Today I provide an overview of what is transpiring with regard to Gaza.
As the barrage of rocket and missile attacks on Israel from Gaza has intensified, we have been doing targeting of the launchers and launching sites. This has been done in the main from the air, but there are also ground sorties by relatively small numbers of our troops — who go in and then come out fairly promptly. These attacks have been on-going with some frequency — and, I must add, with minimal to no apparent effectiveness with regard to stopping the terrorist attacks. It has been explained that the effect will be cumulative and that it will take time, but this remains to be proven.
Over the last several days Hamas has escalated the rocket attacks on us, and there seems to have been a specific reason: We had just attacked by air, and killed, five people in Khan Yunis, who were "senior operatives" of Izzadin Kassam, Hamas’s armed wing. They had just returned from abroad, most likely Syria, Lebanon or Iran, and had been trained to carry out an attack on a major Israeli target. Reportedly the IDF had been tracking them since their return. The escalation by Hamas was thought to be a warning for us to cease such operations.
As Ashkelon came under fire, we initiated an operation in the north-east of Gaza, where most of the Kassam rocket fire originates: an agricultural region adjacent to Gaza’s border with Israel, and the eastern portions of the Jabalyah refugee camp, Beit Hanun, and the Sajaya neighborhood in Gaza City — all areas that have a proximity to the western Negev.
This was an operation of a somewhat larger scope — involving Givati Brigade infantry and Armored Corps battalions — and was dubbed "Operation Hot Winter." It is what has generated the furor internationally. But this was still on the scale of a relatively modest operation — not "the" big one that is being predicted and anticipated.
Now it has been announced that this first stage of "Operation Hot Winter" is completed, and the troops have been brought back to Israel.
The IDF says that 100 Palestinians were killed during the operation and 90 more arrested. Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has made a particular point of stating that 90 of the 100 killed were gunmen. This is to counter the exaggerated numbers of civilians killed that is reported by the Palestinians.
We are being told, however, that this doesn’t end "Operation Hot Winter," and that additional stages will follow. The goal is to clean out a swath of territory in the north-east of Gaza and render it free of Kassam launchings. Stopping Katyusha launchings is more difficult because their greater range permits them to be launched from deeper inside Gaza, sometimes from the center or west of Gaza City. Ultimately if this approach is to succeed it will have to include operations that penetrate deeply enough to take out Katyusha launching sites as well.
Layperson without military expertise that I am, I confess to being confused as to how any territory that is cleaned of launching equipment and terrorists for the moment can be kept clean if our troops are brought out promptly and we are not there to do enforcement.
The answer by Mark Regev, spokesperson for Olmert, in a press conference this evening, is that we’re hurting Hamas and throwing them off balance, and that if we persist in this direction it will have an effect. Maybe.
Our troops were only out hours when new attacks were launched, although, of course, they did not necessarily originate from the same place that had just been cleaned out. Eight Kassams landed in Sderot and another four elsewhere in the Negev. In addition, three Grad-Katyushas were shot at Ashkelon, with one hitting an apartment house and another landing near a kindergarten.
Meanwhile, Hamas is gloating that our pulling out so fast represents "defeat" for us, and that we have been unable to stop the rocket fire. Defeat? In the long run, not at all! But we haven’t yet stopped the rocket fire. Izzadin Kassam announced today that it intends to continue to launch rockets at us.
Now as to that major ground incursion that is the subject of so much speculation, I have little to offer beyond more speculation. Certainly Regev was non-committal about it this evening.
I wrote yesterday that the Security Cabinet would be discussing this on Wednesday, which is when Rice will be ending her visit here, and that there were various guesses as to the reasons for this timing. The sense that the incursion may be ordered after Rice leaves remains strong.
But I have since encountered yet another possible reason: That there is some hope (on whose part is not clear) that Rice might be able to convince Hamas to stop the rockets, making it unnecessary for us to go in now.
Well… this raises a couple of different questions: The first is why it would be assumed that Rice has leverage with Hamas. I feel as if I must be really missing something here. The speculation is that Rice, who will be stopping in Egypt before arriving here, will utilize the Egyptians as mediators with Hamas.
