Thursday, January 29, 2009

Human Shields

Hamas has resumed firing rockets into Israel. Two have fallen in the South in the last couple of days. A roadside bomb exploded near an Israeli Army Jeep killing one soldier and wounding another. Some Israelis are now saying that Israel didn’t go far enough in operation Cast Lead, and made a mistake leaving the Hamas leadership in place, not entering Gaza City, not securing the release of Gilad Shalit. The Israeli public now seems to think that the troika of Olmert, Livni and Barak wasted valuable lives, time and resources.

Yet, according to media reports, critics of Israel’s actions in Gaza have fallen victim to the same illogical rhetoric espoused by Chavez, the leader of Venezuela, that Israel is guilty of the aggression, not Hamas. This is the same man who stood proudly arm in arm with Iranian leader Achminajad, apparently sharing a hope for the destruction of both the USA and Israel.

A few American professors have reportedly joined the Chavez camp. Pictures in the newspapers show demonstrations, usually lead by people wearing Arab kafyiah’s around their necks, holding signs PLO flags, and calling for Israel’s destruction, while some of the protestors chant ‘death to the Jews.’ Many of the professors are also of Arab origin. Some of the protestors, including the Nobel Prize-winning nuclear scientist al Baradeh, clearly have pro-Arab sympathies.

Recent polls show that 88 per cent of Israelis supported operation Cast Lead. These same Israelis are angry at the double standard shown by a world apparently insensitive to Israel’s plight.

‘Israel,’ write one of the bloggers, ‘responded to eight years of Hamas rocket attacks that followed a long campaign of Hamas suicide bombers destroying lives within Israel’s borders.’

This blogger isn’t unusual. First-rate Israeli columnists take a similar line. Israel is now undergoing international condemnation for attacking Hamas, who with cold calculation used the poor Palestinians as Human Shields. Israel has smart officers, smart soldiers, smart bombs, but none of them are capable of shooting a bullet, a cannon shell, or a rocket, that can dodge around the Human Shields and hit the Hamas fighters behind them, firing rockets into Israel.

And these Human Shields aren’t always unwilling to help Hamas. It must be remembered, wrote one columnist, that Hamas won the general election by a wide majority. That Human Shields are part of the Hamas strategy. Just as were the suicide bombers. The same kind of suicide bombers, true-believers, haters of the Western devil, who flew 747s into New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Hamas leaders yesterday complained that U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell was talking to the wrong people if he was talking to PA leader Abbas and others in Fatah.
Hamas leaders want to be considered as the ones in charge of the Palestinian liberation movement. Not the PA (known as Fatah).

News reports claim that Hamas used the recent Operation Cast Lead as an excuse to settle scores with some Fatah fighters. Israel TV ran a chilling account of one Fatah soldier who lost both legs when Hamas fighters accused him of being an Israeli spy then knee-capped him. Another Fatah fighter was first shot in the legs, then had his eyes gouged out, after being accused of spying for Israel. Hamas fighters returned a few days later and killed the man.

As Golda Meir was quoted as saying about previous Palestinians, like Arafat, ‘These are not nice boys.’ What escapes the attention of those castigating Israel is that Israel is not secure in the Middle East. It is in many ways a fragile house on stilts built along a river that is given to floods. Unless Israel makes certain that the levy is strong and high, the river will overwhelm the house, rise past the stilts and sweep the house away.

‘When Hamas hit Israeli towns and cities with rockets over an eight-year period, where were the world’s liberals?’ Israelis now ask. Israel, they say, pulled out of the Gaza Strip, dismantled Jewish settlements there (leaving bunkers and bomb shelters that Hamas uses to store weapons ammunition and where the leaders hide out).Still the rockets continued to fall.

Israel withdrew from the security zone in S. Lebanon. The UN agreed Israel was out, but still Hezbollah claimed that a sliver of land a few hundred meters long, was occupied. This was their excuse to continue firing on Israel. And kidnap Israeli soldiers.

Iran is behind these attacks, both in the north and in the south. Iran is an implacable enemy. Radical Islam purports to want to drive Israel into the sea. Arab pride is at stake as long as Israel exists.

As Israeli author Amos Oz said in an interview, talking about his family that had fled Nazi Germany for Israel. “They didn’t want us there. They don’t want us here. They just don’t want us.” Oz supported operation Cast Lead, saying it was intolerable for Hamas to fire rockets at Israel without an Israeli response.

Chavez and Achminajad call Israel’s actions in Gaza ‘war crimes.’ One analyst wrote: ‘where does that put those in the West who side with these people? Hamas is a terrorist organization, defined as such by the EU and the USA. Yet Hamas knows how to play the press and world opinion like Yitzchak Pearlman plays the violin. Human Shields are used when Hamas fires rockets at Israel, but it is only the corpses of those Human Shields that the media photographs.’

Another pundit said, ‘Israel can’t afford to wait for the Arabs to get stronger. In this part of the world when you’re attacked you have to strike back, or the enemy thinks you’re weak, and keeps attacking, each time stronger. Soon you’re chased off the street corners, beat up when you walk down the street, your windows broken. Krystalnacht. The camps are next. Then the world asks why? How did this happen?

‘Israel can’t afford to wait for the bully to get strong enough to become another Hitler. One was enough, and he nearly destroyed an entire people, and the world as we know it. As the Hebrew philosopher Hillel wrote: “If I am not for me, who is? And if not now, when?”’

Another commentator referred to President Barak Obama’s attitude. ‘When the civil rights movement was in full swing, Aretha Franklin’s song “Respect” was very popular. The black Americans wanted respect. Obama gave them that. Now he believes, and he may be right, that by respecting Iran and Syria and the Hezbollah and Hamas, these hostile people may begin to act like civilized human beings, rather than angry, vengeful, blood-thirty thugs.’

Last night Professor Ruth Gavison, who was on the Winograd Committee examining the last War in Lebanon, said that referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as “Terrorists” rather than “fighters” demeans them. Makes them angry. Insults them. She suggested, perhaps already under the influence of Obama, that more fitting descriptions are made. U.S.Special Envoy George Mitchell seems to believe this as well. Israeli pundits say, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all it took to make peace was respecting people?”

One analyst said, ‘Look back at another Barak, Ehud Barak, when he was Prime Minister of Israel negotiating a peace treaty with PA leader Yassir Arafat. Remember them at Camp David? Barak gave Arafat ‘respect.’ Even to the point of a friendly tussle at the door to a cabin in Camp David, with each insisting on the other’s first passage through the portal. But Arafat still turned down the agreement, and started another Intifada.’

Wouldn’t it be nice if just giving ‘respect’ was enough? Tony Blair, the EU Envoy to the Middle East, said that in solving the problem between Britain and the IRA respect was necessary, and attention to all the little details that arose.

Roger Cohen, writing in the New York Times, thought that Obama’s approach to talking to the Iranians and other Arabs through the Al Arabiya TV channel was the right thing to do. Obama told Muslims they have nothing to fear from the USA. He give them ‘respect.’

Today Achminajad can kill more Jews than Hitler did over a ten-year period by firing one missile with a nuclear warhead. These are tough guys, our Arab cousins, not willing to back down.

If Arab honor can be restored, that honor lost in ’48, battered in ’67, crushed in the Intifadas, this would go a long way to paving the path for a peaceful solution to the conflict. That’s if the Arab parties are willing to accept Israel as a legitimate entity in the Middle East. If not, all the talking in the world isn’t going to work, and peace will have to wait until the insults of defeat are forgotten. Hopefully these memories can be erased by if prosperity is allowed to flourish through trade, commerce, and friendship.

Meanwhile, as W.H.Auden wrote: “Tomorrow the bicycle races, today the struggle.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why Was Gaza Differnt Than Berlin?

An Israeli soldier was wounded and three were injured when their Jeep was hit by a roadside bomb as the soldiers patrolled near the kissufim crossing along the Gaza Strip.

Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas leader, said Israel was to blame for continuing to fire into Gaza. Al-Masri said his group had not agreed to a full cease-fire but only to a lull in fighting.

Israeli political sources were quick to respond, calling for a withering attack in response to the bombing. Yideot Achranot military commentator Ron Ben Ishai said Israel had to respond with extreme force to deter Hamas from starting another unceasing hail of rockets on the southern border towns.

Israel’s Forign Minister Tzipi Livi, leader of the Kadi party called for a quick and hard attack on Hamas. Defense Minister Barak told a group of military cadets that Israel had to respond to the Hamas attack but that Israel should chose when, and how. Barak also told Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet that Israel had to strike back hard at any group that attacked, presently ,or in the future. Both Livni and Barak are competing for the Prime Minister’s seat against Likud front runner Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyhu.

According to the polls, Netanyhu’s Likud leads with nearly 30 Knesset seats, followed by Livni’s Kadima with 26 and Barak’s Labor with 20. Right-wing nationalist Avigdor Leiberman’s new party has risen in the polls to approximately 17 seats. Leiberman’s daughter made headlines today with reports she’d been arrested for running a money laundering business.

Leiberman is on the books of his daughter’s company for a salary of approximately $600,000 a year. Police claim they have 2,500 documents as evidence of Leiberman’s corruption. The investigation against Leiberman has been going on for nearly 10 years. Leiberman claims the latest uproar is politically motivated, falling too close to the elections to be coincidental. The police deny any connection between the investigation and the elections.

A group of European nations that volunteered to supply gunships to patrol the waters off Gaza to keep arms shipments from reaching Hamas were asked not to bring their ships near the Gaza coast. Egypt’s president Husnei Mubarak warned that these ships might upset ‘Arab sensibilities.”

Reports in the press state that Hamas is quickly rebuilding it’s network of tunnels, and already receiving arms shipments.

The world’s press has been pouring over the Gaza strip, reporting on the damage, death and injuries. The damage to Gaza’s infrastructure is daunting, horrific in some cases. The IDF today published pictures of Hamas rocket teams using the walls of a UN school as protection as they fired against Israeli targets.

Pundits have asked about the double standards of the world’s press, and some governments. Clearly, the pundits say, there’s opportunism at play, the popularity of harshly criticizing Israel while taking the side of the hapless Palestinians, the unfortunate women and children, killed by the IDF strikes on Gaza.

However, they point out, the EU envoy visiting the region blamed Hamas for the death of civilians because Hamas used them at ‘human shields.’

Analysts point out that Hamas was the popularly elected representatives of the Palestinian people in Gaza. The people of Gaza support Hamas and its fight against Israel. Not all, of course, but the majority.

Today is International Holocaust Memorial Day. Military analysts say that in Germany during World War II, Hitler thought nothing of sending the Lufwaffe to blanket bomb London, sending the civilians into the subways seeking shelter. The Allies, when their turn came, carpet bombed German cities, like Koln, Dresden, Munich and Berlin, leaving cities in rubble. Civilians, women, children, were killed in these attacks. The loss of life was terrible.

These analysts ask ‘When Hamas fires rockets at Israel from Gaza, or Hezbollah rockets at Israel from Lebanon, are they any different than Hitler and his Lufwaffe? Than the Blitzkrieg? If so, how?’

