The real question is whether any of this is going to change the basic status quo in relations between Israel and Gaza, and I think the answer to that is probably ‘no’ unless it escalates to the point that Israel reoccupies parts of Gaza, which is always a possibility.

What makes this different from other rocket barrages from Gaza, which have been going on for months?

What is the difference this time? This time we had hundreds of thousands of residents of southern Israel who are going into shelters and their kids weren’t going to school. Forget about left and right in Israel. Basically, the entire political spectrum in Israel was saying very clearly that this was unacceptable and was in favor of doing something. And you had the various analysts and commentators and security officials saying things like, ‘there’s no good solution and if there was one, you would have seen it already.’

There are no good solutions for Israel for this problem and the fact is that nobody in Israel believes that whatever they do, whether it’s another Cast Lead or something strong but short of that, if they go in with ground troops in a limited way, if they go in with ground troops all over Gaza, if they occupy just the border between Egypt and Gaza, if they split Gaza into three and occupy little strips, or if they occupy the whole thing, everyone believes that at the end of that, Egypt’s not going to take it and Abu Mazen is too weak to be put back there, so what you’re left with is Hamas control of Gaza again.

I think it’s not unfair to say that the real difference this time is that we have a Likud primary in two weeks and Israeli elections coming up very shortly. It’s simply untenable for there not to be a response as there had not been a response in previous rounds of these escalations.

So, you absolutely see the influence of the upcoming Israeli elections in this operation.

I don’t see any other explanation. Given that the other escalations have been even bigger, there have been more rockets. Not only that, but this thing started after people were already talking about a ceasefire. The front page of Haaretz this morning was talking about a ceasefire and there was a lull at four in the afternoon when Jabari’s car was hit.

Likud looked very impotent the last few days. Everyone I talked to in Israel—whatever their political persuasion—was of the view that something had to be done. I don’t see how it could have been ignored. I don’t want to overthink it by saying ‘well, this is the eve of Olmert’s announcement of his reentering the race and he is someone who actually did quote-unquote “take care of Gaza,” he is someone who actually did eliminate a nuclear program instead of just talking about it. Whether Olmert specifically plays any role, it’s certainly the case that the elections made a difference.

What’s the significance of Ahmed Jabari’s assassination? How badly does it hurt Hamas?

In terms of the significance of Israel strategically, I think it’s pretty irrelevant; I think he’ll just be replaced by one of the senior regional commanders in Qassam [Military Brigade]. He was sort of the de facto head of Qassam, but the official head of Qassam before him was Mohammad Deif, who is still alive and is reported to be severely wounded from an Israeli attack.

And so, Jabari had been considered the strongman of Qassam in Gaza, he was the chief broker of the Gilad Shalit deal. When Egyptian intelligence was brokering the Shalit deal in Cairo, the Israelis very much wanted to meet with Jabari and they knew he was sort of the central power in the negotiations. David Maidon, the Mossad envoy in the negotiations—I think he may have been former Mossad at the time, I can’t recall; he’s certainly former now—he asked near the end of the negotiations if he could talk to Jabari directly and he [Jabari] refused.

One of the most senior prisoners who was released in the Shalit deal—he was a member of the Shura Council—I asked him about the negotiations and he interrupted me and said “There’s just one man who is responsible for my freedom and for everyone else’s freedom and that Ahmed Jabari.” He was considered to be a very tough negotiator and the Israelis came to respect him that way.

Jabari is, of course, famous for personally escorting Shalit through the border crossing when he was released, there was a famous photo of him or video of him walking with the current head of the Egyptian intelligence who didn’t hold that position then. Israel has tried to assassinate him a number of times before.

There are reports that there are rockets being fired in the direction of Dimona. Is that something that people are raising alarm about, given its significance?

I just heard that claim from someone in Gaza that Hamas says they would be targeting Dimona. I would assume that doesn’t make Israelis happy, but I also assume that Dimona’s pretty well-protected and that Hamas rockets aren’t going to do much to it.

Can you really foresee Israel taking over Gaza once again in an easy turn of events?

I think it’s Israel’s preference to not do that again. It really depends entirely on what kind of response we see from Gaza and whether Israel is able to deal with it from the sky. I think that’s very much their preference. Gaza is not south Lebanon, it’s a very flat place. It’s much easier for Israel to deal with from the air.

