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Beyond mission creep: Why Operation Brother’s Keeper isn’t working

Eleven days later, Israel’s latest operation has been a costly, disruptive rampage that seemingly aims to incite rather than stabilize.

By Julie M. Norman

Israel’s “Operation Brother’s Keeper” is not working. It is also exploitative, legally questionable, and strategically absurd.

Launched 11 days ago, the operation has yielded no new information regarding the location or well-being of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, the three teenagers who were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank last Thursday night. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintains that Hamas is responsible for the abduction, yet no evidence has been made public, and Hamas denies the allegations.

Meanwhile, five Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, have been killed in clashes with the Israel Defense Forces and Border Police in the West Bank; universities, newspaper offices, and over 1,000 homes have been raided; and over 350 Palestinians, mostly members of Hamas, have been arrested.

Hebron, West Bank, 17.6.2014

To say that the operation to find and free the three teenagers is suffering from “mission creep” is an understatement. IDF spokesman Peter Lerner readily stated that the operation not only aims to resolve the kidnapping, but also “debilitat[e] Hamas terrorist capacities, its infrastructure and its recruiting institutions.”

The fact that Israel would like to rout out Hamas is not new and is no secret. But doing so under the guise of Operation Brother’s Keeper exploits the situation of the kidnapped teens and the very real angst of their families. After all, it becomes difficult for observers both inside and outside Israel to question raids and crackdowns, however far removed from the abduction investigation, when the hashtag “#BringBackOurBoys” is attached. Yet by allowing the search for Hamas to take precedence– operationally, if not rhetorically – Israel is using the situation of the missing teens to its advantage.

Read +972′s full coverage of the kidnappings

The lopsided attention given to routing Hamas over investigating the kidnapping is clear when looking more closely at the arrest and detention figures. According to Israeli sources, while over 350 Palestinians have been arrested in the past 11 days, only 30 are being interrogated because they are suspected of having information related to the kidnapping. The majority of others have not been questioned at all.

Furthermore, the IDF revealed in military hearings last week that they plan to issue new administrative detention orders to about 200 of those recently released. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem defines administrative detention as “detention without charge or trial that is authorized by administrative order rather than by judicial decree.” According to Israeli Military Order (MO) 1591, military commanders can detain individuals for a period of six months, which can then be renewed or extended.

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

Administrative detention is technically legal under international law (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 78), but is to be used sparingly, and only in specific circumstances. As echoed by both the International Committee for the Red Cross and the Israeli Supreme Court itself, detention is only to be used when a person is deemed to pose an immediate security risk and only as a preventative (not punitive) measure. Instead, scores of Palestinians are held in administrative detention at any given time (ranging from over 1,000 during the Second Intifada to approximately 200 prior to Operation Brother’s Keeper), as the concept of “security threat” has been expanded to include those belonging to certain political parties (i.e. Hamas), participating in unarmed resistance, or expressing opposition to the peace process.

Human rights groups both inside and outside Israel have questioned the widespread use of administrative detention, and earlier this month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for administrative detainees to be charged or released without delay. The policy has been gaining additional attention in the past weeks also as approximately 80 prisoners in administrative detention have been on hunger strike since April 24.

The fact that 200 more administrative detention orders are being issued (doubling the number of detainees) further sustains a legally questionable policy. Furthermore, it is not strategic, as the prisoners’ issue has nearly unmatched salience on the Palestinian street. Indeed, even when popular resistance is low, the prisoners’ cause, especially during hunger strikes, remains a unifying issue, with solidarity tents, demonstrations, and commercial strikes. This type of mass incarceration, rather than defusing potential threats, is more likely to serve as a catalyzing issue both inside and outside the prisons.

The family of Bahaa Yaish hold his picture in the protest tent in Nablus city, May 3rd, Yaish is a Palestinian administrative prisoner who spent 10 months in Israeli prisons. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

The family of Bahaa Yaish hold his picture in the protest tent in Nablus city, May 3rd, Yaish is a Palestinian administrative prisoner who spent 10 months in Israeli prisons. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

The arrests and raids are not strategic for other reasons as well. The swift crackdown on Hamas spoils any opportunity for progress from the recent unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas. While the new government was perceived warily by many both inside and outside of Palestine, it at least offered a cautiously optimistic change from the stagnation that has consumed Palestinian politics for the past seven years, and offered the possibility of new elections. Operation Brother’s Keeper has squandered that by seemingly intentionally pitting Hamas and the Palestinian Authority against each other.