Israeli commentators say that it is truly unfortunate that this destruction had to come to Gaza. Israel didn’t ask for it. Israel withdrew from Lebanon. Israel withdrew from Gaza’s Israeli settlements. Israel even withdrew from Gaza after operation Cast Lead. None of these moves towards peace had any effect on Hamas.

Hezbollah, Israel’s minister of defense Ehud Barak says, was so beaten up by the War in Lebanon II, so much damage done to Beirut, that they were in no hurry to start another shooting war with Israel.

Analysts thought Hamas learned the same lesson. The idea, according to the analysts, was to use such overwhelming force against Hamas that not only would Israel’s soldiers be protected, but the damage would be so horrific that Hamas would think twice before any further attacks.

The attack on the Gaza border this morning may have been a test of Israel’s determination to respond to Hamas. Hamas knows Gaza is under the world’s microscope. Hamas knows that the arrival Wednesday of George Mitchell, special envoy to the Middle East sent by newly elected US President Barak Obama will temper any strong Israeli response.

Political observers look to Barak Obama as the great hope for solutions to all sorts of problems, from finance to solving the crisis in the Middle East. Obama, they say, plans to talk to Arab leaders before fighting, which they think is a laudable goal. Israel, they point out, has tried to talk to Hamas, to Hezbollah, to other radical groups, to no avail. President Obama may quell the warlike tendencies of Iran towards the USA, but when it comes to Israel the situation is different.

Historians point out that Chamberlain couldn’t talk Hitler out of trying to take over the world. The destruction of much of Germany by US and Allied forces was the result. Observers say that the Hamas types are like the fanatic Nazis. Fanatics don’t want to talk.

Israeli pundits say all Israel can hope is that people start to see that Hamas, and her supporters like Iran and Syria, are more like Nazi Germany than any civilized Western country. Even amid the rubble, it appears as if Hamas plans to keep on attacking Israel, drawing fire, bringing negative press down on Israel’s head as Gaza’s citizens become ‘Shahidim’ martyrs in the fighting.

Unfortunately, as long as Israel can respond to Hamas, the answer will only be more rubble. But as one pundit put it, if President Obama can talk Hamas, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and even Al Queda, out of belligerency, then he deserves more than the Nobel Peace Prize, he deserves a crown, a throne, and anointing oil.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Words On Stone

Words On Stone
By Samovar Lightfoot

All rights reserved
Price Communications, Inc.
P.O.Box 45228
Jerusalem, Israel 97451
1,476 words

Sammy Lightfoot’s the name I was given at my grandmother Sadie Greenstein’s insistence. She was a nice old woman. Small, plump beneath a flowered housedress, always smiling, Hadassah arms, you know, the kind that hang loose beneath biceps that were once strong and muscular from hoisting endless children and grandchildren.

I remember she made terrific brown sugar cookies. On the High Holidays she baked apple pies, dozens of them, spread out on every flat surface in the small apartment where we all lived. Six of us, in three rooms, yelling at each other when the “L” train went by not twenty yards away across Glenwood Avenue. There was always another “L” train. We didn’t know we were shouting. We’d go out to visit people and they’d tell us ‘stop yelling.’

Sadie had nearly been thrown out of the Greenstein family when she’d married my grandfather Ernie Lightfoot, a one hundred per cent Anapaho Indian, who for a while back in the 1930’s was a famous movie star. Over the years she lost contact with the New York City Greenstein clan. She’s said she had a recollection of a nephew, Phillip, but not what happened to him.

I’d become a photojournalist. Nothing big. A few jobs here and there for small magazines, lot of industrial work taking pictures of soap and fancy boxes holding hi-tech computer boards, but it was a living. Not much different from driving a bread truck, like my father. And I’d moved to Israel. That was another story. I’d lived in Jerusalem over twenty years. I’d tell people, ‘Jerusalem isn’t Israel. It’s another world. Another country.’ But Aleza, my Israeli-born wife, would shh me, saying it was bad to say that.

One of the things I guess I got from Sadie, but also from living in Israel, was a sense of history. Of family. Israel was a place you thought about history and ancestors. The whole place was filled with Abraham, Solomon, Moses: wherever you turned, history. Conflicts 3,000 years old were still the foundation stones of shooting wars. I’d decided it was important for my family, my own two children, a new branch starting in Israel, to know what their roots were.

When I was young Sadie was always preaching that everything happened for a reason. Me, I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t all chaos. According to Sadie’s way of thinking not finding her long-lost family had to be for a reason.. ‘B’shert.’ Fated.

And into this mess stepped my friend Leo, an amateur genealogist; a skinny, brainy, bald guy with hair sprouting from his ears and eyebrows like wheat before the harvest. He was in touch with a network of genealogists because he translated stuff for them. Leo spoke about six languages, read and wrote them, too, but slowly. He was a child of the Holocaust. Still he was a cheery guy. Sort of sneaky, sometimes, but what could you expect after what he’d been through?
Leo said he’d look up the family, ask around. And that’s what he did. Every once in a while I’d get a discouraging report, “No progress. This is a tough case.”

On the eve of a trip back to the States for a family wedding, Leo showed up at my Jerusalem apartment. He was like that. The bell rang and there was Leo, an envelope under his arm, his discolored teeth showing through the grin. “I think I have something,” he said, came in for the ritual Scotch, sat in the living room and pulled out a photograph of a headstone.

“Israel Ben Chaim Greenstein,HaLavi,” he said, beaming. Israel Greenstein had been Sadie’s grandfather. “The headstone’s in Brooklyn, at the Washington Cemetery,” Leo said watching me over the glass as I stared at the picture of the stone. He spoke with a slight European accent. “That’s it. I thought since anyway you’re going to New York; if you have maybe a chance, you could stop by the cemetery office. I tried, but me they won’t answer. They said. I’m not family.”

So, on a chilly fall afternoon in New York Aleza and I took the subway to Brooklyn, following a map we’d downloaded from MapQuest and printed back at the hotel. We walked into the office of the Washington Cemetery, an ancient gray wood-frame building with creaky floors.. Most of the staff was Russian, speaking English like receptionists in the Intourist hotel in Moscow. They sat behind a thick bulletproof glass window, the kind you find in a currency exchange. All they had on Israel Ben Chaim Greenstein HaLavi was the one note card with the name and where the grave was located.

“Any other Greensteins here?” I asked. The blowsy dyed-blond woman smiled, showing a gold tooth, giving us a photocopy of a map. She marked an x on the spot with a thick magic marker, looked up and said,. “Greenstein? Here, that’s like Smith.”

We made our way through the cemetery, actually a collection of cemeteries separated by fences and streets, stretching over blocks of Brooklyn. The farther you walked the older the graves. The newcomer Russians had staked out the narrow spaces parallel to the sidewalks where shiny black marble headstones stood embossed with line-drawn portraits of the deceased. Behind these new arrivals were vertical rows of graves with weathered marble headstones so worn the engraved letters were nearly invisible.

The Greenstein headstone was at the far corner of the cemetery right where the blond had said, a few rows in front of a ten-foot high rusting cyclone fence. On the other side stood a three-story yellow-brick Jewish day school, with young voices singing the ‘aleph-bes’ muffled but audible through the closed windows. A lot of the headstones were sunk crookedly into the ground, overgrown with weeds; the letters so battered by harsh New York winters, and acid rain, they disappeared in the marble.

All except for Israel Ben Chaim Greenstein HaLavi. The first think I saw was that he’d died in 1912. His black marble headstone was upright, the carved letters painted in clean white paint, a well-tended hedge over the grave.

Excited, I trotted back to the cemetery office, asked the blond to check the files, see if anyone had been paying for upkeep. Another look into the metal drawers, more shuffling of the note cards, but nope; no one was paying for anything. “Sometimes people hire private contractors, and don’t tell us,” the blond said. “They’re not supposed to, but they do.”

Back at the grave it seemed to have turned appreciably colder. The weatherman had predicted an unseasonably early snow for the New York area. I dug a notepad out of my back jeans pocket and I carefully and clearly wrote the message, giving the address and telephone number and even e-mail, explaining I was a relative. Thinking of the impending storm, I wrapped the note tightly in a used sandwich bag and placed two baseball-sized rocks on the bag to keep the message in place should a strong wind blow. Placing a stone on a Jewish grave was also a sign someone had paid their respects. I’d put on two, and a message. Sadie would have been proud.

The next morning was cold. Frost on the windows of our inexpensive no-view mid-town Manhattan hotel. I logged onto my e-mail account with my laptop lying on the kitchen table of our junior suite. We’d cleaned out Macy’s and Aleza was struggling to fit everything in our suitcases. Our plane was due to leave in a few hours.

Then I saw my friend Leo’s e-mail. It seemed to leap out at me. It was hours old. Middle of the night now in Israel. “We found him!” Leo wrote. “The nephew of your grandmother. He’s name is Phil. Now he’s in his late seventies, living in a retirement village in Florida. Changed his name to Green. I spoke to him. He was very excited to find out about you. Says he has a brother, and children, and grandchildren, and cousins. I’ll give you the phone number when you get home.”

Aleza walked in heading to the sink for a glass of water. “Don’t give them my address,” she said, after reading the e-mail. “We’ve got cousins now we don’t talk to. We don’t need any more.”

"Later, in the cab, heading for the airport, I sat looking out the window at the old cemetery flashing by on the way out to Kennedy wondering about the e-mail, if there really was a connection to the message under the rocks I'd left on the headstone. Wondering what the Phillip Greenstein cousins would say when I contacted them, which I planned to do. Fate or chaos? Or like Aleza, they might already have enough cousins."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Time Will Tell

The war is over in Israel, or rather, this battle has ended. There will always be another one. There always has been. The best that can be said of this one is it was run well. About 850 rockets fell on Israel; nothing like the 4,000 that Hezbollah fired at the north in 2006. Then, a million people fled their homes.

Then, the Israeli army arrived to fight Hezbollah, but they arrived with no battle plan, no water, food, and sometimes no ammunition awaiting them. This time the army had a plan they'd been drawing up for two years, extensively training troops for months.

Barak the professional soldier turned politician was an entirely different ballgame than Peretz the politician turned unqualified and thus incompetent Minister of Defense. Gabi Ashkenazi, the Chief -Of-Staff, kept his head down and did his job, rather than strutting arrogantly in front of the cameras bragging about ill-conceived and poorly executed battle-plans like his predecessor Dan Halutz. And most of all, Hamas ducked and hid when the IDF rolled into Gaza. This was a walk in the park compared to 2006.

Last night Israel Television’s Channel 10 reported that during operation Cast Lead the Israeli Navy intercepted an Iranian ship on the way to Gaza. The Navy found long-range missiles that military intelligence says were meant not for Hamas in the south but for Hezbollah in the North.

Analysts stress that Iran is seeking to replace Egypt as the leader of the Arab world. Who can blame them? Everyone wants to be the boss, the hero, the success. Politicians like Iran’s President Achminijad long for the limelight. Dictators always do. Now we have Barak Obama to confront him. Maybe that will work.