(This interview has been edited and condensed.)

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Poupic says:

“I think it is pretty irrelevant” What is irrelevant is your opinion Mr. Chandler. You are so predictable! Would you live under constant danger of missiles raining on you and your family? Would you want someone to do something about it? All of Israel is for what happen to this master terrorist and more. That Haaretz report about talks about a seize fire so what? Gaza declares one and an hour later fires missiles. Typical! Quoting Haaretz, a paper with no readers or known source of support. With nudniks like you Israel doesn’t need enemies.

Adam_Chandler says:

Dear Sir, many kind thanks for your response. However, this was an interview and the responses given were not mine.

dansblog says:

I think Thrall fingered the wrong election as the culprit. With Obama re-elected in the US, it was natural for Hamas to try an escalation, on the assumption that the president would now have the “flexibility” to be (even) less supportive of Israeli counter-escalation than he was in the past. If their assumption proved correct, then Netanyahu would have to choose between further aggravating an already-strained US-Israel relationship and giving Hamas greater leeway to attack–a win for Hamas either way.

Poupic says:

Very true but you chose very carefully someone who would give you this type of interview. What next? The Guardian as source of information bout Israel? Have you got no shame? Can you find anything they write that is praising Israel for anything? They re about exactly your twin. Maybe they can have a job for you. You would fit with the well.

julis123 says:

Please don’t try to hide behind the impartial journalist shtick. You knew his background and you knew the kind of answers that he would give. Every journalist has a very good idea what types of answers pundits will give before the question is even asked. At least be honest.

Obama is back in and hamas feels they have a green light. I don’t know how Jews that voted for Obama can sleep at night.

Dear Adam:

Please be aware that, to be kind, since the second Intifada, Ha’aretz has been discredited as an impartial source for news and opinion concerning Israeli politics. Its views are irrelevant to the vast majority of Israelis and its importance, now, only lies in the fact that it serves to bolster the prejudices of the JStreet wing of American Jewry, and the editors and writers of the New York Times.

michael vegfruit says:

How is it strategically relevant then? Will Hamas struggle to find a replacement for him? Stop firing rockets into Israel? Or taking Israeli soldiers captive? Or lose control over Gaza? It might be right and just to kill people like this, given what Israel suffers from terrorism. That doesn’t mean it’s going to do much to slow Hamas down. Israel has years, decades even, of experience of targeted killings, and it’s still under attack; the US has been killing AQ’s “third in command” over and over for the last ten years. There’s always another fanatic ready to step up. In themselves, killings like this achieve nothing strategically.

So you absolutely see the influence of the upcoming Israeli elections in this operation.

I don’t see any other explanation. Given that the other escalations have been even bigger, there have been more rockets.

On Wednesday, November 8, the world learned that President Obama won reelection, on Saturday, November 10, Hamas began firing over 100 rockets into Israel, on Wednesday, November 14, Israel responded with Operation Pillar of Defense. There are many other reasonable explanations for Israel’s response other than the cynical political one offered my Mr. Chandler’s “expert.”

Hamas began its rocket attacks two days after President Obama won reelection. Hamas may have concluded that Obama’s past hostility towards Israel and the “more flexibility” he stated he will have to deal with “controversial issues” is indication that Obama will further distance the US from supporting Israel during his 2nd term. The rocket attacks are essentially Hamas probing both the US and Israel in order to take measure of the Obama second term US and Israeli reaction. Israel’s response could not only be the self-defense that any sovereign nation would be expected to take against rocket attacks, but a clear expression to Hamas, the US and the so-called “International Community” of an Israeli consensus that Israel will defend itself wholly independent of the Obama Administration’s support.

At least that’s my “non-expert” opinion.

Poupic says:

You really have a fruit cake for a brain. So not eliminating master terrorists would be better since they are inevitably replaced. Is this what you say? Which means that if a master terrorist is not eliminated the next one comes up and we now have two of them. Soon Islamists will take over the whole planet as they plan to do. Is it what you want? Maybe you are a hidden Islamist at the core? A Muslim brother or a Salafist? Slowing the scums down a bit means some more people get to live a little longer. Maybe this is what bothers you? Which one is it?

