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.