Observers of the Middle East point out that honor is one of the greatest underlying factors in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the Israeli 1948 ‘War of Independence,’ the Arabs assembled their mightiest army to confront and defeat the 'infidels' but were soundly and astonishingly beaten back by a small force of Jews. This insult has not been forgotten.

Since then other insults have been handed to them, usually with violence. The checkpoints set up between the West Bank and Israel, and Gaza and Israel added to the problem. Arab workers, businessmen, housewives, pregnant women, were insulted on a daily basis by 18-year old IDF soldiers with guns. These Arabs, most of whom only wanted to go peacefully from point A to point B, were harassed, made to wait for hours in the sun and rain, sometimes denied passage.

Of course, with suicide bombers and dangerous terrorists on the lose, Israel had every right to do what they did. Of course sometimes the Arabs were abuses by the soldiers, but sometimes given humanitarian aid. This situation could not, and cannot be altered. The reality is that some Arabs are out to kill Jews, and the innocent Arabs, get caught up in the filter, clogging the checkpoints.

Bottom line, you've got a lot of angry, insulted Arabs. You’ve got teenagers who have seen their mothers and fathers and sisters humiliated at the checkpoints. Proud Arab men who have seen their wives insulted by Israeli teenagers with guns. Family honor is cherished by Arabs. This honor is consistently battered by Israelis.

Imagine going into work, herded into a cement enclosure, having to uncomfortably wait in a noisy crowd for an hour or two, finally glared at by young, suspicious, perhaps frightened, border guards ready to pounce as you walk, head down, staring at the ground, through the checkpoint?

Then at night, the same thing in reverse, finally reaching home, sitting down at the dinner table, facing the family as the ‘Man’, carrying the embarrassment like a heavy burden. Honor is one of the keys to the problem of the conflict, say the pundits.

Israeli author David Grossman suggests the time has come to talk. That fighting doesn’t solve the problems. Maybe the newly elected U.S. President Barak Obama understands that. Maybe giving Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran some honor will work. But maybe it is just turning over Czechoslovakia to Hitler.

You may recall British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace for our time" speech on 30 September 1938 concerning the Munich Agreement, when Chamberlain gave the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Adolph Hitler in an attempt to satisfy his desire for Lebensraum or "living space" for Germany. The German occupation of the Sudetenland began on the next day, 1 October.

We'll see if Obama is Roosevelt or Chamberlain. Some hope he’s Truman.

So far ‘Barry O’ as one right-wing columnist, who we shall not name, and probably shouldn’t quote, disparagingly called U.S. President Barak Obama, ‘has decided to talk to terrorists, free suspects from detention, and put pressure on Israel for a peaceful solution to the Middle East crises.’ The columnist wondered where Barak got the idea Israel has the ability to do that.

‘But we'll see,’ wrote the columnist. ‘He wants to pull out of Iraq. I doubt he'll ever get around to talking the Taliban into peace. He may be right. Or not. But now, let’s consider this: he has an Arab name, but is a proud patriotic America. He is a rock-star. He can do no wrong. He is the epitome of the 'celebrity' culture. He surrounds himself with Jewish advisors. His chief-of-staff comes from a Zionist family. The joke is he has a minyan provided for his staff.

‘Then he goes to the torture chambers set-up to catch dangerous terrorists and closes them down. He goes to Guantánamo Bay and releases, among others, a leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch from the US interrogation and holding facility in Cuba. He says he’ll close it down within a year. He stops all the trials. He will ultimately release all the prisoners.

‘Then he back off pressuring Iran. This according to some allows Iran to quickstep their nuclear program. Momar Ghadaffi, the Lybian leader, suggests Obama speak to Bin Ladin, the terrorist chieftain responsible for bombing the twin towers, and other heinous crimes.

‘Two days in office, and already some are wondering if indeed those who questioned Obama's loyalties weren't right. If perhaps this is the "Manchurian Candidate", updated, all over again?’

Sometimes the hapless bureaucrat like the Robert Redford character in ’Three Days of the Condor’ stumble onto an unpleasant truth simply by accident. Let’s hope that our right-wing columnist isn’t like that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Operation 'Cast Lead' Cease-fire Continues

No rockets fell in the south for the first time since operation "Cast Lead" began. Schools were opened, and students returned to school. The towns and villages of the South returned to "shigra' or normal life.

Israel opened up the Karni and Kerem Shalom crossings. Reportedly over 200 trucks were allowed into the Gaza strip. The trucks carried medical supplies, food, and fresh vegetables.

Now everything in Israel is geared to the upcoming elections scheduled to take place in three weeks time. Israeli leaders, like Hamas, say they won the conflict. "An operation not a war," one retired general called it. "We achieved what we set out to do," he said. "It was either stop and pull out, or get stuck in Gaza feeding the population or a million and a half people." The goal was to seriously weaken Hamas, according to many sources, and they did. No one wanted to destroy Hamas, because they were worried about anarchy slipping into the vacuum.

There is disappointment that the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit was not freed. Hopefully he will get out in some sort of cease-fire deal, but the hopes are slim. The local Red-Cross representative says that so far no pressure has been put on Hamas to even show 'signs of life.' The Red-Cross says it has never been allowed to even visit Gilad Shalit. The Israelis say that the Red-Cross should pressure Hamas. "We are a humanitarian orginzation. We are not here to exercise pressure," say a Red-Cross representative. "If you want someone to exercise pressure, ask your government."

Reportedly Hamas has said it was surprised at the overwhelming force the IDF used in operation 'Cast Lead.' Hamas reportedly told Arab leaders at the recent Doha conference that they expected the IDF operation to last no more than 3-says.

Israeli analysts say that the destruction that Israel caused may so shock the population that they influence Hamas to change their aggressive tactics. Time will tell. But Israel has sword to react with overwhelming force to any future Hamas rocket attack. So far no rockets fell on Israel during the first day of the cease-fire.The army says it is ready to go back into Gaza when the necessity arises. Pundits expect that that will happen sooner or later.

Diplomatic efforts are still continuing aimed at providing Israel with security along the Southern border, stop the steady flow of weapons into Gaza, and relieve the poverty in Gaza. PA leader Mohamed Abbas is the choice of the west to at least share power with Hamas in Gaza. Egypt is considered the key to any scenario, although pundits warn that Egypt will not be any more effective this time stopping the supply of arms to Gaza than they have been over the last few years.

Iran is still out there lurking like Darth Vader. Cabinet Minister Tzachi Hanegegbi, who sits on the Security and Defense Committee, said that Iran was still a serious threat that could not be ignored. Right-wing Israeli Knesset member Avigdor Leiberman said that within a year Hamas would have the more powerful Iranian supplied Fajr rockets with a range that could strike Tel Aviv. Reportedly Israel destroyed 80 percent of the smuggling tunnels from Egypt but Leiberman says Hamas will soon rebuild them, and the violence will begin again.

Iran's president Achminijad yesterday congratulated Hamas leader Mashal and Gaza Hamas chief Hanniyeh on their success in the war with Israel.

Ephraim HaLevi, former head of the Mossad, said this is the time for Hamas to be allowed to do a "chesbon nefesh" an accounting, let them absorb the damage done to them, and then think about other alternatives. HaLevi said after reflection Hamas may change their ways, not give up their ideology, but their tactics.

The inauguration of U.S. President Barak Obama is eagerly awaited in Israel. The ceremony will be broadcast live. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told Israel radio's Reshet Bet that operation 'Cast Lead' has moved the issue of settling the conflict in the Middle East to a high priority. Indyk is one of Obama's many Jewish advisers on the Middle East.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 23 "Cease-Fire"

Despite the unilateral seven-day cease-fire called by Israel at 02:00 Sunday morning, Hamas fired nearly 20 missiles into Israel; one a direct hit on a home in Ashdod. One man was injured and another suffered from shock. Israel returned fire at targets reportedly firing the rockets.

According to Israel’s deputy Defense Minister Ben Eliezer it will take a few days for the cease-fire to filter down to all the fighters in the field. At approximately three-o’clock in the afternoon in the Middle East Damascus based Hamas leader Mashal said Hamas, joined by Islamic Jihad, would accept the weeklong cease-fire, and has instructed its fighters to stop firing at Israel.

Israel radio reporter Nissim Kenan said from Beer Sheva that rockets continue to fall, and that while Hamas has agreed to the cease-fire, rockets continue to fall.

Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet, said that not all the smuggling tunnels were destroyed, and that Hamas could rearm within months. Israel Radio’s Arab Affairs reporter Yoni Ben-Menachem said that it seemed to him inevitable that Israel would have to continue the fighting after the one-week break.

According to the IDF’s Chief of Intelligence Major-General Amos Yadlin, Hamas will seek retribution for damages it sustained during operation ‘Cast Lead.’ Yadlin said Hamas will try to change the picture Israel painted and “even the score,” using among other things terror attacks. Yadlin told the Israeli cabinet on Sunday that Hamas was left “shame-faced” by Israel’s call for a unilateral cease-fire and had trouble deciding which stance to take. He said hundreds of Hamas commanders were killed, and that Hamas is hiding the true extent of the damage to their organization.

Israel’s Chief-of-Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told the cabinet “Hamas has not disappeared.”

Defense Minister Barak originally suggested the cease-fire. Foreign Minister Livni wanted an immediate cease-fire that would mark the permanent end of the fighting. Analysts said the cease-fire is geared to allow the Palestinians time to look at the damage done and decide that further fighting was fruitless.

Hamas has demanded that Israel withdraw immediately from the Gaza Strip and open the six crossing points. Israel has said it will not withdraw the troops until a final cease-fire agreement is signed. Pundits say that if the Hamas fighters won’t stop firing then Israel will resume the fighting, pushing into the heavily populated Gaza City.

Hamas leaders said they give Israel a week to withdraw from Gaza. Iranian Foreign Minister declared a victory over Israel. This while the leadership is still in hiding, over 1,200 Palestinians killed, and over 5,000 wounded. Today another 95 bodies were found in the rubble in Gaza.

Aluf Ben writing in the Haaretz newspaper said that Hamas has won international legitimacy and sympathy, and that Hamas forces still control Gaza.

A summit on Gaza began in Sharm El Shek, Egypt, with the Prime Minister of France, Germany, Britain, and Egypt in attendance. France PM Sarkozy said that Egypt was a key figure in the peace. Egyptian President later said that he would not agree to an international force in the Egyptian side of Gaza. Egyptian spokesman said a solution must be reached to stop the smuggling of weapons.

Israel Radio’s commentator Yoni Ben-Menachem said the summit, according to Palestinians, is a precursor to the meeting of the Arab League in Kuwait this week, where the summary of the Sharm El Shek summit will be discussed. Ben-Menachem said the Kuwait meeting would discuss over $3 Billion in aid that PA President Abbas will request to rebuilt Gaza.

The struggle, according to Ben-Menachem is between the Egyptians, French, British and Germans, against the Iranian backed Hamas and other forces. He said that Egypt was against the international force because it worried that in the event of an unstable government in Egypt the force might decide to invade Cairo. Israel is also concerned the force could be used to prevent Israel’s air force from operating in the Negev in Israel’s south. “The agreement on the issue of tunnels is linked to the Peace agreement between Israel and Egypt,” said Ben-Menachem.

