It is two years since the launch of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, also known as Operation Protective Edge.
By Richard Mather
On July 7 2014 the IDF initiated Operation Protective Edge (Hebrew: Miv’tza Tzuk Eitan, literally “Operation Strong Cliff”). Since Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Hamas had increased the size and strength of its rocket arsenal. By July 2014, Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip possessed around 10,000 rockets including long-range missiles such as the M-302.
The situation was intolerable, especially for Israeli communities near the Gaza border, most notably Ashdod and Ashkelon. In fact, almost 70 per cent of Israelis were within range of Hamas’ rockets, including the people of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The rockets used by Gazan militias varied in range and size. They included the Syrian-made (Chinese-designed) M-302 and the locally-made M-75, which had the range to target Tel-Aviv. Other rockets included the Katyushas and Qassams.
The stated aim of Operation Protective Edge was to stop rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, which had increased after an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in Judea and Samaria following the June 12 kidnapping (and subsequent murder) of three Israeli teenagers by two Hamas members.
As the IDF bombarded targets in the Gaza Strip with artillery and airstrikes, Hamas continued to fire rockets and mortar shells, using populated areas of Gaza to launch their attacks. The terrorist group fired rockets from mosques, school, hospitals and other civilian areas. Hamas did this despite knowing that rocket launching sites would be the targets of Israeli counterstrikes.
Under different circumstances, the IDF would have limited attacks to military targets. Unfortunately, Hamas never ceased to fire from populated civilian areas. In order to target these terror sites and limit civilian casualties, the IDF used precision attacks and provided warnings of strikes in advance.
For example, the IDF made phone calls and sent text messages to civilians residing in buildings designated for attack. The Israel Air Force dropped leaflets over Gaza urging civilians to move away from Hamas targets. The IDF even sent voicemails to civilians in Gaza.
The IDF also engaged in what is called “roof knocking.” Roof knocking is when the airforce targets a building with a loud but non-lethal bomb that warns civilians that they are in the vicinity of a weapons cache or other target. This gives residents the opportunity to leave the area before the army destroys the target.
On several occasions, the IDF aborted aerial strikes seconds due to civilians being present at the site of the target.
Despite the IDF’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties, Hamas continued to operate from within civilian areas. In fact, Hamas encouraged Gazans to ignore IDF warnings in a deliberate attempt to create civilian casualties and to whip up international sympathy.
Ten days into the operation (July 17), the IDF saw thirteen armed Hamas terrorists emerging from a tunnel on the Israeli side of the Gaza border (near Kibbutz Sufa). It quickly became apparent that Hamas had invested millions of dollars building a sophisticated tunnel network, which was being used to hide rockets and munition stocks, to conceal militants, to enable the launch of rockets by remote control, and to facilitate hostage-taking and mass-casualty attacks.
The Israeli government ordered a limited ground operation into the Gaza Strip, where the openings to each cross-border tunnel were embedded within the urban civilian environment. A large IDF force of infantry, tanks, artillery, combat engineers and field intelligence (with the support of the navy and airforce) entered the Gaza Strip on July 17.
Their mission was to target Hamas’ tunnels that crossed under the Israel-Gaza border. Such a goal required intensive operations inside the Hamas-run enclave. In the ensuing weeks, the IDF destroyed dozens of cross-border terror tunnels, some of which had penetrated Israeli residential areas. On at least four occasions during the conflict, Arab militants emerged from tunnel exits located between 1.1 and 4.7 kilometres from civilian homes in Israel.
On August 5, Israeli ground troops withdrew from the Gaza Strip. They did so despite continued rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians and the absence of a ceasefire. Israel continued targeted airstrikes, while simultaneously attempting to reach a ceasefire.
Hamas, along with other Gaza-based terrorist organisations, were keen to prolong the hostilities by either rejecting ceasefires or violating them. However, an open-ended ceasefire came into place on August 26, seven weeks after the start of the war. Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on July 15 (which featured the same terms as the ceasefire offer to which Hamas ultimately adhered), then approximately 90 per cent of the casualties incurred during the conflict could have been avoided.
During the course of the conflict, the Israeli military attacked 5,263 targets in Gaza, including 1,814 rocket and mortar launch sites, 191 weapon factories and warehouses, and 1,914 command and control centres. It is estimated that two-thirds of Hamas’s 10,000-strong rocket arsenal was used up or destroyed during the fighting.
Artillery used by the IDF included Soltam M71 guns and US-manufactured Paladin M109s (155-mm howitzers). The aerial weaponry included drones and F-16 fighter jets. The IDF fired 14,500 tank shells and 35,000 other artillery shells during the conflict.
By the end of the conflict, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups had fired 4,564 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel, with over 735 intercepted in flight and shot down by Iron Dome. More than 280 Hamas rockets fell short of their target and landed within Gaza. Many of these rockets landed in civilian areas of Gaza.
On the Israeli side, sixty-seven IDF soldiers and six civilians were killed during the conflict. A further 469 soldiers and eight-seven civilians were wounded. In the Gaza Strip, approximately 2,125 Gazans were killed, half of whom were either Hamas fighters or militants from other Gaza-based terrorist organisations.
A final note: Two years after Operation Protective Edge, Hamas continues to manufacture rockets and dig tunnels towards (and under) the Israeli border. In May this year, there was a flare-up of violence on the Israel-Gaza border when Hamas targeted Israeli soldiers in several mortar attacks. And in June, Hamas test fired more than thirty short-range rockets as part of its efforts to advance its domestic rocket arsenal.
It has also been reported that Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah are carrying out joint research and development of rockets, which some Israeli experts believe is the prelude to a massive and multifaceted air assault on Israel.
“We need to prepare our units. I really don’t know when next war will occur,” says Israel’s air defence chief Brigadier General Zvika Haimovich. “It’s a kind of race between us and the other side. Our challenge is to always be in front, and to be one step ahead of our enemies and neighbours.”