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Operation “Cast Lead” in Gaza – Military Push Needed

Sixteen days after the beginning of the military campaign in the Gaza strip, on Friday January 9th 2008, the U.N.’s Security Council’s decision has been published calling for a cease fire in Gaza. So far no strategic goals set by the Israeli government at the eve of the campaign have been achieved and the fighting will continue according to the decision made by the Israeli cabinet. In actuality, the meaning of the U.N.’s decision is an acceptance of Hamas’ rule in Gaza which has been arrived at via a violent and bloody coup in June 2007. The Israeli campaign’s objectives have not been achieved yet, the stockpiles of rockets and missiles and other weapons were not destroyed completely, the motivation of the Hamas leadership has not been quashed and they are feeling comfortable due to the multitude of mediators around the world enabling the Hamas to choose the path of mediation that will provide them in their eyes with the most rewards. The weapons’ arsenal backed by a radical Islamic ideology will be brought out of hiding at the first propitious time and used against Israel.

Within the Israeli government definitions and objectives of the campaign, the issue of the captive soldier Gilad Shalit was not included, but any cease fire agreement must include the return of the captive soldier to Israel. So far one clear and distinct objective has been reached – hurting the military branch of the Hamas and its symbols of government at the price of a severe hit to Israel’s international image.

Israel must place four pre-conditions for a ceasing of the initiated activity in the Gaza strip:

1. Dismantling Hamas’ military array, including the destruction of the rocket weapons and stopping the firing or any other terrorist act from Gaza towards Israel.

2. A serious ongoing campaign and the establishing of an effective oversight and enforcement mechanism across a period of time that will ensure the prevention of smuggling from the Egyptian border and the sea into the Gaza strip and preventing the re-armaments of the Hamas with the aid of Iran and the Hezbollah.

3. A prisoner exchange returning the kinapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

4. Establishing a civil Palestinian mechanism for the rehabilitation of the Gaza strip from its ruins and running the daily life. This mechanism will receive aid and donations from the international community and therefore one should ensure it is not connected in any way to the Hamas. The Rafah border crossing and the other passageways should be given to the Palestinian Authority’s Presidential Guard who operated them before the Hamas coup in June 2007.

Any ending of IDF’s presence and activity in Gaza without these four pre-conditions will give Hamas a victory as the firing upon Israeli cities still continues, their rule in Gaza continues even though they are now in hiding, and the U.N.’s Security Council provides them with legitimacy.

One should bear in mind that Iran is the one who built the Hamas armed capabilities in Gaza – with weapons, money and training, and if the rule of Hamas in Gaza survives, Iran will rebuild the Hamas armed capabilities from its ruins as it has done with the Hezbollah. In actuality, this is the second time Iran has had a war against Israel through proxies – this time it is the Hamas from Gaza and two and a half years ago it was the Hezbollah from Lebanon.

The U.N.’s decision and the feeble and shameful way of conduct of the international community in the face of Islamic terrorism, and especially when it comes to Israel, is proof of the double standard, the hypocrisy and cynicism. For years of fighting terrorism and dark violent radical Islam around the world, the U.N. has not thought of calling for a cease fire in Afghanistan, between NATO forces and the Taliban, nor between the U.S. and Al-Qaeda in Iraq. But when it comes to the Hamas and Israel – everything is allowed.

As for the IDF’s success in the field in face of the Hamas, after 16 days of fighting, the Hamas has been surprised by the attack and by its scope. Hamas have declared the end of the “Calm” (December 19th, 2008) escalating the scope of rocket firing towards Israel since it ended, did not asses correctly Israel’s response and were surprised, not just by the attack itself but also by the intensity of the attack and the quality of the precise intelligence Israel had which led to a total collapse of its fortified front lines, governmental infrastructures and its symbols.

So far in the course of the campaign, almost 900 targets were attacked in the Gaza strip, most of them belonging to Hamas. The main impact of the attacks were directed towards the manufacturing and storage array of weapons and rockets, command posts, Hamas commanders, launching rockets areas, logistics and support infrastructures, such as the tunnel system for smuggling weapons on the “Philadelphi Route” on the border with Egypt. The extensive damage was also evident to the government institutions of the Hamas crippling its ability to rule.

