Our military action in Gaza has been named Operation Cast Lead.
Today the Cabinet, after being briefed, approved the mobilization of 4,500 reserve troops in addition to the 2,000 who were mobilized yesterday. Some of these troops will reinforce ground forces waiting at the periphery of Gaza; others will be involved with Home Front actions.
The response of the Home Front and our ability to protect those under risk of rocket attack are seen as key elements of what will be happening now. There is, for example, something called “special situation,” which will allow the Home Front Command to shut down factories or schools on the periphery to Gaza if risk to the people is perceived to be high. Right now schools are on Chanukah break, and this will be extended in communities near Gaza. People are being told to remain close to shelters.
Defense Minister Barak has allowed Keren Shalom crossing to be opened for the transfer of emergency supplies: basic food items, medical supplies and medicines. Supplies went in yesterday and today an additional 30 trucks were allowed through; the quantity of supplies is coordinated with international relief agencies.
We have — incredibly — offered to do something else, as well: We will take a limited number of wounded Palestinians for treatment here in Israel. I hope and trust that this will be restricted to civilian population. This is called going above and beyond in order to stifle international criticism. Does any nation anywhere else do this while at war?
But whether Hamas will release wounded to us is another question: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has made public the charge that Hamas is preventing wounded from reaching Egypt, where they would have treatment.
Typical of the misrepresentations we must contend with is the claim by Palestinians that we had bombed a mosque, killing two in the process. The IDF says this “mosque” was a base for terrorist activities.
Of the more than 250 people killed yesterday (the great majority terrorists), the IDF is reporting 15 civilian deaths. This is a very low figure — .06% of the casualties.
However, “defense officials” said that we will not hesitate to target the homes of civilians who protect terrorists throughout the operation. This demonstrates a new resolve; timidity will not help us succeed here. An ostensible “civilian” who shelters terrorists is a collaborator, in any event.
Strikes in Gaza have continued through the night and into the day today. Some hits were against efforts to launch weapons, and some were attacks on pre-determined Hamas institutional targets.
We’ve done several strikes in the region of the Philadelphi corridor at the border between Gaza and the Sinai, taking out some 40 tunnels in four minutes. We also hit in Jabaliya, in the north of Gaza, a key terrorist locale.
Our artillery batteries have deployed along the Gaza border.
While Hamas is reeling at the moment, we have not yet taken out their capacity to hit us. Apparently at this point they retain roughly 50% of that capacity.
About 100 rockets were launched and mortar shells fired yesterday from Gaza, and that, too, continues today, but at a lower rate than was expected. So far about 20 rockets have been launched today. Some six Kassams have landed in Ashkelon, wounding three, including a 12-year old boy; and for the first time, Ashdod — about 40 kilometers from Gaza — was hit by three Grad Katyusha rockets. This represents the most northernmost region that the rockets have reached to date.
To see aerial photos of Hamas sites in Gaza pinpointed for Israeli Air Force attack, see:
A word here about the political ramifications of this operation. That it will accrue to Barak’s strength in the coming election seems clear (unless, G-d forbid, he weakens and make fools of us by stopping precipitously). But that is how it is. Barak, as Minister of Defense, is the prime instigator of this operation. He has been so terribly weak and self-serving for years — starting with his pullout from Lebanon in 2000, which strengthened Hezbollah. But he is our most decorated military man and time was when he was wily and incredibly sharp. And the beginning of this “shock and awe” operation with its deceptions was brilliant.
I’m receiving messages suggesting that this was a political ploy, with the election scheduled for February 10. I don’t buy it, because the intelligence work has gone on for a year, and the strength with which we hit — the strongest attack inside Gaza since 1967 — indicates seriousness of intent. We could not have waited another month and a half to do this, until after the election, remaining sitting ducks for Hamas attacks. There is a broad consensus about the fact that this had to be done now. And we have to remember that Israel wasn’t the only player in this scenario: Hamas could have agreed to another “lull.”
Barak and his party have been headed for political disaster. If this operation is successful, he will again be a player of some strength — but it is not thought that he would have sufficient strength to win the election. Yossi Verter, in an analysis in Haaretz, suggests that increased Labor strength would come at the expense of Livni and Kadima. As Verter puts it, “The political deck of cards has been reshuffled.”
At any rate, for the moment, campaigning has been put on hold. While a war is being waged is not the time to attack the leaders of that war. Likud, Yisrael Beitenu and Meretz have all expressed full support for the operation.
There are suggestions that if the war were lengthy the election might be postponed, but it’s too soon to consider this.
The irony is that today (midnight) is the deadline for parties to register, with their lists, and this would have been the focus of national attention if not for the Gaza operation. I will make limited comments below, with more to follow in due course.
The waging of this war is being measured against the conduct of our government during the Lebanon War over two years ago. Whether lessons have been fully assimilated remains to be seen, but there is clear and encouraging evidence that indeed lessons have been learned. Preparation going in has been much better. Goals are more modest and bravado is absent.
There has been unrest and violence in some Arab localities in the north of Israel and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem with regard to the war. This is not unexpected. Some of these places have a strong Hamas influence.
A light moment: Moammar Kadafi, of Libya, has suggested the Arab League withdraw the Arab League’s peace plan since “Arabs are the only ones striving for peace.”
PA officials — who knew something was coming, but did not have a sense of how big it would be — have announced their readiness to take over Gaza when we finish Hamas. This is not in the planning now. This operation leaves Abbas with nothing — there will be no meetings with Hamas toward a new unity government and no chance for him to move back into Gaza. But in point of fact, while saying so publicly doesn’t play well, the PA is happy that Hamas is getting what’s coming to it. Hamas was not headed toward a unity government in any event.