AriShavit says:

What are you arguing with him about?

The subject of the interview said it was going to be irrelevant because the guy will be replaced. Do you believe that to be untrue? Do you think rocket fire and terrorist attacks from Hamas will suddenly stop? If you don’t think this one guy was the only person who knows how to build and fire rockets in the entire organization of Hamas and was personally twisting arms and forcing people to shoot them you agree with Nathan’s assessment!

Pull your head out of your a– before you respond to the authors on this site. Actually read what is written.

AriShavit says:

unless the fear of being killed (because his predecessor was hit with a missile) causes the next person in the job to choose non-violence, it is STRATEGICALLY irrelevant. It may be good to kill such people for other reasons, but it is not strategically significant if nothing changes.

It matters not who fires the rockets if the rockets continue to come.

Nathan expressed the view that he believes this assassination will not make the rockets stop because an equally vile person will step in to the role. Where’s the disagreement?

So one terrorist is replaced by another means nothing should be done? Take your own advise read what I posted. The choice of interviewee is already biased and the discussion pre ordained by the choice.

Funny that you say that since Obama’s position now, as it was during the last Gaza conflict, that Israel has rights to defend itself from rocket attacks from Gaza.

Actually, no, it isn’t funny. It is just a lie.

Your definition of an “expert” suspiciously smells of a recommendation by arch-lefty Liel Liebovitz. Thrall clearly understands little about Israeli politics and more than anything else manifests the ironclad law of nature that political correctness is inversely proportional to factual correctness and Thrall is very politically correct.

This is not surprising given that the International Crisis Group seems to serve as a gathering point for many left & far left individuals who often compete as to how harshly they can criticize (usually wrongly) Israel — such luminaries as George Soros, Louise Arbour, Koffee Anan, Prince Turki al-Faisal, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Wesely Clark and others. So for Thrall to keep is paid sinecure (especially with George Soros on the board), I am sure he has to have what the ICG considers a “correct” view of the middle eastern universe.

On the assumption that you have sufficient intellectual honesty to explore views that differ from the Tabletarians standard dogma, and who actually may force you to think out of the box, consider speaking to Dr. Mordechai Kedar (currently and the Begin – Sadat Center at Bar Ilan U.; 25 years (or so) in IDF Military Intelligence) or Dr. Guy Bechor at the Interdisciplinary Center or Dr. Barry Rubin also at the Interdisciplinary Center or Prof. Efraim Inbar, the Director of the BeSa Center; or Prof. Efraim Karsh at King’s College in London; or many others.

Try it. You just might learn something. And if you are really adventuresome, you could even give Caroline Glick (gasp!!) a call.

hg
J’lem / Efrat

AriShavit says:

who said nothing should be done? I didn’t. The author of this article didn’t. The person interviewed didn’t. He said the ultimate effect of killing one man is fairly irrelevant:

“In terms of the significance of Israel strategically, I think it’s pretty irrelevant; I think he’ll just be replaced by one of the senior regional commanders in Qassam [Military Brigade].”

Where did he say we should let people fire rocket’s without consequences?

Are you so limited in thought that you cannot think of more than one option?

AriShavit says:

“Obama’s past hostility towards Israel”

when was that?

[by the way, this is a hopelessly american-centric viewpoint. it's not all about america all the time.]

michael vegfruit says:

Yes, I want Israel to use effective strategy because I am really Mohammed Morsi. You caught me out, genius.

Taking as true your assumption that the Islamists (or whoever) are out to rule the world, where’s your evidence they’ve so much as missed a beat after one of these killings? Take Imad Moughniyah as an example: is Israel safer from Hizbullah now than it was before he was killed? It doesn’t look like it. When has it worked, for anyone, anywhere?

Again, I’ve got no major qualms with bringing some measure of justice to people like this. But don’t mistake it for good strategy.

