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Netanyahu Blasts State Comptroller's Report on the Gaza Operation

By DEBKAfile

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a blistering attack on State Comptroller Joseph Shapiro's report, due for publication Tuesday, accusing him of missing out on the really important lessons learned from the 2014 anti-terror Operation Defensive Edge.

"We inflicted on Hamas the most painful blow it had ever suffered and eliminated a thousand terrorists including their senior commanders," he said. "I stand squarely behind the IDF, Shin Bet and all our security chiefs for protecting the country and its people. Our troops risked their lives and we are proud of them." Addressing Likud parliamentary party meeting, Netanyahu denied that the security cabinet had not been properly briefed in the course of the operation.

Leaks from the report have sparked a storm of recriminations among the politicians and generals who led the IDF's 2014 operation, which ended nearly a decade of constant Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel. The argument centers on how the security cabinet headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the military, led then by defense minister Moshe Yaa'lon and former Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, prepared for and grappled with the threat of terror tunnels. A cabinet member, the hawkish education minister, Naftali Bennett, accuses them of falling down on the job. They charge him with going after political capital.

DEBKAfile's military sources take exception to the furious focus on a past war – the post mortem of any conflict will always pick at faults – when the new menaces staring Israel in the face should be at the forefront of the national discourse. Some of the most striking examples are noted here:

President Bashar Assad has just informed Iran that he is willing to place Syrian territory at the disposal of the Revolutionary Guards and Hizbullah for shooting missiles into Israel. Israel's policy of non-intervention in Syria's six-year civil war has therefore become a boomerang. Hizbullah has been allowed to relocate a second strategic missile arsenal to the Qalamoun Mountains in Syria, after procuring advanced weapons systems from Iran, and gaining combat skills on the Syrian battlefield. The Shiite terrorist group has learned out to fight alongside a regular big-power military force, such as the Russian army.

It is therefore not surprising to hear Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah bragging confidently about his ability to vanquish Israel. So what is Israel doing to counter this peril? Not much. From time to time, the IDF mounts an air strike against a weapons arsenal or missile depot in Syria. That has as much effect on the military threat building up in Syria as the tit-for-tat air strikes against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

How was Hizbullah allowed to attain a capability for shooting thousands of rockets a day at Israeli cities from two countries? Why were the air strikes staged over Syria not directed against Hizbullah's rocket depots in Lebanon?

Many words have been poured out over the Hamas tunnels from the Gaza Strip., but what about Hizbullah's tunnels from Lebanon? After years of denial, the IDF is now ready to admit that Hizbullah has built two kinds of tunnel running from Lebanon under the border into Israel. One type is meant as a pathway for Hizbullah Radwan Force commandos to infiltrate northern Israel and seize Galilee villages, in an area up to the Mediterranean town of Nahariya. The other type will be crammed with hundreds of kilos of explosives for remote detonation.

How are Israel's army strategists addressing this threat? One answer came a few days ago from Maj. Gen Yoel Strick, commander of the home command, who is about to step into his new appointment as OC Northern Command. He recently disclosed a plan to evacuate entire locations which are potentially on the front line of a conflict with Hizbullah. He is aware of the shock effect on the country, which abides by the national ethos of never retreating before an enemy. But he also argues that the only way the IDF can effectively fight Hizbullah invaders and eject them from Israeli soil is to keep civilians out of the way of the battle.

On February 23, an Israel Air Force fighter knocked down a miniature unmanned flying object over the Mediterranean coast of the Gaza Strip. It is already obvious that drones of one type or another, including the cheap and easily available quadcopter pocket drone, will serve the enemy in any future war, in large numbers.

When scores of pocket drones loaded with explosives are lofted, some may be shot down by Israeli warplanes and air defense systems, but some will escape and drop on target, because they are too small to be detected by the radar of air defense systems like Iron Dome and blown out of the sky. Nevertheless, Israel can address these dangers, provided its generals embrace a major change of strategy, or doctrine. It is incumbent on the IDF to discard the doctrine which holds that modern wars can never end in a straight victory or defeat. This preconception has ruled the thinking of Israeli generals in the 11 years since the 2006 Lebanon war, although it is alien to the Middle East conflict environment.

Take, for example, the Syrian civil war. The Russian, Syrian, Iranian and Hizbullah's armies have clearly won that war and preserved a victorious Assad in power. In Yemen, too, the Saudi army and its Gulf allies are fighting to win the war against the Houthi rebels but falling short of victory, notwithstanding their superior Western armaments.

In 2014, the Islamic State beat the Iraqi army and captured vast swathes of Iraq and Syria. The jihadists are still holding onto most of this territory – even against US-backed military efforts three years later. They will do so until they are vanquished on the battlefield.

For Israel, this no-winner, no-losers doctrine has saved the radical Palestinian Hamas from ever having to hoist a white flag. It caused the IDF's two successful anti-terror Gaza wars of Dec.2008-Jan. 2009 and July-Aug. 2006 to be stopped halfway through. The troops were left to cool their heels until the government decided how to proceed. In both conflicts, the troops were ordered to stop fighting in mid-operation and pull back behind the border. Although the second operation managed to halt Hamas' long rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip and allow Israelis living within range normal lives, Hamas was left in belligerent mode.

Because of this doctrine, Hizbullah, like Hamas, feels free to build up its arsenal ready for the next war. Iran's Lebanese proxy watches the IDF withholding action for containing its buildup. Certain that Israeli generals won't be fighting for victory, Hizbullah and Hamas have always felt they were in no danger of being wiped out.

