It has been a few weeks since I last wrote. In the midst of the pressures of daily life, we all desire to get some rest, while at the same time try to get a handle on the events that unfold, some of which boggle the mind.
The most recent event, of course, is the shooting in conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during a Shabbat service. As of this writing, 11 people were killed and at least six others, including four police officers, were wounded. The gunman entered the Etz Haim (“Tree of Life”) Synagogue and, according to a local radio station, yelled “All Jews must die.” The victims ranged in age from 54 to 97 and included, among others, a husband and wife and two brothers. When the police arrived on the scene, the shooter opened fire on them, but was reported to be injured himself and taken into custody. One can only imagine the kind of hatred that leads a person to enter a religious service and start killing people, because of their faith.
Following this slaughter of innocents, many jumped on the “gun control” bandwagon, again arguing that this type of incident, like an increasing number of others in recent months and years, would not have happened if there was tighter control over who can purchase a weapon. People will continue to kill and injure others, irrespective of whether or not there is more strict control over access to weapons. The issue is not so much one of “gun control”, but of “hate control”. Governments can legislate against “hate speech”, but they can neither legislate against, nor deal with, the source of the hate. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Only God can deal with that.
The hatred and cold-blooded murder that took place in Pennsylvania occurred five thousand miles from here. Yet, distance cannot prevent our hearts from being united with the families of those who were killed and wounded. Nor does it prevent our prayers from being offered before the Throne of Grace. Sometimes, we wait too long to tell people that we think of, and care about, them. As the Rabbi of the Pittsburgh congregation told those who gathered in the synagogue the following day: “Reach out to the people you know, call the people who you haven’t spoken to in a while.” No matter how strong we think we are emotionally, no education or theological seminary can prepare us for an event like this.
Closer to home, we have other expressions of hate, which are also designed to kill and maim.
Escalation in the South
The escalation in the south of Israel continued this past weekend. The IDF reported that it struck a four-story building that was used as the new general security command center of the Hamas terrorist organization. This was in response to the rocket barrages from the Gaza Strip towards the settlements in the area surrounding the Strip Friday night.
Over 30 launches were identified as being fired into Israeli territory during the night hours between Friday and Saturday. The “Iron Dome” defense system shot down about ten of them. Two rockets landed within the Gaza Strip (see the outlined photo to the left, from the website of the Spokesman for the IDF, showing some of the areas
targeted by the IDF in response to the rocket barrage) and the rest fell in open areas. In its response, the IDF attacked about 80 locations of Hamas, including centers for the manufacture of advanced weaponry; military facilities; a command center; a training center and an observation post. A video of some of the rocket barrages and the response of the IDF can be seen here. You will need to scroll down to the second screen and click on the arrow to see the rocket fire and aerial defense of the Iron Dome. Also targeted by the IDF were military compounds of the “Palestinian” Islamic Jihad terror organization, which also operates in the Gaza Strip. Among the targets were weapons manufacturing facilities in the north of the Gaza Strip and a factory for the manufacture of equipment to reinforce tunnels. These are not 4th of July fireworks that are sent from the Gaza Strip, but explosive projectiles that are intended to kill men, women and children at random and to destroy as much as possible.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for all that happens in and from the Gaza Strip and the consequences of terrorist activities against Israeli citizens.
Following the cessation of the rocket attacks from the Strip, the Ministry of Defense allowed life in the southern communities of Israel to return to almost normal.
The “Palestinian” Islamic Jihad, which was directly responsible for Friday night’s escalation, usually operates in coordination with Hamas, with whom it is aligned ideologically. It is the second largest military organization in the Strip. Its present, ideologically extreme leadership is based in Damascus, Syria and serves the interests of Iran. It wants to establish a new kind of equilibrium, by responding with rocket attacks when “Palestinians” are killed during confrontations at the border fence. This is clearly unacceptable to the IDF.
The primary difference between Hamas and Islamic Jihad at this time has to do with their respective ties with Iran. Both Islamic organizations are Sunni. However, while Hamas receives financial support, weaponry and technical assistance from Iran, the Islamic Jihad receives not only money and weapons, but also instructions. In all likelihood, the primary reason that it initiated the rocket attacks last Friday night was because Iran had instructed them to do so.
