December 12, 2023
Special Report
A project of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Israel's Global Embassy for National Security and Applied Diplomacy

In-Depth Issues:

How IDF Uses White Phosphorus to Reveal Hizbullah's Secret Bases - Ron Ben Yishai (Ynet News)
    Despite the Washington Post report on Monday quoting human rights groups that Israel used U.S.-made white phosphorus bombs to attack villages in southern Lebanon, the use by the IDF was in unpopulated areas where military targets were found.
    U.S. National Security Advisor John Kirby said the use of the weapons was not a violation of international accords if they did not target non-combatant civilians.
    According to the third Geneva Convention, phosphorus bombs and shells can be used as a means of lighting or as a smoke screen but not against humans.
    In south Lebanon, unpopulated areas are often used to house Hizbullah facilities and frontline bases for their Radwan force which could be used to attack Israel.
    Hizbullah hides mortar and anti-tank missile launchers in those bases, which are covered by thick vegetation that prevents intelligence surveillance from the air, and has dug bunkers to protect from IDF artillery fire.
    They are an immediate threat to the border region, making them a target of Israeli efforts aimed at revealing them.
    By using phosphorus bombs, the IDF hopes to ignite the vegetation covering the bases and create a smoke screen that would prevent the Hizbullah force from firing anti-tank missiles at IDF soldiers and positions and Israeli civilians near the border.

    See also IDF Responds to Claims of Use of White Phosphorus - Daniel Edelson (Ynet News)
    The Washington Post reported that remnants of white phosphorus bombs were found in a village in the area of Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon in October.
    In response, Israel's military said: "The IDF only uses legal military equipment. The main smoke grenades used by the IDF don't contain white phosphorus."
    "Similar to many Western armies, the IDF also possesses smoke grenades containing white phosphorus, which are legal according to international law, and the choice to use them is influenced by operational considerations and availability compared to alternatives."
    "The IDF's existing regulations require that smoke grenades containing white phosphorus not be used in urban areas, except in certain unique cases. These limitations align with international law and even impose stricter regulations."
    "Israel has been under continuous attacks from Hizbullah and other terrorist groups in Lebanon over the past two months. The IDF is protecting Israeli citizens from these attacks."

Bribing Your Way Out of Gaza - Amira Hass (Ha'aretz)
    Reports reaching Ramallah in the West Bank say the fee for arranging an exit from Gaza to Egypt through the Rafah crossing runs $6-7,000 per person, up from $4-5,000 a month ago.
    One of Gaza's richest people reportedly paid $250,000 to get 25 members of his extended family out.
    These payments are known as "coordination fees," a euphemism for a bribe paid to a Palestinian mediator and an Egyptian company coordinating the exits.
    The Gazans who need to "coordinate" and pay huge sums are the ones not lucky enough to have dual citizenship or a job with an international organization that enabled them to build connections with a foreign embassy that helped them out.
    According to the Rafah crossing authorities, 862 people deemed "foreigners" left on Dec. 2. Most if not all, I daresay, are Gazans.

Hamas Creates New Terrorist Group to Destroy Lebanon - Khaled Abu Toameh (Gatestone Institute)
    In the past two months, Hamas terrorists in Lebanon have carried out rocket attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians in northern Israel.
    On Dec. 4, the Iran-backed Palestinian terror group Hamas announced the establishment of a new terrorist group in Lebanon with the goal of "liberating Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque."
    Hamas has called on Palestinians living in Lebanon to join the "Vanguards of the Al-Aqsa Flood," the name it chose for its barbaric invasion of Israeli communities near the Gaza border on Oct. 7.
    The announcement has drawn sharp criticism from many Lebanese, who fear that Hamas and its patrons in Tehran are seeking to drag Lebanon into a destructive war with Israel.
    The Lebanese see how Hamas has brought devastation down on the Palestinians in Gaza.
    Ultimately, the war Israel is currently waging against Hamas will weaken the Iran-led axis of evil in the Middle East; embolden Arabs to speak out against Hamas, Hizbullah and other terror groups; and finally hugely improve the lives of all the Arabs and Palestinians in the region by working toward peace with Israel.

