The Jerusalem Post

On alert in the South

A month and a half after Guardian of the Walls, it’s back to ‘normal’ for the IDF on the Gaza border

- • By ANNA AHRONHEIM

Amonth and a half after Operation Guardian of the Walls, the border between Israel and Gaza is quiet but tense. The stores and roads are open once again, and bomb shelters in the South are no longer where residents spend the majority of the day. Schools and day camps are also once again taking children to southern Israel for excursions.

The Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings have also reopened, with fuel and humanitari­an aid passing through into the Hamas-run blockaded coastal enclave.

But the IDF and Hamas are already preparing for the next round of fighting, something many believe is not far off.

“The atmosphere is quiet but tense,” Lt.-Col. Dori Saar, commander of the 53rd Armored Battalion, told The Jerusalem Post from atop the observatio­n post at the IDF’s maritime barrier with Gaza.

In the distance was Gaza City, and several hundred meters away dozens of Gazans were in the sea, finding respite from the summer sun.

“We see that Hamas is not trying to challenge us at the moment, but we are always watching them. They are trying to keep the peace right now but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t working against us. Right now they are deterred. They didn’t expect what the IDF did during the operation,” Saar said.

Despite the relative quiet the South has seen since the end of the operation, dozens of incendiary and explosive balloons have been launched toward southern Israel. In return, the army has struck Hamas targets.

Hamas has repeatedly threatened that it would restart hostilitie­s over any controvers­ial incidents in Jerusalem, while Israel has vowed that it would treat incendiary balloons like rocket attacks.

But the strikes were a relatively restrained response. The military is not looking to enter into another round of fighting, nor are the terrorist groups looking for a confrontat­ion with the IDF.

Since the Great March of Return demonstrat­ions began in 2018, several rounds of clashes between the IDF and terror groups have taken place, all of them ending without any tangible solution.

Over 4,000 rockets and mortars were fired toward Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls, killing 11 civilians and one soldier. Israeli strikes against Hamas and Palestinia­n Islamic Jihad killed at least 256 Palestinia­ns.

Saar and his battalion were deployed to the Gaza vicinity when the night disturbanc­es by Gazans on the fence began – a month before the fighting broke out.

“There was that twist that only happens with Gaza,” he said, explaining that there was also a barrage of 36 rockets several days before the fighting began.

The night disturbanc­es and the rockets were the beginning, and when Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem and an antitank guided missile (ATGM) toward a civilian jeep outside Sderot, “that crossed a redline for us,” Saar said.

Though the operation was mainly an air campaign, the 11 days of fighting saw unpreceden­ted cooperatio­n between forces, with the tank corps, infantry, intelligen­ce, navy and air force working together to carry out missions against the terror groups.

“We all spoke the same language on the same system,” he

said, “and that’s what made this operation successful. ‘Together we win’ is the motto of our battalion, and I really believe that if we work together, the synergy will allow us to win.

“When the ground forces and air force work together to close a circle against targets quickly, you accomplish a lot,” Saar added. “Close the circle quickly is the name of the game. Those who are quicker win.”

During the fighting, Hamas attempted to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers, including a cross-border raid, as well as overwhelm the Iron Dome missile defense system with massive rocket salvos. But the IDF was able to thwart most attacks planned by the group, hitting tunnels with operatives inside heading toward Israel as well as taking out several ATGM cells, leaving only a few Kornets in the hands of Hamas and PIJ.

Standing on top of one of the battalion’s newest Mark IV Merkava tanks, Saar told the Post that his battalion alone struck around 70 targets in the Strip, including ATGM cells, launchers, tunnel infrastruc­ture and more. The strikes were all done with the tanks still in Israeli territory.

Israel’s new fence with Gaza, which includes an undergroun­d barrier, will stretch along the

entire border, along with the maritime border wall. It has a system of advanced sensor and monitoring devices to detect tunnel-digging and is combined with a six-meter high abovegroun­d fence similar to the one on the Israeli-Egyptian border.

Since constructi­on on it began in 2017, a good amount of work has been finished but the small yet important details are still to be completed. According to Saar, the wall and all of the sensors connected to it have been completely finished in his sector.

But, he cautioned, “Hamas can technicall­y try to cross the fence. And they warned that they would try to cross it. But in my opinion, and it’s only my opinion, Hamas operatives were afraid.”

Both the IDF and Hamas claim to have won the battle, with the Israeli military stating it destroyed the terrorist group’s undergroun­d tunnel network as well as having killed senior operatives, some of the key figures in the group’s missile program.

And while the terror group has downplayed the damage to its military infrastruc­ture, Saar believes the group did not accomplish anything during the fighting, and operatives have lost motivation, leading the group to recruit teenagers with their summer camps.

“In the 11 days of fighting, what military accomplish­ment did they achieve? Nothing, zero. Yes, they killed civilians and one soldier, but that’s their target. They knew that they couldn’t stand up to the IDF,” he said.

According to him, Israel’s strikes on the tunnel infrastruc­ture – both in urban areas like Gaza City and in open areas closer to the fence – have led the operatives to fear for their strategic asset.

But, Hamas was able to fire hundreds of rockets toward Israel in the first few days of fighting, effectivel­y overwhelmi­ng the Iron Dome protecting Ashkelon, which at the same time experience­d a malfunctio­n. Two women were killed in that barrage when rockets slammed into residentia­l areas.

With the IDF’s new wall and the military’s aerial dominance and intelligen­ce superiorit­y, “it’s a good question as to what they might use in the next operation.”

According to Saar, “it doesn’t matter when the next operation will be. We are always preparing for another round. If we have to enter Gaza we will, and we will inflict a lot of damage to them. Of course, there will be casualties, but Hamas will feel our strength.”

 ?? (IDF) ?? ‘WE SEE THAT Hamas is not trying to challenge us at the moment, but we are always watching them.’
(IDF) ‘WE SEE THAT Hamas is not trying to challenge us at the moment, but we are always watching them.’
 ?? (IDF) ?? LT.-COL. DORI Saar (center) during Operation Guardian of the Walls.
(IDF) LT.-COL. DORI Saar (center) during Operation Guardian of the Walls.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel