The Israeli army is reeling from two attacks behind its lines by fighters of the Qassam Brigades, the military resistance wing of Hamas.
The attacks are feeding a sense in Israel that its ground assault on Gaza is turning into a disaster and there are indications that Israeli anger and frustration are being taken out with even more deliberate killings of Palestinian civilians.
On Monday, four Israeli soldiers were killed and ten injured when Palestinian resistance fighters fired mortars across the boundary from Gaza.
But the most dramatic incident was a commando raid in which seven Qassam fighters emerged from a tunnel, raided a fortified Israeli army outpost at Nahal Oz inside Israel, killed five soldiers according to the Israeli count, and returned safely to Gaza through the tunnel.
Qassam said its fighters killed ten Israeli combatants in the attack.
Multiplying the psychological impact is the fact that Qassam released a video of the incident on Tuesday (above), which the military correspondent of Israel’s Channel 10 television acknowledged “appears to be authentic.”
No ceasefire without end of siege
Along with the video of the raid, Qassam’s commander Muhammad Deif released an audio recording saying that his group would not accept a ceasefire which did not end the siege of Gaza. Deif said that his fighters were prepared for a long battle and were working according to a plan rather than “reacting” to events like Israel.
Deif said that the “enemy” had been “defeated” in its ground war and would continue to pay a heavy price as long as its army was in Gaza.
The latest resistance attacks across Israeli lines have rattled frontline Israeli soldiers, one of whom grumbled to Ynet that “I’m not sure where is safer, inside or outside” Gaza.
“We have been to a number of rallying points, and were amazed to discover that the lessons of the Second Lebanon War and Pillar of Defense had not been implemented,” the soldier added, referring respectively to Israel’s failed 2006 invasion of Lebanon and its November 2012 bombardment of Gaza.
“Yesterday we were punched hard in the gut, because the feeling was that outside the Strip was much safer – but it’s not true,” another soldier said after Monday’s attack.
The attacks have yet to dent the support for the massacre among the Israeli Jewish public, 90 percent of whom still back the assault, according to a recent poll.
While Palestinian civilians have been the main targets of Israeli attacks – the number of fatalities from Israel’s 23-day assault has now surpassed 1,200 persons, 80 percent of them civilians – Israel’s losses are overwhelmingly military.
With more than fifty soldiers dead, a price no one in Israel expected to pay for attacking Gaza, even the country’s top leaders appear weary.
Peres said he hoped the war would end with Israeli-backed Palestinian Authority de facto leader Mahmoud Abbas resuming control of Gaza with the support of Israel and Israeli-allied Arab dictatorships.
Abbas “has the support of Egypt and the Arab world more than anyone else today,” Peres said. He appeared to be reflecting broader thinking among Israel’s elites who now see Abbas as their “savior.”
The raids from Gaza have heightened the sense among establishment commentators that Israel has lost – or never had – the initiative in the ground assault that it launched on Gaza.
“From the first day of the operation, we have been dragged and we are still being dragged,” wrote Nahum Barnea, Israel’s leading columnist, in Ynet. “Hamas is dictating the extent and length of the conflict, and our forces have not found a move, an initiative or a patent to break this dictation.”
Commenting specifically on the Nahal Oz video, Ynet’s Yossi Yoshua wrote that the Israeli soldiers who were targeted appeared “unprepared and off guard, even in broad daylight.”
In a sign of the potential impact of the video in Israel, Yoshua wrote that Ynet “has chosen not to post” the video “because of its graphic nature and from the desire not to aid Hamas in its propaganda.”
But he acknowledged that the Israeli army “has some tough questions to answer regarding what went down in the pillbox next to Nahal Oz.”
“Massive attack” in Shujaiya routs Golani Brigade
It is well established that the Israeli army deliberately targets civilians, civilian homes and other civilian objects.
Unable to break the resistance on the ground, Israel is going after the civilian population to “terrorize” them into submission, dozens of international law experts and human rights experts said in a recent statement. This is a reprise of Israel’s so-called “Dahiya Doctrine” used against civilians in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2008-2009.