Talk is of an agreement between the British, French and Germans who will patrol the Gaza coast in an effort to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Hamas controlled Gaza.

According to Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer Hamas has been damaged to its core and will be hard put to recover. This was the line also espoused by Cabinet Minister Yitzchak Herzog. However, as they spoke to Israel radio interviewers Sunday morning the broadcasts were interrupted by announcements of more rockets that had fallen in Israel’s south. Analysts pointed out that even during the previous cease-fires with Hamas there was always sporadic firing.

Then there was the strange story of Dr. Al Aish, a Palestinian doctor and peace activist, calling from his Gaza apartment appealing for help from Chico Menashe, an Israel Channel 2 reporter. Dr. Al Aish called during a live TV broadcast because his apartment was being shelled by IDF forces and three of his daughters had been killed. The story was picked up by news agencies around the world. The Israeli reporter Chico Menashe helped the doctor, who also worked at Israel’s Saroka Hospital, and had been helping Menashe with updates from Gaza. The reporter made a call to a Gaza contact that sent an ambulance to rescue the doctor and his family. They were evacuated to Israel for treatment.

During the three-week fighting many Gaza residents were brought to Israel for treatment. An Israeli report stated that Gazans were brought to Israel for medical treatment on a regular basis and had been for years.

Political analysts say that the cease-fire will be in time for the inauguration of U.S. President Barak Obama who will be able to start his term in office without an on-going shooting war in the Middle East.

One analyst said that the real long-term solution to the problem is recognizing Arab pride and the concept of honor. If the Arabs were allowed to feel they had exited the battle-field with honor they wouldn’t feel obliged to continue waging war. The occupation of their land was considered a personal affront, and each victory by Israel an insult to the Arab people. Israel must find a way to mollify the Arabs and sooth their wounded pride.

Another analyst pointed to a recent BBC documentary on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai by apparent Pakistani Islamic militants. One of the Pakistani Imams was interviewed in the documentary. The religious figure told the reporter, “The difference between you and us is that you are fighting to stay alive, and we are fighting to die.”

So it seems “Honor” isn’t as important as some people think. Becoming a “Martyr” seems to trump all other goals. Pundits think that the martyr syndrome offers limited alternatives; the most obvious solution is that a consistent battle must be waged until one side or the other is permanently subdued. The most obvious, and the most painful.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 20 Talk Peace Make War

six Israelis were injured, two seriously, when a Grad rocket hit an Israeli car in the negev city of Beer Sheva.

The Israeli air force reportedly struck at Hamas buildings today, killing two senior Hams officials, including Hamas Interior Minister Sayid Siam, his brother and another man, all near the top of the Hamas military establishment. Overnight Israel attacked over 70 targets in Gaza.

Israel army units began a push into the heavily populated Gaza City neighborhood of Tel Al-Hawwa today. Reports are that thousands of Palestinians fled the approach of the army’s tanks, D-9 Caterpillars, armored personal carries, and ground troops. Late reports say that Israel started firing artillery tank and machine gun rounds into centerl Gaza and then surprised Hamas by pushing into the center of Gaza City. Analysts say this is a final push before a cease-fire.

The media battles also continue. During the incursion Israel reportedly began returning fire aimed at it from high-rise buildings. One housed the offices of the BBC, Fox, Reuters, and other foreign news agencies located in 13th and 14th floors . Hamas’ Al Aksa Radio also sits in the building, or did until two weeks ago. Either one shell or two hit the high-rise building. Reportedly two people were injured.

According to the Israeli Army Spokesman’s office, Hamas took control of the first floors of the building, and were firing at the IDF and not allowing Journalists to leave. But Hannah Froigel, an Israeli-Danish journalist told Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet that she was in touch with her Arab colleagues who deny they were prevented from leaving or that Hamas was in the building.

But Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet reporter Micki Gourdis then said that the same building was the site of Arab journalists reporting from the roof at the outset of the conflict that the basement of the building was filled with weapons and rockets. Gordis also reported that as he spoke he could see Hamas’ Al Aksa TV filming in the building.. The IDF said the issue is under investigation.

Gaza’s 500-bed Al Quids hospital was also hit, and reportedly burst into flames.
Israeli rounds also struck a UNRWA building. UN Sec. General Ban was visiting Israel at the time expressed his “outrage and strongly protested” the Israeli action. Defense Minister Ehud Barak apologized to Ban, saying the shelling of the UN building was a grave mistake. Barak called for a full investigation of the event.

By mid-day on Thursday Hamas had fired 21 rockets into Israel, from Sderot to Gedera, hitting homes but causing no causalities. On the diplomatic front Hamas reportedly was on the way to accept the Egyptian brokered cease-fire agreement, with some modifications. The Damascus-based Hamas leaders negotiated the settlement with Egyptian envoy Sulieman, but it was the Gaza-based representatives who read out Hamas’ response. This was reportedly in keeping with the Hamas leadership in Damascus supporting the impression that Hamas in Gaza was making the decisions.

One of the suggestions raised was to control the Philadelphi route and the smuggling tunnels is a NATO, UN or US force to patrol the area, much as UNIFIL does now in S. Lebanon. Analysts say Hamas rejects this suggestion for two reasons, one that Hamas prefers an Egyptian or even Turkish unit that they believe will be more flexible; the second reason is that Hamas prefers a Moslem force because an ‘infidel’ non-Moslem force is antithetical to Hamas’ basic belief that the entire Middle East must be free of non-believers, with Israel the most glaring example.

Israel’s chief negotiator Amos Gilad flew to Egypt today to convey Israel’s reply to the Egyptian proposals. Defense Minister Ehud Olmert told troops on Thursday that Israel would keep on fighting while trying to find a diplomatic solution.

Reportedly the agreement calls for a Palestinian Authority return to Gaza to supervise the border crossings. Hamas kicked the PA out of Gaza in 2007 after a bloody battle. The West had hoped for the PA’s return since Mohammad Abbas, the PA leader, is considered a moderate.

However others point out that PA supporters still in Gaza have volunteered to fight alongside Hamas. Others say that the Gaza population still strongly supports Hamas. Some pundits say that this support will wither once the Gazans come out of their apartments and homes where they have been taking shelter during the fighting, and see the extent of the destruction.

On the other side of the conflict a poll taken by Tel Aviv University found that the vast majority of Israelis were in favor of the operation “Cast Lead.”

Analysts say that Hamas will try to postpone any final cease-fire until Barak Obama is sworn in as US President in hopes of receiving more favorable terms. Obama reportedly said he would start dealing with the problem from ‘day one’ of his term in office. Others say that no final cease-fire agreement will be reached until the emergency Arab League summit on the Gaza conflict meets on Friday if it meets. So far Morocco has said it will not attend..

According to the Yideot Achranot newspaper, Palestinian surveyors estimate that damage to Gaza buildings, roads, pipes, power lines and other infrastructure runs to $1.4 billion. According to the article, the IDF has bombed over 2,500 Hamas-linked targets since the incursion twenty-days ago, including 250 smuggling tunnels as well as large amounts of weapon stockpiles and rocket launcher squads. So far 1070 Palestinians have been killed and over 5,000 injured. The IDF estimates 25 per cent of the Palestinians were civilians.

Foreign Ministers from France, Norway and the European Union are scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss Gaza’s reconstruction, and the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized control. West Bank-based Planning Minister Samir Abdullah said rebuilding Gaza would be impossible if Hamas keeps ruling the territory alone. "It is a precondition that reconciliation take place and Gaza come under a legal authority," he said. "Otherwise, we can't do anything there ... And the economic situation will become some kind of Somalia."

Israeli observers say that the “day after” scenario is what is going to hurt Israel. This is when the press is allowed to roam freely through Gaza. Some say the area looks as if an earthquake has hit it. The same journalists who appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court for permission to go into Gaza, won the case, but were still denied entry. This press corps is not expected to be friendly to Israel once allowed inside Gaza.

One Israeli commentator on Israeli TV told viewers that the IDF Spokesman’s office should already have been showing journalists the damaged homes and buildings and explain that this one held terrorists firing rockets, this one a storehouse for rockets fired at Israel, and that one the home of a leader of Hamas who planned terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens. The commentator thought Israel had lost the advantage by not taking this step. Almost all analysts agree that the scenes of destruction will be horrific, and shocking.

The major conclusion to be drawn from this operation is that unfortunately Israel is not in a position where a liberal, reasoned, urbane government can rule. Where a civilian can hold the reigns that does not have military experience.

Ehud Barak is fond of saying, “Israel is a nice group of people living in a bad neighborhood.” Hamas in the South, Hezbollah in the North, Iran and Syria pulling strings aimed at Israel’s destruction.

Given the realities on the ground, and comparing former Chief-Of Staff, former Prime Minister Barak to his predecessor Labor Party official and Histadrut Labor Union Leader Amir Peretz, who mismanaged the War in Lebanon II, it is clear professional soldiers are needed at the helm, or very close to it, not amateur soldiers and well-intentioned politicians..

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

War With Hamas Day 19, 'Who's the Boss?'

UNIFIL Commander Claudio Graziano told Israeli defense officials that three Grad rockets were discovered and disabled in Southern Lebanon. All were set on a timer with a one-hour countdown. Earlier in the morning three Grad rockets were fired into Israel from S. Lebanon, landing in the area of Kryiat Shmona. There were no causalities. This is the second time Israel has been fired upon from the northern border since operation ‘Cast Lead’ began. Hezbollah claims it has nothing to do with the attacks.

The flap continues between Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The latter want to call a "humanitarian" cease-fire that lasts at least a week. Olmert wants to continue pushing into Gaza. The daily Yideot Achranot newspaper reports that senior officials think Barak is encouraging Hamas with these statements, who see them as indications of Israeli weakness.

But the Haaretz newspaper today reported that the top defense officials side with Barak and Livni in calling for an immediate cease-fire, saying that Israel has achieved all it can in Gaza. Among other things Israel proved it can and will fight a professional and successful campaign.

Rockets, in decreasing numbers, continued to fall in Israel, even while Syrian-based Hamas leaders flew into Egypt for talks with Egyptian leader Husnei Mubarak. Egypt is reportedly aiming for a one-year Hamas cease-fire. Analysts say that a split now exists between the Gaza-based Hamas leaders who want an immediate cease-fire, and the Damascus-based leaders who are reportedly under pressure by both Iran and Syria to push Gaza’s fighters to continue firing rockets. Tomorrow Israel’s negotiator flies into Cairo for talks on the proposed cease-fire.

Israel’s Likud party chairman, Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu told Israel radio’s Reshet Bet this morning that Iran had been supplying Hezbollah with rockets in the north, and Hamas in the south. Netanyahu said Lebanese-based Hezbollah now had over 50,000 rockets, ‘more than many developed countries,’ he said.

Israel Television Channel 2’s Arabic affairs commentator Ehud Yaari said that the Arab countries understood strength, and since Hamas is now under immense pressure by the Israeli army, the pressure should be kept up until Hamas calls a halt. Yaari did not think this was a time to quit the fight, even if it meant continue on the present second stage of Israel’s battle plan.

