In recent days we have seen a significant change in the nature of fighting in the Gaza Strip. Hamas and the organizations that are inspired by it and operate under its wing scaled back the rocket fire and are now focusing on firing and attacking along the border fence around the Strip.
As a result, the IDF also boosted its activity in what is referred to as the “security strip,” that is, the area along to the fence that is up to 3 kilometers deep (roughly 2 miles.)
Two main reasons motivated terrorists in the Strip to shift most of their efforts to the area adjacent to the fence. First, Hamas realized that the Qassam fire directed at Israeli civilians and communities causes grave damage in the court of international public opinion and even within Arab public opinion. As a result, Israel enjoys broad international legitimacy for the siege it has imposed on Gaza – the same siege that threatens Hamas’ rule in the Strip and whose removal is the organization’s main objective at this time.
The second reason for shifting the fighting to the fence area is that Palestinian groups recently realized that initiating activity along the fence grants them more advantages as well as more military and moral achievements than the launching of Qassams and Grads. They reached this conclusion as a result of the explosive device detonated near the fence at the beginning of March that killed two soldiers. It continued this month with a series of shootings and other attacks along the fence that peaked with the gunfire that wounded Minister Dichter’s aide and the terror attack at the Nahal Oz fuel terminal.
As a result of all of the above, the anxious Hamas, which is currently interested in securing a lull in the fighting and the removal of the siege on the Strip, realized that fighting along the fence is currently the most effective violent lever that can be used to press Israel to accept its terms for calm. It enables the group to exact an Israeli casualty toll more than the sporadic and inaccurate rocket fire does, while disrupting farming activity and life in general at Gaza-region communities.
Moreover, the Hamas leadership estimates, and rightfully so, that guerilla warfare along the fence does not create internal political pressure in Israel that would prompt the government to embark on a broad operation in the Strip, and also does not damage the organization when it comes to international public opinion.
Nahal Oz lessons
Machinegun and sniper fire, mortar shells, as well as attacks and clashes initiated along the fence by the Palestinians also grant the terrorists a blatant military advantage: They are able to determine the timing, location, and circumstances of their clashes with IDF troops. Wednesday morning’s clash that left three soldiers dead was further testament to this fact.
It is very possible that the clash and its grave outcome are a direct result of the fact that Gaza’s terrorists drew lessons from the Nahal Oz attack. They learned the IDF’s response patterns and the unequivocal orders issued to troops urging them to aspire for contact.
Therefore, two terrorists approached the fence in order to plant explosive devices. Meanwhile, the bulk of the Palestinian force remained well-hidden and was lying in wait. Once the relatively small IDF force entered, the terrorists directed lethal fire at it and immediately left the area. This modus operandi is virtually identical to the one adopted by Hizbullah in Lebanon until the Second Lebanon War.
There is no reason for amazement or surprise on our part. What has been happening in the Gaza Strip in the past year is an expected process that emerges in every violent confrontation anywhere in the world, throughout the history of military conflict. This process is particularly typical to an ongoing confrontation where two sides are engaged in an undecided war of attrition along a static frontline. One side utilizes methods and weapons that defeat the other side, until it learns the weaknesses inherent in the fighting methods employed against it and develops countermeasures.
This is precisely what happened in the Gaza Strip. The IDF built an observation and eavesdropping system premised on advanced technologies along the fence, and in the past year also adopted guerilla-like offensive fighting methods not too deep within Palestinian areas. This approach was meant to push Hamas and its allies away from the fence and gather human intelligence.
This system, which to a large extent was established in line with the lessons of Gilad Shalit’s abduction, proved itself and resulted in success stories. However, meanwhile Hamas and the other organizations studied the system, while identifying the IDF’s vulnerabilities and operational method. They know the area well and by now they are also familiar with the limitations of technological observation means – and are starting to exploit them to their advantage.
Therefore, the IDF must quickly and fundamentally change its modus operandi and activity along the fence. Otherwise, this theater would continue to exact Israeli casualties and life along the Gaza fence, just like the working of fields in the area, will become almost impossible.
Another possibility of securing a lull in the fighting along the fence and in rocket fire is to reach an agreement with Hamas on a lull via Egyptian mediation. This is currently the option that both the Israeli government and Hamas prefer. However, if such lull is not secured, or should such lull fail because of the activity of rogue groups in the Strip, the IDF will eventually have to embark on a broad operation – within two or three months.