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December 29, 2008: As We Progress

December 29, 2008

How are we doing? To this point, thank G-d, very well.

The original prediction when this war started had been that, after our first day of attack. hundreds of rockets per day would rain down on the south. There have been rockets — some serious attacks — but the volume of launchings has been less than had been expected, although it is increasing.

This is said to be both because Hamas leaders are in shock and disarray, and because we took pains to hit hidden launchers. They still have thousands of rockets, and there is expectation that as they regroup the attacks will yet become more numerous. (Although I do mention that Khaled Abu Toameh of the Post says Hamas is crumbling — more on this below — and suggests we might not see the rocket fire that had been expected.)


In order to take out launchers hidden in bunkers, as well as in destroying tunnels near Rafah yesterday, we utilized high precision bunker buster missiles, called GBU-39, that we recently acquired from the US. These missiles, which can penetrate through 90 cm of steel-reinforced concrete, do little collateral damage.


Today we hit ammunition stocks and further tunnels. In the Khan Yunis area in the south of Gaza we took out Ziad Abu-Tir, a senior member of Islamic Jihad, along with his brother, nephew and two others. We also hit targets in the north of Gaza, as well as a government compound in Gaza City and buildings in Islamic University near Khan Yunis — all Hamas strongholds.

Two laboratories in the university were bombed because they were research and development centers for Hamas’s military wing. It is important to assimilate this information in order to understand what we’re dealing with: development of weapons was done under the supervision of university professors. There are no lines drawn between the military and the civilian in this authoritarian, militaristic system, yet someone unaware of this might be horrified that we bombed an educational institution.


We have been engaging in some psychological warfare: breaking into radio broadcasts to warn civilians not to cooperate with Hamas.

We’ve also been sending recorded messages to phones in Gaza telling people to immediately evacuate homes near Hamas infrastructure. This strikes me not as psychological warfare but an attempt to save civilians.


With all of this, I say, with a trembling heart, that the hardest part of this war is yet to come. We have not amassed thousands of troops and tanks and artillery at the border of Gaza just to sit there. The next stage of the fight is imminent. In Hebrew we say ein breira — there’s no choice. Once our boys go in on the ground, I can only ask that each and every one of you pray for them. Ask everyone to pray for them. And don’t stop until they’ve come home.


The response of the world to our operation has, to this point, been gratifyingly moderate. There are several reasons for this — including the PR work being done and the degree to which the terrorist Hamas is blatantly out of line.

There had been concern from the time there was first talk of an operation in Gaza that we’d likely have to deal with a second front in the north. Yesterday Nasrallah made threats with regard to this. But so far the north is quiet. It occurs to me that the force of our attack on Hamas has given him pause.

And it seems that Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Abul Gheit, and Nasrallah are at bitter odds.


Defense Minister Barak addressed a special session of the Knesset today. “This operation will be extended and deepened as we find necessary,” he declared.

“I would like to remind the world that Israel withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip more than three years ago. We gave a chance for a new reality, and all we’ve seen is Hamas firing rockets and missiles on our citizens and carrying out attacks against Israel…we must fight against the Hamas leadership. We are making great efforts to prevent civilian casualties.”


Foreign Minister Livni also spoke. She said:

“To all those criticizing us we say that Hamas is an extremist terror group that does not represent the Palestinians…We have decided to hold a peace process with those who are truly committed to living in peace, side by side.”

Well. I’ve been monitoring our leadership in the last few days, and until now I have found nothing to criticize. It has seemed to me they were saying what needed to be said.

But, even if Livni made this statement simply to show the world how peaceful we are, it cannot pass without notice. First, because Mahmoud Abbas and the PA are most decidedly not committed to living in peace side by side. This is a myth that has gotten us into a great deal of trouble. No, Abbas is not Maashal. But neither is he a man of peace committed to a “two state” solution. Abbas heads a party, Fatah, whose charter to this day calls for our destruction. The PA he heads produces textbooks that teach jihad. There is map in his office of “Palestine,” from the river to the sea, without Israel.

Then it is erroneous to say that Hamas does not represent Palestinians. Has everyone forgotten? Hamas was victorious in the last PA legislative election and to this day has popularity in Gaza in spite of everything. (Abu Toameh has something to say about this, as well.)


Today over 60 rockets have been launched from Gaza. Earlier, a Grad Katyusha struck a building undergoing construction in the center of Ashkelon, killing Hanni Al-Mahdi, of the Bedouin town of Aroer, and wounding at least 14 others, five moderately to seriously. Most of the wounded were Arab construction workers from villages in the Galilee.

A Grad rocket also hit in Ashdod — the first direct hit in this city — killing one woman at a bus stop and wounding others.

A house in Sderot sustained a direct hit.


Hamas and Islamic Jihad are conducting their own psychological warfare — speaking in dire terms of the suicide bombings they will carry out, and the kidnappings of soldiers.

An Egyptian paper and Al-Jazeera have carried reports saying that Gilad Shalit was wounded in one of our air attacks. The IDF is dubious because Shalit is valuable to Hamas, as they hope to trade him for some of their prisoners. It is considered unlikely that he would have been left in a vulnerable location.


Now to Khaled Abu Toameh: He wrote a piece today regarding a viable successor to Hamas in Gaza. The government has not declared taking out Hamas to be a goal of this war. (It is possible that Barak and company think they might do so, but are refraining from saying so in order to avoid being over-ambitious in their stated goals.) Abu Toameh seems to think this is a possibility because Hamas has been hit exceedingly hard — with almost all of its security and civil institutions destroyed. “The general feeling on the streets of the Gaza Strip on Sunday night was that the countdown to the collapse of the Hamas regime had begun.”

But, asks, Abu Toameh, what happens if Hamas does collapse?

I have been uneasy about Abbas’s eagerness to take over; the thought of our having fought for him being rather obscene. But Abu Toameh says this is not possible: “Judging from the reactions of the Palestinian and Arab masses, it’s highly unlikely that Abbas and his forces would be allowed to regain control under the current circumstances.”

Says Ramadan Shallah, secretary-general of Islamic Jihad: “…who dares to return to the Gaza Strip aboard an Israeli tank would be condemned as a traitor.” And a Hamas representative said that “the majority of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip would revolt against any Palestinian officials who returns with the help of Israel.”

According to Abu Toameh, “…Hamas appears to be as popular as ever.”

What he says next is something that should make everyone — most notably Tzipi Livni — sit up and take notice.

“Even if Hamas is totally crushed, there is no reason to believe that those who would succeed the Islamist movement would be any better or less radical. These are days when only the voices of the extremists…are being heard…”


This is precisely what I found in my research on Fatah this past year: With the growing influence of Hamas, Fatah had radicalized further. Scholars were even writing about how Fatah was no longer secular nationalist but, rather, increasingly using Islamic symbols. Hamas was setting the tone of political discourse.

Until we grab hold of this reality, and disabuse ourselves of the notion that we have a “moderate” Palestinian entity to deal with, we are going to be in trouble.

Whether Hamas is quite as weak as Abu Toameh thinks, or not, the points he raises are of huge significance.

There seems to be an aversion to our going into Gaza and staying there, but at the end of the day, sooner or later, this may be necessary.





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