Silver Lining in U.S. College Presidents' Testimony - Herb Keinon (Jerusalem Post)
    On Dec. 8, two days after the presidents of three prestigious U.S. universities were unable to tell a Congressional committee that calling for the genocide of Jews on campus violates their schools' codes of conduct, Stanford University issued this statement:
    "In the context of the national discourse, Stanford unequivocally condemns calls for the genocide of Jews or any peoples. That statement would clearly violate Stanford's Fundamental Standard, the code of conduct for all students at the university."
    Why did Stanford feel the need to publicly clarify its position on this matter? Because of the fierce blowback that resulted when the three university presidents said they had to review the context of those calls for genocide to determine whether they would constitute harassment.
    The good news is the pushback. 20% of U.S. congresspeople signed letters calling for the dismissal of the presidents. Donors threatened to withdraw money from these schools.
    The White House issued a statement saying "calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country."
    The blowback reflects that those positions are rejected by a large part of the American mainstream.
    Yes, there is antisemitism in America and a double standard toward Jews and Israel.
    But when those positions are articulated, there are plenty of people - from the top levels of government down through all different strata of society - who will denounce them and hold those advancing them accountable.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Biden Promises to Back Israel "until They Get Rid of Hamas" - Will Weissert
    President Joe Biden hosted a Hanukkah reception at the White House on Monday night, vowing to continue to stand with Israel in its war with Hamas. The president said, "You don't have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.... Were there no Israel, there would not be a Jew in the world who is safe."
        "We continue to provide military assistance until they get rid of Hamas but we have to be careful. The whole world, public opinion can shift overnight. We can't let that happen."  (AP-ABC News)
  • Houthi Missile Strikes Norwegian Tanker off Yemen - Jon Gambrell
    A missile fired by Yemen's Houthi rebels slammed into the Norwegian-flagged oil and chemical tanker Strinda in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, authorities said Tuesday. The assault expands a campaign by the Iranian-backed rebels targeting ships close to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait into striking those that have no clear ties to Israel.
        Geir Belsnes, the CEO of the Strinda's operator, J. Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi, said the vessel was coming from Malaysia and was bound for the Suez Canal and then on to Italy with a cargo of palm oil. Houthi military spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Yahya Saree claimed, without offering any evidence, that the ship was bound for Israel.
        Israel's national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said Israel has called on its Western allies to address the threats from Yemen and would give them "some time" to organize a response. But if the threats persist, "we will act to remove this blockade."  (AP-Washington Post)
        See also Houthi Attacks on Shipping Impact Egypt's Suez Canal - Dean Shmuel Elmas
    The attacks by Houthi rebels on shipping in the Red Sea could wreak havoc with Egypt's economy. The Red Sea is the only way to reach the Suez Canal which 50 ships pass through each day, including 30% of the world's container traffic. Over the past year Egypt has earned $9.4 billion from the Suez Canal. (Globes)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israeli Defense Minister Says Hamas Northern Battalions near Collapse, with Many Surrendering - Emanuel Fabian
    Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday, "We have encircled the last strongholds of Hamas in Jabaliya and Shejaiya. The battalions that were considered invincible, that prepared for years to fight us, are on the verge of being dismantled."
        He said hundreds of Hamas operatives have surrendered to Israeli troops in recent days, adding that among those who have been arrested by the IDF are terrorists who participated in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israeli communities. "They are telling us very interesting things," alluding to intelligence gleaned from those prisoners. (Times of Israel)
  • Israeli Sources Claim No Friction with U.S. over Gaza War - Shirit Avitan Cohen
    Israeli political figures have denied U.S. reports about the U.S. setting an end date for the Gaza military operation against Hamas. Sources say American pressure over harm to uninvolved parties has actually decreased, since northern Gaza has been mostly emptied of civilians, while in the south the campaign is more focused on the Khan Yunis area, with less dense buildings and population.
        The sources denied claims that more IDF soldiers are getting injured and killed due to "American restrictions." They say, "there are no such restrictions," and the higher Israeli death toll stems from fighting in the most difficult areas where Hamas terrorists are located in southern Gaza. Israeli sources claim there is no friction with the U.S. and point to the 200 planes with ammunition that have arrived in Israel since the war began. (Israel Hayom)
        See also Israeli Official Denies Divide with U.S. over Gaza War - Jacob Magid
    "There's 100% agreement from the U.S. on our goals for the war both in public and private," a senior Israeli official said Sunday. He said the army is now operating in more specific areas than it did in northern Gaza. Before entering such locations, it has called on Palestinian civilians to evacuate to either the al-Mawasi safe zone on the southwestern coast, Rafah further south, or one of the 150 shelters recognized by the military liaison to the Palestinians.
