Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Maybe this column would get a better reception if it were titled, "No Endgame for Israel." Because the quantity of commentary claiming that Israel cannot possibly achieve any kind of successful outcome in Gaza is already approaching presurge levels of Iraq defeatism.
The argument that Israel's assault on Gaza is an exercise in futility has four main parts. First, say the critics, Israel cannot defeat Hamas by restricting its attacks to the relatively safe distance of airstrikes and a limited land incursion. Down that road lies a reprise of the failed 2006 war with Hezbollah.
Next, they say, the human cost of taking physical control of Gaza will be too high in terms of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians. Down that road lie memories of the 1982 siege of Beirut.
Third, we are told that the only method by which Israel can prevent Hamas from regaining power is by resorting to another full-scale occupation. Down that road lies endless international condemnation and, inevitably, another excruciating intifada.
Finally, we hear that by invading Gaza, Israel has further weakened Palestinian moderates and midwifed into existence yet another generation of jihadists. Down that road lies the end of the two-state solution and, demography being what it is, the end of the Jewish state itself.
On this last point, it would be interesting to know how a two-state solution is supposed to come about by allowing Hamas to continue to rule half of a presumptive Palestinian state. Are we now to endorse a three-state solution of Israel, Hamastan and Fatahland? Are Israelis supposed to support a peace deal by looking at Gaza as the model for what they should expect in the West Bank? Is Mahmoud Abbas's hand strengthened by the mockery Hamas makes of his claims to presidential authority? And, speaking of Palestinian moderates, shouldn't the test of their moderation be a willingness to stand up to Hamas, if only rhetorically?
Then there is the matter of the war itself. Israel has already demonstrated that it has learned the principal lessons from the war with Hezbollah. It did not wait too long to begin the ground campaign. It resisted the lure of a premature cease-fire, engineered by others. It did not promise ambitious goals at the war's outset only to walk away from them amid military and diplomatic complications.
On the contrary, the stated goal of a "quiet" border with Gaza has the dual advantage of suggesting a degree of restraint while allowing Jerusalem to preserve its options as the battle unfolds. "Quiet" does not require the destruction of Hamas. But neither does it exclude it.
In other words, instead of being forced publicly to ratchet its aims downward, as it did in Lebanon, Jerusalem can now ratchet them upward, putting Hamas off-balance and perhaps tempting it to cut its losses by accepting a cease-fire on terms acceptable to Israel. Doing so would not quite amount to a defeat for Hamas. But it would be an unambiguous humiliation for a group whose greatest danger lies in its pretension of invincibility. Burst balloons aren't easily reinflated.
It is precisely for this reason that Hamas will likely fight on, in the hopes that Israel will flinch. Critics of military action point to this damned-if-Israel-does, damned-if-it-doesn't scenario as evidence of the folly of the war.
In Today's Opinion Journal
Yet by no means is it obvious that the Israeli army needs to walk directly into a Gaza City Götterdämmerung in order to achieve its military aims. Hamas has been able to arm itself with increasingly sophisticated rockets thanks to a vast network of tunnels running below its border with Egypt. Israel found it difficult to destroy that network prior to its withdrawal from Gaza and will not easily do so now. But by bisecting the Strip, as it has now done, it will have no trouble preventing these rockets from moving north to their usual staging ground, thereby achieving a critical war aim without giving Hamas easy opportunities to hit back.
Israel also has much to gain by avoiding a frontal assault on Gaza's urban areas in favor of the snatch-and-grab operations that have effectively suppressed Hamas's terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank. A long-term policy aimed squarely at killing or capturing Hamas's leaders, destroying arms caches and rocket factories, and cutting off supply and escape routes will not by itself destroy the group. But it can drive it out of government and cripple its ability to function as a fighting force. And this, in turn, could mean the return of Fatah, the closest thing Gaza has to a "legitimate" government.
