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.