February 19, 2024
Special Report
A project of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Israel's Global Embassy for National Security and Applied Diplomacy

In-Depth Issues:

Tunnel Walls Close In for Hamas as the Psychological War Intensifies - Anshel Pfeffer (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
    In the 3 1/2 months since the IDF's ground maneuver in Gaza began, IDF Military Intelligence and Israel Security Agency operatives accompanying the forces have retrieved a trove of information: millions of documents, computer hard-drives, CCTV footage, and thousands of hours of interrogations of captured Hamas members.
    In the case of the two recently freed Israeli hostages, they were located in the Shabura neighborhood of Rafah weeks before the operation. But the presence of guards within the apartment where they were being held made the hostages' extraction extremely dangerous.
    In the run-up to such an operation, an essential element of intelligence is not just how many guards are with the hostages, but who do they directly answer to.
    Disrupting their chain-of-command through targeted killings just before the rescue mission is one way of disorienting the guards and increasing the chances of getting the hostages out alive. In this case, it worked.
    The publication of footage of Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, one of the main masterminds of the Oct. 7 attack, in a tunnel was aimed at Sinwar's image among the population of Gaza. He hasn't been heard or seen since the war began.
    These are the first pictures of him and in them he is a hunted man, hiding with his family deep underground. This is not the way he would want to appear to the Gazans above ground who are bearing the brunt of bombardments.
    The image of Sinwar hiding underground was broadcast also to reinforce the impression of Hamas losing control over its own fighters and over Gaza in general.
    It's why last week Hamas made a big deal out of deploying uniformed police in a few parts of Gaza City the IDF had left, and paid the salaries of a few civil servants.
    One Israeli intelligence official said Hamas' "fighters have transitioned into 'guerilla mode.' Their military structure of battalions is no longer relevant in most areas and they have to operate deep underground in tiny cells in order to survive."
    "But the longer they stay in 'guerilla mode,' the more it becomes clear that they have lost their biggest asset in the past 16 1/2 years, their ability to govern Gaza. And the more difficult it will be to restore that."
    Israeli intelligence has been surprised that the senior Hamas leadership, as well as thousands of fighters who are still alive, have lasted so long underground.
    But Hamas has been surprised as well. They never expected the IDF to penetrate so deeply into Gaza and to remain there for so long.

