Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tzuk Eytan (Protective Edge) Day 17

“Hamas planned for a fight to last six weeks,” said Or Heller, military correspondent of Israel’s Channel 2 tv news. Channel 10 tv News at Five moderator Rafi Reshef said that neither Khaled Mashal, nor Hamas military leader Mohammed Def, are interested in a cease-fire. This as the body count increases daily. Palestinians say that so far 780 Gazans have died in this conflict. Israel says over 200 were Hamas fighters. So far nearly 2,000 Gazans have been injured.

CNN reported that 10-15 Gazans were killed when a UN school was attacked. It is unclear if the attack was by an errant Hamas missile aimed at Israel, or an IDF artillery shell. “If you notice, as I did today,” said one of Channel 10’s commentators, “CNN and others only show destroyed buildings and bodies of injured as they tag along with the UN. No where do you see Hamas fighters. No where do you see a Hamas weapon, not a rifle, not a RPG, nothing.” He pointed out that reporting in Gaza run by a terrorist organization did not produce a balanced view.

Thursday, Israel buried four more soldiers killed in battle. So far 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed, and one is missing in action, presumed dead, although Hamas claims he is a prisoner. Most military analysts say that the APC he was in that was destroyed by an RPG ignited a veritable ammunition depot inside the APC. The odds of anyone surviving the blast were negligible. Over fifty Israeli soldiers are in the hospital, four in grave condition. A farm worker from Thailand was also buried after he was hit by a motor while working on an Israeli farm along the Gaza border.

US Sec. of State John Kerry was in the region trying to kick-start a cease-fire, shuttling between Israel and Cairo, so far to no effect. Kerry has proposed a five-day “humanitarian” cease-fire, that would allow Hamas to collect their wounded and dead, bring in medical supplies, and attend to other civic matters.

So far Hamas has rejected these entreaties, demanding that first the ‘siege’ of Gaza be lifted. That the borders with Egypt and Israel are opened, a sea-port is opened, an airport is opened, the disarmament of the Israeli army, and other unlikely developments Israel would never agree to. Of course, said one commentator, Hamas does not point out that the borders were closed because in order to prevent Hamas suicide bombers from once again flowing into Israel, setting off bombs on buses, and in crowded markets.

But a cease-fire in Gaza seems a distant dream, said one analyst. When Prime Minister Netanyahu met Thursday with Britain’s Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, who was visiting Israel, no mention was made of a cease-fire. Reportedly, Hamas chief Mashal is enjoying the attention he is receiving from world leaders.

Alon Ben-David, Channel 10’s military correspondent said that Hamas is no where near a surrender. Hamas’ military commander Mohamed Def still considers his forces strong and ready to keep fighting. While one of the five Hamas brigades appears to have been severely curtailed, said Ben David, the other four are still actively operating in Gaza. In one pincer attack in the northern part of Gaza 150 Gazans, among them Hamas fighters, were surrounded by the IDF, and surrendered. In another area two Hamas fighters came out of hiding waving a white flag. Something, Ben David said, had never happened before.

Channel 2 tv News’ Or Heller reported that so far Israel has seized 31 tunnels, and destroyed 11. Many ran from Gaza under the fence right into Israel. More tunnels are still undiscovered, and the IDF, according to Heller, needs another week or two to find them, and destroy them. Simply finding a tunnel is not enough, he said. The IDF intelligence unit needs time to search the tunnels. so far maps and other information have been found, and the engineering unit needs time to rig and destroy the tunnels.

Given Hamas’ stubbornness to agree to a ceasefire, the Israeli government, according to these analysts, are no longer ready to agree to a cease-fire at any cost. The tunnels must first be destroyed, and then the cease-fire. However, Alon Ben David reported that little by little the IDF is also seeking other objectives than the tunnels. He did not go into details. He did say, however, that Hamas resistance, at least in one sector, has been significantly eliminated.  

Hamas continues to fire rockets. Ben David said,however, that the number has decreased slightly from a hundred plus a day to about 80. Sirens sounded across the Tel Aviv area last night and today. Analysts say that Hamas is aiming for Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, or the environs. FAA rules state that any attack within 2 miles of an airport requires an automatic ban on that airport. Ben Gurion was shuttered for 36-hours, stranding thousands of passengers, but reopened Thursday morning. Another Hamas rocket near the airport would shut down Ben Gurion again, causing the cancellation of hundred of flights. Hamas looks at the closure of the airport as a major achievement.

Farms and towns along the Gaza border are still peppered with short-range mortars, although the number has fallen off significantly, as the IDF destroys tunnels and drives the Hamas fighters away from the border.

According to observers, Hamas is still using the Gaza population as human shields, taking up positions in hospitals and school and apartment buildings, firing rockets, RPGs and machine guns at the IDF forces. The Israel army tries to clear the area of civilians before responding. One observer pointed out that in a war zone mistakes are made.  These mistakes are what makes headlines and provide Hamas with public relations successes, said the observer. He added that not all the civilian casualties are mistakes. Hamas has ordered civilians to stay in positions that the military wing are using to fire on Israeli forces. These human shields become unfortunate victims of a cold hearted Hamas strategy.

Pundits say that international pressure is mounting on Israel to stop the fighting, but Hamas, they say, seems quite content to carry on and ignore any calls for a cease-fire. Given that situation, Israel, they say, will continue to fight, destroy what they call “terrorist tunnels” and hope to put a stop to Hamas’ actions.

A large-scale invasion of Gaza is not on the agenda, say the analysts. That would require a massive call up of reserve soldiers, something that has not happened. Only this call-up, and a prolonged bloody war, would break the back of Hamas.

What Israel is hoping for, according to the observers, is that the international community will recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization that cannot be trusted to keep a lasting peace. That’s why, say the pundits, the PA’s Abu Mazen (Mohamed Abbas) is seen as the man of the hour. He will hopefully be given control of Gaza, and responsibility for any money donated by the international community to rebuild the war-torn neighborhoods. And possibly disarm Hamas in the process.

Shimon Peres stepped down as President of Israel Thursday night after his seven-year term ended. The 91-year old was replaced by Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, 74, in a modest ceremony at Israel’s Knesset. The event was kept to a minimum in respect to those who lost their lives, were wounded, or are still fighting Hamas in the Gaza.