Poupic says:

You point out that one killed is replaced by another. Why take the trash out since next week you have to do it again? It is the same thing except that killing a head terrorist saves lives for a while. I like that a lot. They are out to kill civilians, school children, remember the school bus blown with a laser guided anti- tank missile? It means someone was looking at the bus all the time the missile flew and directed it precisely into it to kill children. By luck only one was left in it. Unfortunately he got killed. There is nothing wrong with killing terrorists. On the other hand there is something terribly wrong in letting them live because innocent civilians ill have to lose their life for it. All the top leadership of Hamas should be targets for extermination just like bed bugs. Bud bugs suck blood for a living, terrorists live to spill innocent blood. There is o other way, they have to die. Sooner than later is preferable.

Poupic says:

You point out that one killed is replaced by another. Why take the trash out since next week you have to do it again? It is the same thing except that killing a head terrorist saves lives for a while. I like that a lot. They are out to kill civilians, school children, remember the school bus blown with a laser guided anti- tank missile? It means someone was looking at the bus all the time the missile flew and directed it precisely into it to kill children. By luck only one was left in it. Unfortunately he got killed. There is nothing wrong with killing terrorists. On the other hand there is something terribly wrong in letting them live because innocent civilians ill have to lose their life for it. All the top leadership of Hamas should be targets for extermination just like bed bugs. Bud bugs suck blood for a living, terrorists live to spill innocent blood. There is o other way, they have to die. Sooner than later is preferable.

Poupic says:

Great now you are sorry that this real scum bag Mugnieh got killed! But the interesting thing is that you take the Hitzbollah line as truth that Israel killed him in Damascus of all places! It is so interesting!

By the way, of course Israel is safer now that this mass murderer of Israeli’s is dead. How could it be otherwise? In addition, Nasrallah rarely sees the light of day because he suspect that he would be next day’s lunch for the craws if he stayed out longer than absolutely necessary. When The PLO was ejected from Lebanon to Tunisia, a marksman had Arafat in his gun sight while getting n board ship. The order to get him never came and Arafat got another chance to cause rivers of blood when he was stupidly brought back. Do you think not killing Arafat then was a good thing? Did it preserve Israeli lives? Your arguments if you can call them that hold no water.

dansblog says:

Please don’t misunderstand–I’m as delighted as you are that Obama has come out strongly in support of Israel’s self-defense. It’s not clear to me, however, that Hamas anticipated that reaction. Iran, for example, is widely reported to be in secret negotiations with the administration, and they may well have encouraged Hamas to believe that they had a free hand to escalate in Gaza, as a way of strengthening Iran’s negotiating position. (Helping quiet down Hamas might be a valuable negotiating chip, for instance.)

AriShavit says:

you’re just repeating yourself. Since all of us agree that Hamas is bad and the rockets should stop, let’s stop and think:

Option #1: Target individual leaders within Hamas over multiple engagements that allow Hamas an opportunity to regroup and restaff the position.

Option #2: Large scale operation where Hamas is uprooted from Gaza and we turn the territory over to the PA.

Option #3: Even larger scale operation where Israel re-occupies Gaza.

Option #4: Diplomacy?

Option #5: International intervention to keep the peace.

etc.

We all agree that something must be done. How should we do it is the question. I for one agree with the subject of the interview that Option #1 above is fairly irrelevant in the grand scheme of events because absolutely nothing changes unless we give other incentives for Hamas to change (which we don’t).

Poupic says:

I keep repeating myself? You are and in fact you bring the argument that brought Arafat, Abbas back from retirement in Tunis based on nothing more than wishful thinking. “Giving incentives to Hamas!” Israel uprooted two dozen settlements in the strip, left very expensive hot houses for the PA to get an income from. They destroyed everything not wanting anything to do with things that came “From the Jews” they hate. Hamas’s charter spells it exactly why they exist ditto for the PLO aka Fatah’s charter. There is no incentive in the world possible to make those terrorists accept not only Jews but Jews in Israel, in Jerusalem. They will try to exterminate the Jewish nation to the end of days. Beside, Islam regards any land that was once under the rule of Islam as a land that one must return to be ruled by Islam. Add to this cheerful reality the sentence every Muslim knows very well. “A Jew is hiding behind that rock or tree. Go and kill him.” “Incentives?” Killing the scum bag terrorists is the only acceptance of the truth of a reality they scream at us day and night.

AriShavit says:

Yes, you keep repeating yourself: “terrorists are bad and we should kill them.”