Indeed, Operation Brother’s Keeper has only further weakened the PA and reduced any remaining legitimacy it had. Much of the discontent at protests and demonstrations this past week have been targeted at the PA itself, specifically at the cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli security forces. The situation has created a dynamic in which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA are losing credibility, while emboldening the image of Hamas. This will only complicate any future attempts at negotiations as the PA’s already waning support further declines.

Operation Brother’s Keeper has not returned the missing teens, nor has it contributed at all to maintaining security and safety. Instead, it has been a costly, disruptive rampage that seemingly aims to incite rather than stabilize.

Julie M. Norman is a professor of political science at McGill University in Montreal. She is currently based in Jerusalem.

More on the kidnappings:
What happens when the IDF embeds Israeli reporters
This is what a military operation in Hebron looks like
Israel’s crackdown moves beyond Hamas militants

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    COMMENTS

    1. I’m trying to find something in this article, one of the bad results the author speaks of, that Netanyahu would agree is a bad result. Too many arrests? Dead Palestinians? A broken Fatah-Hamas unity gov’t? A damaged Abbas? What? This little episode has been WONDERFUL for Bibi and his gov’t. And nobody they care about is complaining. And nobody’s stopping them.

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        Sure, for Netanyahu the kidnapping and its aftermath have been a Godsend. He really seems to be in his element during events such as this, doesn’t he?

        I think the author is asking what’s in it long term for Israel and its people, not Netanyahu and his gang of outlaws.

        If we judge by cost alone, this latest operation has been as wasteful and futile as all the others we’ve seen in the last few years. The 3 boys will likely not return home alive, but then again – we sort of knew that from the very beginning.

        So Bibi uses this event to dance on the graves of 3 Israeli teenagers while digging many more for Palestinian teenagers. He is probably the worst dreg of humanity to ever sit in the prime minister’s office.

        The tragedy is that the average Israeli time and again fails to do a basic cost-benefit analysis, and prefers to mindlessly defer to their military leaders because that’s what they’ve been taught since kindergarten.

        Reply to Comment
        • Oh Danny Boy, you are showing your colours, the green of Hamas. You said:

          “If we judge by cost alone, this latest operation has been as wasteful and futile as all the others we’ve seen in the last few years.”

          Israel does not measure by cost alone, but by the value of the three teenagers’ lives and the lives of other Israelis who have been or may be kidnapped or attacked by Hamas. The arrest of Hamas leaders and operatives and the shuttering of Hamas institutions and infrastructure will limit the damage Hamas can do in the West Bank and bring them to justice.

          Israel’s previous operations in the West Bank have been far from futile. In May, 2014 the Israeli forces arrested the Hamas operative and his son who killed an off duty Israeli policeman on the eve of Passover. In 2013 Israel busted a large Hamas cell in Hebron attempting to set up a Hamas command post for attacks and kidnapping. Israel seized more than 20 Hamas members in that arrest operation. Israel stopped another Hamas plot in 2013 to kidnap agricultural workers, kill them and use their bodies to ransom Hamas members. On March 29, 2014 Israeli operations in Hebron lead to the arrest of the top Hamas commander in the West Bank.

          The Shin Bet has prevented a total of 283 serious terrorist attacks in the last 18 months. If the IDF and Shin Bet actions were not successful many of these attempted attacks would have taken the lives of many Israelis. As it is, the Israeli past operations in the West Bank and Gaza have prevented a large number of deaths and injuries. The cost of deploying Israel’s standing army to the West Bank is negligible compared to the saving of lives and injuries.

          Israelis are well aware of the cost of having a standing army since the military consumes 16% of the Israeli budget. Do Palestinians know how many tens of billions of dollars the Palestinians have spent trying to kill Israelis?

          Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            So, as a “CentreLeft”ist, you find nothing wrong with dishonesty and incitement, in the name of fighting “terrorists.” You need a name change.

