Thursday, January 01, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 6

Six Grad rockets fell on Ashkelon and Ashdod on Thursday. One rocket punched a six-foot wide hole through the roof of an eight-story building. The apartment was empty at the time of the attack. Video from the site shows external plaster cracked and hanging perilously from the building. The police cleared the area of bystanders in case the chunk of wall breaks loose and falls eight floors to the street.

Israel television channels report that many residents of Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beer Sheva complain that they can’t hear the warning sirens. Residents of the southern town of Sderot have a ten-second window to find shelter, Ashkelon about twenty seconds, and Ashdod and Beer Sheva about thirty seconds.

400 Gazans have been killed and 2,000 injured according to reports coming out of Gaza. Israel’s air force continued the strikes on Thursday, the sixth day since Israel began air attacks against Hamas targets in Gaza. This after Hamas refused to renew the cease-fire agreement with Israel and began attacking Israel’s southern towns and cities with motor and rocket fire. Four Israelis have been wounded and over a hundred treated for shock.

According to military analysts Hamas so far has not reacted with the force expected, up to 200 rockets a day, but managed to send 70 rockets into Israel on Wednesday. One rocket hit a middle-school in Beer Sheva at 08:00 am. Israel’s Homeland Security had closed all schools within a 40-kilometer range of the Gaza border.

Israel Television’s Channel two Arab affairs reporter Zvika Yehezkili said that Hamas may have fired less missiles on Thursday than previous days but that may be a psychological tactic. “They have half their missiles left and the people to fire them.” He expected Hamas to continue firing until a cease-fire was called. “There are those in Gaza who boast, ‘come on in (to the IDF massed on the border) we’ll destroy you.’ They have snipers, and roadside bombs, and anti-tank weapons waiting. But what they say isn’t what they think. There are people there who know in the long run this action will end in a cease-fire,and Hamas wants to come out of it no worse than it went in. Israel, on the other hand, wants a new political constellation in Gaza after this action.”

Israel’s air force reportedly struck 25 targets on Wednesday including a mosque that according to military intelligence was used as a weapons warehouse. Those inside the mosque were warned of the impending attack, according to informed sources, and left with the Koran and other Holy works. The secondary explosion in the mosque recorded by TV cameras proved, according to military analysts, that rockets and ammunition was stored in the mosque. Also, the fact that Hamas is not condemning Israel’s strikes against the mosques also lends credence to the reports of weapons in the religious sanctuaries.

Israeli warplanes also destroyed four tunnels along the Philadelphi route destroying the weapons and fuel stored inside them. Hundreds of tunnels reportedly snake beneath the border between the Egyptian side of the town of Rafiah and the Palestinian side inside Gaza. Intelligence reports that the tunnels begin within homes on the Egyptian side of Rafiah, dive down ten to fifteen meters, then cross beneath the Egyptian border run about 100 meters and come up inside homes within the Palestinian side of Rafiah.
According to informed sources a number of criminal clans operate the tunnels in coordination with Hamas. These tunnels are used to smuggle in food, cigarettes, prostitutes, and fuel as well as a steady supply of weapons, rockets and foreign advisors from Iran and Al Quaida.

News reports that Israel’s warplanes continued to pound Gaza, hitting another mosque that intelligence said was a warehouse and safe haven for Hamas weapons and fighters. Reportedly, Hamas fighters and leaders are hiding in the Mosques, as well as dressing as physicians and male nurses and hiding in Gaza’s hospitals. This copies the reported Hezbollah tactic when Shiek Nasrallah hid in a bunker buried beneath a Beirut hospital. Hamas leader Ismail Hanniyeh is reportedly beginning to surface from his bunker, hiding in plain sight within the crowds, communicating with his subordinates through written messages.

The air force also destroyed the home of Mufti Nazir Reyan, a top Hamas military official and Islamic radical, head of the militant Al-din al Kassam movement. A huge cloud rose in the sky after the attack, which military analysts say is proof that the house also held rockets and ammunition. Israel television ran a clip of Reyan calling on Arabs yesterday to resist the Israelis. Reyan was reportedly one of the main religious leaders who helped bring Hamas to power in Gaza. Reyan was the first top leader to be eliminated in this action. His demise is expected to have a demoralizing effect on Hamas.

