Mubarak is the Only One Who Got it Right

It's been four weeks since I've been home from Israel and the fighting in Gaza. Three weeks since I turned in my helmet, body amour and M-16 and exchanged the olive drab fatigues for the jeans and a t-shirt which is my daily uniform in civilian life. The story of that conflict has been pushed to the back burners. But during the fighting itself, it generated millions of words and literally hundreds of hours of media coverage and yet, it seems, to this day no one but Hosni Mubarak the President of Egypt has gotten the story right.

There may be a lot of things that one can say about President Mubarak, not all of them complimentary, but one thing that cannot be said is that he is either a newcomer or naïve in the nuances, strategies and politics of the Middle East. Here is what President Mubarak said in a speech last week: 

"Why did (Hamas) object to our attempts to prolong the cease fire? And why did they not heed our warnings that their positions constitute an open invitation for an Israeli assault? Was this planned and deliberate? For whose benefit?... the recent crisis has exposed an attempt to exploit the Israeli aggression in order to impose a new reality on the Palestinian and Arab arena -- a new reality that will stack the cards in favor of a well known regional force, Iran, for the benefit of its plans and agenda."

Well, that's an interesting take and it didn't come from the Israeli Foreign Ministry or any Zionist advocacy group. It came from the President of the largest Arab country in the world. What he was referring to when he stated that Hamas had objected "to our attempts to prolong the cease fire" was the period just prior to Israel's incursion into Gaza. There had been a five month long tahadya or lull in Hamas' rocket attacks against Israel and Israel's reprisal raids against Hamas. This lull had been painstakingly negotiated by the Egyptians with a good deal of behind the scenes help from the Palestinian Authority, the Jordanians, the European Union and the United States. In December of 2008, however, Hamas unilaterally announced that the lull was over and they would resume their attacks against Israel.

They did so to the tune of seventy to eighty rocket attacks a day aimed exclusively against a civilian population of almost a million people in Southern Israel. It should be noted that most of these attacks were timed to coincide with when people dropped their children off at schools, kindergartens, pre-schools, and when they picked them up. These rocket attacks were terror attacks, pure and simple. That Israeli children were not killed is a testament to the effectiveness of Israel's civil defense program in Southern Israel.

I walked the streets of Sderot with a former US Marine Captain who noted that literally every single street corner had a bus stop that had been converted into a blast proof shelter while every other block had at least one "life shield" bunker. Every school, every playground, had the same type of reinforced steel and concrete shelters. He looked around incredulously, "Camp Faluja is the only place I've ever seen with such force protection in place." And yet, he noted "Sderot has no rocket launching pads or artillery equipment. Not only is there no offensive military presence but there is no mechanism to return fire either. If you told marines that they would be living in a place that received regular mortar and rocket fire, had no counter fire capability... they would tell you that you were completely insane... among other things." He said quite simply for civilians living in Sderot, "Israel is Iraq without the body armor."

When the five month tahadya ended Israel did everything humanly possible to extend the cease fire. It made it clear that it did not want to have to go into Gaza. Israel worked with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, King Abdullah of Jordan, President Mubarak of Egypt, leaders of the European Union and the American Secretary of State, trying to extend the cease fire indefinitely. Hamas' response? Seventy to eighty rocket attacks a day. Israel's Prime Minister finally went on Arabic language television and literally almost begged the people of Gaza to get their leaders to extend the cease fire. He stated again that Israel had withdrawn from all of Gaza three years ago to give peace a chance and hopefully never to return. He warned that if Israel had to invade it was stronger and it would prevail and there would be needless loss of civilian life as is the case in any war.

Hamas' reply was more vollies of rockets and mortars.

So like President Mubarak, any objective observer would have to ask the question why? "Was this planned and deliberate? For whose benefit?"

The answer is yes of course it was planned and deliberate. What major news outlets have completely missed is not the fact that Israel invaded. The story they have missed is that Hamas knowingly provoked Israel's incursion because this was to be their offensive. It had been planned and prepared for months. It was their strategy, their tactics, their battlefield, prepared according to their doctrine, to be fought at the time of their choosing.

I first put on the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces over 35 years ago. I have been involved in four wars and countless training exercises preparing for war. I have watched Israel's doctrine change and adapt to almost every new eventuality and the one thing I can say with absolute clarity and certainty is that Israel never goes to war in the winter time of its own accord. Never. When Israel can choose, its offensives take place in the spring and summer. It is as if there is a line drawn across the calendar that says from mid autumn and until well into the spring Israeli doctrine precludes offensive action.

The reason is quite simple, the cloud cover and rain of winter time can neutralize Israel's advantage in air and armor. Even with the most advanced avionics, aircraft have a tough time taking out targets which they cannot see because of cloud cover. Rain can turn the terrain of southern Israel into a soupy mud that can bog down Israel's tanks and armored personnel carriers making them sitting ducks for anti tank rockets and missiles. Israel has never gone to war in the winter of its own choosing, which is precisely why Hamas chose the dead of winter for its offensive.

