I note in passing that tonight is New Year’s eve in much of the Western world.
Here, where we observe Rosh Hashana as the start of the year, it’s business “as usual” tonight. Right now that includes contending with a war.
But I am pleased to wish everyone reading this a good new year — filled with health and peace, love of family and friends and financial security.
Still holding: I’m grateful to be able to write this.
Last night French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner proposed a 48 hour cease-fire. The suggestion was made, ostensibly, so that humanitarian supplies might get in. This was rejected out of hand by our government, because it implies that supplies are not getting in now, and this is not the case (see below).
But Kouchner wasn’t done. He persisted with this idea, saying that 48 hours would give Paris the time to work on a more permanent cease-fire. Uh oh. This rang considerable alarm bells. It’s not time for a cease-fire. A half-way operation would be a failure — if we leave them with capacity to hit us again, it’s a mistake.
For the first time, then, there seemed to be a split between Olmert — who was opposed and said the pressure on Hamas shouldn’t let up — and Barak — who entertained thoughts of doing this, reportedly to give us a chance to regroup and wait out bad weather, and also to expose Hamas, which would not maintain full quiet for 48 hours and would thus give us further justification for acting.
Ashkenazi and the defense establishment were said to be decidedly not happy about doing this. The IDF is well prepared and ready to move on with the operation.
A great deal of confusion ensued. Mixed messages. The issue of temporary cease-fire versus a permanent one not altogether clear. One unnamed government official was quoted as saying that if a sustainable cease-fire could be arranged that wouldn’t be bad, because, after all, that was what we were after — to get them to stop firing at us. But he had it wrong, whoever he is. We’re past that. No more situations in which they can keep on smuggling, keep on training, just as long as they aren’t shooting at us. This is what Olmert has said, and this is what the nation wants and expects.
First Olmert, Barak and Livni met to discuss this potential cease-fire. There was a black-out on what was said in their meeting.
Then the Security Cabinet met, and a decision was made not to agree to a 48-hour ceasefire, but to continue operations. “We didn’t initiate the Gaza operation in order to end it while Israeli towns are still under fire,” Olmert declared. What might happen in the future was left up in the air.
So we are still left with the question of what is “enough”? That is, what end result is the goal of this operation and when would a ceasefire, or a cessation of our attacks, be acceptable for us? When will we know that our aims have been achieved?
There seems to be a consensus that simply resuming a period of quiet similar to what we had in the past is unacceptable. But do we drive Hamas to its knees? Destroy it utterly?
From my perspective, at a bare minimum, Hamas’s capacity to hit us, and to smuggle in additional weaponry, must be destroyed. But a much weakened Hamas might be preferable to a Hamas totally destroyed and leaving a vacuum in its wake.
What is clear to me, with all of my contacts, is that I don’t know enough to judge this very complicated situation. To demonstrate just how complicated matters are: Even as this ceasefire was on the table, Barak was seeking — and received — permission to call up an additional 2,500 reserves. I don’t presume to know what’s in this man’s head or what he is planning.
President Bush has called Olmert and offered words of support.
I have seen conflicting reports regarding Hamas’s response to the French suggestion of a cease-fire: both a belligerent refusal to cooperate and an expressed readiness to consider it if Israel opened all crossings.
The rocket attacks are increasing. There were some 50 yesterday and today there have been at least 60. Beersheva is now being hit by Grad Katyushas: twice schools have been hit. The schools were empty, however: Beersheva falls within the 40 km. radius of Gaza in which students are being kept home. Yesterday Grad rockets hit Ashkelon and Ashdod and two people were killed. Additional rockets in these areas today wounded people.
Rocket strikes have been reported in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, the Eshkol region, the Yoav region, Sderot, Ofakim, an area near Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi, Netivot and Gedera. It is now estimated that 800,000 persons are within range of the rockets being launched from Gaza.
Magen David Adom (Israeli emergency service) is declaring an unprecedented high alert, with 6,000 ambulances at the ready.
On Monday evening mortars hit an IDF camp in the Negev, killing one soldier — Chief Warrant Office Lotfi Nasr a-Din of the Druse village of Daliat al-Carmel — and severely wounding another. Nasr a-Din’s grandfather is Amal Nasr a-Din, who served for 12 years as a member of Knesset with Likud, beginning when Menachem Begin became prime minister.
Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, provided a report for the Security Cabinet today:
“Hamas has been attacked as it has never been attacked before; it has suffered serious damage and its governability in Gaza has been severely impaired.”
Diskin said many senior Hamas operatives were hiding out in mosques and hospitals, in some instances disguised as doctors and male nurses.
“Some of them have turned dozens of mosques into command and control centers on the assumption that Israel won’t attack those places,” he said. “Their development laboratories have been completely destroyed. Their tunnel system has sustained heavy damage. Hamas is trying to utilize [what remains] so that their operatives can escape to Egypt.”
We hit a mosque in Gaza City today, and the IDF let it be known that this was a place where rockets were stored.
Late on Monday, we hit the office of Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh. We’ve also hit buildings that house Hamas’s finance ministry, foreign ministry, labor ministry and the construction and housing ministry.
Other operations continue as well.
A brief report here regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza. This information comes directly from an IDF spokesman dealing with issues of Gaza. Not only does each of you need to know the facts, they can be utilized in responding to inaccuracies in the media.
I’m seeing media reports that Gaza is without electricity. This is not the case. The Gaza generator is down, but it only supplies some 20% of Gaza’s power. We supply about 75% and even with this war we have not cut it off. And Egypt supplies about 5%.
There are absolutely sufficient humanitarian supplies being permitted into Gaza: food, medical supplies, medicines. Some 4,000 tons of supplies has gone in, and another 3,500 tons is scheduled.
Yesterday 20 Gazans requiring hospitalization were allowed to come through: most chronically ill, and one person who had been injured in an attack. This, says my IDF contact, is a routine day-to-day happening. All the hospitals in Israel care for Arabs from Gaza.
In case you still think the situation hasn’t changed with regard to Arab attitudes to what’s happening here, think again:
Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud al-Faisal, addressing the split between Fatah and Hamas, which he believes made this war possible, said, “We are telling our Palestinian brothers that your Arab nation cannot extend a real helping hand if you don’t extend your own hands to each other with love.” That’s a criticism obliquely leveled at Hamas.
And, according to a Saudi website with reportedly good connections, a radical Shiite Saudi cleric, Sheik Awadh al-Garni, who issued a fatwa, a religious edict, that Israeli interests around the world be targeted, has been arrested.
Egyptian President Mubarak, meanwhile, says that Egypt will not open the Rafah crossing fully until the PA is in charge there again, because Hamas control is not legitimate and should not be honored.
The PA has “suspended” peace talks with Israel for the duration of this operation. This is absolutely essential for them. How could they be seen dealing with us now?
The suspension was to protest the Israeli action, which “has resulted in 345 martyrs.” That means every Hamas terrorist we’ve killed is identified as a “martyr” by the PA.
Some small number of wounded Gazans has been brought to Iran for treatment, presumably transferred via Egypt. Egypt would not cooperate with transfer of a larger number.
Jordan will be taking about 40 wounded.