            Reply to Comment
          • Please note that the name is CentreLeft or for you Americans CenterLeft. It is not HardLeft, ExtremeLeft, LooneyLeft or PseudoLeft. There is no dishonesty in saying that one is going to chase and roundup up criminal terrorists responsible for criminal and terrorist activities. I suppose it offends your sense of decency that Israel does not permit Hamas to kill more Israelis then it already does.

            Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            No, it offends my sense of decency that Israel cynically used the kidnapping of children as an excuse to screw with the Palestinian political process and purge it of parties they don’t like. Hamas is a legit political party in Palestine. Get used to it.

            You’re about as much of a leftist as Henry Kissinger. And you share his lack of commitment to self-determination of other people, irregardless of who they vote for. You’re probably a Eustonite.

            Reply to Comment
        • Sig

          you got that right Danny. Haval me’od. Really pathetic.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Bar

      “participating in unarmed resistance”

      Throwing stones and molotov cocktails in “unarmed resistance” only if you specify that “armed” means with guns and weapons other than stones and molotov cocktails.

      Anyway, this article is purely conjecture. The author doesn’t seem to seek to understand Israel’s goals and motives which have not been made fully public. Another thing that hasn’t been made public is their agenda with the arrests. The last thing that hasn’t been made public and never will is the intelligence they’ve gathered, which is almost certainly guiding the Israelis’ present actions.

      Without knowing these things, it’s possible to criticize Israel for its present actions, but you have no way of knowing whether your claims about Israel are true.

      Reply to Comment
    3. The Trespasser

      Yet another cretin claims that the operation is not working.

      Apparently all one have to do to gain full access to IDF intelligence is to undergo lobotomy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Alan Smith

        And you claim it’s working? why? Truth is, none of you can claim Brother’s Keeper is working, and btw, since you’ve used the attribute “cretin”, that makes you a cretin as well, which, let’s be honest here, judging from your posts, you seem quite similar to

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          I claim that only cretins are discussing military operations in terms like “it is working” or “it is not working”

          Reply to Comment
        • The truth is that Israelis can chew gum and walk at the same time. They have the numbers and military strength to carry out looking for kidnapped Israelis and take actions against Hamas and its terrorist infrastucture at the same time, while still having military capabilities to respond to attacks from Gaza or Syria.

          Unfortunately the Israelis do not have a magic wand nor is their intelligence all seeing or omnipotent. Like much police work, investigations are not solved overnight or during a one hour slot in time American TV. On the ground searches have to be carried out until the children are found or it is determined they cannot be found.

          Israel will continue to cordon off Hebron and the surrounding areas on the premise that the boys are alive and have not been moved.

          In the meantime Israel will continue to uncover more bomb making labs located in family homes and businesses, they will find more weapon caches and underground tunnels to serve as hideouts for terrorists or kidnapped Israelis, They will continue to arrest Hamas members and interdict the ability of Hamas to carry out more operations or move freely in the West Bank. Israel will continue to shut down Hamas institutions and seize Hamas funds.

          For Israel to accomplish these things is a success.

          Reply to Comment
          • Average American

            For Israel to accomplish these things is a Gestapo Police State.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            “For Israel to accomplish these things is a Gestapo Police State”

            Semantically meaningless bullshit.

            BTW, if it takes “Gestapo police state” to deal with Arab terrorists… well, so be it.

            Reply to Comment
          • JG

            At last fascist troll TrespaSSer commits his fandom of “Gestapo police state”
            His only problem with Gestapo and SS, that they had the wrong victims, but principal good guys, great effective oppresion techniques find his admiration.
            This is so sick…..

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            Centre Left? More like Right of Kach.

            Hamas will continue to gain strength while Abu Mazen continues to weaken. The day is not far when Israel will be forced – yet again – to negotiate with Hamas over the release of POW’s.

            Until then, enjoy your delusions of grandeur.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            “Hamas will continue to gain strength … Israel will be forced – yet again – to negotiate with Hamas over the release of POW’s.”

            Which is the precise reason why Israel conducts cleansing operations once a while.

            By the way, I think Israel should start cleansing own citizens – supporters of Hamas.

            Like Hamas? Than live in Gaza.

