False Dichotomies


What happened during the ceasefire?

Much of the analysis on the ongoing crisis in Gaza is dependent on some understanding of what happened during the previous six months. During this time, a ceasefire was in place between Israel and Hamas. Once the agreement was reached, though, people stopped paying attention. With this in mind, I’ve read over a detailed report issued by the IICC. Some readers may note that the IICC is firmly in the right-wing camp. To this criticism George Orwell’s famous dictum comes to mind: just because it’s in the Daily Telegraph, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In short, a priori objections are not sufficient, although I’d be happy if readers send me equally sober analyses from the left-wing camp. In the meantime, here’s my summary of the report’s key findings.

The first stage of the ceasefire came between June 19 and November 4, when there was a marked decrease in the extent of rocket/mortar attacks. During this period, 20 rockets were fired, and 18 mortar shells. Most of these were fired by ‘rogue elements’ (Fatah/Popular Resistance Committee), for a variety of reasons. One justification was that the firing was a response to Israeli violations. For example, on June 24, three rockets were fired at Sderot (this was the first Palestinian violation of the truce), after an Islamic Jihad operative was killed in Nablus. It is important to note that the West Bank was not included in the ceasefire agreement. Hamas responded to these violations with minor gestures and short-term detentions of militants.

On November 4, Hamas prepared to abduct Israelis by digging a tunnel under the border security fence. According to the report, Hamas decided on this action in the knowledge of the damage it would do to the truce. This is because they concluded that, with the Shalit negotiations dragging out, it would be better to have another Israeli soldier as a bargaining chip. The IDF prevented the attack, killing seven Hamasniks in the process; Hamas responded with a massive barrage of fire.

And so began the second stage of the ceasefire, which lasted between November 4 and December 17. During this period, 171 rockets and 120 mortar shells were fired at Israel. This is still a massive reduction when compared to the figure before the ceasefire – during the six months preceding the agreement, 2278 attacks had been launched. More crucially, Hamas now participated in the attacks. In turn, the IDF intensified its operations in Gaza, which had been downsized during the first period of the truce.

What about the crossings? Broadly speaking, crossings were open (to an average of 90 trucks a day) when there was calm, and closed when there was not. This gives lie to the idea of an unyielding and consistently maintained siege. On June 22, for example, Karni and Sufa crossings were opened to deliveries of consumer goods and fuel. They were then closed in response to the June 24th violation. On August 17th, Keren Shalom (itself the target of an attack back in April) was opened. During the first period of the truce, a new trucking company was quickly set up in the Gaza Strip, with 100 trucks to transport goods. Company President Abd al-Hakim Hasouna said that the improvement in the crossings was a factor behind the speed in which he was able to get the company started. Since November 4th, however, the crossings have been mostly closed.

There has been a shortage of fuel in the Strip, particularly industrial fuel. Israel has continued supplying electricity from Ashkelon, despite it being targeted by rockets. Ashkelon supplies around 65% of the Strip’s electricity, while Egypt provides another 5%. In addition, there have been attempts to bring in supplies via the sea (SS Liberty, SS Free Gaza, Dignity). As for Rafah, Egypt has insisted that Rafah will only open in compliance with the November 2005 crossings agreement, by which the border will be supervised by the PA, Israel, and the Europeans. Despite this, Rafah has been open for short periods of time, and there have been attempts to break through.

The other main source of supplies, of course, are the tunnels. These continue to flourish. Before this week’s attacks, there were between 400 and 600 tunnels operating, and there have been calls to nationalise them. They have been used to bring in all kinds of goods, but it is important to note that there has been a vast increase in the type and quality of weapons available to the Hamas. In the meantime, there was an increase in military training, including advanced anti-tank weapons, naval training, special forces courses, urban combat etc, as the Hizbollisation of the Hamas continued.

Make of all this what you will, and feel free to point me in the direction of other reports dealing with the truce. It’s crucial that we understand what went wrong, and it should be easily verifiable to find out.


