A few posts ago I talked about what dynamics were driving the war. Some details have changed, but this is still
mostly accurate (from July 15):
The Israelis are trying to accomplish two goals:
1. Kill people who are actively involved in attempts to kill Israelis.
2. Destroy missiles.
Hamas is trying to launch missiles for as long as they can and keep as much of their capacity as possible when some sort of ceasefire goes into effect.
Hamas operates on a Human Shield model of warfare. How this works is: Missile launching sites are hidden in populated areas, typically at the exits to hardened tunnels. So, they’re next to schools, hospitals, in residences, etc. This not only makes them difficult to find, it means retaliating against the launch sites is likely to kill civilians. And, of course, combatants are hidden among civilians as much as possible.
What’s to stop the Israelis from going until they destroy all the missiles?
Even if we leave the humanitarian aspect completely out of the equation (which I don’t think is fair to the Israelis): The more civilians they kill, the more public pressure builds on them to stop, which leaves Hamas with capacity. This means the incentives of conventional warfare are turned on their heads: It is in the interest of the Israelis to minimize Gazan civilian casualties so they can continue eliminating missiles (and combatants), while it is in the interest of Hamas to maximize their own civilian casualties such that public pressure forces the Israelis to stop before they’ve destroyed a significant amount of Hamas’ capacity.
The use of the word "missiles" in the above is apparently incorrect - the correct term for what they have is "rockets." The difference is apparently that missiles may imply "guided."
Basically, my original contention was that Hamas was waging a PR war in order to handcuff Israel from being able to react to attacks. They're doing a good job, and we're seeing what it looks like a couple of weeks down the road.
The main difference between then and now is that we know much more about the tunnels now, and they turn out to be about a whole lot more than protecting rocket launch sites. At the time, we didn't know how extensive the network was, we didn't realize just how much of the ostensibly scarce building materials Gaza got were going into tunnel construction, we didn't know how resistant to aerial attack they were, and we most importantly didn't know that many of them terminate inside of Israel, in at least one case two kilometers inside Israel.
Israel had the not very tenable (but often very expected) option of simply allowing Hamas to launch rockets at Israel as long as not many Israelis were actually getting killed, even though a significant portion of the population was spending an awful lot of time in bomb shelters (still is), but the option of leaving any tunnels leading into Israel undetected and intact is completely untenable. It became even more untenable when Hamas fighters captured by the IDF started explaining exactly what the tunnels were for: A nighttime attack planned for Rosh Hashanah involving the killings and kidnappings of large numbers of civilians. Which explains why the Israelis found rope, handcuffs, and tranquilizers inside the tunnel entrances. Now the Israelis really can't stop.
In the early days of the war, it was obvious that Israel was trying to minimize civilian casualties. A bare minimum of five out of six airstrikes for the first week resulted in zero fatalities (1200-1400 airstrikes, fewer than 200 fatalities). That minimum assumes that the average airstrike resulting in any fatalities resulted in a single fatality, which we know isn't true. If the average fatal airstrike resulted in two fatalities, that would be more than eleven out of twelve airstrikes resulting in no fatalities, etc.. Given how easy it would be to kill civilians with airstrikes in Gaza, no other conclusion is numerically feasible.
But once the ground war started, that Israel was trying to minimize civilian casualties became a good deal less obvious. If they were being as conscientious as they were during the air war, they weren't doing a very good job of showing it. And Hamas took full advantage of this, not only by publicizing everything they could, but by blaming Israel for deaths that Israel wasn't actually responsible for. The New York Times ran a photograph of a couple of killed Palestinian children with a caption saying the photo was taken in Gaza. Actually, it was taken in Syria, where the number of Palestinian civilians killed has been far higher than in Gaza recently. However, at least as far as Hamas (and most of the West) is concerned, Palestinian civilians killed in Syria don't count, so Hamas repurposed the photograph. They went on to blame the Israelis for something referred to as the "Shati camp massacre" where nine Palestinian children were killed in a camp run by the United Nations. The Israelis denied it. And then an Italian journalist by the name of Gabriele Barbati came out of Gaza and, once he felt safe enough from Hamas to talk, reported that he witnessed a Hamas misfire hit the camp.
So the stakes have risen, but the dynamic remains the same. There are claims that there is no evidence of Hamas engaging in human shield warfare. I guess whoever says that means aside from using a hospital as Hamas headquarters:
but there has been a lot more to it than that.
We knew early in the war that when Israel informed Gazan civilians that they were going to bomb areas in northern Gaza and people wanted to go south that Hamas advised their population to stay put. Why? We know why.
We knew fairly early on that the rockets weren't killing a whole lot of people and had nearly zero military value, so much so that Mahmoud Abbas (head of the Palestinian Authority) essentially asked Hamas why they were bothering. The only substantive thing they managed to accomplish (outside of driving so many Israelis into shelters) was curtailing international flights to Ben Gurion Airport for a couple of days.
We also know that the rockets have been one of the major justifications for Israeli military action, particularly before the Israelis found out that tunnels terminated inside Israel. If Hamas wanted the Israelis to stop killing Gazan civilians, they could have accomplished this by simply stopping the rocket launches.
So, if the rockets aren't doing much damage but they are drawing Israeli fire, why continue to launch rockets?
The answer is in the question.
To draw Israeli fire. If enough civilians are killed, Israel will have trouble reacting to the next attack because of public opinion. Hamas is trading lives for PR.
Why? Because Hamas' number one priority is to get rid of Jews. The welfare of the population they're governing is secondary. That's what their charter says and that's how they behave. This is portrayed as political, but it's really religious/ethnic.
Do you think I'm exaggerating? On July 28, the top Hamas official in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, cited the Blood Libel as fact in an interview on Lebanese television.
Maybe you're unfamiliar with the Blood Libel. It's a lie dating from the Middle Ages used to incite populations against Jews. It actually shows up in the Caunterbury Tales. It states that Jews use the blood of Christian children to make matzah for Passover. You might find that ridiculous to the point of comical, but it was on television presented as fact a little over a week ago, courtesy of a high Hamas official.
Perhaps you think this is all a reaction to the Israeli reaction after those three teenagers were murdered on the West Bank. And that might be feasible except that the tunnels into Israel, supplied with ropes and handcuffs and tranquilizers, didn't magically materialize in July; they'd been under construction for years. Under construction with tons and tons and tons of construction materials desperately needed in Gaza, but Hamas doesn't put their resources into their people, they put their resources into attacking Israel.
All sorts of resources. Even forced child labor. It turns out that children are particularly useful at building tunnels, given their conveniently small size and agility, so Hamas used them as forced labor, sort of like children were used as chimney sweeps in Victorian London. It was dangerous work, and at least 160 of them were killed.
Killing Jews was so important that it was worth the lives of at least 160 of their children to set the stage for it.
Speaking of the tunnels, let me get back to the human shield point again, though I'd say the last point is a fairly good indicator of Hamas concern for the lives of their civilians. During the first week of the war, we were told by all sorts of people, even my landsman Jon Stewart, that when the Israelis announced that they were about to bomb, the Gazans had nowhere to go.
Let's say you govern a territory under which there is an extensive series of fortified tunnels up to a hundred feet underground whose entrances are scattered throughout areas with high civilian populations. Now let's say you are informed that an aerial attack is going to hit a given area shortly. What do you do with those civilians?
If you're Hamas, you tell them to stay put, you leave them above ground to die and invite the foreign press to see their corpses.
And you wonder why we call them a terrorist organization.