            Reply to Comment
          • If Kach was a communist, then I am to the right of him. If his party was for socialized medicine, socialized car insurance, public housing for those with lower incomes, ownership of public utilities, a livable minimum wage, equal rights for gays, first contract legislation for unions, and protected public services and public service workers maybe he was a leftist too.

            Hamas could grown in strength. One never knows. Hamas might also shrink in size and popularity if it is forced to assume responsibility for Gaza again and its assets in the West Bank have been severely affected by the current IDF operation.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            Wow, one might almost think of you as a liberal. But you’re not a liberal because you support the systematic subjugation of an entire people so that your ubermenschen can dominate the entire land of greater Israel. All of your supposed liberal positions are meaningless when combined with your extreme and despicable views of Palestinians, which are really no different from Naftali Bennett.

            Centre Left? Only in Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Let us listen to a Palestinian living in the UK: Mudar Zahran

            “You cannot be running TV, social media and newspapers encouraging terror and the murdering of Jews and then claim you are innocent when acts of terror happen.

            The PA is now officially united with Hamas, a terror organization that pledges to destroy a sovereign nation and establish a Muslim caliphate. Financing the PA is therefore financing terrorism. PA terror has become a major industry. Is this what the West is so breathless to support?

            Would the U.S. or Europe agree to give its cities and parts of its soil for a terrorist organization to establish a country the way U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been pushing Israel to give up most of the West Bank and return to pre-1967 borders?

            Can we Palestinians blame Israel when the wall never existed before Hamas and the PLO started launching terror attacks on Israel on a daily basis?

            Instead of financing the PA leaders’ lavish lifestyles, the world should start questioning the PA’s institutionalized incitement of terror and hatred to my people which they do every day through media, education and religious institutions. For the sake of both Israel and the Palestinians, it is not Israel but the PA that should be boycotted.

            “Most people are mad at those who kidnapped the kids. When they commit such acts, we rejoice, celebrate for Israel’s suffering, then sit down and worry if we will be allowed into Israel for work and medical treatment. This has to stop, for our own sake.” Palestinian businessman

            Reply to Comment
      • Jan

        If the aim of the military operation was to further intensify the hatred of Israel by the Palestinians and to kill several of them the military has succeeded. If the aim was to find the three boys they have failed miserably.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Rubbish.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Piotr Berman

      “The truth is that Israelis can chew gum and walk at the same time.”

      I am not convinced. To give one illustration: there was a case when IDF shot a settler rabbi to death. The particulars were totally unflattering. It started with an admirable vigilance, a suspicious vehicle driving below speed limit was spotted near a settlement (and that IS unusual, I mean, slow driving) so IDF send a little unit to quickly set the checkpoint. Apparently, even that they did it at small hours in the morning, soldiers did not do enough to make the checkpoint visible, so the elderly rabbi did not notice them, and besides, they were nearly run over by another driver who did not notice them either. Somehow they did not shot the other driver, but they managed to gun down the rabbi (because he drove really slow).

      So what do we see here. IDF is running road checkpoints all the time, and yet it manages to send to action troops totally untrained to do it, plus IDF does not have any equipment to quickly set easy to operate checkpoints, say, with bright electric display (like for night road works in USA) and remotely operated spike strip (that can extend across the roadway and be retracted).

      Another aspect is that IDF does not have troops who can deploy non-lethal force. One could see it in the case of Mavi Marmara: special force troops either were beaten up by civilians or were spraying live bullets. I did some research on comparable incidents, coast guard intercepting vessels with violently resisting crews. Happens quite a bit in the seas between Korea and China, and it seems that it is really kung-fu versus takwendo. In Far East, military very seriously trains soldiers in martial arts. I would guess that one Korean soldier could take on an IDF battalion.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Piotr Berman

      It is a bit premature to say if the operation is working or not working. Clearly, given a finite amount of forces you have choices, and apparently the government of Israel and the command of IDF prefers to use most of the forces to inflict misery all across West Bank, making arrests, thrashing offices and so on, and only the minority to conduct searches of the kind that could locate the kidnapped youth.

      This would make tactical sense only if only a limited number of troops can conduct useful searchers. But that really raises the question “why?”. We are talking about a scenario predicted years ago, and which was a subject of considerable planning.

      Reply to Comment
      • I gather you do not consider the arrest of over 300 Hamas members, the shuttering of Hamas institutions and infrastructure, the finding of over 20 bomb labs and many terror tunnels, weapon caches to constitute a success.

