In the predawn hours of Friday, May 21, 2021, a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist movements in Gaza began. The ceasefire came about through mediation by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations, as well as intervention by the US government.
US President Joe Biden had been in contact with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu four times over the preceding week. During those talks, Biden pushed for a marked reduction in the military actions of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. It’s not known if Biden asked Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to do the same.
Prime Minister Netanyahu initially rejected Biden’s call, saying Israel would continue military action against Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza until its goals were attained.
The two terrorist movements, for their part, showed that they wanted to do as much damage as possible to Israel before the ceasefire took effect at 2:00 a.m. on Friday morning.
After an eight-hour pause that started at 1:00 a.m. on Thursday, an unprecedented rain of rockets fell on the towns and villages in southern Israel. From 9 a.m. hundreds of projectiles battered southern Israel and people were forced to spend hours in their bomb shelters.
Hamas also fired another Cornet anti-tank missile at an Israeli army bus. A minute earlier, the driver of the bus had let off more than 30 IDF soldiers near the border with Gaza. As if by a miracle no one was injured, but the rear of the armored bus was completely destroyed.
Throughout the war, this writer was in contact with an elderly lady in Ashkelon who has walking difficulties and does not have a private bomb shelter in her home. She reported that the siren went off continuously, but sometimes the system malfunctioned, after which she heard massive explosions. The woman, 85, was in a state of shock after a rocket barely missed her home and exploded on a lawn next to the parking lot.
She said that in all the years she had been living in her modest apartment near the sea there had never been a situation like this in which tens of rockets exploded near and in residential buildings, despite the Iron Dome anti-missile batteries deployed around the city.
Ashkelon was the Israeli city hardest hit during the 11-day war. Hundreds of rockets fell within the city’s municipal boundaries and at least three residents lost their lives, while dozens more were injured.
Will the ceasefire hold?
Against all expectations the truce is holding up for the time being, and this has to do with the fact that both Hamas and PIJ were hit extremely hard during the IDF’s actions in Gaza.
Much of the so-called “Metro” project, the underground city Hamas and PIJ built with Iran’s help, has now been destroyed and it will take years to repair the damage there. The Israel Air Force (IAF) succeeded in completely destroying 100 kilometers of reinforced tunnels of the Metro project with four large-scale actions involving hundreds of fighter jets and attack helicopters.
The terms of the ceasefire have not been published and there is no official document signed by the parties because Israel is not officially negotiating with the terrorist movements in Gaza.
Hamas wanted to accept the ceasefire on condition that Israel would make concessions on Jerusalem, especially regarding control of the Temple Mount. In this way, the terrorist movement could have shown that something had been achieved with the more than 4,350 rockets and mortar shells that Hamas and PIJ fired at Israel during the war. However, it seems very unlikely that Israel has made any concessions over the issue of Jerusalem.
Arab media reported that negotiations over the exact terms of the ceasefire, including Jerusalem, would take place after the fighting had stopped, but until now Israel has taken measures that indicate it will stop making goodwill gestures to Hamas, such as letting goods into Gaza via the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings.
The conclusion must therefore be that Hamas and PIJ have achieved nothing with their 4,350 rockets, especially when it comes to their ultimate goal, which is the destruction of the State of Israel and the conquest of Israeli territory.
However, in the military terms, Hamas and PIJ have achieved some of their goals.
They managed to expose the weaknesses of the Israeli missile defense. The missiles fired at Israel came in salvos and because of this the Iron Dome anti-missile shield was unable to shoot out of the sky every missile bound for a target in an Israeli city or village.
It is because of this that a relatively large number of houses and other real estate were directly hit during this Fourth Gaza War and there were more civilian casualties (12) than during the last confrontation with Hamas in 2014.
Another difference from the war in 2014 was that Hamas and PIJ turned out to have ultra-modern weapons. Hamas not only had Cornet anti-tank missiles available, but also so-called “kamikaze drones,” unmanned aerial vehicles used as flying bombs.
Hamas also used a new type of medium-range missile called the Ayyash. This missile, which was built in Gaza based on a model used by Iran, has a range of 250 kilometers. Hamas used the Ayyash to temporarily paralyze air traffic in Israel. Ben Gurion Airport as well as the new Ramon Airport near Eilat were targeted by the Ayyash last week.
The Sunni terrorist movement also had mini submarines at its disposal. The remote-controlled submarines smuggled 30 kilos of explosives from the sea. These submarines, as well as an unmanned underwater drone heading for an attack near Ashkelon, were destroyed by the IDF.
The Israeli army also put an end to Hamas’ diving unit that had already been trying to infiltrate Israel earlier. Most members of this unit were killed trying to activate the underwater drone.
Israeli army achievements
The IDF and IAF demonstrated during this fourth Gaza war that they are capable of destroying an underground tunnel complex without any ground operation.
The first action against the “Metro,” as the IDF calls the complex, was carried out by 160 warplanes that simultaneously fired 450 guided missiles at the northern part of the tunnel system. A total of 80 tons of explosives were used in this first aerial assault.
After the fourth action against the underground tunnels, the IAF and IDF reported that a total of 100 kilometers of the complex had been destroyed and that it would take years to rebuild.
The IAF also demonstrated its ability to perform precision bombing and destroy entire high-rise buildings in densely populated areas without hitting civilian homes. As a result, the number of civilian deaths on the Palestinian side was much lower than in 2014, while the number of air strikes was higher than during that war, which also lasted longer.
The expectation in Israel is that the deterrent power of the Israeli army has been restored by this war and that it could provide a few years of relative peace.
Hamas will have to rebuild its entire military infrastructure and that will take years, commentators in Israel say.
However, the public in southern Israel is skeptical, thinking it will be only a matter of months before new terror from Hamas and PIJ will arrive.
Perhaps the terror will not come in the form of missiles, but both terrorist organizations have shown in the past that they are not limited to conventional forms of violence (think of balloons with combustible materials, for example).
Israel, for its part, has announced that there will be a change in strategy versus the Palestinian terror movements in Gaza.
Senior Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi said that from now on the Israeli military will carry out pre-emptive strikes against Hamas and PIJ when they try to replenish their rocket arsenals.
“This is a total change of the equation. We’ve never done this,” Hanegbi said in an interview with Channel 13 in Israel.