Ronni Daniel, Channel 2’s military correspondent, said that a move into the third stage of fighting in Gaza would take, according to the IDF’s calculations, up to three-months. And then Israel would be sitting in Gaza City responsible for the residents’ welfare. Daniel thought, in view of the building diplomatic criticism of Israel over the Gaza operation, there wasn’t enough time to complete the third stage, and Army leaders have decided not to try. In other reports, most analysts expect a cease-fire to be called within the next few days.

Criticism over this move comes in many forms. Some Israelis say that Israel, by calling for a cease-fire, and not going to stage three, is perceived as weak in Arab eyes, losing the respect garnered during the war. Others maintain that left alone Hamas will simply rebuild their arsenal and begin firing again the first chance they get. One view is that Israel should simply occupy all of Gaza, crushing Hamas and all other resistance, in order to keep Israel safe. Without this, one speaker said, Israel would be back fighting a stronger Hamas and probably a very strong Hezbollah in a few years.

The other side of this argument is that there was never peace in the Middle East and never will be. The best that can be hoped for is a few years of quiet at a time.

According to the Shin Bet, Israel’s security services, Hamas fighters have fired over 570 rockets into southern Israel since the operation began eighteen days ago. Hamas has not stopped firing during the three-hour humanitarian break Israel has imposed unilaterally. However, reports on the TV say that Hamas has been hi-jacking the aid trucks that come into Gaza, taking the food and medical supplies for Hamas fighters and leaders.

Fierce house-to-house fighting continued today in southern Gaza today. Seven Israeli soldiers were wounded when Hamas fired an anti-aircraft shell into the house they were in. In another incident Israeli soldiers shot at a Hamas fighter exploding the explosive belt he was wearing. Reportedly, the critically wounded paratrooper, Lt. Ahron Karov has shown some improvement in his condition. Karov was wounded by a booby-trap in a Gaza apartment two days ago. He’d been married just a few days before entering Gaza to fight Hamas. Another soldier, wounded by friendly fire, is still in critical condition.

Sources in Prime Minister Olmert’s office told Israel Army radio that politicians are using the airwaves to fight their own battles with the government, with a cynical eye towards the upcoming general elections. Analysts say this is because Livni and Barak disagree with his insistence that Israel continues the war.

PM Olmert, who has only a few weeks left before he is out of office, also had a public spat with outgoing U.S. Sec. Of State Condoleezza Rice over the U.S. refusal to exercise a veto on Lybia’s UN resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire. Olmert told Israeli TV that he spoke directly to U.S. President Bush, who said he’d tell Rice to veto the resolution, and that Bush did so. Rice denies she ever received an order from Bush. Both Olmert and Rice’s offices are essentially calling the other side liars.

Israeli pundits wonder why Olmert is nosing into the running of state since by all accounts he is only still in office because the Israeli Attorney General didn’t want to be the first to issue a criminal indictment against a sitting Prime Minister. Olmert had been expected to resign when the investigations into his activities grew serious but stubbornly refused. Olmert is now still the duly elected head of the country and as such responsible for the war and the running of the state. Some analysts say that by allowing Olmert to stay in power Israel may now have risked more than its reputation at having an alleged egocentric crook running the country.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 18 - "Let's Eat!"

The old joke about the root of all Jewish holidays is, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” According to Dr. Guy Bechor, an expert in Arab affairs, Israel has won the war with Hamas, all that remains now is the diplomatic victory. Bechor believes that Hezbollah, whom he calls Hamas’ mentor, is disappointed with the Hamas failure. But he says that Hamas should learn from Hezbollah, and agree to a UN force in the Gaza Strip.

Bachor says that neither Egypt nor Turkey should be used as moderators since both have vested interests. Only an international force that patrols the strip, keeps Hamas from firing rockets, and uncovers Hamas tunnels, will be an effective solution.

He is also in favor of closing the crossings from Israel into Egypt. “What country feeds its enemies?” he asks. He also states that the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit should be one of the terms of the cease-fire. Some soldiers interviewed in the media say that freeing Galit is one of their goals.

Hamas Prime Minister Hanniyah spoke for twenty-minutes yesterday from his hiding place. He was adamant that Hamas would not surrender, but left open cease-fire offers. This was in opposition to the hard-line stance taken by Hamas leaders who are headquartered in Damascus, Syria. Israel’s media reports that Hamas leaders have gone to Egypt again to meet with Egyptian leader Mubarak. Yesterday EU Middle East envoy Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of England, met with Mubarak in an effort to bring about a cease-fire.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the IDF will continue fighting in Gaza but at the same time Israel will look for a diplomatic solution. Chief-of-Staff Gabi Ashkenazi criticized Hamas’ cynical use of civilians as human shields. Israel’s cabinet today decided not to expand the fighting to stage three, but to keep the pressure up on Hamas until they agreed to a cease-fire. A member of the cabinet, Minister of Justice Daniel Friedman told the press that the release of Gilad Shalit had to be part of any cease-fire agreement.

Israel’s media reports that Israeli soldiers are approaching Gaza City. Fierce fighting has been reported between Israel and Hamas fighters. Yesterday a paratroop officer who was only recently married, was critically wounded in Gaza City when his squad entered a booby-trapped house. Two other soldiers were injured in the incursion. Reportedly twenty Hamas fighters were killed in exchanges.

Former General Danny Rubenstein joined a chorus of former generals warning that Israel has won the war, so far, but a mistake by the army, or a significant blast by Hamas, could change the rosy perspective. Like others he was in favor of saying Israel won and calling a cease-fire.

Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel, although in decreasing numbers. Fourteen fell on Israel by late afternoon, one punching a hole in “an educational institution.” On Monday about twenty missiles fell in Israel, compared to the nearly 100 at the start of the operation. Israeli security sources warn that Hamas may try to fire deep into Israel in a hail of rockets as the cease-fire draws closer so that Hamas can claim a victory when the leaders emerge from their safe bunkers.

“Give it to them in Arabic,” said Jackie, the barber, originally from North Africa, referring to the damage Israel is inflicting on Gaza. “That’s the only language they understand.” Jackie was one of the vast majority in Israel in favor of the war. A recent survey showed most Israelis thought that however horrific this war was justified. “If Hamas wants to use children, schools, mosques, hospitals, civilians as human shields, they’re guilty for the deaths. We have to protect ourselves. Can you imagine another country that would allow rockets on its people for years?”

One of Israel’s best-known authors, left-wing writer A.B.Yoshua, supported this view. He told a French reporter, “Can you imagine Paris struck by a missile fired from Belgium, and France not responding, even if all that happened were windows on the Champs Elysees were broken?”

Reportedly calls went out to Peace Now activists to sit out this operation. Few Jewish Israelis have demonstrated against the action in Gaza.

Jackie shook his head, “Why does this happen? What do they want from us? Why can’t they leave us alone?” His wife nodded agreement. “And can you imagine, during the day the air force bombs Gaza and in the evening helicopters take out wounded Gazans to Israeli hospitals? Only us. Dumb Jews.”

When told that a ship carrying humanitarian aid, doctors, and sixteen journalists, including crews from CNN and Sky news, Jackie said, “Who needs them? All they do is show how bad we are. They never show what we’re going through. Let them stay out. Who needs a televised war? We had that with the War in Lebanon. Everyone became a TV star and we lost the war. Now we’ve got a good Chief-of-Staff who knows his job, a good Minister of Defense who is doing a good job. Let them do what they have to do. This can’t go on.”

According to Dr. Bachor, Hezbollah thought Israel was a spider web that could be easily broken, that Israelis had lost the will to fight, had grown lazy and indolent. But both Hamas and Hezbollah found, said Bachor, that contrary to the way Israel fought the War in Lebanon II, the Israeli army has the will to win, and the will to inflict enough damage to win, a major change from the way Israel fought the War in Lebanon II.

Many of the soldiers interviewed on TV and radio, and in the press, are from the towns hit by the rockets. For them this conflict wasn’t abstract, but personal. This was about protecting their families, and their homes from rocket attacks. About survival. One pundit said the Israeli army once again showed it can be fierce and win. Others say this determination has brought back a deterrent capacity that the Arab neighbors can no longer ignore.

Monday, January 12, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 17 - Mission Creep

Over 700 missiles have been fired into Israel since ‘Operation Cast Lead’ began. According to military intelligence, the number of rockets fired into Israel has decreased steadily since the IDF entered Gaza. Overall more than 10,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza in the last eight years.

Israel has reported that the thousands of reserves troops called up should Israel enter stage three of the conflict have begun to enter Gaza. The siege of Gaza is nearly complete, and Gaza City is almost cut off. Israeli troops have begun probing actions into Gaza City. The media reports fierce fighting. The IDF said Israeli troops killed nearly fifty Hamas fighters in yesterday’s battle.

Reportedly the Hamas leadership is now split, with the hard-liners living in Damascus calling for a fight to the last man, while the local leaders in Gaza are looking for a way out of the quagmire. Reports from army intelligence say that Hamas leaders are either ensconced in shelters build beneath the Shifa hospital (built by Israel during the time Israel controlled the Gaza Strip) or moving from there to safe houses through the web of underground tunnels.

A few of the Hamas leaders reportedly crossed through tunnels into Egypt and are hiding out in Al Arish.

Iran is also calling for Hamas to stand firm in the face of the Israeli attacks. Both Hezbollah and Iran have been verbally encouraging Hamas to fight to the finish, much as Hitler did to his Sixth Army when it was encircled by the Russians in Stalingrad. Hitler lost Stalingrad, lost the Sixth Army, and then lost the war. Some speculate that Operation Cast Lead is the Stalingrad of Hamas.

Others worry about what is described as “mission creep.” This is the expansion of the goals of the war like fog seeping across a valley. The original goals get lost and the ultimate goals replace them. Reportedly the Shin Bet, Israel’s Security Service, now says that a little more pressure and Hamas can be pushed out of Gaza completely. Others say this defines the dangers inherent in ‘mission creep.’

On the home front telephones are busy with family and friends discussing who they know that has left their studies or their jobs to put on their uniform and report for duty. One man commented that he knew a forty-four year old soldier from a special forces unit who was called up. Others tell of sons in the demolition unit called up for duty in the north, to replace regular army soldiers sent to Gaza. Others tell of sons training for duty in the West Bank. Many mothers don’t realize, or don’t want to realize, their sons and husbands aren’t telling them that Gaza is their next stop.

Tzipi Livni Israel’s Foreign Minister has said she refused to ever negotiate with Hamas, because the words issued from Hamas are meaningless. Both Livni and Defense Minister Barak both reportedly disagree with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the army should expand the scope of the operation to include Gaza City. According to Haaretz both want a quick end to the fighting, and a truce.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

War With Hamas Day 16: Who's To Blame?

Israel has reportedly expanded the operation in Gaza to Sheikh Ajleen, an area of the densely populated Gaza City. It was described as the fiercest battle yet between Palestinian and Israeli fighters. Fourteen people were reportedly killed in and around the area. Israel also struck at a mosque in the southern city of Rafah that Israel intelligence says was used as a terrorist training base and weapons storehouse.

