Thursday, July 10, 2014

Day 3 Operation Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge)

Day 3 Operation Tzuk Eytan  (Protective Edge)

July 10, 2014

As of six o’clock in the afternoon over 100 rockets were fired by the militant Palestinian group Hamas from Gaza. This brings the total number of rockets fired at Israel over the last three days to nearly three hundred.  This includes four rockets that fell on Jerusalem at approximately six o'clock. The rockets caused no injury or damage.

Thursday morning news recorded a Tel Aviv bound rocket intercepted and destroyed by an “Iron Dome” missile. The TV showed scenes of rocket parts laying on the ground just ten feet from a gas pump at a southern Tel Aviv gas station.

According to Israeli media reports, as of the afternoon in Israel  over 60 Hamas targets were hit by the Israel air force, bringing the total attacked to over 800. The TV showed flattened homes and rubble scattered across Gaza. The Palestinians report that over twenty people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the Israeli attacks.

Ohad Hammo, an  Israeli Arab affairs reporter on Channel2  News said during a report that his “contacts and friends” in Gaza complain that their children want to know why the walls are shaking as F-16 jet fighters roar overhead dropping bombs. Hammo went on to report that the situation in Gaza was dire and has been for months. He also said that hundreds of thousands of Gazans are unhappy with the way Hamas is acting, and thus Hamas has mounted an intense PR campaign on Gaza TV to bolster support for the airstrikes.

Most analysts point to a Hamas “free-fall.” According to Channel 2 News Arab affairs veteran expert Ehud Yaari, Hamas is facing financial disaster. He said that Hamas has been unable to pay more than half salaries to over fifty-thousand Hamas employees, and over the last three months no money at all has been paid to Hamas’ employees.

In the past Hamas received support from the Syrians, and the Hezbollah, both now bogged down in a civil war. Analysts also point out that the Egyptians are now only too happy to see Hamas fall, since Hamas supported the Moslem Brotherhood government of President Morsi, who is now in jail So far the Egyptians  have denied Hamas the use of  smuggling tunnels from Egypt that brought in not only weapons but money.

Hamas supporters, like Qatar, can no longer send cash to Hamas through the now closed tunnels. Nor can they make bank transfers since Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the international community. Another supporter is Turkey, who has also been dinned access to Hamas. The only source of funds available to Hamas is from the Palestinian Authority run by Mohammed Abbas. For a short time Abbas’ PA and Hamas had a partnership, but that has come apart. Abbas has been plied with funds from the international community, and he could alleviate the Hamas financial strain if he so desired. But he doesn’t. Apparently he is under pressure from his donors, the EU, the US, Britain, and others, to let Hamas flounder.

Some analyst say that this move by Hamas is a desperate attempt to gain international attention and be pulled out of their financial turmoil. Hamas may expect the international community to step in and stop the conflict, then solve Hamas financial problems for ‘humanitarian’ reasons. And if not, Hamas has little to lose by continuing the firing. Most military analysts say Hamas has thousands of short and medium range rockets and hundred of long range rockets.

Or Hamas may be hoping that Israel will make a mistake and kill hundreds of Palestinians, many innocent of any terrorist activities, and then watch as the international community demands Israel stop their actions. Meanwhile Hamas fires hundreds of rockets at Israel.

Most of these rockets, like the short range ones, are manufactured locally, while the long range rockets originated in Iran, brought in through Syria and then Sudan, or by ship, like the one the Israeli army stopped a few months ago. That ship was laden with weapons and  long range missiles. Analysts say that other ships obviously got past Israeli scrutiny. The Palestinians also managed to copy the design of the medium and long range rockets and began manufacturing some of their own. However experts believe the long range rockets are too sophisticated and difficult to manufacture in Gaza.

On Wednesday Hamas launched another attack but not from the air. A squad of five Hamas commandos swam ashore at kibbutz Zikim, laden with automatic weapons, grenades and other explosives. The were spotted by the army and killed after a short fire-fight. Another group tried to infiltrate nearby-by kibbutz Yad Mordecai. On Thursday the army stopped a car with a home-made bomb trying to enter Israel from the West Bank. Other attacks by Hamas are also expected and the army, according to experts, is on high alert.

As Hamas kept up the rocket fire Israeli politicians were pressured to respond. At first the response was slow, and limited until Hamas began to fire rockets more frequently, and then to fire longer range rockets not only aimed at the Jewish farms, villages, and towns along the Gaza border or within a few miles from there, but also to strike at bigger cities like Ashkelon and Ashdod. Then Israel increased the level of air strikes. Observers say that once the sirens went off in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome en route to these cities, restraints began to drop off the governments moderate resolve.

Israel had initially, and according to analysts, reluctantly, issued a call up for 1,500 ground troops. After the massive Hamas barrage that number was raised to 40,000. A Tzav Shmona, an emergency call up, was initiated. Soon lawyers and accountants and computer engineers, as well as ambulance drivers and factory workers, were grabbing their uniforms and heading for the assembly points. Reports of long columns of tanks on Israeli highways heading south to the Gaza border were all over the news.

