Tuesday, December 30, 2008

War With Hamas: Day 4

A kindergarten in Beer Sheva was hit by a Grad rocket Tuesday evening, causing light damage from the blast but not shrapnel. Channel 2’s reporter on the scene spoke to the kindergarten teacher who came to check to damage. She thanked God that the rocket didn’t hit in the morning when the building was filled with children. About ten pm two Grad rockets fell in a playground in Ashkelon lightly injuring one man. In all forty rockets fell on Israel today, reaching from Sderot near the Gaza border, as far as Beer Sheva nearly 25 miles away.

In Arad another man was injured. A rocket plowed into the dining hall of a kibbutz, and another hit a barn. Schools were closed as far as Yavne and Gadera. Matan Vilnai, deputy Defense minister told Israel Television’s channel 2 that they began the operation, “Hamas suffered heavily, with many killed, and Israel must continue the operation. This is not Hezbollah, he said. They are alone, they don’t work in concert. We have to continue until we finish this operation.”

When asked about the rockets hitting as far as Beer Sheva, he said, “The object was to clean the area of Hamas. We have just begun. The idea of this was to change the complexion of life in the Negev (from absorbing rocket fire to living in quiet). We knew that Hamas could fire rockets a distance, and they did. Every day that passes they’ll grow weaker. We have only passed four and a half days. Give it some time.”

When asked if his position on continuing the attacks was accepted by the cabinet, Vilnai laughed and avoided the answer.

Rumors flew around today that Israel was preparing a 48-hour ceasefire. A split apparently was forming between those who wanted to continue and even expand the attack and those who wanted to take the success accomplished so far, and call a cease-fire.

Some reported that the French Prime Minister Sarkozy has announced that he will come to Jerusalem on Monday in order to broker a cease-fire. This French move puts pressure on the Israeli government to begin to think of an exit strategy.

Many Israeli reserve Generals interviewed by the media said they saw no advantage to a ground operation since the Israeli air force was achieving such meaningful results without putting any Israeli fighters at risk.

According to military analysts Hamas has no anti-aircraft weapons, except some that date back forty or fifty years. This gives Israel a free hand in the air. The only wrinkle was the weather. Today in Israel the skies were overcast with frequent rain. The ground was muddy, and analysts said not conducive to a ground operation.

Over a hundred tanks, with supporting troops, commandos and paratroopers, are waiting at the border for orders to go into Gaza.

Channel 2’s Udi Segal reported that the meeting between the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Minister, as well as the heads of Miliary Inteligence and the Shabak, that if Israel does go into Gaza it won’t be one simple attack, but a number of different tactics. The discussion was expected to continue into the night, with a conclusion ready to present to the full cabinet on Wednesday.

Segal reported that Barak was in favor of a 48-hour humanitarian cease-fire, with the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister against it.

The longer the operation goes on the more voices will be raised for or against the action. Demonstrations against the IDF’s operation in Gaza broke out in the West Bank and among Arab neighborhoods in Israel. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a car in Wadi Ara, a main traffic artery from Israel’s coastline to the lower Galilee.

TV reports said that the city of Ashdod, with a population of 250,000, had streets as empty as Yom Kippur. The cities 40,000 students were told not to go to school tomorrow.

Israel continued the air attacks, including striking a series of tunnels along the Rafiah crossing. Analysts say that hundreds of tunnels snake beneath the sand from Egypt into Gaza. These tunnels provide pipelines for weapons and ammunition. So far Israel has struck only a fraction of them. A report in today’s newspapers said that Israel has so far destroyed about a third of the Hamas stockpile.

Israel TV reports that Hamas has prepared suicide bombers to meet the IDF ground forces should they cross into Gaza. One soldier was killed on the Israeli side of the border yesterday when a rocket fired from Gaza fell in the midst of the gathered troops.

Israelis have a hard time accepting the fact that the rockets can reach into Israel’s heartland. Residents of Sderot, with a population of about 15,000, say the rest of the country can now understand how they’ve felt for the last eight years. As long as Sderot was the sponge absorbing Hamas rockets nothing was done, they say, but now with rockets falling in Beer Sheva they’re certain Israel will do what is necessary to stop the attacks. As of now over 500,000 Israelis are now within range of Hamas rockets.

Military analysts say, however, that Hamas has not responded as strongly as they expected. When the operation began, Military experts said they expected as many as 200 rockets a day. So far the number is closer to 50. The experts said that this shows the serious effect Israel is having in Hamas. Some experts say that Hamas may get traction in the next few days, shake off the “shock and awe” of the constant bombing, and start firing. Others say that this won’t happen.

A Hamas rocket team that fired into Beer Sheva today was caught in the cross-hairs of an air force weapon and destroyed. Yesterday video showed a Hamas group loading a truck with Grad missiles, only to have Israeli missiles destroy twelve of them, live, on camera.

However Ronni Daniel, a former army officer and Military analyst for Israel’s Channel 2, said that Hamas can continue firing for the next three or four weeks. Even if there is a cease-fire he wondered aloud how long quiet would last in the Negev. Daniel hinted that the ground invasion was just a matter of time, because only the house to house tactics, meeting Hamas in their bases, and lairs, would have a significant effect. So far only a fraction of the 20,000 Hamas and Islamic fighters have been killed or injured.

Israel’s Chief-of-Staff Ashkenazi was quoted as saying that “difficult times await us.”

Israel’s President Shimon Peres told the media that the Hamas action defies logic. Left-wing writer Amos Oz told the Haaretz newspaper that Hamas was responsible for what it was receiving.