Rockets continued to fall in Israel from Sderot to Ashkelon, even during the unilateral three-hour break in air force strikes Israel has called for the forth day in a row. A Grad rocket struck in an Ashdod schoolyard. During the pause Israel does fire, however, if they spot a target of opportunity. So far nearly thirty rockets fell in Israel. Nearly forty Israeli soldiers are still hospitalized, one seriously.

Israel’s head of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen Amos Yadlin says Hamas is working in mosques and hospitals. He also said Hamas is storing its weapons in hospital storehouses. The Shin Bet head said that Hamas has been hit hard, and will not come out of it the same Hamas. He said they are exhausted and running out of weapons, but also said that Hamas won’t give up even though the people might want to. He said there was a split in Hamas over how to proceed.

Who’s to blame for the Libyan sponsored UN resolution calling for a cease-fire that the US refused to veto? Was it a breakdown in communications between Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Israel’s new UN Ambassador? Was it U.S. Sec. Of State Condoleezza Rice showing her independence from and irritation with President George W. Bush’s Middle East policies? Or was Israel simply caught flat-footed?

The end result is the same. Hamas gained diplomatic ground, Israel lost. Hamas became the representative of the Palestinian people in Gaza, the PA under Mohammed Abbas, lost. Hamas got away with starting the war, firing at will, and Israel came out the bad guy.

“Um Shmum” was the famous 1950’a quote by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. But today Israeli diplomats say that without UN approval for Israel’s actions, any Israeli move is doomed to fail.

Israel’s lame-duck Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making bellicose statements that Israel will do what needs to be done to protect its citizens in spite of what the UN says. He was referring to the UN resolution last Friday calling for an immediate cease-fire. The resolution carried no teeth, and could be ignored, but most pundits believe it shouldn’t have ever reached a vote.

What happened? Who really knows? But it seems to indicate a misjudgment by the political establishment in Israel. What other mistakes were made? Given the machinations of politicians it isn’t clear if this wasn’t an ambush aimed at Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, under whose aegis fall the UN brief.

Olmert defended Livni saying if it wasn’t for the great work she’d done then the UN resolution would have been passed weeks earlier.

Olmert is also coming under fire by analysts who say it was under his leadership that Israel agreed to let the PA supervise the Philadephi route, a decision that lead to today’s quagmire.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 15

The fog of war seeped out of Jerusalem spread over Israel and blanketed Gaza. This was the feeling in Israel entering the Jewish Sabbath, and the same feeling once the Sabbath ended Saturday night.

Forty targets were hit by the Israel air force and thirteen Israeli soldiers were injured, most lightly.

Titus, a retired Israeli physician who walks his dog twice a day in the Jerusalem Forest, reported on the news. “Fog of war,” he said. Had Israel entered the third stage, sent in the reservist? “Fog of war,” he repeated. “No one knows.”

Moshe Shlonsky, former head of Army radio, told Channel 2 news that this operation had reached a static situation, that there was nothing to film. This is response to a complaint by Erlich Zaram, a German journalist, who said that Israel wasn’t allowing reporters into Gaza. When Shlonsky suggest these reporters go in through the Egyptian side, Zaram said, that border was also denied them. Besides, said Zaram, foreign reporters had stopped going into Gaza because Hamas had started kidnapping them.

Shlonsky said that enough footage was coming out of Gaza through the army. In a static operation there was nothing to film anyway. Zaram said that Al Jazeera had two cameras set up in Gaza, one permanently on a rooftop of a high-rise, another mobile at Gaza’s Shifa hospital. A third camera was set up on a hilltop in Sderot. That was all the footage coming out of Gaza. Shlonsky said if and when a third stage of the operation began reporters would probably be embedded with the troops.

An Arab affairs professor speaking on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet said that the complexity of the situation was overlaid by the “long view” of the Palestinian radicals who believed they could absorb the body blows Israel was delivering, and still be around to strike back, for years if necessary, until Israel was destroyed and the Jews driven out of the region.

According to this professor Hamas didn’t accept Israel’s existence and never would. IDF actions weren’t going to change that fact, and Hamas would never stop firing rockets. They might pause, but not cease firing completely.

According to Avi Assarof, a reporter for Israel’s Channel 2, “Palestinians will never ask Hamas to stop fighting.” He said that was not in the cards. The Palestinians would never rise up and overthrow Hamas. It was neither in their abilities, nor their world-view.

Another reporter, Adnan Abu Hasana, calling in from Gaza, said that most of the Gazans were simple people who only wanted to get on with their lives. He also said that when observing the wounded brought into Gaza’s Sheba hospital, very few were Hamas fighters. Most were civilians. He said most of the Gazans didn’t understand the politics, only saw Israel bombing and people injured or killed.

Demonstrations against the operation were held in some Israeli Arab towns and villages. In Kfar Arba young Arabs told Israel TV that they were against Israel killing innocent children. In Kfar Kana four Israeli Arab teenagers were arrested for throwing stones at Israeli cars driving on nearby roads.
During the early evening in Israel Amir Manasee, a Hamas military leader reportedly expert in firing rockets was killed in Gaza while firing a mortar at IDF forces, two other Hamas fighters with him were also killed.

Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel. Four rockets fell in Ashkelon, causing thirteen injuries. Rockets also fell in Ashdod. Israel announced it would increase the attacks on Gaza. The IDF dropped leaflets calling on residents to stay away from terrorists and from arms caches. According to informed sources 20 Palestinians were killed today in Gaza.

Israel announced that school would resume tomorrow for those students along the Gaza border, like Sderot, with classes held in protected rooms and bomb shelters.

The UN has called for an immediate cease-fire, but so far Israel is continuing the actions. “An army against a guerilla force” was how Ayala Sasson described the operation to Resehet Bet’s radio interviewer. She said the coming week would determine how Israel would proceed with the diplomatic front. She also said that Foreign Minister Tzip Livni, leader of the Kadmia party, was in favor of an immediate unilateral cease-fire.

But according to Rubik Rosenthal, an editor at the Haaretz Newspaper, the Ehud Barak seen on TV these days was a man in his element. His statements were precise, his actions measured and effective, not the mumbling politician uncomfortable in front of TV cameras.. This was a man in charge, radiating confidence. Barak was also the leader of the Labor party that has increased in popularity since the operation began. Israel’s general elections are to be held in about four weeks.

The fog of war so far continues with many people speculating about the next stage, but no one certain what it will be. Almost everyone, from left to right, agree that the war with Hamas was inevitable, but few see how to end it, if that is indeed possible.

Friday, January 09, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 14

Golani unit Sergeant Omer Rabinovitz, 23, from Arad, was the tenth Israeli soldier to die in this operation. A sniper reportedly shot him. The death of these ten Israeli soldiers has a demoralizing effect on the Israeli public. Each soldier killed brings a cease-fire closer, since Hamas knows that Israelis don't like to lose their boys in battle and will do whatever is necessary, including early withdrawal, to save lives. Hamas could care less, since their religious leaders have declared each dead man woman or child a ‘shahid’ or martyr.

Five more Israeli soldiers were injured, two seriously, in overnight fighting. Hamas launched nearly thirty rockets into Israel, as far as Beer Sheva. But schools are still closed. The air raid sirens go off too frequently for residents to relax. Tension is high, and there seem to be no resolution in sight. The loss of life and the injuries appear to be sacrifices for a no-win situation. This realization is also discouraging.

Analysts say that if the Israeli army stays stay put they're sitting ducks. This operation, according to military experts, either has to move forward or pull back. Staying in one place allows Hamas to begin their 'war of attrition.' The more Israeli soldiers dig in on the ground, as they did in Lebanon, the easier it is for Hamas to figure out which tunnel to use to get to them, fire an anti-tank rocket, place a sniper on a rooftop, set up booby-traps, plan to kidnap a soldier.

The decision is being put off. Barak wanted the 48-hours cease-fire last week. Apparently he figured Israel had dealt Hamas a good few body blows and could withdraw before any Israelis got killed or injured. Olmert was in favor of a full-scale invasion. Livni wanted out entirely.

Almost all the military experts offering opinions in the press agree that Israel won't accomplish much by pushing into Gaza City except putting the IDF at risk. Former General Yossi Peled has been adamant in his role as military expert for Channel 2 news that Israel cannot defeat Hamas, and that going into Gaza City is a no win situation. He isn't alone. What almost all of them agree upon, however, is that Israel must retake control of the Philadelphi route, the area that covers the labyrinth of Hamas smuggling tunnels running from the Egyptian side of Rafiah to the Gaza side.

Hamas spokesmen have taken to the airwaves with the line that Hamas is not a member of the UN and as such not a party to UN decisions. Their public relations spin is that Israel is killing innocent civilians, incessantly bombing Gaza, and getting away with murder. They don't mention that Hamas started the firing, nor continues, nor that Israel has said repeatedly that if Hamas stops firing, so will Israel. Surprisingly few foreign news operations call the Hamas spokesmen on these points.

The demand these spokesmen make is for an opening of all border-crossing points. Israel refuses to open the Rafiah border crossing since it was used by Hamas to bring in weapons. The Rafiah crossing was to have been controlled by the Palestinian Authority in coordination with the Egyptians, but the PA never took over the crossing, and the Egyptians did little or nothing to control the flow of arms, either through the crossing, or the smuggling tunnels.

The key to the Israeli withdrawal will be some agreement on Rafiah and the Philadelphi route. If Israel does launch an expanded ground operation, then the Philadelphi route will be the main goal. International pressure is building up for Israel to pull out, but many countries are quietly hoping Israel can deliver some sort of knock-out blow to Hamas before the cease-fire comes into effect. Israeli analysts are skeptical about any knockout. One report in the press today said that Israel was surprised by the Hamas resilience.

Yesterday the Army Spokesman's office released a Hamas map of tunnels and arms caches captured by Israeli paratroopers during the first days of the war. The map clearly showed the location of mosques as arms and rocket arsenals. Three mosques were ultimately destroyed, with huge secondary explosions following the initial Israeli air force strike, signifying the detonation of an ammunition dump. The map reportedly showed how Hamas cynically used the civilian population as human shields, then blamed Israel when these shields were penetrated.

One Golan Heights farmer said that the solution is simply to turn Gaza into a parking lot. But Israel is not the kind of a country to do that. The UN truck hit by Israeli fire yesterday drew international condemnation. The UN ceased its humanitarian aid as a consequence. The death toll in Gaza has risen to nearly 800, with at least a third women and children. These facts weigh heavily on the conscience of most Israelis. Sacrifice is one thing, but the death of women and children is still not easy for most Israelis to accept, even if the dead and injured support Hamas' goals to destroy Israel.

The clock is ticking. Defense Minister Barak isn't anxious to see the Israeli body count rise. He knows elections are coming up. He knows that occupying Gaza will only end in more Israelis dead and wounded, the outlay of huge amounts of money to fight the war and support those Gazans caught in the Israeil net. Ehud Olmert is a lame-duck Prime Minister who will probably be indicted on corruption charges as soon as he is out of office. Foreign Minister Tzip Livni is doing her best to come out of this operation with her reputation intact. Likud leader Benjamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu is keeping a low profile, not offering anything more than statements of support for Israel's troops.