Okay. Fine. Sure thing.

Should we do it one by one or all at once? Which is exactly what I asked in my last post that you didn’t respond to … and yes, while the US was bombing Afghanistan and Iraq, they were also providing incentives for the enemy to change course and the moderates to step up and govern. If Israel were to better use the relatively calm relationship with the PA to better effect – and the Gazans saw that peaceful means improved the lives of people in the West Bank – then perhaps the Gazans would put out Hamas. It is a symptom of stupidity to immediately stretch a person’s statement to the extreme and discount it without

This is like talking to a child.

Poupic says:

Afghanistan? You mix Apples and Oranges. Do yourself a favor and read both charters of Hamas and of the PLO. Then ponder these sentences: A Jew is hiding behind that tree. Go and kill him. Then there is a little detail that adds some dose of reality to the subject at hand. A land once under the rule of Islam must return to be ruled by Islam. Under these preconditions the only discussion possible with the Hamas terror gang is the date of the extermination of the Jewish nation (It fits this discussion) and the return of Israel to be a land ruled by Islam. Any other subject discussed with Hamas is regarded by Hamas as a tactical step toward their justification for their existence: The extermination of the Jewish nation and the return of the land to be a land of Islam.

The big advantage of killing the scum bag terror leader is immedite: He will never again kill Jews.Afghanistan? You mix Apples and Oranges. Do yourself a favor and read both charters of Hamas and of the PLO. Then ponder these sentences: A Jew is hiding behind that tree. Go and kill him. Then there is a little detail that adds some dose of reality to the subject at hand. A land once under the rule of Islam must return to be ruled by Islam. Under these preconditions the only discussion possible with the Hamas terror gang is the date of the extermination of the Jewish nation (It fits this discussion) and the return of Israel to be a land ruled by Islam. Any other subject discussed with Hamas is regarded by Hamas as a tactical step toward their justification for their existence: The extermination of the Jewish nation and the return of the land to be a land of Islam.

The big advantage of killing the scum bag terror leader is immediate: He will never again kill Jews.

Poupic says:

Afghanistan? You mix Apples and Oranges. Do yourself a favor and read both charters of Hamas and of the PLO. Then ponder these sentences: A Jew is hiding behind that tree. Go and kill him. Then there is a little detail that adds some dose of reality to the subject at hand. A land once under the rule of Islam must return to be ruled by Islam. Under these preconditions the only discussion possible with the Hamas terror gang is the date of the extermination of the Jewish nation (It fits this discussion) and the return of Israel to be a land ruled by Islam. Any other subject discussed with Hamas is regarded by Hamas as a tactical step toward their justification for their existence: The extermination of the Jewish nation and the return of the land to be a land of Islam.

The big advantage of killing the scum bag terror leader is immedite: He will never again kill Jews.Afghanistan? You mix Apples and Oranges. Do yourself a favor and read both charters of Hamas and of the PLO. Then ponder these sentences: A Jew is hiding behind that tree. Go and kill him. Then there is a little detail that adds some dose of reality to the subject at hand. A land once under the rule of Islam must return to be ruled by Islam. Under these preconditions the only discussion possible with the Hamas terror gang is the date of the extermination of the Jewish nation (It fits this discussion) and the return of Israel to be a land ruled by Islam. Any other subject discussed with Hamas is regarded by Hamas as a tactical step toward their justification for their existence: The extermination of the Jewish nation and the return of the land to be a land of Islam.

The big advantage of killing the scum bag terror leader is immediate: He will never again kill Jews.

AriShavit says:

now you’re repeating yourself verbatim twice in the same post!

but again with the “Hamas is bad …”

I’m not sure who you are arguing with … it’s certainly not me.

[although, your post suggests a deeper hatred (fear?) of muslims in general which i would disagree with.]

Poupic says:

I’ve stopped arguing with you. It’s a waste of time. You do not take into account any of my arguments but instead assume that I hate Muslims. No, I do not hate Muslims, just weary of them. “The religion of peace” is anything but that, particularly toward Jews. I said my peace. Goodbye!

I stopped reading at the phrase “blown away”. Have some respect.

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Gaza Expert Warns of Large Escalation

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