Israeli Skepticism over a Palestinian State Is Based on Real and Urgent Concerns - David Makovsky (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
    The U.S. and several Arab states are in discussions to develop a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace plan with a "firm timeline" for the establishment of a Palestinian state, the Washington Post reported.
    Yet Israeli reservations about a Palestinian state go well beyond Netanyahu and are based on real and urgent concerns, security chief among them.
    This must be dealt with seriously by linking progress on Palestinian statehood to meeting clear security benchmarks, without which instability is certain.
    An American effort that does not take this into account risks misreading Israeli politics and the concerns of a majority of Israelis across the political spectrum.
    In January, 59% of Jewish Israelis rejected a two-state solution as part of a package of U.S. guarantees and normalization with Arab states.
    A month before Oct. 7, only 32% of Israeli Jews thought Israel and a Palestinian state could coexist peacefully.
    Many Israelis support the idea of a compromise for peace but are wary of abandoning the status quo without an agreement with a partner they trust - in their view, the only way to provide real security and actually end the conflict.
    For now, though, most Israelis associate two states with a profound security risk and prefer the status quo, despite its dangers.
    That concern is well-founded: for the past 30 years, Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian arena has often led to violence, not peace.
    The writer is a Fellow at the Washington Institute and director of its Project on Arab-Israel Relations.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • U.S. Looking to Financially Prop Up the Palestinian Authority - Vivian Salama
    The Biden administration is looking to financially prop up the Palestinian Authority as it hopes the PA will be able to govern Gaza when Israel's war with Hamas is over. The administration is trying to work around a law that prevents it from contributing directly to the Palestinian Authority, while also nudging allies to give more to the PA, U.S. officials said. The PA has been dogged by accusations of corruption and ties to extremists that led to the cutoff of U.S. funds in the first place.
        After Oct. 7, Israel suspended the transfer of tax revenue it collects for the PA which was earmarked for PA employees in Gaza, saying the funds go into the pockets of Hamas. In response, the Palestinian Authority said it wouldn't accept any partial revenue transfers. In January, Israel agreed to President Biden's plan to transfer the frozen tax revenues to Norway for safekeeping until an arrangement could be found that would assuage Israel's concerns that the money would fund Hamas.
        The U.S. is limited in its ability to provide direct support after Congress enacted the Taylor Force Act in March 2018, suspending U.S. bilateral economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority because of its practice of providing payments to Palestinians accused of terrorism and their relatives. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Houthis Damage British Cargo Ship
    Yemen's Houthis targeted the British cargo ship Rubymar in the Bab al-Mandab Strait off Yemen on Sunday, British maritime security firm Ambrey said. The UK Maritime Trade Operations agency reported the crew had abandoned a ship off Yemen after an explosion. (Reuters)
  • U.S. Conducts More Attacks on Houthis in Yemen
    U.S. Central Command conducted five self-defense strikes on Saturday against three mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, one unmanned underwater vessel, and one unmanned surface vessel in Iranian-backed, Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, CENTCOM said Sunday. (CENTCOM)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • Israel: Hamas' Khan Yunis Brigade Has Been Defeated - Yoav Zitun
    Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Sunday that Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar has been incommunicado for weeks. Gallant added that 200 terrorists surrendered at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, with additional dozens surrendering at Amal hospital. These surrenders indicate a significant loss of morale among Hamas operatives.
        Gallant said "the Khan Yunis Brigade has been defeated and is not functioning as a military entity in any way. Hamas is left with marginal forces in the central camps and the Rafah Brigade, and what stands between them and complete collapse as a military system is an IDF decision....There's no one coming to their aid - no Iranians, no international assistance."  (Ynet News)
        See also IDF Filtering Out Terrorists from Nasser Hospital - Yoav Zitun
    The IDF is operating in Nasser hospital in west Khan Yunis, filtering out terrorists, many of whom are disguised in medical staff uniforms. During the operation, forces located medicine with the names and pictures of Israeli hostages held by Hamas - which was never delivered.
        Over the weekend, soldiers operating in the hospital engaged in intense combat with terrorists. The forces faced resistance from terrorists barricaded inside the hospital and came under rocket fire from within the compound. Armed terrorists emerged from the hospital and opened fire on the soldiers. Other terrorists would flee the hospital unarmed and run to nearby homes, where they armed themselves with rifles and machine guns to attack Israeli forces. After 12 hours of fierce fighting, soldiers reportedly eliminated 16 terrorists on hospital grounds.
        Inside the hospital, soldiers located large quantities of weapons. A car stolen from Kibbutz Nir Oz was found in the hospital complex. An IDF commander said, "The hospital, which was supposed to serve as a humanitarian shelter, was found to be a battleground filled with weapons, communication infrastructure, and Hamas operatives."  (Ynet News)
  • War Cabinet Member Gantz: The Pathway to Peace Is Not through One-Sided Recognition of a Palestinian State - Eliav Breuer
    Former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, an opposition leader who joined a unity government at the beginning of the Gaza war, told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on Sunday that he rejected calls for unilateral Palestinian statehood. "War now, peace later" Gantz said, as he stressed the importance of eliminating Hamas after close to two decades in which Israel tried every option to contain it. "We have tried everything but eliminating Hamas."
        He said Israel is "facing a very long journey to change the reality in Gaza....I would dare to say it would take a year, a decade, and a generation" to transform Gaza's governance and to ensure that Hamas does not regain control of Gaza. The Norwegians, the Americans are not going to rule Gaza, said Gantz, "no one is coming." Israel should retain security control, he said.
        "After Oct. 7, the pathway to regional stability and peace is not through one-sided actions like recognition of a Palestinian state," said Gantz, but rather through victory over Hamas. "Let me be clear, we are operating in Gaza not out of revenge for Oct. 7, but out of a clear conviction to secure our future - the future of Israel's next generations."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also U.S. Has No Plans to Recognize a Palestinian State Unilaterally - Tovah Lazaroff
    U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew dismissed reports about potential U.S. unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood. "We have never said that was our policy," Lew told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on Sunday. "Our policy is that there should be an over-the-horizon process" toward Palestinian statehood that involved Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Israeli Cabinet Unanimously Opposes Unilateral Recognition of Palestinian State as "a Huge Reward to Unprecedented Terrorism" (i24News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • Hamas Can't Hide behind Hospitals Anymore - Dr. Limor Simhony Philpott
    Israeli forces are operating in Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis. The IDF notified the hospital in advance and has taken measures to minimize harm to civilians, hospital staff and medical equipment. Many Gazan hospitals have dual uses. They have tunnels under them into which terrorists can enter. Hamas has established command centers in or under hospitals, and has used them for hiding weapons and firing missiles into Israel or against military forces.
        Vulnerable patients make effective human shields, and attacking them makes Israel look bad. Although hospitals are considered protected under international humanitarian law, if they are used by a party to a conflict for "acts harmful to an enemy," they are no longer protected by law. In other words, Hamas' cynical use of hospitals has turned them into valid military targets. Israel has to enter them in order to destroy Hamas infrastructure and communications abilities, confiscate weapons, and to look for hostages.
        Hamas has been using hospitals in this way for many years, knowing that Israel prefers to refrain from attacking them - until the war made it a necessity. Al Shifa hospital in northern Gaza, for example, was found to be the hiding place of Hamas' internal security command center and was regularly manned by armed terrorists. The command center was used to direct rocket attacks and Hamas ground forces. The hospital also hid a large arsenal of weapons.
        Similarly, the IDF has uncovered tunnels, weapons and evidence of hostages in Al-Rantisi hospital in Gaza City. The IDF also discovered Hamas tunnels under the Qatari hospital and apprehended terrorists operating from the Kamal Adwan hospital - with the hospital's director revealing to Israeli interrogators that Hamas had turned his hospital into a military facility.
        The writer is a former research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv. (Spectator-UK)
  • An Heroic Rescue in the Heart of Enemy Territory - Eyal Levi
    Fernando Marman and Louis Har were rescued from Hamas captivity in the heart of Rafah by Israeli forces on February 12, 2024. Superintendent Y, 35, the commander of the primary assault force for the rescue from Yamam, the National Counter-Terrorism Unit, said the operation took place in a Hamas stronghold that the IDF still hadn't targeted, full of terrorists. The unit had been training for the operation for weeks.
        Commander A, 35, a veteran, experienced reservist, explained that this was "an event that we had been training for since the day we were recruited. There's an instructor who always says, 'If you're privileged to be part of this event, then you're privileged to be the first to enter the room where the hostages are held; say thank you and do your best,' and that was the feeling from the first day of preparations, that we were privileged to be part of something big."
        The unit's members are young men with families. I asked them if all this risk was worth the rescue of two people. Commander D, 34, answers: "We don't look at it in terms of a person being worth the life of another, and if two soldiers die the operation is a failure. It's not a zero-sum game. There is something here that's far bigger in its substance. I won't say that we in the unit are worth less, but we've taken on ourselves the understanding that we're ready to be harmed for something bigger than a single person, that's who we are."
        Yamam has lost nine soldiers since Oct. 7. Before departure, the platoon commander, Chief Superintendent A, came to speak with the soldiers. "The commander spoke with us about the importance of the mission, that the hostages are like our parents, and we'd naturally do everything to save our parents," says Superintendent Y. "He spoke with us about the fallen, about how we're doing the operation for them and we are continuing their heritage, and concluded with the same words as before every departure: 'We leave together and we return together,' and this time it happened."  (Israel Hayom)

