Israel military has entered Gaza, and is in the process of a limited operation. I would be pleased if the operation continued in a way that convinced me that I am wrong in my initial impression that this is too little too late. The chief of the Southern Command has said, according to YNet, that there are hidden aspects to this operation. We shall see.
At this point an electric power station has been knocked out, three bridges have been bombed, a terrorist training camp (where no one was present) in Rafah has been bombed, and the abandonned Dahaniyeh airport has been taken over and is being used as a control headquarters. All of this is in southern Gaza, where the kidnapped Gilad Shalit is still believed to be hidden. The goal, according to announcements, is to make it difficult for him to be transferred elsewhere.
Operations are similarly beginning in northern Gaza, where missiles hit open fields in an attempt to increase pressure on the Palestinians. There was some shelling on the outskirts of Gaza City as well, although there was reportedly no particular target. Heavy equipment is poised to enter the area. Here too, the stated goal is dividing of Gaza and making transport difficult.
There has been only one reported exchange of fire, and there have been no casualties.
PM Olmert says the military operation will continue until Shalit is released. Then, he says, there will be a pullout. Declared Olmert: "We have one objective — to assure the release of Gilad Shalit. We have no intention of reoccupying Gaza, we have no intention of staying there."
The question, of course, is why not.
The absolute first objective is Shalit. But the issue of the firing of Kassams remains. All of Gaza was turned over to the Palestinians almost a year ago. All sorts of threats were made by the Israeli government at the time regarding intention to re-enter if things did not remain peaceful. And yet we have allowed ourselves, in a posture of weakness, to be sitting ducks for bombardments of Kassams.
While Israel was entering Gaza today, I was on the outskirts of Gaza, in the western Negev, with a small group. A key focus of our visit was Sderot, a city of some 24,000 people. Sderot was a target for Kassams even before the "disengagement." However, the attacks have increased in ferocity and intensity in recent months for several reasons. The launching areas are now closer to Sderot than they used to be — because areas in northern Gaza that were Jewish settlements, such as Elei Sinai, are now being used for this purpose. And there has been the refinement of equipment (with heavier and more powerful rockets) and launching skills — in part because of materials and personnel smuggled into Gaza since the "disengagement."
In the last five years, 1,000 Kassams have fallen on Sderot. In the last months, 600 fell. And in one 48 hour period last week, 60 fell. Five people, including three children, have been killed; scores have been wounded; considerable property has been damaged. What is more, the population — especially the children — pay a huge psychological price in terms of on-going fear, anxiety and dislocation of their lives. People are afraid to sleep in second floor bedrooms or to leave their children alone. Because of the proximity of the launching areas, there is a matter of only seconds from the time the city alarm (Red Dawn) goes off until the Kassam hits — hardly time for all to adequately take shelter.
What sort of government permits its citizens to endure this?
There is a hesder yeshiva in Sderot — this is a yeshiva that combines study and army service. The head of the yeshiva spoke with us. This is a part of what he said: The government simply does not understand the situation or the Arab mentality. The pullout from Gaza has created in the Palestinians "an insatiable desire" for more. They are genuinely convinced that if they continue to bombard Sderot they will drive out the people from there and take over. They are stockpiling weapons and planning major operations Killing them doesn’t work, as they take life cheaply — only the killing of their leaders matters. What does matter to them is the possession of the land. If we would take back a part of Gaza (ideally in the north in the area used for launchings), this would convince the Palestinians that by using their current methods "they are regressing" in their goals. It would have deterrent power.
And here we are, having entered Gaza. Yet our prime minister assures the world we will not stay. A very very strong case can be made for staying.
One of our group addressed a question to a high school teacher in Sderot, who was serving as a guide. "What do you want from the government?" His answer was direct, simple and eminently reasonable: "Stop the Kassams."
The suspected second kidnapping reported yesterday has been confirmed. The Palestinian Resistance Committees, affiliated with Hamas, has called a press conference and presented the identity card of 18-year old yeshiva student Eliyahu Asheri, from Itamar. It contained information, such as Asheri’s middle name and identity number, that had not been made public, and so there is solid circumstantial evidence indicating that the PRC (or a group it is fronting for) has him. PRC spokesman Abu Abir says that he will be "butchered in front of TV cameras" if Israel does not pull out of Gaza. Intelligence places Asheri in Ramallah, in Samaria, and the IDF is currently conducting a search in that area. Reportedly one or more suspected kidnappers have been captured and are being interrogated.
This is a horror — personally, for Asheri himself and his anguished family — but also on a national level.
Concessions, pulling back, giving more, are all counterproductive and have led to our current plight. A whole new, decisive direction is called for in this country. A direction that puts the welbeing of Israelis first and deals strongly with those who would harm us.
Meanwhile, Al Aksa Brigades (Fatah) has claimed that it has kidnapped a third Israeli, Noah Moskowitz, 62, of Rishon LeZion, who has been missing for two days. There are no confirmations of this.
In certain areas of Judea-Samaria, Jewish residents are blocking cars with Palestinian license plates on the road, in response to this spate of kidnapping.
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