Israeli Conflict 2021: Preliminary Analysis

May 15, 2021

The latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which began in May 2021, is escalating into a multifaceted multi-frontal war that is not yet expected to end in the coming weeks. Compared to the conflicts of the last decade, the current violence has a few specific features, including the rise of national tensions inside Israeli security wall, the use of Hamas ’advanced missile tactics to whole south and central Israel, and mass riots instead of individual terrorist attacks in the West Bank.

In addition to Gaza, the front lines now run along the West Bank, within Israel and, for the time being, also spectacularly on the Lebanese border, when Hezbollah fired a small number of its rockets at Israel. Israel has launched its operation in response to the violence under the name “Operation Guardian of the Walls” which I do not think covers the diversity of the current conflict.

Escalation of the situation

The starting point for this time of conflict can be considered a property dispute in East Jerusalem concerning the suburb of Sheikh Jarrah aka Shimon Hatzadik. The area has been Jewish-owned since 1875, in the Israeli War of Independence Jordan occupied the area, expelling the Jewish population and inhabiting it with Arabs. Israel recaptured the area in the Six Day War in 1967 and granted its Arab residents “protected tenant status” in 1982. The case returned to the courts in 1997 when a local Palestinian sued for legal ownership of the property. In response, property owners (a private Israeli NGO, Nahalat Shimon) argue that they have legal rights to that property and that tenants should be deported if tenants fail to pay rent, the courts found on the basis of documents Jewish property in the area in line with property owners ’claims. The Palestinian community claims that Israel is unfairly deporting four Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. (Background: Sheikh Jarrah: A Legal Background by The International Legal Forum )

To alleviate tensions, the Israeli Chancellor of Justice asked to postpone the eviction of Sheikh Jarrah residents, Israeli police changed the traditional route of the Jerusalem Day procession in the Old City so as not to offend the feelings of the Palestinians. However, these actions were not enough for Palestinian extremists.

The property dispute in the Sheikh Jarrah area began to turn into a more general riot in Jerusalem as police imposed gathering restrictions on Palestinians at the gate of Damascus, on the other hand, a procession by the far-right Israeli group Lehava provoked Palestinians.

The Hamas military wing, with the support of other terrorist organizations, quickly turned the Jerusalem property dispute and riot into a massive attack on Israel.

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Hamas rocket attacks this time were not, as is often the case, spectacular in the past; such attacks targeted the Israeli border region and were so reasonable that Israel did not carry out massive air strikes and counter-attacks targeted the launch sites and not against the leadership of Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Now, instead, 137 rockets were fired from Gaza on Tuesday, May 11, 211, in about five minutes, in an apparent attempt to overthrow the Iron Dome missile defense system, and A120 rockets were also fired at central Israel. From Monday to Tuesday, November 10-11, more than 630 rockets were launched from Gaza per Israel, about 200 of which were stopped by the Iron Dome missile defense system, while 150 others landed inside Gaza, causing some civilian casualties, including at least three children — that is, Gaza’s own rockets.

In response to the missiles, IDF fighter jets and tanks struck a few days into some 130 Hamas, PIJ and other terrorist targets in Gaza. At least 16 high-ranking leaders of the armed wings of Hamas and PIJ were killed by fighter jets and drone attacks with the support of Shin Bet (Security Agency). On the enemy side, Israeli attacks targeted intelligence and communications centers, arms depots and workshops, military buildings, and two attack tunnels were destroyed. .

More than a hundred Palestinians and 9 Israelis were killed and several hundred injured. Rocket attacks cause significant harm to the Israeli civilian population: schools are closed, gatherings are restricted, companies can only be open if they provide easy and quick access to bomb shelter for customers and staff. In addition to physical danger, constant stress can cause long-term health problems. The same, of course, applies to the Gazans, who are used by Hamas as human shields.

The ongoing violence in the West Bank has been funded mainly by humanitarian aid agencies and NGOs in Europe. These grants have been transferred to operations through, among other things, fictitious projects, forged documents, invoices, quotes and excessive salaries. It is run in practice by the Palestinian Liberation People’s Front (PFLP) network in the West Bank. This in itself is nothing new and I have set it out, for example, in the article Western Donors Still Funding Terrorists .