Israel’s army along with a hundred tanks have massed on the Gaza border waiting orders to enter Gaza. According to military analysts the IDF ground operation should it happen would have these general goals:

One: to retake the Philadphi route, an open area along the Egyptian border and destroy the hundreds of tunnels that snake beneath it. This action is expected to stop or slow down the re-supply of arms to Hamas and destroy the rockets stockpiled in the tunnels.

Two: to confront, kill and or capture Hamas fighters who are the backbone of the Hamas regime in Gaza. Azariyia, an Israeli interviewed on Israel Radio’s Rshet Bet program said he called an Arab friend in Gaza to check on his well-being. Azaryia said his friend blessed Irael for the attacks and prayed that Israel would rid the world of Hamas.

Third: to displace Hamas as the ruling political force in Gaza, or at least create anarchy and perhaps have the moderate Palestinian Authority leader Mohammed Abbas step in to fill the vacuum.

However some military analysts are against a ground invasion. Two former generals interviewed on Israel Televisions Channel 10 news said they believed Israel could accomplish most of their goals by continuing the air strikes, especially by bombing the tunnels beneath the Philadephi route. A ground force’s entry would be costly, dangerous and probably deadly.

Speaking on the Israel radio talk-show program “All Talk” author Eli Amir said that as soon as one tank was destroyed by a roadside bomb in Gaza, the cries would begin to halt the ground operation. The radio program also turned to the political element of the war. Labor party head, and Minister of Defense, Ehud Olmert’s popularity has risen from 12 per cent before the operation began last Shabat to a substantial 60 per cent.

According to another person on the show, Yisrael Hasson of Likud, Barak allowed the rockets to fall on the south for years, and only new, with the general elections looming, did he decide to strike. Eli Amir answered the Likud activist by saying that Barak’s actions were high-minded and patriotic, not political. In fact, said Amir, Barak stood to lose his reputation and any chance of staying in public life, should the war in Gaza turn against the Israelis.

The New Year brought with it clear blue skies, the weather better for the air force to spot targets, and the army and tanks to move into Gaza. A ground operation is supposed to flush the Hamas fighters from their hiding place and destroy them.

The political pressure on Israel to stop the attacks has begun. The UN on Wednesday rejected a proposal to call for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas because the proposal harshly criticized Israel but barely mentioned any Hamas responsibility. A revised proposal is expected to be submitted early next week. Analysts say that this gives Israel a few more days to act before the political pressure is put on Israel to call a cease-fire. Hamas has said they will continue firing until a cease-fire is called.

The Chairman of the Egyptian Foreign Relations Committee and former ambassador to Israel Muhammad Basyouni criticized Hamas Thursday, during an interview with Cairo's State Television. “Where are the Hamas leaders now, when Gazans are being killed? They are all in hiding." Referring to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's latest speech, Basyouni sparred: "No one cares if the Palestinians are annihilated? What kind of talk is that?! Gaza isn’t the only one facing aggression.”

But the British Broadcasting Corporation, normally known to lean towards the Arab positions, described the heavy toll the Palestinians were paying for the Israeli strikes, and barely mentioned Israel’s damage, other than say a “few thousand” Israeli were under rocket attack, when the actual number is close to half-a-million.

The US government has so far backed the Israeli move. President-elect Barak Obama is sill twenty days from assuming the presidency, and has remained quiet on the issue of the Israeli operation; a spokesman said that the US has an orderly transfer of power with only one president serving at a time. So far, the spokesman said, George W. Bush is still the president and he makes the decisions. Israel Television’s channel 1 ran an archive clip from Obama’s pre-election visit to Israel. In it he said that he would do everything he could to keep rockets from falling on his daughters.

As the New Year begins one wonders how this latest chapter in the on-going fight between Israel and radical Islam will end, with the next chapter introducing new characters and a new story line, or more of the same, with no resolution in site.