Another TV report stated that the Israeli authorities have begun calling residents of southern Gaza and warning them of imminent strikes and to make their way to western Gaza.  Israel has done that consistently before an air strike to limit civilian casualties, and obviate international ire. This new warning seems to hint at an impending air force strike. Or ground strike.  Or both.

Many of the Israeli targets up to now have been sites of known rocket factories, warehouses, or launching sites. Frequently these sites are located in a three-floor residential buildings where a family lives on the top floor, the missiles are stored on the second floor, and the launch site on the ground floor, near an open courtyard. The families are warned ten-minutes in advance of the impending air strike, so they can safely clear the area.

Many of the Hamas rockets are launched from the southern Gaza neighborhoods  that are apparently soon to undergo a massive attack, either from the air or the ground or both. Israel might just decide to sweep into Gaza and take over. Not an easy or clean task. But possible. However, analyst also point out that perhaps this is simply psychological warfare to keep the Gaza militants on edge.

Channel 2 Arab affairs expert Ehud Yaari has said that 8 Hamas militants were killed Thursday en route to fire rockets. One was a  long wanted militant in charge of rocket attacks as far back as ten years ago. The viewers were also reminded that rocket fire into the southern Israeli towns has been going on for nearly a year, a few rockets a week. Many residents of the south, and sympathetic politicians say this is an untenable situation. “What other country would allow rockets fired into their towns and not respond?” they ask. Israel, the analysts say, waited months. Dore Gold, an Israeli government representative, appeared on the BBC’s Hardtalk program and said that  a country that fires rockets on another country has committed an act of war. Hamas, a terrorist organization, fired fired on Israel and committed an act of war. Israel was slow to respond, Gold added.

The radio and television consistently shows the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza  streaking towards an Israeli target until the Iron Dome reaches and destroys the incoming missile, leaving a cloud of smoke in the sky as evidence of the hit. The Iron Dome has been the game breaker in this conflict, rendering Hamas impotent, at least so far, in their attempt to damage a significant Israeli target, or cause serious injury.

According to reports more than 50 Hamas missiles have been destroyed by the Iron Dome, all aimed for populations centers in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and as far away in the north as Zichron Yaacov, not far from Haifa, and as far south as Mitzpe Ramon, not far from Eilat.

So far the Hamas missiles have caused no deaths, serious injuries, or major damage to property. However nearly 2 million Israelis have between 15-seconds, if they live close to Gaza, up to 90-seconds, if they live in Tel Aviv or beyond, to find shelter before the rockets strike. An unnerving experience.

The Israel Army spokesman’s office has warned the public  repeatedly not to take the success of the Iron Dome for granted and find shelter once the sirens go off. The TV has scenes ever hour of people scurrying to bomb shelters or to a safe doorway as the siren blares in the background.

Israeli politicians claim that Israel has been dragged into the situation by Hamas who began a terrific barrage of rockets three days ago, shortly after the horrific death of the Arab teenager at the hands of  militant orthodox Jewish teenagers. Three Jewish youths have confessed to the crime, that included evidence the boy was buried alive after being burned nearly to death.

The Jewish militants were reportedly acting in response to the discovery of the bodies of three other Jewish teenagers who had been captured by Hamas militants while hitchhiking from the Gush Etzion West bank settlement of Efrat into Jerusalem. According to the police these boys were shot ten times shortly after their kidnapping and buried in an open field not far away. Their bodies were uncovered after a nearly three week manhunt by army, police, and volunteers that lasted.

Meanwhile, on Thursday Egypt called on the Israeli government to immediately cease any hostilities. This came as a surprise to some of the pundits since Egypt’s president Sissi has a long list of reasons why he wants Hamas gone. But res. Gen and former MK Ephraim Sneh, said in an interview that Sissi is probably worried what will be tomorrow in Cairo if he doesn’t make such a statement. “He doesn’t want a riot in the streets lead by the Moslem Brotherhood calling for Egypt to protect the poor Palestinians.”

While many Israeli military analysts like former Gen. Uzi Dayan, say that the only way to stop the rockets from returning in a year or two is to clean out Hamas from Gaza, others are worried that  dismantling the Hamas regime will only leave a vacuum filled by more radical elements like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) the rebel groups now fighting against the regimes of both Syria and Iraq.

The religious rivalry between the Sunni and Shiite moslems is now more evident than ever. Hamas is Sunni, as is ISIS, while Hezbollah, now fighting in Syria and Iraq, is Shiite, and supported by the Iranians.

Will Israel launch a long-term ground attack to go with the air strikes with a goal to seize Gaza? Or will a cease-fire be put in place before that happens? According to Channel 2 News military reporter Roni Daniel, it would take up to a week from the time the sides start talking through intermediaries until a cease=fire were put into place. Meanwhile, t Who knows when a Hamas rocket will sneak through the Iron Dome’s net, and land on a preferred target. Or when an errant Israeli bomb or artillery shell will take out a large apartment building, hospital, or school, killing scores of Gazans.

But most analysts say that Egypt is in no hurry to become a broker of a ceasefire. Hamas would have to go to them, hat in hand, and beg, something Hamas is not expected to do.

Wars, the pundits say, are easy to start, but no one really knows what will happen once the firing starts.