Haaretz reports that Egypt and Syria are squabbling over who will control the Rafiah crossing. Israel holds onto the demand that first the terms of a cease-fire must be worked out before the Israelis stop firing. The initial UN draft resolution called for a cease-fire before the terms were agreed upon. Syria takes the latter position, as expected.

Israel could do what it did in Lebanon, accept the terms laid down, stop firing, and continue absorbing Hamas rocket fire whenever it suited Hamas to start shooting again. The problem is that Israel's citizens have a hard time swallowing why soldiers had to die be wounded or maimed with nothing substantive accomplished. As Henry Kissinger is quoted as saying, when an army faces a guerilla force and doesn't get a clear victory, the guerilla force wins. Hamas boasting and crowing it won after a cease-fire will cause nothing but grief in Israel, and could potentially end the career of Barak and Livni.

US President Elect Barak Obama reportedly said he would talk to Hamas thus ending the embargo on discussions with this group, defined as Terrorist by the US government. It is possible that Hamas could come out of this conflict with an increase in credibility, having withstood the Israeli onslaught, and legitimacy, being party to negotiations.

PA leader Abbas is all but ignored by the international community, much as Israel would like him as their representative in negotiations. It is more than possible that this will not have been a war that accomplished anything other than defining Hamas as the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 13

Two Israeli soldiers died on the 13th day of the War with Hamas, bringing to total killed to nine. Roi Rosner, 27, an Israeli officer of the Haruv force, was killed today in the central Gaza strip when an anti-tank round struck his unit as they entered a building near the Kissufim crossing. Another soldier was also injured. According to the Israeli daily Yideot Achranot, it was not clear if this was a random mortar round of if the Haruv unit that normally serves in the West Bank was a specific target. Amit Robinson, 21, from Kibbutz Magal was killed by a sniper during another battle.

Hamas continues to fire mortars and rockets into Israel, although in smaller numbers. One mortar attack struck near a Kibbutz in the Negev where an IDF field camp had been set up, injuring four soldiers, two moderately, and two lightly. Grad rockets also landed in Ashdod and Beer Sheva. A rocket also fell near an empty sports center in an Ashkelon school. All schools were closed in the south because of the security situation, or the results would have been horrific.

Analysts say that the rockets are now coming from near the infamous Philadephi route, Rafiah, and Gaza City, all areas that Israel has avoided confronting with ground troops. However the latest thinking is that the Philadelphi route, that runs along the Egyptian border, must be retaken by Israeli troops. One commentator, a former general, said Israel had to sit there for 25-years. This in order to prohibit Hamas from receiving weapons and rockets through the smuggling tunnels that permeate the ground.

A Hamas spokesman on the BBC-TV claimed Israel was to blame for humanitarian tragedies because of the endless air force attacks, but the spokesman side-stepped any Hamas responsibility for continued fire into Israel or starting the conflict by sending as many as 80 rockets a day into Israel.

In a new development at 07:35 A.M two Katyusha rockets fell on the Galilee in the North of Israel. One rocket punched a hole in a senior citizens home in Nahariya, injuring two elderly Israelis. At 07:49 A.M. Israel responded with artillery fire into Lebanon. The Homeland Security ordered all Israelis in the region to stay in their homes near bomb shelters.

Both the Lebanese Government and Hezbollah were quick to issue reports that they were not responsible for the missiles. Hezbollah said these were ten to twelve-year old rockets that Hamas had stopped using. Experts expect that a radical Palestinian group fired the rockets although so far none have claimed responsibility. Analysts believe Hezbollah used the fringe Palestinian group as a proxy, allowing Hezbollah to distance themselves from the rockets so as to prevent Israel from attacking Lebanon. However, experts say nothing moves in S. Lebanon without Hezbollah approval, certainly not large. dangerous Katyusha rockets.

Israel’s president Shimon Peres said that the IDF would respond immediately to any rocket attacks coming from Lebanon. Peres was paying a condolence call to the family of Dotan Wurtman, the 32-year old doctor who was killed two days ago in Gaza.

Yideot Achranot’s Military Affairs reporter Ron Ben Ishai wrote that the situation in the north might escalate, with Palestinian groups attempting to drag Israel into a fight with Hezbollah and entangling Lebanon in another war. Israel is prepared for this eventuality, wrote Ishai, but prefers not to fight on two fronts at this time. According to Ben Ishai Hezbollah turned a blind eye to this Palestinian firing of rockets to show solidarity with Hamas, and might do it again in the future. The Palestinians fired the rockets to show they weren’t sitting idly by without doing something for Hamas.

On Wednesday night, the home front was shown the first footage from the Gaza front: video footage from Israeli reporters embedded with Israeli troops. In contrast to the War in Lebanon II, the Israeli troops were in good spirits, well supplied, and well trained. The footage showed them ensconced in a home in Gaza, eating field rations, and smiling at the camera. One soldier said they even had sweets and salami if they wanted.

The footage showed the soldiers were using tactics, similar to those used in Operation Defensive Shield, when Israel went into the West Bank cities, like Jenin and Nablus. The reporters showed how the soldiers avoided potential booby-trapped front doors but blasted holes in the walls of buildings and entered from the side. A Golani colonel in full battle gear said that he was taking no chances, but laying down a blanket of fire, augmented by grenades and explosives, before the soldiers moved into an area.

All of the footage was from the less densely populated areas on the outskirts of Gaza. In the War in Lebanon II soldiers were discouraged by the lack of equipment and food, some going into battle without water. Israel’s Army radio interviewed one soldier who served in that operation and is now in Gaza. The soldier said that the other problem in Lebanon was that the home front had become discouraged during the war. In this operation the home front reportedly still has high moral, and strong support for operation ‘Cast Lead.’

In the popular Ilana Dayan program on Army radio, callers said they wanted to see more programming on TV that would entertain the children, and the adults, rather than flooding the airwaves with nerve-wracking war news. Yesterday Israeli television stations began broadcasting their normal entertainment schedules, interrupted only when a warning was issued of incoming rockets. The normal two-hours of news programming continued unchanged. Earlier in the week news was broadcast from morning to after midnight.

The Israeli leadership has still not decided if the army would enter stage three, sending into Gaza the tens of thousands of reservists called up a few days ago. One former General said Israel wasn’t in a hurry to re-occupy the Gaza strip, for a few reasons. One was that once inside, Israel was responsible for the total support of the Gaza population that meant food, clothing, medical supplies, and other essential services. As of now Hamas is supposed to supply these needs but has so far been in hiding. Analysts also said that if Israel doesn't move forward into Gaza they had to pull out, because otherwise they were static targets for Hamas who would have time to plan attacks on the Israeli troops.

A second reason: Israel is hesitant to go deeper into Gaza because of the traps, suicide bombers, and kidnappers waiting for the Israeli soldiers. The third reason, said the reserve General. is that Israel has occupied Gaza in the past and never succeeded in stopping terrorism. The best that could be hoped for, he said, was to stop the supply of weapons from Egypt, and diminish Hamas’ abilities to fire at Israel.

Israel is a relatively small country of only seven million citizens including the Israeli Arabs. When Israel goes to war Israelis casually come across soldiers on leave, and parents of soldiers fighting, in the normal course of the day. The front isn’t across an ocean on another continent. The front could be five minutes to a couple of hours from nearly any home.

Everyone knows someone who is close to a soldier who was wounded or killed in battle. Israelis walking their dog hear of a neighbor down the street who was the uncle of a fallen soldier, or find out the person sitting in the next seat at a Brit Mila celebration is the father of a medic called up for reserve duty now waiting to go into Gaza. Even professors visiting from abroad encounter a cousin whose son was injured during a battle.

In Israel war is up close and personal. Israelis publicly mourn their dead and place the highest value life. The problem, most say, is that Hamas and radical Islamists think death their ultimate reward for battling the forces of evil, Israel, the Jews, America, and the devilish West. Fighting this type of thinking is an endless struggle. The best that can be achieved is to contain the fighters, subdue them, hold them down like a struggling but violent prisoner. That is the sad fact.

As secular poet wrote during another struggle ‘If God is on the side of men, who live to fight and fight again, and on both sides He rests His grace, is there really a Holy place, is there really a Chosen Race?”

Analysts agree that both Hamas and the Israelis think God is on their side, but Hamas appears unshakably convinced of it. Many Israelis aren’t so sure. What they do know, and tell reporters, is that the rockets are hitting home, striking senior citizen’s homes, schools, businesses. That’s all the motivation these Israeli soldiers need, they say. None of them speak of God on the radio, TV or in the printed media. If anything, they speak of their people, and their duty to protect them.

As of now, according to analysts, both Hezbollah and the Israeli army are circling like schoolyard fighters waiting for a teacher or principal to come in and break up the fight. In this case Egypt is the principal, and is in no hurry to stop the fighting.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 12

Upstairs downstairs may have been a popular TV show, but according to Israeli observers it isn’t working with the Palestinians in Gaza. Upstairs is considered the Palestinians who are above ground hunkered down in their homes afraid to go out into the streets for fear of being caught in a firefight or in the range of an Israeli air force attack.

Downstairs are the Hamas leaders who have sought safety in the bunkers and tunnels, many supplied with ample food and comfortable lodging for themselves and their families. Israel TV footage showed two tunnel entrances in one Hamas fighter’s house. According to the news reports the Hamas military leaders all have tunnels and bunkers beneath their homes. They also use the tunnels to pop in and out of locations fighting when they please. This tunnel complex worries Israelis and according to military analysts is one of the reasons why the army has not rushed into the rabbit warren of Gaza City.

According to Zvika Yehzkeli Channel 10’s Arab affairs reporter, Hamas is cut off from the citizens. They have not supplied medical help, firefighters, sewage, electricity, or any services during the crises. They have disappeared from sight. “They are not a government. They are a guerilla organization.”

On Wednesday Israel called a three-hour halt in the fighting to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel TV Channel 10 reporter Alon Ben David says that Hamas fighters immediately confiscated much of the humanitarian aid for themselves and their families. This sort of behavior, according to Channel 10 Arab affairs reporter Zvi Yezhkili is backfiring on Hamas. When residents came out of their homes they were shocked to see the enormous damage done to their neighborhoods and have begun to wonder if a new leadership isn’t needed.

The diplomatic efforts by French Prime Minister Sarkozy resulted in a tentative agreement between Israel and the PA to begin discussion on a cease-fire. However, reserve General Danny Rothschild says it is Egypt who must broker this peace, and so far haven’t been willing to agree to do so. Egypt wants to see a weaker Hamas, and at the same time, doesn’t want to appear to be catering to the Israelis. According to Rothschild this is only the start of the negotiations, and they may take another week to ten days before they reach some sort of cease-fire.

Israel TV reports that 59 Israeli soldiers are still hospitalized one in serious condition. Israel’s cabinet today postponed a decision to send in the reserve troops now in training before their entry into Gaza.