Ethnic tensions

A special feature of the ongoing conflict is the rise of ethnic tensions within Israel – arson, mass violence between Jews and Israeli Arabs, destruction of each other’s property, threats of lynching, etc. in ethnically mixed cities and villages such as Jerusalem, Haifa, Acre, Lod, Previously, the same was last experienced in the autumn of 2000 during the so-called “al-Aqsa Intifada”.

Yes, the historical background can be found in the last century. The Palestinian-Jewish conflict began as a religious war and was led by Palestinian Arab leader Hajj Amin Hussein from the early 1920s to the late 1940s. In the 1930s and the 1948 war, support was given to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and later the Palestinian branches of the Brotherhood: Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza, and the Islamist movement in Israel itself.

On a larger scale and roughly widespread, violence from the Arab side can be seen as war of religion, jihadism, and violence from the Israeli side as a defense against military organizations and terrorists, including Jewish extremists – such as Price tag and Lehava – seeking friction to ignite the region.

Torah scrolls, Jewish holy scriptures, are removed from a synagogue which was torched during violent confrontations in the city of Lod, Israel between Israeli Arab demonstrators and police, amid high tensions over hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants and tensions in Jerusalem May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

My view

Hamas got a major propaganda victory, as it has once again created the image of a champion and defender of Palestinian interests in relation to the Palestinian Authority and Fatah. Hamas has set the rules of the game, an agenda and a timetable for the fight against Israel, setting itself up as a defender of al-Aksa and Jerusalem and showing leadership in the Palestinian national movement.

As of this writing (15.5.21), it is unclear in which direction the current conflict is evolving. In the worst-case scenario, Hamas will continue its rocket attacks even with its best missiles, forcing Israel possibly even into a ground operation; then the number of casualties on both sides increases to the dimensions of previous wars. It would be even worse if Hezbollah, backed by Iran, were to launch an attack with all its might.

According to my own assessment, Israel had to break down the current situation into smaller parts to copy this challenge.

The biggest threat, in my view, is the ethnic tensions between people inside security barrier,  Israel.  At this point, action must be taken through the friction between the Israeli police and the young Arabs, in Israeli cities. The leadership of the Israeli Arab population must be mobilized to calm and curb extremism. At the same time also Jewish extremism must be neutralized. These actions can be taken quickly and centrally. A more lasting impact can be achieved at the grassroots level – locally, in schools, in communities – in promoting mutual tolerance and cooperation.

With regard to the West Bank, alleviation of violence can take place, in my view, by working with the Palestinian Authority, in practice with Fatah. Fatah also presumably has this interest because Hamas threatens its leadership in the West Bank. In addition to security cooperation, these include a wide range of cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, which means significant living conditions and freedoms for Palestinians, as well as cross-border projects.

Perhaps the surprisingly easiest problem area is Gaza. Israel has become well accustomed to the aggression coming from Gaza for the last decade and with the purpose necessary for defense and to retaliate. The military wing of Hamas, the PIJ and other (jihadist) terrorist organizations are loosing their top commanders as well their arsenal of weapons (rockets, more advanced missiles, anti-tank missiles, naval and underground attack tunnels, etc.) in a couple of weeks.  The Hamas political leadership then enters to scene making  a long-term ceasefire (hudna) with Israel through mediation by Egypt.

In my view, the current conflict facing Israel can be resolved by breaking it down into solvable sub-problems. The solution I propose should also make it easier for the Arab countries, that have normalized their relations with Israel, to make it easier to find a more lasting regional solution.

Sources e.g:  TimesofIsrael , INSS , IDF (real-time), IDF (IDF twitter ) , The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center .

Appendix: Hamas Rocket Arsenal: 

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This article is a short version of my article Israelin konflikti 2021: Alustava analyysi which first appeared in my web-publication (in Finnish) Ariel-Israelista suomeksi .