Did Israel do enough to Hamas in Operation Pillar of Defense?

In comments before the 13th annual Herzliya Conference yesterday, former deputy IDF chief of staff Major-General (res.) Dan Harel said that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not do enough to Hamas during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

Interestingly, it was Harel himself who admitted on Nov. 19 that the Israeli Air Force was “running out of targets,” and that a ground operation would “be bad for both sides.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that Harel yesterday also “qualified his remarks slightly, saying that no final conclusions could be made,” but stood by his original statements, “noting that already, only a couple of months after the November hostilities between Israel and Hamas, a grad rocket was recently fired into Israel.”

Harel’s recent remarks are a bit of a head-scratcher as Israel’s southern border has not seen the quiet currently being experienced in a decade or more.

Since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense on Nov. 21, only three rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza towards Israel, according to the Shin Bet. In contrast, between the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009 and April 2009, 186 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza towards Israel.

Thus, if Harel holds that the firing of a single rocket (of the three fired, only one landed in Israel) means Israel should have done more in Operation Pillar of Defense, then Israel should have gone exponentially further in its actions during Operation Cast Lead as well.

However, in a recent article on Cast Lead, Harel argued that although there was potential for more fighting in the future, Israel had “achieved its goals.” At the start of Cast Lead, Harel had declared that “[t]his operation is different from previous ones. We have set a high goal which we are aiming for…there will not be one Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and we plan to change the rules of the game.”

While the current data is clearly against Harel, his comments miss the mark for another reason. They appear to sweep away the important point that Operation Pillar of Defense, like Cast Lead, was not intended to defeat Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip once and for all, something he had previously recognized. With regard to Cast Lead, Harel admitted that “[t]he goal was not to conquer the area in order to remain there, but to inflict massive damage on Hamas, create deterrence, and then leave the Strip.”

As a matter of fact, the goals of Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense were nearly identical. On Nov. 14, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak laid out the four goals of Pillar of Defense:

1. Strengthening our deterrence

2. To inflict serious damage on the rocket launching network

3. To deliver a painful blow for Hamas and the other terrorist organizations

4. To minimize damage to our home front

And according to Harel, who was deputy chief of staff during Cast Lead, the goals of that operation were:

1. To damage Hamas severely

2. To reduce the rocket fire and hostile terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip

3. Strengthen the country’s deterrence

4. Create the conditions for improving the security situation of the south

5. Prevent the conflict from spreading to other arenas

So, what may account for Harel’s recent comments?

If one sees them as misguided, one could argue that today Harel is in a position in which there are no taxes on his words. Ehud Barak explained the phenomenon of there being “no taxes on words” in an interview with Maariv in November. According to Barak, “the further away you are from the real decision-making circles, when no responsibility rests on your shoulders — the easier it is to transmit absolute clarity and resolve, while the real issues are much more complex and thorny.”

On the other hand, it may be that he is simply frustrated that Hamas has not been taken care of once and for all. In fact, during a briefing with US officials a month after Cast Lead, Harel reportedly said that during Cast Lead the Israeli leadership had faced “pressure to finish off HAMAS while the IDF had the chance” and that “Israel would not have any options the next time.”

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1 Comment

  • mike merlo says:

    Based on whats been ‘said’ to date coupled with President Obama’s planned visit to Israel it ‘looks’ as if Hamas & its ‘associates’ are preparing a ‘welcoming’ of sorts


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