Does Israel Have the Resolve to Vanquish Hamas?
by Jerry Gordon (Jan.2009)
At 11:04 AM on Saturday, December 27th the first of two waves of more than 110 Israeli fighter bombers and helicopters ranged over Gaza in response to Hamas rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli towns which had intensified on December 25th. In less than four minutes, the IAF dropped over 100 tons of bombs aimed at destroying more than 100 Hamas targets in what were the opening stanzas of Operation Cast Lead. The Jerusalem Post noted the precise results of this initial aerial assault was reminiscent of the opening moments of the Gulf War in 1991 and Iraqi Operation Enduring Freedom in 2003.
The planes reported "alpha hits," IAF lingo for direct hits on the targets, which included Hamas bases, training camps, headquarters and offices.
This conflict in Gaza, fomented by the extremist Hamas Jihadis, is going on in a space no bigger than 360 sq. Kms. with 1.4 million people packed in squalid UNWRA refugee camps and urbanized communities.
Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal called on West Bank residents to rise up against Israel in a renewed intifada.
Obama has deferred to the outgoing Bush Administration and not commented on this current Israeli operation. White House Deputy Press spokesperson, Gordon Johnroe issued this statement over the weekend about the violence in Gaza:
Hamas' continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop. Hamas must end its terrorist activities if it wishes to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people.
On the fourth day of the Israeli operations when British, French, Russian and UN Security Council raised increasing demands for an immediate cease fire, Johnroe issued this further statement from President Bush’s Crawford Ranch in Texas:
While the US would like to see an end to the Israeli offensive in Gaza, Hamas would first have to stop firing rockets at Israel.
The US does not want to see a ceasefire "which isn’t worth the paper it's written on," but rather a long-term, sustainable truce. He then went on to advise reporters to take the reports coming out of Gaza regarding the numbers of casualties with a grain of salt, adding that numbers aside, both sides know what has to be done to end the conflict. Hamas, he said should stop firing rockets, thereby eliminating Israel's need to defend its citizens from rocket fire.
The Financial Times in an editorial following these weekend developments in Gaza expressed the view that “Bombing Gaza is not a solution” further suggesting that “Barack Obama should make Israel-Palestine a priority.” The editorial echoed statements from the EU, Russia and the UN when it noted:
The disproportionate scale of Israeli air strikes, in response to the pinprick provocations of the home-made rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israeli is less surprising. It fits the Israeli doctrine of overwhelming force, which on Saturday claimed the highest number of Palestinian lives in a single day since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six Day War.
Clearly, the Financial Times editorial writers forgot that Israel ended the 38 year ‘occupation’ of Gaza in 2005 and that Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority and Fatah in a coup in June 2007.
In an Israel Project news conference on Monday, December 29th, Mark Regev, International Media Advisor to outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who leaves office after a general election on February 10th, outlined the media strategy of the Israeli government in launching Operation Cast Lead, “Creating a New Reality of Security in Israel’s South”.
- Hamas started the violence on Christmas with the crescendo of rocket, missile and mortar attacks on the South of Israel and Western Negev which left Israel no choice under International Law to defend itself and protect more than 250,000 of its citizens;
- Hamas “tore up” the understandings negotiated with Egypt violently ending the 'hudna' (period of calm) or cease fire;
- The people of Gaza are not the enemy, but rather the extremist Hamas leadership seeking to replace the civil order with a Taliban like tyranny;
- Israel security services briefings have indicated that Gazans do not understand the logic of Hamas leadership in fostering the violence;
- The Arab world is divided and the Egyptians, Jordanians and Saudis do not understand the objectives of Hamas perpetrating this eruption of violence. They are concerned that Hamas and Hezbollah have allied themselves as proxies of Iran;
- Providing open border crossings and delivery of food and other humanitarian aid demonstrates that Israel does not target Gaza civilians;
- Hamas's media strategy is to focus on 'spin' that the IDF operations in Gaza are killing 9 civilians for each Hamas security cadre killed. However, there is no way of independently verifying the information given Hamas media control;
- Israel's media strategy is to focus on Hamas's abrogation of the 'understandings', that Israel is targeting extremist Hamas leadership and its military machine and creating a new reality of security for Israeli citizens in the South who will not have to live with the daily fear of loss of life;
- The IDF attacks have demonstrated the ability to effectively target, degrade and weaken the Hamas command and control structure, military machine and security apparatus;
- Iran's 'fingerprints' are all over the longer range missiles, mortars and other weaponry; and,
- Hamas has copied Hezbollah vis a vis the fortification of weapons and goods smuggling tunnels bestride the Gaza border with Egypt that were hit hard by the IAF.
Suleiman accused “Meshal’s gang” - a reference to the Damascus-based head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshal - of behaving arrogantly toward Egypt, and added that there was no choice but “to educate the Hamas leadership - even in Damascus.”
Reuters today reported that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas said that “Palestinians could have avoided the Gaza massacre.” Israel radio this morning also reported Saudi official criticism of Hamas as quoted in the UK based Al Sharq al Awsat. I had noted in my post of December 18 that Iran and Hamas are also scaring the Saudis.
Mohammad Abdallah Al Zulfa, member of the Saudi Shoura Council said on the Alhurra Arabic TV news program on December 17 that “Iran is the big threat in today’s world, supporting all the terrorists from Hamas to Hezbollah to some other terrorists that we don’t know their names yet” and “Iran destabilized the region by supporting all the illegal activities and activists such as Hamas.”
