Sunday, January 04, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 9

One Israeli soldier. Dvir Emmanueloff, 22, from Givat Zev, was killed and one critically injured in the fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

According to Sky News approximately 150 Israeli tanks have taken up positions in a former Israeli settlement of what was called Netzarim in Gush Katif, but now part of Gaza. The occupation of this land effectively cuts Gaza in half. Tanks now control the major roads that cross from north to south.

Hamas rockets continued to fall on Israel today, one struck a home in Sderot, and others fell on Ashkelon and Ashdod, and for the first time on on Gan Yavne, some twenty-miles from the Gaza border.

According to Yoav Liimor, military correspondent of Israel Television's Channel 1, Israel has so far struck over 1,000 targets in Gaza, of them 720 were on the original list and the remainder targets of opportunity. Both including weapons storage facilities, smuggling tunnels, rocket launchers and launching sites. Palestinians said the air strikes also hit the American International School, a private institution in northern Gaza, killing a school guard.

Israeli sources say that the homes of Hamas leaders were hit, and that Mohammed Maaruf, an officer in the Hamas ground forces, was injured while driving in a vehicle. Israel said he was responsible for the entire rocket-launching operation in all of Gaza City. Another Hamas leader was also hurt in the attack on Maaruf.

Israel reportedly also fired into a Mosque killing over a dozen people, some civilians. A tank round fell in a shopping center in Gaza city, killing two. Another strike killed Mohammad al-Jammal, 40, who was said to be a Hamas military commander, according to the news service Agence France-Presse.

On Sunday the Israeli military continued to pound Gaza from the air, the sea, and land, including ground forces fighting battles in Gaza neighborhoods while seeking to engage the 15,000 – 20,000 Hamas fighters, the core of Hamas power in Gaza.

Israel said it had killed Hamas leader Hussam Hamdan, a senior Hamas member responsible for Hamas' rocket fire.. According to the IDF, Hamdan was the man behind the firing of Grad missiles towards the cities of Beersheba and Ofakim.

Israel claims it has killed over fifty Hamas fighters in close combat in the ground battle, but suffered 30 Israeli soldiers injured. Hamas claims it has captured two Israeli soldiers and killed five. Israel dismisses this claim as psychological warfare aimed at demoralizing the Israeli population..

According to the Haaretz newspaper Military Intelligence head Yuval Diskin told the Israeli cabinet today that Hamas is softening, and showing signs of accepting a cease-fire on more flexible terms. He also said Israel has killed hundreds of Hamas fighters and leaders who were hiding in the tunnels of Gaza. However a professor speaking on the popular London/Kirschembaum talk show said that there was no possiblity of Hamas hoisting a white surrender flag since it is not in their world view. Rather they'd prefer to die as Shahidim, martyrs.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been quoted as saying Hamas can stop the fighting anytime it wants by simply halting the rocket fire into Israel. The head of military intelligence has said that Hamas realizes it made a mistake breaking the cease-fire and firing rockets into Israel.

Media reports from Gaza state that Hamas is trying to draw the IDF deeper into the densely populated Gaza City where urban warfare will benefit the Hamas fighters. Israel TV has run footage showing that Israeli troops have been preparing for this type of fight for a year, just in case invading Gaza was necessary.

According to all the analysts this campaign is significantly different from the War in Lebanon II. Firstly there is a standing order by the army that no one is to speak to the press, from the Chief-of-Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, down to the lowliest private. Even Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has only made rare public appearances and statements.

This is in sharp contrast to the last war where Generals appeared on TV giving nearly play-by-play descriptions of the army’s moves. In this campaign all IDF soldiers had to turn in their mobile phones before going into battle. In the last campaign in Lebanon soldiers used their mobile phones to speak to their friends and families before during and after battles, with Hezbollah listening in, and gleaning valuable information that was used to help them fight the IDF.

Reportedly the Defense establishment has been planning this operation for over a year, ready to expand it at any stage, or cancel it should Hamas agree to a cease-fire. Tens of thousands of reserve troops have been called up, reportedly they are to relieve the regular army troops serving in the north, who would then be sent down to reinforce their comrades fighting Hamas. This call-up is yet another sign that Israel may be in Gaza longer than analysts anticipated. Because of this there has been talk of postponing the upcoming general elections.