In the latest horrifying massacre today, Israeli shells reportedly slammed into a UN school in Jabaliya refugee camp, killing sixteen people.
Yet the sheer unpreparedness of the Israeli army for military resistance may be causing it to take its rage out in even more vengeful attacks on Palestinian civilians.
In a revealing account of Israel’s 20 July attack on the Shujaiya neighborhood east of Gaza City, The Jerusalem Post revealed that the army’s elite Golani Brigade suffered a thrashing at the hands of well-prepared resistance fighters who launched a “massive attack.”
“The Golani Brigade in [Shujaiya] sustained heavy casualties,” the newspaper reported citing an army source, “after Hamas intelligence units mapped out its location.”
Fearing they “would be getting 600 body bags back” containing dead Israeli soldiers, commanders withdrew the Israeli infantry and simply shelled Shujaiya, causing mass destruction and the deaths of dozens of civilians.
Shoot to kill
In a Facebook posting, Eran Efrati, a former Israeli army combat soldier turned dissident researcher and activist, claimed that Israeli soldiers serving in Gaza had leaked information to him in recent days that soldiers were “murdering … Palestinians by sniper fire in [Shujaiya] neighborhood as punishment for the deaths of soldiers in their units.”
Efrati claimed that commanding officers had given shoot-to-kill orders ostensibly meant to protect Israeli forces, but whose real purpose was to “enable soldiers to take out their frustrations and pain at losing their fellow soldiers (something that for years the IDF [Israeli army] has not faced during its operations in Gaza and the West Bank)” by killing Palestinian civilians.
Efrati cited the cold-blood sniper shooting, caught on video, of Palestinian youth Salem Shamaly in Shujaiya on 20 July, as a likely example of this phenomenon.
Efrati spent years working with Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group that collects and publishes testimonies of abuses from Israeli soldiers but also protects them from consequences by concealing their identities.
Since Efrati’s posting, a copy of which was captured by The Electronic Intifada, Efrati’s entire Facebook page is no longer available.
Looming political disaster for Netanyahu
Nahum Barnea points to the political crisis the heavy losses of Israeli soldiers is causing to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing pressure to expand a ground attack in Gaza which Barnea and other commentators say is falling far short of the stated aim of destroying the resistance’s system of tunnels.
There are signs of internal disarray as senior Israeli army officers leak to the media about disagreements with the country’s political leadership. One “senior officer” disputed Netanyahu’s claim that the army had not made him fully aware of the “threat” from Gaza tunnels.
“Our responsibility is to lead the offensive to where it needs to go, not to where the public wants. This is not reality TV and rating is not a factor,” the senior officer told Ynet.
If Netanyahu presses on, Barnea writes, “he will have to deal with the [rising Israeli] death toll. He probably remembers what happened to former Prime Minister Menachem Begin in similar circumstances; if he stops, he will have to deal with disappointment and internal criticism.”
Barnea is referring to Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon which killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese.
It was seen as a catastrophe in Israel, which lost almost seven hundred soldiers. Begin, once the revered leader of the Irgun Zionist terrorist group in the 1940s, left office in disgrace and died soon afterwards.
Israel looking for a way out
In an astonishing sign of Israel’s eagerness to end the Gaza assault on less than humiliating terms, the foreign ministry advised Netanyahu to initiate a UN Security Council resolution that would set favorable terms for Israel. Israel normally seeks to avoid any action by the UN.
The resolution would call for Gaza to be “disarmed,” Haaretz reported, and for Abbas to return to Gaza. It would be modeled on resolution 1701, which allowed Israel to retreat from Lebanon in 2006.
But despite the face-saving 2006 resolution, no one in Israel doubts that Lebanese resistance forces are likely to be fiercer than ever should Israel ever plan a return. No matter what the Security Council says, Palestinian resistance groups are not going to unilaterally disarm, giving Israel the victory it could not achieve in battle.
The 1982 and 2006 Lebanon wars, like so many of Israel’s aggressions, showed that if “winning” is measured in slaughtering civilians, Israel, like the United States in Vietnam, remains the champion.
But politically and strategically, Israel and its leaders may be realizing that they are facing another defeat in Gaza.