        The official noted the "incredibly difficult conditions" the IDF is facing given that Hamas uses tunnels and hides among civilians. The U.S. has privately expressed understanding of this difficulty. "We definitely feel the support at all levels. The support the U.S. has shown us is nothing short of extraordinary."
        The official said the current stage of the war was "less a derivative of time than achievements on the ground. There are things we need to achieve before we can move on to the next phase." As for the day after the war, the official said Israel "is still in its early stages. But we know that it won't be Israel or Hamas ruling Gaza. We have no plans to reoccupy Gaza."
        Washington is pushing for aid to exceed the 200-plus trucks that were entering Gaza each day during the seven-day truce. The volume has lagged since, with just 100 trucks entering Gaza on Sunday. But the slowdown is not due to Israel, which has been inspecting hundreds of trucks every day.
        The official said assistance has been slowed due to Hamas efforts to steal aid and block it from reaching civilians. The IDF has also blamed the UN and Egypt for failing to keep up with the levels of aid Israel is approving for Gaza, adding that it has implemented tactical pauses and humanitarian corridors to securely deliver the aid. (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Hamas' Oct. 7 Attack Made Israel Stronger - Walter Russell Mead
    Israel is more united, its citizens are more determined to fight for their state, and Jews around the world have renewed their commitment to the Zionist cause. That's my conclusion after a week in Israel.
        Israeli military experts, including critics of the government, think the war is going reasonably well. Casualties are significant, and there is hard slogging ahead, but Israel is on course to inflict defeat on the deranged and misguided Hamas movement. Arab leaders appreciate as never before the value of a strong Israel to their own security and prosperity. Iran and its proxies have a vote in what happens next. But for now, Israel has rallied from the shock of Oct. 7 and is on track to re-establish deterrence.
        In perhaps the greatest instance of Jew-haters shooting themselves in the foot, in the aftermath of Israel's War of Independence, Middle Eastern mobs and governments forced 850,000 Jews to flee to Israel. Those immigrants and their descendants feel no guilt for Palestinian dispossession and are skeptical of Arab intentions. They are a plurality of Israeli Jews today, and without them Israel could never have grown into the powerful state it is.
        For Israel, bad Palestinian strategy is the gift that keeps on giving. Over the decades, the constant threat of Palestinian resistance movements led Israelis to develop the first-class defense and technology capabilities that make it an indispensable partner for countries all over the world.
        The unspeakable barbarity of the Hamas attacks has again united and strengthened Israel while accomplishing nothing for the Palestinian people. The Jew-haters who overshadowed more peaceful and responsible demonstrators across U.S. streets and campuses have deeply damaged the Palestinian cause with centrist opinion. Such displays remind Americans that anti-Jewish bigotry and the ignorance it fosters threaten the foundations of American life.
        The writer, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, is Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The New York Times Is Wrong about Israeli Intelligence - Prof. Edward Luttwak
    The bad-faith reporting of Israeli news in the New York Times can overcome even the simplest arithmetic. Last month, there was a day-long rally for Israel in Washington that filled its Mall, with police attendance estimates ranging between 250,000 and 300,000. In the pages of the NYT, however, this became a gathering of "tens of thousands."
        A carefully contrived misrepresentation of the reason that Israel was caught by surprise on Oct. 7 was headlined "Israel Knew Hamas' Attack Plan More than a Year Ago," in a Nov. 30 NYT story. Had Israeli intelligence analysis, or the arrival of a complete war plan sold by an enterprising operative, revealed Hamas' plan for an attack on Oct. 7, the Israelis would have sent much stronger forces to guard the Gaza perimeter. But then, of course, Hamas spotters would have seen Israeli troops ready to defeat them - and they would have called off the attack altogether.
        There is worse: once an attack warning is received and reinforcements are deployed so that the enemy calls off its planned attack, the intelligence indicators that got it right will be discredited as false alarms, while the intelligence officers who failed to heed the signs will be the ones everyone listens to the next time around.
