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.