Not all the news was good today, but some of it was heartening. In response to days of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel, and targeted attacks – with anti-tank missiles – on Israeli infantry patrols near the fence between Israel and, the IDF launched an operation on Wednesday 14 November to eliminate terrorists in Gaza and destroy weapons caches. One of Operation Pillar of Defense’s first achievements was taking out multifarious Hamas terrorist Ahmed Jabari.
Allahpundit at Hot Air has the video of the pinpoint strike on Jabari – who, it is to be remembered, is responsible for attacks over the last two decades in which dozens of Israelis were killed. Jabari organized Hamas for the Second Intifada and for the Hamas coup in Gaza in 2007, as well as overseeing the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Jabari and at least three other Hamas terrorists have been killed in Pillar of Defense, which is also targeting rocket launch sites in Gaza and weapons storage facilities.
According to the IDF blog, as of the time of this writing, Iron Dome has been used to intercept 25 rockets since the operation in Gaza began. This indicates that the rocket barrage has been extensive. Iron Dome isn’t used to intercept rockets that will fall harmlessly in unpopulated areas, nor can it intercept shorter-range rockets with a low-altitude trajectory. Its intercepts typically represent a small percentage of the total rockets launched.
Moreover, it was reportedly confirmed that four rockets were launched into southern Israel from the Sinai Peninsula (Egyptian territory). These rockets were probably launched by Hamas operatives, but may have been launched by other jihadis in the Sinai.
It’s too early to predict how extensive this will become, but it can be said that in the first day of Pillar of Defense, Hamas (and possibly another terrorist group) has kept firing.
Mohammed Morsi recalled his ambassador to Israel over the new military operation, and summoned Israel’s ambassador in Egypt for a dressing down. I don’t think Morsi is prepared right now to exploit an unstable situation in Gaza and the Sinai – and in any case, he’s not interested in bolstering Hamas’s political fortunes, because he’s got his own vision for Jerusalem and the land of Israel.
A little-noted event this week tended to confirm that. Foreign ministers from the Arab League and the European Union, meeting in Cairo this week, failed on Tuesday to offer endorsement for the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral statehood bid in the UN, which Mahmoud Abbas plans to take up on 29 November. The foreign ministers agreed that a two-state solution needs to be negotiated, but fell short of endorsing the unilateral statehood bid.
For the Arab ministers, the reluctance to endorse a bid their nations were keen on only a year ago is due to the paradigm shift in the wake of the Arab Spring, something I wrote about in August. The “Palestinian narrative” is being sidelined, because of the new prospect of Islamized nations – e.g., Egypt – prosecuting a radical-Islamist vision involving Jerusalem.
The European ministers are a separate issue. Some of them may have been eager to endorse the unilateral statehood bid, but the truth is that the paradigm shift has reduced its importance. Europeans are worried about Syria, and a posture on Syria is what they agreed on in Cairo. As long as Israel can defend herself and remain the enduring fact of her region, the most proximate concern for Europe is who gets hold of Syria. EU bureaucrats may see Syria through a silly ideological lens, but most of the foreign ministries are undeceived about the quality of much of the Syrian opposition. The point of working with it is pragmatic: to gain leverage by supporting it, and possibly be a moderating influence. Several of the Arab nations – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq – want the same thing the Europeans do.
There is a post-American air to the whole series of events in the last two days. There is no noticeable expectation that American influence will be an active factor in the unfolding of this crisis. The US State Department posted an interesting statement on the events in Gaza, condemning Hamas but referencing no US policy stance. It is gratifying, of course, to see State endorsing Israel’s right to self defense. It’s not clear that the final two sentences, which form a lecture to Hamas, were worth saying.
But that seems to be the foreign-policy mode of the Obama administration. Where will all this go? My money is on an uneasy ceasefire in which Hamas continues to act up, but everyone sees that the longstanding Hamas-Israel dynamic is old and busted, geopolitical-transformation-wise. New and hot is the nation-state dynamic for reordering the Middle East – and it’s not ready to tee up quite yet.
I’ve outlined the major actors in this dynamic before: Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and shifting permutations of terrorist groups, with closer or looser ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, operating with or against them. None of these actors is prepared today to achieve a strategic stroke out of the messes created by Hamas. But they’re working on it.
No summary of today’s events would be complete without mentioning the backstory on the IDF’s operation name. It’s being translated “Pillar of Defense” in English, but unofficial translations have run the gamut from “Pillar of Cloud” to “Cloud Pillar” and even an apparently literal “Block Cloud.” These expressions are, of course, a reference to the pillar of cloud which protected the Israeli people against the pursuing army of Egypt during the Exodus. (Exodus 14, including verses 19-20 and 24, describes the pillar of cloud.)
Christians quickly get this much. But for Jews, there’s more to it, as explained by Elder of Ziyon and Yair Rosenberg at Tablet. A widely-taught midrash on Exodus 14 – an exegetical interpretation, recorded by Rashi, an 11th century rabbi – portrays the pillar of cloud as protecting the Jewish people from “arrows and stones” catapulted at them by the army of ancient Egypt.
The pillar of cloud in Exodus had multiple functions; the one invoked in the operation name is its function of protecting the Jews against missiles being launched at them.
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