19 Comments so far

  1. Gert December 31st, 2008 7:34 pm

    I’m sure the analysis of ‘who broke the truce, when and how’, while at first glance useful, will very quickly degrade into mudslinging, because even the facts themselves are open to interpretations: what exactly constitutes a ‘violation of the truce’ is in itself debatable. Judgments will therefore inevitably reflect a priori held beliefs about who is right and who is wrong here.

    JSF’s ‘On Sderot and Ashkelon’ is such an alternative analysis, but does it qualify as an “equally sober” analysis (wink!)?

    The same battle is now being waged over the incident with the Dignity. Too bad for the Navy that there was a CNN reporter and a former Congress woman on board? Not really, dismiss CNN as the ‘Communist News Networks’ and the congresswoman as an anti-Semite (that connection she made with the USS Liberty!) and Bob’s your uncle if you’re Far Right and don’t want your lofty views of the Israeli Navy to be soiled. Plus, she sounded a tad ‘whacky’, anyroads, no?

    “It’s crucial that we understand what went wrong, and it should be easily verifiable to find out.”

    Your quest for the truth and nothing but the truth is laudable, but “it should be easily verifiable”???? Don’t think so…

  2. Alex Stein December 31st, 2008 8:36 pm

    Gert – do you think the analysis over at JSF was sober?

  3. Gert January 1st, 2009 7:37 pm


    My point is that in cases like this (as with the Dignity and countless other previous incidents in the I/P conflict) that all ‘analysis’ is rather ‘interpretational’ and that the lofty objective of ‘objectivity’ is almost unattainable.

    Elfie’s interpretation is therefore as ‘good’ as many others. He doesn’t appear to skip any facts as far as I can tell.

    Personally I prefer to read many ‘analysis’ and try and build an overall picture in my mind: the conclusion then inevitably is that both sides carry blame. But even that ‘choice’ is likely to be influenced by the fact that I’m neither Israeli/Jewish nor Palestinian.

  4. stephen hoffman January 2nd, 2009 3:19 am

    there is also the danger , what if they hit dimona where israel’s nuclear base is . If you look the rockets hamas are using are becoming more and more sophisticated and can reach longer distances , they can now reach beersheva – and surely soon i dont want to be the bearer of gloom they could hit dimona -that is extremely dangerous.

    the only real way israel will root out the rockets is through treacherous ground warfare.

  5. Alex January 2nd, 2009 11:19 am

    I’m sorry Gert, but it’s a simple matter to work out if and when goods have been allowed into Gaza over the last six months.

  6. Gert January 2nd, 2009 7:25 pm

    No, Alex, that’s not true and you know it. From a usually very nuanced thinker you’re now veering to very linear, at least on this issue.

    “to work out if and when goods have been allowed into Gaza”

    That’s a simple matter? Well, good luck and make sure you use sources that confirm your pre-conceived ideas.


    “and surely soon i dont want to be the bearer of gloom they could hit dimona”

    I’m not sure you realise what it would take to damage the reactor itself, never mind the factories that are buried deeply undergound. You don’t so much sound as the “bearer of gloom” than as a self-serving fantasist of gloom. What will you come up with next, I wonder?

  7. Alex January 2nd, 2009 8:29 pm

    Is there some reason why people can’t stand by Erez crossing and see what goes in and out?

  8. Peter D January 5th, 2009 9:40 pm

    Alex, I think the claim that “on November 4, Hamas prepared to abduct Israelis by digging a tunnel under the border security fence” is hardly verifiable and, indeed, likely to be false. First, Israel itself said something pretty noncommittal right after the operation, something along the lines of “the tunnel could be used to stage cross border raids”. If they had solid information, they’d be more straightforward. Second, if you know of the tunnel and the impending attack, then the best thing both military and from PR point of view is to ambush the tunnel, kill the Hamasniks as they emerge and score an important PR victory. This wasn’t done. Third, how stupid Israel thinks people are supposed to be not to notice the “coincidence” of the raid taking place on Nov 4, the day of the American elections? Even the language of the report you site makes me think it is just a piece of propaganda and not a verified fact: “on November 4, Hamas prepared to abduct Israelis…” Yeah, sure, exactly on Nov 4 they prepared and exactly on Nov 4 Israel staged the raid. Give me a break…