What’s clear to the Egyptians, the Palestinian Fatah leadership, the Saudis and the GCC states is that Israel’s current war to neutralize the Hamas threat also sets back Iran’s aggressive project to reshape the Arab Middle East in its image.
Against this roiling background, Israel began to roll out its media strategy. The IDF took the unusual step of posting videos of operations and commentary on You Tube. Then Israeli reached out to the so-called “new media’, the bloggers.
Ralph Levy, who preceded me, posed a useful question to Shafir. Levy once lived in a kibbutz hard by the Eastern Gaza border with Israel across from Beit Hanoun. Beit Hanoun is a major launching site for Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocketeers, who build and fire the Kassem rockets that have been falling on Western Negev communities like Sderot since April, 2001. Ironically, the explosives for those Kassem rockets are made using Israeli produced fertilizer purchased on the market in Gaza. Levy asked Shafir whether Israel could create a buffer zone inside Gaza and push back the range of the crude Kassem rockets? The General answered, "No", meaning no ‘boots on the ground’ was being contemplated at the time of the call.
Shafir said that the IAF can identify and shoot the rocketeers before they fire off their rockets. We surmised that it must be the 24/7 coverage by Israeli UAVs and satellite imagery feed that enables targeting. Shafir noted that it will take some time to complete this mission.
When my turn came to pose a question, I asked Shafir about the IAF success blasting the smuggling tunnels in the south of Gaza by the Egyptian border. He indicated that on the fourth day of operations IAF aircraft had hit another group of tunnels used to smuggle weapons and goods underneath the blockaded Egyptian Gaza frontier. I then asked him how the IAF intended to create 'dead zones' to prevent the rocketeers from carrying out their deadly missions? He noted that the IAF wants to continue the surgical air assaults, scrupulously avoiding collateral damage where possible and hit the rocketeers before they can launch their deadly Kassems, or more serious and devastating Grad rockets. This on a day when several more Israelis were killed by longer range Grad (Katyusha) rockets capable of hitting cities and towns in the Negev and southern Israel. He noted earlier that Israel had sustained 39 hits from Kassem and Grad rockets on the day of the AVI call. A Grad rocket launched from Gaza hit Yavneh, less than 12 miles from Tel Aviv. The longer range Grad rocket threat put nearly 700,000 Israelis at risk. I recalled the debacle of the 2006 Lebanon War when Katyushas came crashing down on northern Israel and displaced more than 1 million Israelis into sweltering, fetid bunkers or to seaside holiday camps for the duration of the 34 day conflict with Hezbollah.
Once Israel uncorked the 'shock and awe' air war against Hamas in Gaza, Hamas resorted to the playbook of Hezbollah aided by its patrons Iran and Syria and flung the long range Grads at major cities in Southern Israel. Hamas had used the six month Egyptian brokered "Hudna" to smuggle more lethal rockets. We suspect that as in southern Lebanon with Hezbollah, prior to the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hamas was probably assisted by Iranian military engineers building underground fortified launching areas for the Grad rockets. The Hamas resistance is taking direct orders from political leader Khaled Maashal in Damascus. Ismail Haniyeh and his local factions in Gaza are preaching to fighters and civilians from the safety of a reinforced bunker.
After less than a week of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the Olmert government is evaluating possible ground operations. We now have the anxious Brits and French, badgering the Israelis to declare an immediate cease fire and offering to send NATO troops to man the border crossings to ensure that humanitarian aid and medicine get through. All this after Israel has demonstrated its generosity by transferring millions of shekels to Gaza and letting 89 trucks and ambulances from Turkey, pass through the southern Israel Keren Shalom Gaza crossing. Despite the air war, Israel continues to supply electricity from its main power station in Ashkelon, a target of Hamas Grad rockets, to keep the lights on in Gaza.
The chief of Israel's internal security services, Yuval Diskin, told Cabinet ministers that Hamas' ability to rule had been "badly impaired." Weapons development facilities have been "completely wiped out," and the network of smuggling tunnels has been badly damaged, a participant in the meeting quoted Diskin as saying.
Underlying the Israeli decision to keep fighting are the more powerful weapons that Hamas has smuggled into Gaza through underground tunnels along the border with Egypt.
There is a term in slangy military Hebrew borrowed from the Russian: 'balagan.' It means 'chaos' or 'screw up'. Operation Cast Lead in Gaza is being conducted by an incompetent politician, Ehud Olmert, who will be out of office in 41 days given the general election on February 10th. Will Operation Cast Lead become another ‘screw up’ akin to the disastrous Second Lebanon War? We certainly hope that is not the case and that IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and outgoing Defense Minister Barak have their playbook laid out to achieve the mission this time.
Ted Belman, editor of the blog Israpundit, in the midst of this unfolding conflict, noted that Israel may have to fight two battles with terrorist armies, one in Gaza and the other with Hezbollah in Lebanon. He noted that if Israel succeeded on both fronts it would send a telling message to the Mullahs and President Ahmadinejad in Tehran and President Assad in Damascus that they had best think twice about their nuclear programs.
So, we wait to see how this latest Israeli effort to vanquish Hamas turns out. In the days and weeks ahead, we will see whether Israel's political and military leaders have learned their lessons well and are better prepared now to ultimately vanquish Hamas.
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