At this stage it can be said that the Hamas in the Gaza strip has taken a severe blow, but for now still keeps its abilities as a semi-military terrorist organization to maintain a certain level of a guerrilla warfare style in the urban dense populated areas inside Gaza. Hamas senior officials and its Iz A-Din Al Qassam Brigades, which went underground immediately after the beginning of the campaign, still can manages to keep a reasonable level of control on the forces, and manage the fighting from fortified bunkers and subterranean tunnels deployed in advance across the urban regions in Gaza strip using the civilians as a human shield. Alongside, certain hits were seen to the mid-level official military ranks of the forces, where regional commanders were attacked such as: Mamdouh Jamal and Mustafa Dalul (Gaza) and Mohammad Ibrahim Sha’ar (Rafah). In addition, a significant number of the field commanders in the strip have lost their homes due to Israeli air raids, which served as weapons arsenals and as war rooms for managing the fighting.

The Rockets Layout

It seems that so far also Hamas’ rocket array has sustained losses on a personal level, when in the course of the campaign Ayman Siam, the array commander, was hurt, as well as Mohammad Akram Shabat and Hussam Mohammad Hamdan, artillery commanders in Beit Hanun and Han Yunes and Amir Mansi the rockets’ commander in the Gaza city area.

The damage sustained by the rocket manufacturing and storage arrays, including the attack on the launching sites and the launching groups, was severe, but yet not succeeded in collapsing the entire array. Hamas is still capable launching average of 30 rockets per day on Israeli populated areas although around 75% of the rockets have landed in open areas inside Israel. This ongoing launching capability emphasizes the fact that Hamas has prepared subterranean sites for launching rockets, fortified bunkers and a subterranean tunnel system connecting the launch sites, storage places and subterranean command centers for managing the fighting which still are operational with additional capabilities of movable rockets (hidden in cars, trucks etc.). The Hamas mortars firing capabilities are still an operational challenge for Israel as by its nature this weapon is hard to detect in advance and the Israeli hunt is still ongoing within real time intelligence and operational capabilities.

Military push needed

In order to further strike Hamas, the ground offensive must be expanded and more forces should be thrown into battle intended to maintain the operational and the psychological pressure and the momentum to crash and suppress Hamas’ remaining operational capabilities and influence its leaders’ motivations. At this time, Iz A-Din Al Qassam Brigades is starting relatively in some locations to recover and to attack IDF forces deployed at more or less static positions within the Strip. This is one of the reasons why three IDF soldiers were killed and several others were wounded. The maintenance of static positions will necessarily prompt more Hamas attempts to harm Israeli soldiers and will inevitably lead to more casualties. Israel needs to boost the military pressure within the Strip via the advancement of IDF forces and a ceaseless offensive that will require Hamas to assume a defensive posture and hide, instead of embarking on attacks on IDF forces. Offensive IDF activity would also force the international players and Egypt to accelerate their efforts and agree to an effective mechanism for blocking the Philadelphi Route. The current state of affairs requires Israel to adopt a military move that is not necessarily a full takeover of the Strip.

The Palestinian Public

As for the Palestinian people in Gaza, in view of the Hamas leaders and its senior officials going underground and the digging in of the various Hamas entities in the subterranean system prepared by the movement in advance, the population gets exposed to a huge sufferings and casualties while their leaders “democratically” elected by them, abandoned and disconnected themselves completely. It can be said that Hamas leadership who is protected its hideouts, is fighting until the last drop of the Palestinian population in Gaza. Palestinian Hamas’ adversaries in Gaza, the West Bank and around the world point an accusatory finger towards Hamas leaders in Gaza, which is perceived in their eyes as the one mainly responsible for the strategic mistake undertaken by Hamas leaders to break off the temporary cease fire with Israel and undergo a irresponsible outrageous risky violent path at the expense and on the back of the population in Gaza. These groups criticize the Hamas and its leaders, who cynically took care of themselves but abandoned the Palestinian suffering population in Gaza strip to pay the price.