Hamas, therefore, chose the tactic of inflicting maximum damage and casualties on Israel, without fear of major reprisals. Hence, in the early 2000s, the Palestinian terrorists ruling Gaza began shooting primitive Qassam rockets at Israeli civilian locations, moving on over the years to more advanced missiles, followed by terror tunnels and are now building an air force of exploding pocket drones.

If State Comptroller Joseph Shapiro had addressed those present and future threats when he exposed the mishandling of the tunnels of 2014, his report would have served an important security and national purpose. But since he confined himself to determining who said what to whom – and why – his report is just a platform for political bickering.

ISIS Terrorists in North Sinai Showing Their Strength

By VOA News

In the past three days, ISIS terrorists in Egypt's volatile northern Sinai region abducted four men accused of collaborating with the government, three of them during a brazen raid in the middle of a public market. Two of the men have been found slain while the others remain missing; Egyptian officials say that one of the slain men had his eyes plucked out and was set on fire before being shot to death.

Women are being threatened with punishment if they don't wear the niqab and farmers are being forced to pay financial tribute to ISIS under the guise of the "zakat" mandatory Islamic donation to charity. The terrorists have set up their own checkpoints especially on the roads around the city of Rafah, which borders the Gaza Strip. Passengers are forced to recite from the Quran before being allowed to pass, according to area residents and tribal leaders.

This recent show-of-strength campaign by ISIS loyalists in northern Sinai comes on the heels of a recent easing of the military campaign against them and represents a move to reassert their control over the local civilian population, according to residents, tribal leaders and officials. "The messages the militants are sending are terrifying," said a prominent tribal leader. "The numbers of militants is not that big ... But the army campaign stopped and the militants returned."

The violence poses a fresh challenge to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government to put down an ISPS-led insurgency in northern Sinai and prevent spillover that at times has reached the Egyptian mainland.

The extremists have repeatedly targeted Christian residents, causing more than 100 Christian families to flee from the city of el-Arish. ISIS terrorists in northern Sinai recently vowed in a video message to step up a wave of attacks on the embattled Christian minority, a threat that highlights a possible shift in tactics — targeting vulnerable and less-defended civilians instead of the usual police and military targets. A devastating ISIS-claimed suicide bombing at a Cairo church in December killed nearly 30 people.

According to an employee of the North Sinai governor's office, militants at a checkpoint recently stopped a bus carrying female civil servants and threatened the women if they didn't start wearing the all-concealing niqab garment. "They took our names and wrote them down, so if we don't follow their orders, they punish us," said one of the female government employees. The official at the governor's office said that the women were given several days off so that additional security could be arranged.

The northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, bordering the Gaza Strip and Israel, has been a battleground since 2011, when the region sank into lawlessness after the 18-day uprising that led to the ouster of longtime autocratic President Hosni Mubarak. But the terrorist campaign accelerated after the military overthrew elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

El-Sissi, who as defense minister led Morsi's ouster, declared a state of emergency in northern Sinai in 2014. Hundreds of soldiers and police officers have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of houses along the Gaza border have been razed in order to stop the smuggling trade through cross-border tunnels.

Still, the insurgency has shown little sign of calming. According to a second tribal leader, the militants are now raising cash by imposing taxes on the people running the smuggling tunnels. The IS militants, he said, "are living at large in Rafah."

The government employee and the tribal leaders spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The Egyptian officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the press.

More than 100 families from el-Arish and nearby have come to the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Cairo, since Friday, Nabil Shukrallah of the city's Evangelical Church said. Families arrive scared and in need of supplies, which are being stockpiled at the church via donations from several parishes, he said. They are then transported to be housed in and around the city, in private homes and now also accommodation provided by the government.

"They're exhausted, with urgent needs for food and children's clothing," he said, as one father carried off a sick infant to be evacuated by ambulance. "They're terrified of the violence and brutality of the terrorists."

Before Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring uprising, some 5,000 Christians lived in northern Sinai, but the number has since dwindled to fewer than 1,000, priests and residents say. Egypt does not keep official statistics on the number of Christians in cities or across the country.

The government only agreed to put up the fleeing Christians in government housing in Ismailia after pressure on social media, which they underline as another disturbing sign. At the Evangelical church, shop owner Fayez, who also gave his first name only for security concerns, arrived with a truckload of furniture ahead of his family to seek a place to relocate.

"Hopefully we'll find a home and be able to stay here, but I don't know how I would move my business," he said. "Daily life looks normal in el-Arish, until you hear about terrorists shooting people in their own homes."

Some 1,500 Potential Immigrants Attend Aliyah Fair in NYC

By Israel Hayom

Some 1,500 people attended the Aliyah Fair at the ninth annual Nefesh B'Nefesh Mega Event in New York City on Sunday, held in conjunction with the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund. Aliyah, or "ascent," is the Hebrew term used to describe Jewish immigration to Israel.

The fair is Nefesh B'Nefesh's largest Aliyah event of the year, and opens a week of orientations -- which will also be held in Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, and other cities in North America -- to help potential immigrants to Israel.

Among those in attendance were doctors and high-tech professionals, who are expected to follow in the footsteps of over 200 doctors and over 1,000 high-tech employees who have moved to Israel in the past four years alone.

Due to a shortage of doctors and medical professionals in Israel, potential immigrants in these professions were able to submit their official documents to Health Ministry representatives at the fair, to begin the process of receiving their Israeli medical licenses as quickly as possible. Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said, "Like every year, we at the [ministry] come to New York to meet the potential olim [immigrants] and returning residents face to face."

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B'Nefesh, added: "For the many people who attend, the Aliyah fairs we hold every year are a turning point in their Zionist journey before the move to Israel."

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