        The operation has been so successful that Hamas’ political wing will be unable to participate in any election in the west bank and its military wing has been seriously set back. In my book these are successes which have come about because Israel decided to use the opportunity presented by Hamas kidnapping of 3 Israel teenagers to launch a massive operation against the terrorist organization.

        Reply to Comment
        • Johnboy

          I would suggest that the problem with CentreLeft’s argument is this: if “the arrest of over 300 Hamas members, the shuttering of Hamas institutions” etc. etc. is a measure of “success” then the IDF would have launched this operation a long time ago.

          It certainly wouldn’t have waited for the disappearance of three Israeli colonists before going all monkey-shit on the West Bank, precisely because by CentreLeft-Logic(tm) all this monkey-shit stuff is worthwhile in its own right.

          Yet it is indisputable that something was staying their hand, namely, “it’s just not worth the trouble”.

          Now, suddenly, it is…..

          For that change of heart to make sense requires that this be **about** getting those three lads back again.

          Which, clearly, it isn’t because if that were the aim then this isn’t the way to go about it.

          Operation Brother’s Keeper is what it is i.e. the Netanyahu government succumbing to its base instinct to inflict punishment on Palestinians whene it has an excuse to do so.

          Apparently that’s a heap o’ fun…. at least if you are a Zionist.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Piotr Berman

      I am not sure where the info on “20 bomb labs” came from, I tried google search and I only found a case of an Israeli Jewish boy who managed to construct a bomb, a real prodigy given he was only 13 years old.

      The problem with a mass arrest of Hamasniks without a reason is that politically it would backfire. As it is, even CentreLeft does not believe that the arrests have any relation to the ostensible cause. But if you want to achieve a political gain you should have at least a modicum of credibility. In short, the government did not prove that it can chew gum and walk.

      Reply to Comment
      • For the computer challenged Piotr:

        Ynetnews on June 22, 2014 reported:

        “Using their specialized equipment, Yahalom (diamond in Hebrew) forces participated in dozens of raids on the homes of Palestinian activists across the West Bank, confiscating caches of weapons and explosives.

        The unit’s forces discovered close to 20 laboratories for manufacturing improvised explosives devices hidden in homes they searched. “We would arrive at a suspicious home and find a family living on the first floor and a laboratory with explosives on the third floor,” said a senior officer in the unit.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Piotr Berman

          Somehow the search on Ynetnews site does not return that article for keywords “laboratory” “explosives”, only “Yahalom” works. Does the search program doubt the veracity of Yahalom, or were the keywords too widely separated?

          In any case, IDF can walk, and we will see if they can chew gum.

          Reply to Comment
    7. Average American

      What is Hamas? Is it any different than Irgun? That’s Menachem Begin’s Irgun. Remember the Irgun poster, the rifle held over the map? Remember Irgun blowing up hotels and booby-trapping dead British soldiers and shooting villagers as they try to escape mortar shells? Nothing has changed. West Bank is just a warm-up. It’s Jewish Lebensraum.

      Reply to Comment
      • GilGamesh

        Not much difference except that everyone including vast majority of Israeli society and gov’t, not to mention the govt of GB condemned them as terrorists. The IDF fought battles with them when they refused to stick to the agreements they had made not to smuggle weapons. There probably were some morons who defended the Igun, which has not been around for over the 60’s years, the same way some morons make excuses for Hamas by trying to draw equivalences between them and a group that hasn’t existed in over 60 years and no one is defending.

        Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Study political platforms of both these organizations and you will spot the difference. Given you are capable of comparative analisys, of course.

        Reply to Comment
        • Piotr Berman

          Jewish terrorists were placing bombs in Arab marketplaces in Palestine, which placed them on a higher moral plane than despicable suicide bombings. Sorry, their higher moral plane can be attributed not to the lack of suicidal activities but to political platforms. But I ask to be excused from reading those nice platforms.

          Reply to Comment
    8. Non Jew

      Trust me when I say that most of the world recognizes and acknowledges that neither the Jews, the Palestinians nor Hamas want peace. They all want domination and view anyone but themselves as vermin. Doomed.

      Reply to Comment
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