Israel's War Is Just, Hamas Must Be Eliminated - Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (National Post-Canada)
  • The systemic nature of the killing in Israel on Oct. 7 and the evident glee with which it was being undertaken by its participants betrayed something darker. These were acts of extermination - the killing of those who, in the killers' eyes, were less than human. It was the urge to commit genocide at its most evil.
  • Nor can this be regarded as some isolated episode of anti-Israeli violence. It was the consequence of decades of institutionalized antisemitic indoctrination of a population - to the point where such murderous acts become regarded as necessary and praiseworthy.
  • Israel's war objective - the elimination of Gaza's Hamas regime - is essential. Leaving the job unfinished, with Hamas tolerated and its actions contained, has been tried, and it has failed. The Israeli people cannot be reasonably asked to return to the pre-war status quo.
  • I say to Israel's friends, stop asking it to stop short of victory. Instead, bring pressure to bear on Hamas, directly and through its allies and partners, to force its capitulation.
  • Yes, we helped Germany to re-build after the Second World War. But we also insisted it de-construct the ideologies that led to its aggression. And we demanded it fully embrace the ethics of peaceful coexistence. By that standard alone, suggestions that a victorious Israeli army should simply walk out of Gaza and assume some harmonious "two-state solution" will emerge out of thin air is beyond foolish.
  • A two-state solution will not magically take root now for the same reason it has not happened since 1947 - it is rejected by way too many Palestinians. The core problem is not Israel.
  • Generations of Palestinians have been inculcated to reject the right of a Jewish state to exist on any piece of the land of the former Mandate for Palestine. We must stop pretending that a two-state solution can be pursued in the face of the continued propagation of such a view.

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