Rick Francona: 72-hour cease-fire may prove to be end of this round of Gaza confrontation
He says Israel achieved its objectives militarily by destroying tunnels, rockets
Hamas can survive loss of manpower; it still has thousands of rockets, but it's weakened
Francona: Too many died; this should be a chance to find a long-term peace
Editor’s Note: Rick Francona is a retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer and CNN military analyst. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
There is optimism, and hope, that the Egyptian-brokered three-day “humanitarian cease-fire” between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas will turn into a longer-term cessation of hostilities – with good reason.
Why? Militarily speaking, Hamas is on the ropes. Although the group has survived an IDF aerial, naval and ground onslaught, it has suffered a severe blow. Despite its somewhat successful attempts to portray itself and all Gaza as victims of a disproportionate Israeli military campaign, in the end it failed to prevent the IDF from achieving almost all its military goals, while achieving very little on its part.
The Israelis stated early on in the campaign that their objectives were to find and destroy Hamas’ networks of tunnels constructed under the Gaza border with Israel, tunnels designed to be used for offensive attacks on Israeli cities and kibbutzim in southern Israel.
At the outset of hostilities, the IDF believed there were over 20 tunnels. At the end of the fighting, they had destroyed 32 tunnels, some almost 2 miles in length and demonstrating surprising engineering capabilities. Granted, it is impossible to know if the IDF has found all the tunnels.
Let’s look at the situation as it appeared on the day after the last rockets were fired, the last bombs were dropped and the last tunnels were destroyed.
Hamas has lost most if not all its offensive tunnels. These tunnels were constructed over several years at great expense, not only in terms of resources expended, but in terms of diversion of those resources from the construction of infrastructure projects, including schools, hospitals, mosques and housing.
As for casualties, the overwhelming numbers of dead and wounded were Palestinians. The death toll among the Gazans reached almost 1,900, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
There are differing claims by human rights organizations and the Israeli government about how many of the dead were Hamas fighters versus innocent civilians. The human rights groups say 80% of the dead were civilians, while the Israelis counter with a figure of just under 50%.
Assuming the human rights groups are correct, Hamas has lost fewer than 400 fighters; if we are to accept the Israeli figure, Hamas losses would be over 900. Given its suspected strength of more than 10,000 fighters, Hamas can absorb this level of manpower losses.
If past conflicts are a guide, Hamas recruitment will soar in the wake of the fighting as young men are drawn to the organization that, at least in their own minds, successfully stood up to the vaunted Israel Defense Forces. Personnel losses will not affect the ability of Hamas to survive.
That said, in addition to the loss of the tunnels, much of Hamas’ rocket inventory has been depleted or destroyed. According to a spokesman for the Israeli military, Hamas started the conflict with an arsenal of about 10,000 rockets. One-third of those were fired at Israel, albeit with limited effect, and another third were destroyed in Israeli strikes.
If those figures are accurate, that leaves Hamas with over 3,000 rockets. The numbers can be deceiving, since we do not have a breakdown of how many of which type remain in the inventory – do they have a large number of the more capable Syrian-made M-302 (100 mile range) or locally made M-75 (50 mile range) rockets, or more of the less capable, locally made short-range al-Qassam rockets? In any case, Hamas still has thousands of rockets.
However, of the thousands of rockets fired by Hamas (as well as some launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad) at Israel, few caused significant damage. There have been three civilian deaths in Israel thus far in the conflict.
The primary reason for the low number of deaths and injuries in Israel, aside from the inherent inaccuracy of the rockets, is the effectiveness of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket/missile system.
After similar conflicts in the past, Hamas has been re-armed and resupplied by its supporters, primarily Iran and to some extent Syria. The most efficient method for the re-arming and resupply effort has been via the large number of smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
That is not likely to be the case this time – another blow to Hamas, which it must factor in to its assessment of this conflict as well as its future planning.
The new government in Egypt under former defense chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is not a friend of Hamas. Al-Sisi considers Hamas to be nothing more than a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he has outlawed in Egypt. He has increased the Egyptian military and police presence on the Gaza border and destroyed many of the smuggling tunnels formerly used to import weapons into Gaza. Hamas cannot expect to be fully re-armed and resupplied via Sinai as it has in the past.
This conflict ended, at least for a while, as most of the past wars have. Israel dominated the battlefield, possessing complete control of the air and sea, and took the ground fighting deep into Gaza, Hamas’ home turf. The much more powerful Israeli armed forces did enormous damage to the public and civilian infrastructure while mostly achieving its military objectives.
I said earlier in this conflict that Israel would pursue its objectives despite the inevitable world condemnation of its so-called disproportionate use of military force, and would stop its operations when it had achieved those objectives. We appear to be at that point.
There has been far too much loss of life in Gaza. It is time to stop the fighting and seek a solution to this current crisis and establish a framework for a long-term solution. We have a chance to do just that. In this particular instance, the catalyst for that search may just be the serious military defeat suffered by Hamas.