Cabinet Minister Yitzchak Herzog told Israel’s Army radio Galei Tzahal that there is no talk of postponing the elections scheduled for February. This even though Defense Minister Barak’s standing among the public has risen. Both Barak and Herzog are in the labor party.

The next stage of the operation would be to send in sappers to diffuse the bombs and booby-traps in the smuggling tunnels around Gaza, especially in the Philadelphi route.

Schools in the South of Israel remained closed, and businesses were advised to take precautions and be close to shelter in the event of an attack. Over 900,000 Israelis are within range of the Hamas missiles. One commentator on Israel TV said that Hamas does not have one group of fighters firing rockets and another firing rifles at the IDF, so if the fighters are tied down in a battle they can’t fire rockets.

A vote of confidence on Israel’s goals was voiced by U.S. Sec of State Condoleezza Rice, who said that Hamas brought the problems on themselves by attacking Israel with missiles. This tone was also taken by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, visiting Israel on a solidarity trip. Bloomberg said if someone attacked New York with missiles he expected the US government to respond with everything it had, just as Israel is doing.

Palestinians and other pro-Hamas activists took a different view. A Palestinian demonstrator was killed in the West Bank town of Kalkilya by Israeli troops. On Saturday more than 20,000 demonstrators marched against the Israeli air campaign in Paris and more than 10,000 in London, where some threw shoes at the prime minister’s residence, copying a protest by an Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President Bush last month in Baghdad.

Large protests also took place in at least seven other European countries and in Kuwait, Israel and New York. The Moslem Brotherhood led a pro-Hamas demonstration in Egypt today, clashing with Egyptian police. On Sunday a group of protestors was turned back trying to reach the US embassy in Beirut.

Egypt has called for an immediate cease-fire, but has also said that it will not be drawn into a war with Israel to defend Hamas. Shlomi Eldar, the Arab Affairs correspondent for Israel’s Channel 2 has said that Egypt finally realizes that the Hamas arsenal can be turned against Egypt. Hamas is an offshoot of the radical Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood. Egypt worries that some of the Hamas weapons could find their way into the hands of the Moslem Brotherhood, who would use them to overthrow President Hussnei Mubarak and establish an Islamic state in Egypt.

The goal of completely eliminating Hamas is not realistic, according to Eldar, “Hamas is the people’ is the slogan Hamas uses in Gaza he said during a TV broadcast and in many ways it is true, he said. Hamas won the last popular election, although most agree that the election was rigged. Hamas will remain an active political movement even if the backbone of its strength, the military wing, is neutralized. Confronting and diminishing this fighting force is one of the main reasons Israel entered Gaza.

Another goal for the campaign, according to pundits, was to destabilize the Hamas government, and perhaps prepare the groundwork for an alternative, like PA moderate Mohammed Abbas. The problem with this, they say, is that the Fatah group, run by Abbas, is considered weak and corrupt. Hamas waged a civil war against Fatah and disarmed them, even tossing Fatah leaders off of rooftops in Gaza. However, one analyst said that after this operation by the IDF Gaza’s population may be more open to an alternative, one that is capable of negotiating a positive settlement with the Israelis, lifting the siege, turning on the electricity, getting back to some semblance of a normal life.

The question is, does Israel have enough time to eliminate Hamas from an effective leadership role in Gaza? So far many western countries are giving Israel time to do the job, just as they did when Israel fought Hezbollah, mainly because both these groups are classified as Terrorist Organizations by the world’s democracies. The last time under then Defense Minister Amir Peretz, essentially a political appointment to help Ehud Olmert’s Kadmah party stay in power,. Olmert and Peretz blew it. Perhaps this time, under the leadership of Minister Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier, former Chief of Staff, and former Prime Minister, the outcome will be different.

And this time the troops are well-trained, well-supplied, and working under a well-thought out plan, that the military claims is going the way it is supposed to. Many Israelis are watching, and waiting, hoping that the plans work.