Analysis |

Goldin in Captivity: Third Act of Gaza Op Begins

Four weeks into the Israeli offensive in Gaza: Iron Dome still intercepting rockets, the ground invasion continues; but efforts to bring the captive IDF officer home will prove to be the hardest act yet.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Israeli soldiers stand near the border with Gaza, July 30, 2014.
Israeli soldiers stand near the border with Gaza, July 30, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

If Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin survived the explosion that killed two of his Givati Brigade team members, his capture marks the start of the third act in the bitter vision dubbed "Operation Protective Edge."

The first act began on July 7, with Iron Dome pitted against incoming rockets. It's still going on, but it's been relegated to the background and pops up only when something unusual happens, like the partial suspension of flights to Ben-Gurion International Airport. Meanwhile the second act, the ground invasion, took center stage, including the campaign against the tunnels, with the Israel Defense Forces trying to destroy them and Hamas using them to infiltrate Israel. Two weeks later and while these two acts continue – the third act has begun: the efforts to bring Goldin home.

This will be the hardest act of all for the Israeli soul. Indeed over this weekend – the eighth since the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers at Etzion Junction on June 12 – the mood in Israel was dark and mournful. There is no satisfactory exit in sight to rescue Israel, which sees itself as besieged as Gaza.

Everybody knows that a failure to quickly find Goldin will be a tremendous achievement for his captors. All the Palestinians arrested in the campaign so far will be released, as well as dozens of Hamas activists arrested in the West Bank following the kidnapping of the three teenagers, who were about to return to the prisons from which they were released in the "Beit Hashoeva" deal in which Gilad Shalit was returned – not to mention the prisoners that Netanyahu refused to release in April, in the fourth round of negotiations between the prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas and John Kerry.

What Netanyahu denied Abbas, he'll wind up giving to the Hamas. Thus, we learn another lesson in preferring radical belligerents among the Palestinian community over the moderate and diplomatic, courtesy of the arch-capitulator to terror, Netanyahu.

It is also obvious – without need to wait for cabinet votes – that the IDF will be sent to interrogate any source, raze every house and leave no stone unturned in the search for Second Lieutenant Goldin – which is justified in and of itself. That is the human, societal and military duty beyond politics, and the desire to avoid another five-year nightmare of a Shalit sequel.

This is an unavoidable necessity whose end – and cost – none can foretell. That just serves to underscore the difficulties underlying the success of the Hamas and failure of the Israel Defense Forces, including of one of its most elite units, which Givati certainly is. The forces knew about the potential for being captured, they had done exercises and had been warned; they observed Hamas units trying to capture soldiers, or bodies, again and again. Hamas has repeated its victories (killing tank corps soldiers by firing mortars where they convened, bursting out of tunnels to attack patrols), while the IDF hasn't lived up to the good name it hoped to earn as an institution able to learn. But when its capture attempts flopped, Hamas didn't give up and finally proved that perseverance pays.

Israeli army intelligence and the Southern Command systematically mapped the tunnels and even gave them names. Analysis of alternatives and execution in the field is the traditional army way of doing things. But Hamas, alongside its military structure, can act in anti-military, subversive ways. To the army, a fighter is an asset and a group of fighters is a force. To an anti-army, an enemy fighter is an asset to his captors, a negotiating piece; and a force of enemy soldiers next to a tunnel mouth, or convening in mortar range, is a tempting target.

One of the first suicide attacks in human history was carried out in Gaza – Samson against the Philistines. Givati's symbol includes one of Samson's foxes. But today a Philistine put on a flak vest and committed suicide in order to kill Israelis – and so a Givati officer could be captured.

Precisely because Hamas' operation seems so planned, and was controlled by Rafah Brigade – one of the stronger divisions in Hamas, commanded by Raed al-Atar – today, now more than six weeks ago, it seems that the kidnap and murder of the three boys was done by Hamas activists, but not pursuant to the organization's policy.

Hamas in Gaza did want a controlled deterioration of the situation with Israel, it wanted to fire rockets (which led to the first act) and then to infiltrate through tunnels (the second act). By storming Hamas activists in the West Bank in reaction to the kidnapping of the three teenagers, Israel seems to have played into the enemy's hands, and unfortunately, it continues to do so.

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