        When a complete Hamas war plan was captured more than a year ago, it was one of many - Hamas was always fantasizing about mass attacks, but would then limit itself to the launch of its rockets that Israel could reliably intercept.
        In the half century between the intelligence failures of October 1973 and October 2023, the system worked well. Once in 50 years, the system fails - but the alternative, of mobilizing in response to every possible threat, would be far worse.
        The writer is a contractual strategic consultant for the U.S. government.  (UnHerd)
  • The Irony of Iron Dome - Russ Roberts
    It's hard to keep up your guard. The price of security is eternal vigilance and eternal vigilance is hard for humans to maintain. We get complacent. We get overconfident. This is especially true when technology is involved. Think the Titanic, Chernobyl, the Maginot Line. Nothing is foolproof, but we start to believe that foolproof strategies exist.
        On Oct. 7, Israel's intelligence failure was a combination of overconfidence in the incredibly technologically-sophisticated wall they had built on the Gaza border and an underestimation of Hamas' capabilities and desire to do harm. The misreading of the risks is always made worse with the passage of time and the lack of any evidence that bad things can happen. Human beings get lulled into a false sense of security.
        We trust the technology and assume it can protect us. We forget that all technology can fail even with backup systems. We also forget that even with superb technology there is often a human element in using it that makes it much more vulnerable to failure. So when Israeli observers at the Gazan border intercepted Hamas radio transmissions discussing the plan for the Oct. 7 attack, senior officers dismissed them as "aspirational."
        In dealing with security risk, the more effective the warning system or the safeguards, the more dangerous the situation becomes as the human side of the equation starts to underestimate the risk. Every day that Hamas did nothing more than launch a few rockets into Israel convinced the Israeli security apparatus that this was all they were capable of.
        Iron Dome is amazing. It intercepts 90% of the rockets at risk of landing in an inhabited area. But this remarkable technology has lulled us into complacency. Every once in a while, Hamas launched rockets into Israel in an act of bravado that accomplished very little other than forcing Israel to incur the financial costs of keeping Iron Dome stocked with counter-rockets. The effectiveness of Iron Dome convinced us that Hamas was incapable of doing serious harm. We were wrong. (Substack)
  • The Slow Methodical Cleansing of the Shijaiyah Neighborhood - Avi Issacharoff
    I used to visit the Shijaiyah neighborhood frequently until the security services decided in 2007 that allowing Israeli journalists into Gaza was no longer safe. It's no longer a residential neighborhood; it's a town in ruins. The residents no longer have homes to return to.
        Shijaiyah in December 2023 resembles scenes from World War II action movies: an abandoned town turned into a battlefield, with infantry forces and armored vehicles navigating between the ruined buildings, trying to locate the dangerous enemy hiding among the hundreds of structures, especially underneath the rubble.
        Kfir Brigade soldiers have been managing a determined and tenacious four-day battle against an enemy who avoids facing them directly but primarily aims to harm them. In four days alone, the soldiers discovered 30 tunnel entrances, indicating the extent of activity beneath Shijaiyah.
        When we meet the soldiers, what stands out is the stark contrast between the atmosphere of vulnerability in the rear, where the threat to life is much lower, and the motivation and sense of duty prevailing on the frontlines, where constant combat is the backdrop.
        The IDF's combat is conducted in the orderly, systematic, and organized manner of a successful and focused military operation. The soldiers clear house after house, street after street, alley after alley, to cleanse the neighborhood of Hamas - backed by a comprehensive system of artillery, air force, and intelligence.
        The terrorists did not abandon the battle or flee, as in other places; instead, they are conducting guerrilla warfare. They peek out from the tunnels from time to time, attempting to cause as many casualties as possible on the Israeli side. In the end, every encounter between the soldiers and Hamas terrorists ends decisively. The IDF is winning, but it takes time.
        The writer, a veteran Israeli journalist focusing on Palestinian affairs, is one of the creators of the TV series "Fauda." (Ynet News)
  • Anti-Semitism Goes to School - Ruth R. Wisse
    For the moment, most of the American public seems solidly free of the anti-Semitism that infects American universities. According to the most recent Gallup poll, seven in ten Americans view Israel favorably, up substantially from the 47% that viewed it favorably in 1991 around the time of the first Gulf war. The basic truth is that Israel and the U.S., unlovingly paired by their Islamist enemies as the Little Satan and the Big Satan, are prime targets of the same antagonists.