Abbas is in Cairo, consulting with Mubarak. “See,” he has said to Hamas, “I told you that you should have sustained the tadiyah (informal quiet).” The PA maintains the official position that it is supportive of the Palestinian people in Gaza, not of Hamas, although money the PA sends to Gaza to pay salaries does filter to Hamas.
Mubarak, my sources tell me, did know what was going to happen, but opposed it because it would have been politically incorrect to do anything else. It is doubtful that even privately to Livni last week he encouraged us to go ahead. There is, I’m told, considerable turmoil within Cairo. First because they see they had no leverage with Israel. Then because there is pressure on them to open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and the Sinai, and they don’t want to end up responsible for the Gazans.
(Today, the fence at Rafah was breached again in some four places as a land mine was detonated and a bulldozer was brought into play. This happened during Israeli actions in the area, when Egyptian police had pulled away from the border. Hundreds of Palestinians made their way into Sinai, but some 300 Egyptian troops were brought in and I believe the Gazans have been pushed back.)
But at the end of the day, this operation serves Egypt well in several respects: It takes on Hamas, which has been so troublesome to Egypt of late. It delivers a message to the Muslim Brotherhood inside of Egypt that threatens the Mubarak regime — but which Mubarak does not have the courage to take on. And lastly, it diminishes Iran, with which Egypt still has considerable conflict. Said one source, “If I were Mubarak, I’d be smiling now.”
Note how significant this is on a broad scale: When we are weak and allow a terrorist organization to strengthen, it has a ripple effect, sending a message that emboldens terrorists all over the Middle East. When we take on the terrorists, similarly is there a ripple effect. What we are doing here serves not only Israel well, but the West and most specifically the US.
This message should be broadcast widely at every turn.
IMRA is carrying quotes from an op ed in Asharq Al Awsat, a major Saudi-backed paper:
“…leniency with Hamas made the Arab world a partner in the suffering of the Palestinians.”
“…Arab states should call a spade a spade…let Hamas bear the responsibility if only once.”
At the same time, the Saudi Gazette quotes President Bush as saying that “Israel has a right to defend itself,” and does not take issue with this or call for attacks on Hamas to end.
This is not insignificant. I would say this also reflects Saudi discontent with Iranian actions. And it reminds us that Arab unity is only a facade.
A side benefit of the war is already evident: Syria is canceling indirect peace talks with us.
Turning to politics:
Michael Ratzon — who was bumped down from the 24th slot to the 37th on the Likud list when a rearrangement of that list was done after the Likud primary — filed a petition to be restored to his original place with the Tel Aviv district court. The court has just found in his favor.
Said Judge Yehuda Zaft in his verdict: “The [Likud] Elections Committee lacked the authority to change the result of the elections.”
Ratzon is referred to as a Likud rebel, as he balked at the “disengagement.” Similarly, Ehud Yatom, who was also a rebel, found himself moved down on the list. As did Moshe Feiglin, who was shifted from slot 20 to slot 36. Neither Yatom nor Feiglin had filed a petition with the court for reinstatement to their original slots. But there is a feeling that Zaft’s broad-based ruling may affect them, as well, if they quickly appeal to the internal system of Likud. Don’t know how this will play out.
What Judge Zaft wrote was that: “It seems that there is no room for doubt that this election did not make the Likud chairman and its leadership very happy…it is clear that the move was intended to change the list in such a way that [Moshe Feiglin] would be distanced from the high and realistic position he had reached.”
Wow! As Ratzon said: “justice has been restored and the democratic process…has won. There are judges in Israel.”
It had been anticipated that MK Effie Eitam’s Ahi party was going to join with Likud, but at the last moment, legal problems prevented this.
However, the Tzomet party is going to be joining with Likud. MK Elhan Glazer of Tzomet will be 39th now on the Likud list, and Likud will add 12 million shekels in state funding to the Likud kitty and maybe garner a seat or two. Tzomet was founded by Rafael (Raful) Eitan, a celebrated military man and right-wing nationalist politician, who drowned four years ago; there is no Tzomet presence in the current Knesset.
Last situation to be described today:
Some many weeks ago, it was announced that the National Union — which was itself composed of Moledet, Ahi and Tkuma — was merging with the National Religious Party and forming a new party, called HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home). It started to move left however, in an attempt to appeal to a wider group of voters, and was not holding fast to a nationalist vision. The new party chair would not even state forthrightly if it was opposed to a “two state” solution. For this reason and others, Moledet — the major section of National Union, headed by MK Benny Elon — broke away from this new party. I have already written about this. Elon retired from politics and the remainder of the party, with Uri Bank notable here, joined with the new Hatikvah party headed by MK Arieh Eldad. Eldad, himself, was a breakaway from Moledet.
Ahi, headed by Effie Eitam, as I’ve mentioned above, broke away and hoped to join Likud. At the last minute this didn’t work out, but I believe Ahi is disappearing for now — it certainly is no longer part of HaBayit HaYehudi.
That left Tkuma. headed by MK Uri Ariel. Ariel has now announced that on the advice of Rabbi Dov Lior, Tkuma will be pulling out of HaBayit HaYehudi — which was self-righteously angry — and joining with Eldad of Hatikvah.
That leaves NRP as the sole remaining group in HaBayit HaYehudi — they’ve reverted to what they had been.
And the merger of Hatikvah and Tkuma will be called National Union. They too are again what they had been.
Said a spokesman for Ariel:
“We plan to create a strong right-wing party that will proudly fly the orange flag of Greater Israel.’ (Orange was the symbol of opposition to the “disengagement.”)
“At a time when settlements are in a real danger of being dismantled, we must proclaim the message that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.”
I wish them strength.