In trying to figure out what prompted the Islamic Jihad to suddenly initiate the rocket attacks against the Israeli communities along the Strip, there are two possibilities that come to mind: The first is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a “secret” meeting with the leadership of the country of Oman on Friday. Following the meeting, Oman reported that the time has come to accept Israel in the region and offered assistance in the “peace process”. It described Israel as an acceptable country in the Middle East. The Security Minister to the Sultan responsible for foreign affairs in Oman stated in a security summit in Bahrain: “The State of israel is a fact on the ground and we understand this. We are not saying that the way is now easy and paved with flowers, our preference is to put an end to the conflict and to move to a new world.” Such statements fly in the face of the reason for the existence of Hamas – the destruction of Israel. While this event probably did not warm the cockles of the hearts of either Hamas or the Islamic Jihad, it is doubtful that this event was the primary factor that precipitated the rocket attacks against Israeli communities.
What is more likely is the second event that was published on Friday, namely, that after lengthy on-and-off negotiations, Egypt finally achieved an understanding with Hamas to restore calm to the area, more or less (mostly less) similar to what existed following the last Gaza War, Operation Protective Edge. The agreement purportedly calls for an end to the violence of the protesters along the border, but does not include an end to the border protests.
As mentioned in earlier posts, “saving face” is of critical importance in this area of the world. And, if you do not decisively lose a conflict or war, you are deemed to have won. This is particularly applicable when dealing with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They can’t just stop fighting. They have to go out with a “bang”, a large one, so that both the populations that both organizations control and the patrons who control both organizations, will be satisfied. Thus, a substantial rocket barrage was necessary to usher in a period of relative calm. To appear victorious, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad were willing to suffer significant loss, so that following a visible display of military might, they can “agree to” a ceasefire and walk out among their people with their heads high. Israel, for her part, was willing to make a strategic, but painful, decision not to initiate ground action to retake the Strip.
What kind of picture does this present for us? It’s like another round of tit-for-tat. “You hit us, we hit you back. You try to demonstrate power, we have more power.” So, Israel restrained itself, while the protest marches, incendiary kites and balloons, flaming arrows and explosive toys were sent over the Gaza fence, destroying valuable acres of farmland and other property and causing injury and death on both sides of the fence. In essence, Israel bided her time to allow Egypt to complete its negotiations with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. If the negotiations occasionally ran into difficulties, a new round of escalation would push Egypt to get them moving again, even more seriously than before.
Apparently, Israel is willing to settle for proportionate responses, instead of pursuing the alternative solution, namely, initiating a major military offensive in the Gaza Strip with its consequent loss of life and other losses and damage, which would end up like Operation Protective Edge – a cease fire with no future guarantees.
The residents in the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip are less interested in strategic stop and go, on again-off again attacks and counter attacks. They want to live without fear of rocket attacks and to rear their children without having to worry about whether another siren will blare, warning of more incoming missiles. On the whole, they would prefer war to this type of uncertainty, which takes its toll both on individuals and property.
Obviously, Israel is in an ongoing quandry about what to do with the Gaza Strip. If it moves in militarily and takes it over, what will Israel do with it? The last thing we need is to try to gain control over the people of Gaza. Israel cannot, and does not want to, take on this responsibility. The drain on manpower and resources would be enormous, far beyond what could be justifiable. Nor would the people of Gaza want to live under Israeli control or authority or agree to do so. Transferring the Gazans to Arab countries surrounding Israel is not the most welcome idea in our military-political strategy for reasons that should be obvious.
If, on the other hand, Israel succeeds to “eliminate” both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the natural question is: “Who will step up to take control of the people of Gaza?” No one is waiting in the wings, who would advocate living in peace with Israel.
In the meantime, each new rocket attack allows Israel to systematically destroy the military infrastructure and capability of Hamas and its cronies, their buildings, tunnels, fighting forces and more. Viewed from this perspective, if push comes to shove and war becomes inevitable, Hamas and Islamic Jihad will have considerably reduced capacity to fight. But, every cease-fire has presented opportunities for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to regroup, renew their strength, increase their forces and prepare for the next round of confrontations with Israel. On our side of the fence, absence of rockets and border fence confrontations will restore, to a degree, the pastoral nature of the communities in the south and allow them again to prosper. A trade-off? Not a good one. A tense quiet. The question always remains: How long will the “quiet” last, before the next assault upon Israeli communities from Gaza?
O God, do not remain quiet; do not be silent and, O God, do not be still. For behold, Your enemies make an uproar and those who hate You have exalted themselves. They make shrewd plans against Your people and conspire together against Your treasured ones. They have said, ‘Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more’.” (Psalm 83:1-4) – emphasis mine
Those who hate the LORD would pretend obedience to him, and their time of punishment would be forever. (Psalm 81:15)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.