Israel is demanding that the situation doesn’t return to a status quo ante, but leaves Hamas without the ability to resume firing at will on Israeli citizens. Today the rockets reach 40 kilometers, and if the smuggling of Iranian weapons resumes, soon rockets that could reach Tel Aviv or Netanya will be at their disposal.

Part of the French proposal is that PA head Mohammed Abbas be party to the negotiations, which is something that Hamas finds antithetical to it’s position. Chico Menashe of Channel 10 said that Sarkozy offered one plan discussions and then a ceasefire two days ago but now after meetings in Egypt comes back with another, calling for a cease-fire and then discussions.

Sky News reporters said that if the US corps of engineers agrees to come into the Philadelphi route and put up a barrier to prevent weapons to come in from Egypt to resupply the Hamas weapons arsenal. This is something that needs to be put on the table, and again it is Egypt who needs to allow this since the Philadelphi route is on their border.

In previous agreements Egypt was to have patrolled this area and prevent smuggling of weapons, but according to Sky News, Egypt failed to do this. Another key issue is the Rafiah crossing from Egypt that also has been used as a weapons smuggling passageway. Al Jazeera TV announced Wednesday night that the IDF had warned residents of Rafiah were to clear away from the Philadelphi route, apparently in anticipation of an Israeli attack on the smuggling tunnels.

Al Jazeera TV showed Hamas shot footage of a Hamas fighter in civilian clothes loading a mortar shell into a launcher placed beneath a leafy tree on a traffic median strip in the Jabaliya refugee camp with the walls of some building clearly visible in the background.
While Hamas claims that there is a face to face fight going on, Alon Ben David of Channel 10 says the distance is at least 150 meters, with the Hamas fighters doing their best to stay hidden.

In an late evening interview with Amir, commander of the Yaalom army engineers unit that was involved in the tank tragedy yesterday, his forces are fighting well, destroying bombs, tunnels, bunkers, and confronting Hamas fighters. He said the IDF is using force against Hamas to prevent injuries to Israeli soldiers. He said they’ve uncovered hundreds of tunnels, but not a lot of Hamas fighters. “We’re ready and waiting for them,” he said.

Shortly after the humanitarian break Hamas began firing rockets. Two grad rockets fell in Beer Sheva, one digging a six-foot deep pit in the ground. Over 20 rockets fell in Israel from Sderot to Beer Sheva.

Another disturbing development since the start of this Israeli operation in Gaza is the radicalization of Turkey, long considered a friend of both Israel and the USA. A few days ago the Prime Minister of Turkey harshly criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza. Yesterday a game in Ankara between Turk Telekom and Bnei Hasharon, part of a European basketball championship, ended when a referee ordered the players back to the dressing room after hundreds of Turkish fans began chanting "Israel, killers!" in an Ankara sports centre, a SkyTurk broadcaster reported.

According to the Israeli team’s coach an estimated 3,000 Palestinians and Islamists began chanting “Death to Israel,” and throwing shoes, coins and water bottles on the court where the Israelis were warming up. Police rushed in to keep the angry crowd back. The Israeli team, made up of paid professionals from Israel, Europe and the USA, were frightened of a ‘lynch’ and retired to the locker room. Analysts say that the spectators were not fans of the Turkish team but protestors bent on attacking the Israeli team. To the surprise of the Israelis the officials declared that Israel had forfeited the game.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 11

A mystic once said that eleven was the number of surprises. Certainly the eleventh day of the War With Hamas was a day of sad surprises. Two Israeli tanks mistook Israeli Golani soldiers for Hamas fighters, perhaps mistaking one building for another, and fired tank rounds at them, killing four and wounding twenty. The Golani soldiers killed were identified as Cpl. Yosef Muadi, 19, from Haifa, Maj. Dagan Vertman, a 32-year-old doctor, father of five, from Ma'aleh Michmash, and Staff Sergeant Nitai Stern, 21, from Jerusalem. Capt. Jonathan Netanel, 27, of Kedumim was also killed, apparently by sniper fire. This brings the number of soldiers killed since the invasion began to six.

A reserve tank corps sergeant said that probably the tanks and soldiers near them were being fired upon, that the Golani unit in the apartment was firing as well, that they hadn’t reported their position clearly, that someone fired thinking them terrorists, and the results were the tragedy as reported. In the fog of war, he said, things like that happen, saying it happened to him the last time Israel entered Gaza when he was in a tank that was fired upon by accident.

Reserve General Danny Rothschild speaking on Israel Television’s Channel 2 said the battles in Gaza have so far been restricted to the outlying areas, with the IDF only rarely venturing into built up areas. Neither the IDF nor Hamas are interested in seizing and holding territory. This is, according to Rothschild, more a guerilla war on both sides, small groups of fighters encountering each other in a firefight.

Israel continues to pound Gaza from the air. For the first time the IDF Spokesman’s office released footage of Israeli soldiers entering Gaza, finding tunnels within homes, and missile manufacturing plants within the outlying areas just half-a-mile from the Israeli border.

The IDF also released footage of air force pilots sighting in on Hamas fighters on rooftops or within built up areas. Gen. Rothschild explained that this was an example of lessons learned in the War in Lebanon II, when the ground troops didn’t have adequate communications with the air force. In general, analysts agree, the army is better-trained and better prepared for the battles.

Former Army Spokesman Nachman Shai said on Israel Television that the IDF has 35 video crews and still cameramen moving around with the ground forces. This he said was to provide proof of every step Israel took should there be accusations against the army once the fighting ill behavior.

Israel’s high court approved an appeal by the Israel Foreign Press Association to send in 8 reporters to cover the events. So far Israel has not allowed these reporters into Gaza claiming it was too dangerous and Israel didn’t want to be responsible for the reporters. Another reason raised by analysts on the TV is that Israel learned that in the War in Lebanon II the press was allowed such a free hand that Israel’s army was put at risk wen reporters showed their positions. Similar claims were made of

Hamas has been pushed back from the border and the regions that it easily shot rockets. At least this is one explanation why the rocket attacks have fallen off to only 30 a day. Another is Hamas is saving the rockets for a big push at the end of the fighting. According to analysts the further back towards Gaza City Hamas is pushed, the harder it is to fire rockets.

Israel TV Channel 10’s Or Heller said that Israel is readying for the next step in the battle, which is when the troops enter into the more heavily populated urban areas. The idea is, according to Heller, for Israel to reach a better position once the firing stops that will allow Israel to demand international guarantees that the steady supply of weapons into Gaza from Iran and Syria will stop.

So far, said Heller, Israel has captured over 170 Hamas fighters, and killed nearly 150. Nachman Shai said that Israel has achieved one of its goals: to destroy the Hamas infrastructure.

A UNRWA spokesman appeared on the BBC-TV and told reporters that UNRWA was running 24 schools in Gaza that had been turned into shelters for homeless Gazans. He said that yesterday three people were killed when a tank shell hit one of the schools. Today another round struck near a school in the Jabalyia refugee camp, according to Palestinian sources fifty people were killed. A Hamas spokesman said that those seeking shelter sat outside to get air. According to Gen. Rothschild, the IDF must have had information that some terrorist activity was taking place or they wouldn’t have fired. He also said that UNRWA is part of the UN and is under the control of Hamas in Gaza.

Reporter Or Heller told Israel TV’s Channel 10 that the IDF claimed that Hamas fighters had fired from outside the school, and the Israeli army responded with small mortar fire. The Army claims they have video from a pilot less aircraft showing the Hamas fighter’s rockets and the Army responding.

Nachman Shai said that it was a terrible event, assuming it was true. Israel was not near the explosion, and can only take the Arab word for it. However, if it was true, Israel still had to go on with the fight.

Another news clip from Al Jazeera TV showed an Arabic speaking Israeli officer from the Army Spokesman’s office in a split screen with an Al Jazeera reporter. Al Jazeera is considered by some in Israel to be a spokesman for radical Islamists. The IDF officer held up a large color photograph of a Hamas fighter in full combat gear aiming a large rocket-firing tube steadied by a tripod. Around him milled teenagers and other civilians. Beyond him was the wall of a school with Arabic writing on it. This, said the IDF officer, was proof that Hamas was firing from crowded areas, hiding among the civilians, drawing fire on his fellows.

The humanitarian issue is becoming severe in Gaza. Israel allowed forty trucks with medical supplies and other aid into Gaza, not a huge amount. Israel realized the risk it was taking knowing these goods might fall into Hamas hands. The humanitarian issue is the one that has the time clock ticking with no more than a week left before Israel must stop its actions..

Zvika Yehzkeli the Channel 10 Arab affairs reporter said that Hamas’ leadership had lost control of events in Gaza. They’d dropped their mobile phones and hidden in tunnels or in hospitals dressed as doctors and nurses. They had no communication with their fighters. According to Yehzkeli the Hamas leadership in Damascus was giving the orders to the fighters in Gaza. Mostly the local fighters were doing what they felt like, with no coordination among them. He also said that Hamas was using the civilian population as weapons in the fight with Israel, hiding among them and firing weapons at Israel’s soldiers.

The army has a plan and so far, according to the IDF as Heller reports it, has still not reached enough of their targets to stop the attacks. Hamas leadership and government structure was destroyed, but that wasn’t enough. The hard decisions now stand in front of Israel, whether or not to put the tens of thousands of reserve soldiers into Gaza to engage in full-scale battles within Gaza city. According to Alon Ben-David of Channel 10 news, Israel has between 24-36 hours to decide to send in the tens of thousands of reseves.

Part of the hesitancy is the crowded alleys and streets of Gaza City. Today a Hamas fighter dressed as an Israeli soldier approached a group of Golani soldiers who grew suspicious. He turned out to be a suicide bomber, with an explosive belt around his chest. He was neutralized by the Golani soldiers. But this, analysts point out, is an example of what awaits Israeli soldiers in Gaza City.

Gen Rothschild said that he didn’t see that the army was in a hurry to enter Gaza city. So far, according to reserve General Doron, speaking on Israel’s Channel 2, Israel has behaved well, the army moving slowly and carefully from point to point. The tragedy of the soldiers killed by friendly fire should not cast a negative pallor over the army’s success.

On the diplomatic front France’s Prime Minister Sarkozy toured the Middle East attempting to get a cease-fire in place. However diplomatic experts claim that only Egypt has the power to impose a cease-fire on Hamas, and Egypt is in no hurry. Reportedly, the EU, the USA and Egypt see Hamas as a terrorist organization representing Iran. They realize that Gaza could become ‘Gazastan’ with Iran using Gaza as a launching ground for spreading radical Islam and violence through the region.

The Egyptians know that Hamas grew out of the Moslem Brotherhood that has been trying to gain control of Egypt for years. The Moslem Brotherhood was responsible for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The Brotherhood was also the organization begun by Dr. Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri, the second in command of Al Quaida.

As such, according to the analyst, this is not just a little skirmish in Gaza, but a proxy fight with Israel as the representative of the West fighting Hamas, the representative of radical Islam. The winner, they say, will probably determine the future direction of the Middle East.

Also, Jerusalem Magazine commends the South Floridians for a Safe Israel that gathered 2,000 suporters in a demonstration of solidarity with Israel..