Operation Guardian of the Wall ended on May 21, 2021. Although the operation in Israel itself focused on Gaza, the conflict – as the Palestinian term Jerusalem Sword describes it – has its wider political spill-over effect in Israel and in palestinian areas in West Bank. These tensions remain unresolved after the end of the armed conflict itself. The positive side is that Lebanon’s Hezbollah stayed on the sidelines and Iran didn’t attack with missiles via Yemen or Iraq as well the fact that Israel was not forced entry to land operation.
From my point of view the winners of this time’s conflict are Hamas, having achieved its political goals, and the Israeli army, which achieved its military goals. The losers are civilians from all over the region, Israeli society via escalation of ethnic tensions as this conflict sparked inter-communal clashes between Jewish and Arab Israelis in mixed cities, and the Palestinian Authority after becoming a bystander as usuall. The winner can also be Egypt, which once again mediated a ceasefire and is likely to take the lead in the reconstruction of Gaza.
In 11 days, more than 4,360 rockets were fired from Gaza, of which 3,573 fell into Israeli territory, the rest fell either into Gaza or into the sea. The Iron Dome defense system was about 90% effective against the missiles. 12 Israeli civilians were killed in rockets and one IDF soldier due an anti-tank missile, a few hundred wounded. In Gaza, at least 243 people died, including 100 women and children, according to Hamas, and about 1,600 were wounded. The Israeli side claims to have killed 225 Gaza terrorists for all and the majority of women and children died when more than six hundred own rockets exploded or landed in Gaza.
Israeli army counterattacks with unprecedented accuracy
The IDF attacked about 1,500 terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. I consider the attack on the Hamas tunnel system (“Hamas metro”) to be the most significant. In Gaza City, Rafah and Khan Yunis, the IDF destroyed more than 100 kilometers of tunnels used by Hamas leadership and terrorist organizations as hiding places and command and control centers. Several attack tunnels in the North Gaza Strip were also destroyed.
The IDF estimates that at least 50 senior Hamas and PIJ commanders and senior experts were killed. Leaders killed by the IDF included commander of the Gaza Brigade, commanders of the Northern Sector and Gaza Division, commander of the Hamas cyber division, commander of the Development and Project Division, director of arms production and other experts and military leaders. In addition to expert personnel, the Gaza arms industry, mainly missile product development and manufacturing, suffered significant losses as did arms stockpiles. As regards Hamas’ administrative structures, dozens of administrative offices, 11 internal security force buildings and five banks that provided funds for terrorist activities were destroyed. In addition, the IDF destroyed dozens of anti-tank missile groups, seven air threats (armed UAVs), and two naval threats (including unmanned submarine attacks).
Thirteen rockets were fired from Lebanon and three from Syria, as well as one drone. All were repulsed or landed in uninhabited areas or at sea.
For the Israeli military, the operation was a success in many ways. The IDF broke its previous record for precision strikes and the operation is perhaps the first in military history where one of the parties uses only (100%) precision missiles with an accuracy of one or two meters. This, as well as the attack on only the military and the military target carried out at the “Hamas Metro”, allowed a record low number of civilian casualties compared to previous similar conflicts. Of course, there were also civilian casualties in Gaza, but perhaps mainly about the 680 rockets launched into Gaza by Hamas and others and not from Israeli missile strikes.
A good example of avoiding civilian casualties was when, on May 15, the IDF bombed al-Jala high tower with three missiles in an in Gaza. In addition to the 60 apartments and the media offices of Al Jazeera and AP, among others, the 12-story house had electronic warfare equipment and control centers for the Hamas intelligence service. Residents were warned about an hour before the bombings, the apartment building was destroyed to the ground but no casualties were reported.
It should be added that while the fighting was still raging, Israel opened on 18.5. Erez and 19.5. Kerem Shalom border crossings to deliver humanitarian aid from Israel to Gaza.
Sword of Jerusalem: Hamas’ political victory
Hamas achieved its political goals by extending its power to the West Bank at the expense of the Palestinian Authority. Demonstrators gathered in Jerusalem from across the West Bank to announce that Jerusalem is now the territory of Hamas, as illustrated by the name “Jerusalem Sword” given to this Palestinian conflict. There have also been signs that Hamas has gained a greater foothold among Israeli Arabs than before as ethnic tensions erupted in several Israeli cities.
The armed wing of Hamas suffered significant structural and human losses as a result of the Israeli counterattacks, but was nevertheless able to demonstrate its advanced strength. The attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were more severe than before, temporarily closing down, for example, international air traffic and part of the business community.
I now see the ceasefire as the most significant victory for Hamas over the years, precisely because the organization was able to significantly expand its power outside Gaza and specifically at the expense of Fatah in a situation where elections are planned for the Palestinian territories. The status and popularity of President Abbas, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority, which ruled without legitimacy (President Abbas’s term ended on January 9, 2009, when his three-year term ended) are now at record lows and it is very possible that elections will not be held again for this reason. Already in the previous 2006 parliamentary elections, Hamas won the majority, winning 76 seats out of 132 – even now the winner might be Hamas, which could thus elevate the Palestinian Authority from its own ranks to succeed Abbas.
Egypt’s growing role
According to unofficial information, Egypt’s aim is, firstly, to ensure a ceasefire between all parties, secondly, to maintain it for a longer period and, thirdly, to coordinate the reconstruction of Gaza. Egypt is also working to promote negotiations between the Palestinians (Hamas, the Palestinian Authority / Fatah) and Israel with a view to reaching a more lasting solution.
Egypt, the mediator, has invited both Israeli and Gaza delegations to Cairo to discuss the details of the ceasefire, and at least Israel has accepted the invitation. Egypt has taken the lead in rebuilding Gaza, allocating $ 500 million, while the UN pledging $ 18.5 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza. Egypt will also set up a mechanism to coordinate donations and aid deliveries so that aid does not flow into corrupt regimes and Hamas armaments in the past. To ensure this, the reconstruction work is mainly carried out by companies belonging to the Egyptian army, instead of Turkish companies.
The ceasefire at the moment is only a mutual (Hamas / Israel) announcement to end hostilities for the time being. It will make it possible to send immediate humanitarian aid through Israel and Egypt to Gaza. Other details, such as the length and extent of the ceasefire, not to mention more permanent solutions, will be left to further negotiations.
This time the conflict over Gaza is settling on its military scale, with 1,571 rockets fired from Gaza in 2018, a total of 2,045 rockets in 2019, and now at least 4,360 rockets in 11 days. However, civilian losses on both sides were now only about 20% compared to the previous 2014 war in Gaza (Operation Protective Edge). From my point of view, the political implications of this conflict are very much greater than those of other similar Israeli-Arab conflicts in the last decade.
This article is an English version of my article Guardian of the Wall vs Sword of Jerusalem: IDF voitti sotilasoperaation, Hamas poliittisen which first appeared in my web-publication (in Finnish) Ariel-Israelista suomeksi .