        How does intolerance for a Jewish state thrive in the very institutions that advertise their tolerance for threatened minorities? On what grounds do American universities, considered liberal to a fault, assail the only liberal democracy in the Middle East? The boycotters wrap themselves in the mantle of free speech only to silence those who stand for the kind of genuine individual and human rights that flourish in Israel. On the merits, Arab and Muslim students could never have persuaded their American peers to sympathize with repressive regimes and homegrown terrorists; blaming the Jews was the key that unlocked the door.
        What a relief to have Israel on hand to represent the world's worst criminal: occupier, racist, exploiter, warmonger, aggressor-in-chief extraordinaire! Were it not for Israel, one might actually have to worry about Iran, or jihadist beheadings, or the hundreds of thousands of casualties created in Syria, or the atrocity of mass female enslavement in Africa, about all of which scarcely a tear has been shed or a nickel raised.
        The writer is professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard. (Mosaic)
  • We Must Destroy Hamas Before Any Ceasefire - Maor Elbaz-Starinsky
    October 7, 2023, has become a day of infamy for the State of Israel. Proportionately, the attack on Israel is the equivalent of more than a dozen Pearl Harbors. No one could imagine America, or any other country in the world, suffering such a devastating, unprovoked attack and then accepting a ceasefire with the aggressor without first bringing the perpetrators to justice and ensuring that such an atrocity could never be repeated.
        Calls for a ceasefire in Israel's just and forced-upon war against Hamas are calls that would give Hamas, and Iran, a victory. Hamas would emerge stronger, spreading greater terror across the region. Their Iranian sponsors would declare their strategy a success, then plan, fund and sponsor similar atrocities for its proxies across the globe. Moderate voices for peace and reconciliation will remain terrorized, with no choice but to continue capitulating to Hamas' extremist ideology or face death at the hands of Hamas barbarians.
        Israel cannot accept any ceasefire until Hamas' ability to govern and act militarily against Israel has been destroyed to no less extent than the U.S. responded to Japan's attack of Dec. 7, 1941, and al-Qaeda's attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Until Israel is victorious, all good people must stand with the brave men and women of the Israel Defense Forces. Our fight is the fight of all free people; it is the battle of good against evil.
        The writer is Consul General of Israel in Miami. (Miami Herald)

  • In November, Israel Security Agency chief Ronan Bar wrote to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, saying, "We are determined to complete our mission in Gaza. All those who aspire to see a safer world should refrain from interfering or stopping us."
  • "During the activities of Hamas on October 7, there was no respect or rights whatsoever. The UN was founded to ensure 'never again,' anywhere in the world. But on the day of the massacre in October, it returned in full force. Jews were brutally murdered, just for being Jews. The IDF is an army that operates in accordance with the highest moral principles. We do not act deliberately against civilians."
  • "Reality forces us to act in a civilian environment. We are forced to do this by a terrorist organization that acts as a sovereign on the ground and kills civilians, Israelis and Gazans alike, from the first day it was founded.... Yahya Sinwar himself was sentenced to 5 life sentences in Israel for murdering Palestinians, not Jews. Gaza should be freed from Hamas, not from Israel. Hamas is ISIS."
  • "I heard your statements regarding the recent events in Israel and Gaza, You set up a symmetry between the acts of cruelty and the violation of human rights between Israel and Hamas, and nothing could be further from the truth. Crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed against Israel, Israelis, and other nationalities."
  • "War crimes were committed when Hamas used hospitals as combat headquarters and humanitarian aid as a cover for terrorist operations. The attempt to create a moral parallel between the terrorists of Hamas and the defense forces of the IDF is wrong and repulsive on a moral level. There is no way to balance when you compare acts of murder and torture of children and babies to the unfortunate but necessary suffering of civilians who are cynically used by Hamas as human shields."
  • "This is not a war about ideology or religion, it is a fight between the good and the bad. Israel stands on the first line, as the last line of defense for the defense of the free world, standing between darkness and light, between barbarism and humanity. We are the protective layer between those who mourn death and those who worship it."

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