In the second instalment of the series on the research published by the Begin-Sadat Center with the title “Lessons from the Gaza War”, written by Major General Res. Gershon Hacohen who served for 42 years in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), we delve deeper into the details of the 11-day aggression on Gaza.
In the previous article, we touched on Hacohen’s characterization of the recent round of escalation by Israel against the Palestinian, identifying the Gaza Strip as its battlefield and Hamas as the exclusive opposing “enemy”, in Hacohen’s words. Moreover, we reviewed the author’s expeditious tackling of incidents in Jerusalem, where he took a U-turn, blaming Hamas for sparking off riots in mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel.
The most significant point was Hacohen’s addressing the novel threats to the Israeli concept of security or “Ben-Gurion’s security concept”, as he calls it – a concept that relies at its core on two main related assumptions – one, adequacy of the warning period that allow for the Israeli forces to prepare, address the threats, and implement an effective deployment and defense plan that would help reduce losses to the lowest possible level and, two, intelligence supremacy over opponents, which primarily determines the efficiency of defensive performance for the realization of quick gains that becomes clearly measurable in the final balance of operations, being [intelligence supremacy] the master key to achieving Israel’s goal of deterrence in facing of opponents.
In the second part of the article, Hacohen reviews the defense achievements of the Israeli military in facing Hamas, describing these achievements as being “ground breaking and should by no means be taken lightly.”
Speaking of the naval and air forces, the Israeli general noted that, “Also of note were the Israeli navy’s achievements in thwarting every offensive move by Hamas’s navy, the air force’s achievements in shooting down Hamas drones — including an explosive drone that was directed at the Tamar gas rig.”
Moving to land defense and the Iron Dome performance, Hacohen stated that “defensive achievements at the Gaza border that blocked the infiltration of Hamas commando teams. Also laudable were the efforts to counteract rocket fire and the performance of the Iron Dome batteries, which can be added to the achievements in the defensive domain.”
Perhaps the author has gone into paying tribute to the IDF performance as a means of renovating the scale of failure that was no secret anyone, at least with regard to the performance of the Iron Dome and the tactic adopted by resistance factions after thoroughly studying the capabilities of the Dome and its operating mechanisms, enabling them to penetrate it and end up having rockets falling on the Israeli sites supposed to be protected by the Dome, as has been announced by the Israeli army more than once.
The author then moves from this “pretentious” praise to transmitting many concerns that were raised before by others and introduced as being lessons learned from the recent war. In a hindsight, Hacohen comes up with a number of insights on the recent escalation stating that, “the threat Hamas posed through the rocket firepower it directed at Israeli cities should set off warning bells about a possible Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. A Palestinian state on the 1967 borders will not be demilitarized and will have the capacity to become a far greater threat than the Gaza Strip. The magnitude of the self-production of weapons under Hamas and Islamic Jihad reveals the hollowness of the demilitarization delusion. Most of that self-production was carried out with civilian machinery and raw materials.”
Moreover, he added that, “There is no way to prevent a state from possessing computerized lathe machines, iron pipes, or phosphates. The fact that, at present, there is no rocket production in the Palestinian cities and refugee camps of the West Bank stems entirely from the monitoring and prevention made possible by the IDF forces and the presence of Israeli civilian communities deep inside the territory. Hacohen sees that “Central Command’s success during this round in containing popular terror activity and violence in the West Bank areas under its aegis demonstrates that the demand for a continued Israeli presence in those areas is justified, both tactically and generally” – referring to the “settlement” blocks as a civilian component despite the fact that the previous lines inherently implied Israel’s ability to monitor and contain then current events in the West bank, an area consisting mainly of shredded cantons that keeping abreast of what is going in them can be easily done.
Given this argument, Hacohen reaches the conclusion that, “Central Command’s success during this round in containing popular terror activity and violence in the West Bank areas under its aegis demonstrates that the demand for a continued Israeli presence in those areas is justified, both tactically and generally. When one compares the resources and efforts required to secure Israel’s coastal plain, which are built around IDF activity in the West Bank and the support of the Israeli communities there, to what the defense establishment has to invest in the Gaza Strip, it becomes clear that the existing situation in the West Bank is more effective, economical, and suitable.”
Following this conclusion, the author presents the most important point in his paper sounding a highly significant warning considering “those calling for further withdrawals, entailing the uprooting of communities and a retreat to the separation-fence line, base themselves on two premises: a withdrawal to the 1967 lines with minor adjustments will bring an end to the “occupation” and afford Israel international legitimacy and support for a military operation if its security is undermined by the Palestinian state or the IDF, with its perpetual superiority, can remove any security threat in a short time and at a reasonable price.”
However, Hacohen obviously contests these two prepositions setting Israel’s 2005 unilateral disengagement from Gaza as an example, where it was promised that the international community would back any Israeli military response to terror attacks from the Gaza Strip, a result that never materialized.
Regarding the US position of Israel in the recent escalation, Hacohen stated that, “President Biden’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself could not be taken for granted, and it is likely that a price will have to be paid for the US backing Prime Minister Netanyahu received for 10 days of warfare. The US administration, which is committed to promoting the two-state solution, was well aware that failing to support Israel while it was under a terror onslaught from Gaza would make it difficult to demand Israel’s agreement to a future West Bank withdrawal. Still, Israel was prevented by the administration from sustaining its offensive so as to bring Hamas to its knees.”
Hacohen concludes his paper assessing capabilities of the Israeli army given the recent events saying, “The events of the past weeks, which showed the limitations of the IDF’s power in the event of a multi-arena war (including the domestic one), a prospect for which the potential is growing, indicate that additional withdrawals would pose an existential danger to Israel. With all the IDF’s operational superiority, if it has to fight in the northern arena as well, it will be unable to defend the narrow coastal strip from the pre-1967 border.”