  9. Alex January 5th, 2009 9:43 pm

    Peter – it’s extraordinary to suggest that Israel should have to wait until Hamas emerge from the tunnel to try and taken them down. Regarding the tunnel, the claim has been very clear – it was an attempt to get another Gilad Shalit, and I haven’t heard very loud refutations from Hamas. I accept that the language was strange, although if Israel is so cunning to plan its raids to coincide with the US elections, aren’t Hamas capable of doing the same? Or is there no room in international affairs for coincidence?

  10. Peter D January 6th, 2009 7:53 am

    Please, find me one credible source claiming that the tunnel was unequivocally for a cross border raid. “Strange language” doesn’t occur without reason. As far as I remember, the tunnel wasn’t even finished, so the claim of Hamas planning the attack on Nov 4 is absurd, but I am ready to stand corrected if I am wrong.
    Now, re: “coincidence in international affairs”; Alex, you pride yourself of being so balanced and cerebral and seeing through the spins. Are you really asking this question in good faith?
    Same coincidence as starting the Gaza operation two days before New Years, two months before elections and 20+ days before changing of the American President. See good points by Aryeh Amihay:
    War, on the other hand, can never wait. I am not saying that if a foreign army invades Israel, Israel should not retaliate because it is right before elections. But the situation in Gaza is not new. Rockets have been falling on Sderot and elsewhere for eight years now. If this operation is indeed intended to put an end to the rocket-shooting once and for all, certainly waiting another six weeks would have not changed anything.

  11. Alex January 6th, 2009 12:26 pm

    Peter – I think the report I’ve cited above is a credible source (pay particular attention to the George Orwell quote), and certainly more reliable than claims which involve saying “as far as I can remember” and “something along the lines of”. As I keep saying about all this stuff, I’m happy to read equally sober stuff arguing differently, whether it be on the issue of Nov 4th or the rest of the ceasefire.
    The Hitch makes some good points about the electioneering here – http://www.slate.com/id/2207872?wpisrc=newsletter. He’s also, as far as I know, the only person to point out that this is the month in which new elections for the PA have to be called by Abbas. Silence on this issue, I think, speaks volumes. I suppose I’d prefer a slight shift in emphasis in the language used, from talk of grand planning to short-term exploitation of circumstances. The latter can at least be argued, the former is a pipe dream in a country ruled by sub-par politicians.

  12. Peter D January 7th, 2009 10:11 pm

    Alex, fair enough, point taken re: not producing evidence to the contrary of the assertion that the tunnel was for kidnapping. However, after a cursory search (not much time right now) I found the only source for the assertion to be the Israeli gov. or IDF. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be any independent body (that hasn’t been fed the same info by the IDF) that checked the assertion. The report that you cite doesn’t cite its sources and we may be pretty sure it was fed the same info. Now, we know how reliable the info IDF is feeding us is – I’d say, no more reliable than the info coming from the Palestinians – so, let’s keep taking it with a grain of salt (By the way, just now, again, it looks like IDF is trying to prove that there was fire from the UN school shelled yesterday by using a video from 2007, while a some days ago it mistook gas canisters for Grad missiles.)
    So, yes, for me credibility of IDF is next to zero: “fool me once…”
    By the way, have you seen One Million Bullets in October? Watch it, it is worth it, despite being an unbalanced and biased piece. Even seeing through the spin of all the talking heads in the film, your hair will still stand on end.
    P.S. By the way, just checked the language of the report. It says on page 3:
    On November 4 the IDF carried out a military
    action close to the border security fence on the Gazan side to prevent an abduction
    planned by Hamas, which had dug a tunnel under the fence to that purpose.

