Behind the Headlines: Ceasefire ends Operation Pillar of Defense

Ceasefire ends Operation Pillar of Defense

  •   Behind the Headlines

    After eight days of rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli counter-attacks on terrorist targets, a cease-fire was declared at 21:00 Israel time on 21 November and Operation Pillar of Defense (14-21 Nov 2012) came to an end.


    Israel had not wanted this conflict or any other with the Gaza Strip. It disengaged from Gaza in 2005, removing every community and army base in the hope that this would improve the chances for peace. The Gaza Strip was not developed to benefit the Palestinians, instead Hamas seized control and turned it into a terrorist entity.

    Although Israel has demonstrated great restraint for years, now its government had little choice but to act in self-defense. In common with all other governments, it has a right, and indeed a duty, to protect its citizens. The immediate causes of the conflict were the attacks by Hamas, primarily the 121 rockets that were fired on southern Israel over the previous four days. Moreover, years of rocket fire had preceded the operation. Over 5,200 rockets and mortars have struck Israel since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. No state could be expected to acquiesce to a reality that includes constant terrorist attacks.

    During the operation, Israel targeted more than 1,500 terrorist sites. Israeli strikes were as surgical as possible. The IDF went to great lengths to minimize harm to civilians, both by warning them to stay away from terrorists and their infrastructure (by breaking into television broadcasts, calling Gaza's residents, sending text messages and dropping leaflets) and by taking advantage of excellent intelligence, careful military planning and precision munitions.

    Israel regrets any harm to civilians, and considers the death of every innocent civilian a tragedy. However, the responsibility for injury to any resident of Gaza lies solely on Hamas' shoulders. It was Hamas and the other terrorist organizations that used civilians as human shields, placing terrorist bases, weapons stores and rockets launchers near homes, schools, mosques and hospitals. Hamas' actions were deliberate, as the terrorist organizations know that Palestinian casualties will be blamed on Israel, thereby helping their propaganda efforts.

    In actuality, according to international law, those that use civilians as human shields bear primary responsibility for their fate. Hamas is committing a war crime, yet when the terrorist organizations are not censured for their criminal activity but Israel is condemned for acting in self-defense, this encourages the terrorists to continue their heinous actions.

    The terrorist organizations are actually committing a double war crime when they not only fire from among Palestinian civilians but deliberately target Israeli civilians. From the beginning of the escalation on 10 November, more than 1,400 rockets were launched at Israeli territory. Each rocket was targeted at civilian towns and cities.

    Israelis in southern Israel bore most of the brunt of these attacks. Many Israelis had only 15 seconds in which to find shelter. Millions in the range of the rockets had to live their lives knowing that any minute could bring another siren, another run to take cover. Schools within a 40 kilometer (24 mile) radius of Gaza had to be closed. Still as a matter of principle and pride, Israelis tried to keep daily life as normal as possible under the circumstances. 

    Six Israelis were killed by rockets and mortars. Israel only avoided substantial casualties by its extensive network of shelters, disciplined public that followed official instructions and the Iron Dome missile defense system.

    Israel faced a considerable military machine in Gaza that was closely connected to Iran. As admitted at the end of the operation by senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders, as well as by Hizbullah head Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian sources, Iran provided long-range Fajr 5 rockets and other weapons, trained many terrorists and transferred millions of dollars to the terrorist organizations.

    Through the application of limited military force, Israel's aims in the operation - to act against the terrorist infrastructures in Gaza and stop the rocket fire, thereby improving the security reality and allowing a normal life for Israelis - were reached. Israel dealt heavy blows to Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza, by targeting their senior commanders, eliminating thousands of rockets (including long-range models) and greatly degrading the terrorist infrastructure and institutions. This was accomplished through, among other measures, destroying hundreds of rocket-launch sites, command and control centers, smuggling tunnels, weapons factories and ammunition stores.

    With Israel's goals achieved and with US Secretary of State Clinton and Egypt guiding the efforts to reach the understandings, the cease-fire came into effect on 21 November. Israel will uphold the cease-fire but reserves the right to react in self-defense should the terrorist organizations violate it. Israel cannot tolerate rocket attacks on its civilians. No country should be expected to allow its citizens to suffer from terrorism.

    Israel cooperated closely with world leaders on the aims and methods of the operation. Israel succeeded in consolidating a large international coalition against the terror groups operating out of Gaza and there was widespread understanding of Israel's self-defensive actions. Statements of support came from US President Obama, as well as from the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, the EU Foreign Affairs Council, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, the US Senate and the US House of Representatives. The UN Secretary-General and President of the Security Council made positive statements that condemned the rocket fire from Gaza.

    The international legitimacy Israel enjoyed during the crisis will be important in the future if the need arises again to use force to defend the citizens of Israel. At the same time, it is important that the international community respond immediately to any rocket attacks on Israel and does not wait for an Israeli reaction.

    Iran will continue to play a destabilizing role in the region if not confronted with strong international pressure. Action must be taken to halt the smuggling of arms, particularly Iranian weapons, to the Gaza Strip.

    Israel combined diplomatic and limited military action to achieve its aims. It attempted to manage the conflict in a responsible manner despite the difficult situation and complicated reality in the region.

    Israel believes that it has reestablished its deterrence and that Hamas and the other terrorist organizations will hesitate before attacking Israeli civilians in the future. Security and normality have returned to southern Israel. International pressure on Hamas will contribute to ensuring that the quiet continues.