The villages of the Gaza strip were crisscrossed with tunnels dug underneath the houses. Not weapons smuggling tunnels, mind you, these were kidnapping tunnels. They were communication tunnels through which Hamas militants could go unseen from house to house and carry out combat in a civilian environment disappearing from one house, as it came under fire, to pop up in another. Those tunnels were not dug after Israel invaded as a response to that invasion. No one in Hamas said "Quick let's dig these tunnels because the Israelis are coming!"

This was their battlefield and they prepared it according to a doctrine that said they would launch rockets from civilian areas in order to draw Israeli troops into those areas. They would turn whole villages into booby trapped battlefields while the villagers were still in them. Their hope was to kill two to three hundred Israeli soldiers and kidnap and take prisoner as many as fifty.

At the same time, because they were fighting in civilian areas, their plan was to maximize civilian casualties amongst their own people. In this way, any action Israel took against Hamas fighters would become a war crime. Photos of innocent Palestinians killed in an Israeli onslaught would arouse public sympathy and that sympathy in turn could be translated into political pressure to effectuate a cease fire advantageous to Hamas. In that way, they could at one and the same time, wear the mantle of victimhood and victor.

Here is what the New York Times reported on January 16th, 2009, when one of its reporters was imbedded with Israeli forces in the northern Gaza strip,

"The scene was one of rusting green houses and blown up houses that had been booby trapped with mannequins, explosive devices and tunnels. The area was a major site for Hamas launchers."

The reporter was briefed by an Israeli paratroop brigade commander who began his comments by stating that he hated war and that he did not want to be here, but that this operation was necessary to limit Hamas' abilities to launch rockets against Southern Israel. Here once again is the reporter from the New York Times:

"The rocket launchers, which sent deadly projectiles into Ashdod and Ashkelon, Israeli cities due north, were placed amongst the potatoes and peppers, explosive devices around them to prevent their dismantling... the soldiers found improvised explosive devices in the houses and, on Wednesday, in a mosque. The typical ruse for the houses was a mannequin with an explosive near by and a hole or tunnel covered by a rug. I can say that one third of the houses are booby trapped. ....

"He said. "You get into the houses and you see many IEDs..."

The reporter went on to state,

"The idea behind the set ups... was that Israeli soldiers would shoot the mannequin mistaking it for a man, an explosion would occur, and soldiers would be driven or pulled into the hole where they could be taken prisoner." The ruse failed, in part, the reporter went on to state because "the soldiers had found a hand drawn map with the booby traps laid out."

I was with that reporter in Gaza. We went in the same armored personnel carrier. Hamas' plan was to fire from civilian houses, draw infantry into those houses which were booby trapped, and then kill and wound soldiers inside. There were kidnapping teams standing by in the tunnels to pop up from under a false floor and drag the wounded soldiers or the bodies of the dead into those tunnels which criss crossed the whole village. Once inside the tunnels, the dead and wounded Israeli soldiers could be whisked off and taken prisoner. I held the map the reporter referred to of the village and studied it with an intelligence officer. The entire village is laid out as a battlefield... with the villagers still in it, sometimes unaware that their own houses or the houses of neighbors have been rigged. This plan was duplicated throughout Gaza.

This was Hamas' offensive and at least one part of it failed. Only ten Israeli soldiers were killed and none were taken captive. The part of their plan, however, which did not fail was making this war on the backs of their own innocent civilians. There is an old saying in journalism "if it bleeds it leads." Networks will go with the most sensational stories, without much investigation. The picture will speak more than a thousand words and Hamas knew that and counted on it. But there are other pictures. I have linked footage taken of  Hamas' so called "militants" machine gunning Palestinians whom they felt were of rival factions during their bloody coup and take over of Gaza in 2007. This picture tells exactly who Hamas is and what Israel faces on its southern border. Moreover, in the weeks since the fighting ended many of the charges against Israel have been refuted not just by Israel but International Aid Agencies.

One of the most sensational charges was that Israeli targeted a UN school and killed 43 Palestinian civilians who were hiding inside it. Israel maintained that it returned fire to a Hamas mortar launching site outside the school. On Tuesday, the UN office for Humanitarian Affairs stated categorically, "The shelling and all the fatalities took place outside rather than inside the school."

Separately, Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict stated that the organization would investigate the use of children as human shields by Hamas during the recent fighting. The head of the International Red Cross has stated that there was no evidence to suggest that Israel had used any weapons, including white phosphorous, in any manner banned by International Law.

The Italian newspaper Courierre Della Sera quoted a Palestinian doctor in Schifa hospital as saying that contrary to reports of 1300 people killed he estimated that there were only seven to eight hundred killed and of them the vast majority were males between the age of 17 and 23. It should be noted that by the second or third day of fighting Hamas militants had taken off their uniforms and were fighting exclusively in civilian clothes and most of them of course were young males between the ages of 17 and 23.

In the words of Presidnet Mubarak

" I have stressed this before and I'll say it again (Hamas) must face the cost benefit test... of the benefits it has brought for their problems along side the casualties, the pain, and the destruction it has caused... For how long will Arab blood be shed, only to listen to those who admit their mistakes later... and who wave resistance slogans over the corpses of casualties, the ruins and the destruction."

One wonders when some in the Western media will begin asking the same question and demanding the same answers.