    First, note that it doesn’t claim the alleged abduction was supposed to take place on Nov. 4.
    Second, from the Ministry of FA site we learn that
    Last night (4 November), IDF and security forces uncovered a tunnel meant for the immediate abduction of IDF soldiers a distance of 250 meters from the security fence of the Gaza Strip. The operation was carried out by an IDF force close to the security fence inside the Gaza Strip, in order to thwart the intended terror attack. The force completed its mission and returned to Israel this morning.
    which is ambiguous, but seems to suggest the tunnel was 250 meters inside Gaza (actually, there is a picture there that claims just that!), so, where does the assertion of your report that the “tunnel [was dug] under the fence” comes from? The whole story seems shaky.
    P.P.S I am surprised you dismissed my idea of ambushing the tunnel and scoring a major PR victory. Think of it, one of the major problems of the current campaign from PR point of view is that a lot of people don’t buy the Israeli claim that Hamas broke the truce (given the Nov 4 provocation) and that it was not interested in truce (there are many sources contradicting it). If Hamas intended to carry and abduction, IDF would have had a much better casus beli if it caught it red-handed and appear to be on the defensive side. It could say: see, they don’t want truce, blah-blah-blah. So, maybe Israel is just stupid to miss the opportunity or maybe something else….

  13. Alex January 7th, 2009 10:18 pm

    Peter – interesting points. Let’s say you are right and that Israel needlessly attacked on Nov 4th. What were its interests in doing so? Was this so as to ensure that Hamas would still be firing over one month later, thus providing the pretext for the military operation?
    Also – we need to think about who ordered the operation on November 4th. Was the political echelon responsible?

  14. SDRay January 9th, 2009 2:22 am

    Regarding working out whether goods have been allowed into Gaza during the ceasefire, the following webpage of the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs features a number of reports with precise measurements of the level of imports into Gaza during the ceasefire:


    The reports state that during the ceasefire the population of Gaza saw little tangible benefit from the truce. In July the level of commodities remained far below the needs of the population, with only essential humanitarian supplies allowed in. Imports in July were only 37% of the December 2005 level (one month before the Palestinian elections).

    The restrictions on imports and the total ban on exports left 95% of Gaza’s local industry closed. Fuel imports remained restricted and power cuts continued for four to five hours a day. The blockade actually worsened in August and October and intensified to unprecedented levels following the renewal of violence on 4 November.

  15. SDRay January 9th, 2009 2:51 am

    To add to my previous post, I find the statements

    “crossings were open (to an average of 90 trucks a day) when there was calm, and closed when there was not. This gives the lie to the idea of an unyielding and consistently maintained siege”

    to be entirely inconsistent with the UN descriptions and cavalier with respect to the suffering of the population. After all, in October there was 1 rocket and 1 mortar fired, a reduction of 99% from pre-truce levels. (see http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-+Obstacle+to+Peace/Palestinian+terror+since+2000/Missile+fire+from+Gaza+on+Israeli+civilian+targets+Aug+2007.htm?DisplayMode=print#statistics).
    But in that month there was a 30% decline in the number of truckloads entering Gaza in October compared to September and imports were only 21% of the December 2005 level.

    During the ceasefire there was not a single fatality or serious injury as a result of the rockets. Nevertheless Gaza continued to suffer under the blockade.

  16. Alex January 9th, 2009 3:01 am

    SDRay – I will read the report you have cited properly and write something on it within a week. In the meantime, I don’t understand why you are citing statistics for 2007 when my piece referred to the second half of 2008.

  17. SDRay January 11th, 2009 9:48 pm


    Every statistic I mentioned related to the second half of 2008. What gave you the impression that these statistics related to 2007?

  18. Alex Stein January 11th, 2009 10:00 pm

    I think I’m just confused as to where you get the statistic that only one rocket and one mortar were fired in October. I checked that link but couldn’t find referring to that.

  19. SDRay January 13th, 2009 6:45 am

    It’s in the chart that is titled ‘The lull in the fighting’. The bar that reads October has ’1′ for the mortar bar and one for the rocket bar.

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