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..