Perhaps absolutely nothing will transpire , but this rings bells for me. Egypt as mediator? But mediation suggests an attempt to bring two parties to an understanding via compromise. What compromise here? Hamas needs to be told that if they don’t clean up their act, their heads will roll. Nothing less. Would Rice make some conciliatory gesture (appeasement) in order to get them to stop, so Abbas will meet with Olmert again and her vaunted "peace process" can proceed? Let us hope and — in the absence of evidence to the contrary — assume not.
Yet this still leaves another question: Is quiet from Gaza sufficient reason to stop plans for a ground incursion? If Hamas, for whatever reasons, calls a halt, are we then content? This is the heart of the matter. Yes, of course, we want them to stop. But even if they do, they will still be smuggling and manufacturing weapons and strengthening for the future. Their capacity — including the effectiveness of their rockets — will be greater down the road than it is now.
The stated goal for a ground incursion is NOT to stop the rocket launchings. It is to block the smuggling at the Philadelphi Corridor and to destroy caches of weapons and Hamas’s CAPACITY to launch rocket attacks. It is also to weaken Hamas infrastructure — including their army of 15,000 — or even to take out Hamas.
And yet, I’ve read that Olmert still hopes that the rocket launchings will slow down so he won’t have to order that major incursion now. As if that is all that matters.
Without question, it is the attacks on us that have placed the issue of going into Gaza more firmly at the center of our radar screen. But now that it’s there — and most of the nation and probably most of the government — wants to go in, we should not lose focus or be blind to long term implications.
Here I would like to share what Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz wrote about this:
"What’s at stake in the current escalated conflict between Hamas controlled Gaza and Israel is the issue of freedom — operational freedom. Hamas’s operational freedom to inexorably build up its strength and secure its hold on Gaza, move on to take over the West Bank and ultimately defeat Israel…and Israel’s operational freedom to stop it."
If Horovitz is correct, and I most certainly believe he is , then nothing less tha
n a full and major ground incursion will do.
This is what Dore Gold, in a briefing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has to say about this issue:
"…Israeli security sources are…concerned that Iran will try to smuggle its Fajr rockets to Gaza in the future. A 45-kilometer-range Fajr 3, for example, could be smuggled in sections and assembled in Gaza.
"As long as the Philadelphi route is open for Hamas smuggling, the risk to Israel will grow as Iran exports rockets of increasing range to the Gaza Strip. The port of Ashdod is the next likely target, but should Fajr rockets reach Gaza, there is no reason why Hamas cannot pose a threat to Tel Aviv. Control of the launch areas in northern Gaza could significantly reduce the ability of Hamas to harass Sderot and the communities of the western Negev with rocket and mortar fire. The repeated lesson of the last seven years is that only Israel can ultimately be responsible for its own security."
A few additional points: There is talk in the media of Hamas seeking a cease fire, and reaching out to Arab nations to mediate it. Even Abbas has offered to negotiate a ceasefire, which I find laughable. Regev said this evening, however, that our government has not received any communication either from Hamas or via a third party with regard to this, and that their public rhetoric suggests just the opposite.
Thankfully, I’ve noted in statements from Israeli decision makers a clear understanding of the dangers of a so-called ceasefire, or more accurately, hudna, because it would tie our hands while Hamas continued to strengthen.
As to Olmert’s response to the halting of negotiations , I find a perspective so obtuse that it is close to unbearable. The negotiation process will continue, he declared, even if it has been frozen the last few days. (I haven’t head that it was unfrozen from the PA side — it’s Olmert expressing pathetic eagerness.) We absolutely must do this, he declared, for "Absence of negotiations would lead to [turning the West Bank into Gaza], and anyone who can’t see this is lying to himself."
Well, this is backwards. As long as we’re in Judea and Samaria, Hamas cannot gain the upper hand. But as soon as we were to pull out and turn things over to the PA, as a part of negotiations, Hamas would take Fatah down and be at our eastern flank. And if he says he doesn’t know this, Olmert is lying.
Tonight the question was asked of Regev whether, in light of Abbas’s statements of recent days (which I’ve reported here), the government would reconsider whether Abbas is truly a moderate.
Regev’s answer was that the leaders of the PA offer the best there is for negotiating. He didn’t defend their moderation. The implication, not overtly verbalized, is that the government is so eager to for those negotiations, so adamant in its refusal to admit there is NO peace partner, that it’ll take what it can get.