All this will be said to amount to another occupation, never mind that there are no settlers in this picture, and never mind, too, that Israel was widely denounced for carrying out an "effective occupation" of the Strip after it imposed an economic blockade on Hamas. (By this logic, the U.S. is currently "occupying" Cuba.) If Israel is going to achieve a strategic victory in this war, it will have to stand firm against this global wave of hypocrisy and cant.
Israel will also have to practice a more consistent policy of deterrence than it has so far done. One option: For every single rocket that falls randomly on Israeli soil, an Israeli missile will hit a carefully selected target in Gaza. Focusing the minds of Hamas on this type of "proportionality" is just the endgame that Israel needs.
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IDF Spokesperson January 6th, 2009
Friendly Fire Incident
Three IDF soldiers were killed, one was critically wounded, three were severely wounded and 20 soldiers were lightly to moderately wounded as a result of an IDF tank shell explosion fired in error during an operation in the northern Gaza Strip. The shell hit a structure where the soldiers were located.
The families of the fallen and injured soldiers have been notified.
The incident occurred during an intensive battle waged by Golani Brigade soldiers against Hamas.
In the hours following the incident other scenarios were taken into consideration as the cause, including that the explosion was caused by an enemy anti-tank missile or that the structure was rigged with explosives, but these were later ruled out.
The injured soldiers received initial medical treatment in the field before being evacuated by helicopters and vehicles to hospitals in Israel. Heavy IDF artillery fire provided cover for the evacuation.
Golani Brigade commander, Colonel Avi Peled, sustained light injuries in the incident. Col. Peled oversaw the evacuation in the field and directed the artillery and aerial cover via communication systems. Only after all those
injured were evacuated did the brigade commander seek medical attention for himself.
IDF Spokesperson January 6th, 2009
Attack on House of Hamas Senior
IDF Officer Killed in Last Night's Incidents
A structure was attacked in a joint IDF and ISA operation a short while ago in Jabaliya. Iman Siam, the head of the Hamas rocket launching program was known to be present in the house. Siam is one of the senior Hamas militants
in the Gaza Strip and founded the organization's rocket launching program, and is also the head of Hamas' artillery program throughout the Gaza Strip.
In addition, the IDF Spokesperson Unit announces that in last night's incident, an IDF officer was killed during the operation in the northern Gaza Strip.
The family of the officer has been notified. The details of the event are still being investigated; however it is
suspected that a tank shell was mistakenly fired at the force.
Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
The year 2008 saw the peak of rocket use by Hamas and the other terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip. Last year, the terrorist organizations managed to significantly increase the scope of rocket attacks. They gradually put nearly one million Israeli civilians living in the south (about 15 percent of the entire population) within the range of the rockets, and posed a security challenge to Israel, prompting it to launch Operation Cast Lead.
Rocket fire and mortar shelling first started in 2001, gradually becoming the major threat posed by the Palestinian terrorist organizations, which consider it an asymmetrical, simple, cheap, and reliable solution to Israel’s military superiority. The rockets, while still having their share of problems and shortcomings, in the terrorists’ view, allow them to disrupt the lives of Israeli civilians within the range of fire, destabilize their social fabric, override the security fence built by Israel along the Gaza Strip, and create a kind of balance of terror that makes it difficult for Israel’s security forces to conduct counter-activities and reflects the terrorist policy of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Following are three major characteristics of the use made by Hamas and the other terrorist organizations of rockets during 2008 (see chapter on statistical data for details):
a. A dramatic increase in the extent of rocket fire and mortar shelling despite the six months long lull in the fighting: in 2008, the peak year of rocket fire and mortar shelling, a total of 3,278 rockets and mortar shells landed in Israeli territory (1,750 rockets and 1,528 mortar shells). That is a significant increase compared to 2007 (the number of landings in 2008 more than doubled) and compared to the previous years of the Palestinian terrorist campaign.
b. A significant increase in the number of Israeli residents exposed to rocket fire within 40 km of the Gaza Strip: before 2008, the city of Sderot (about 20,000 residents) as well as villages around the Gaza Strip were the preferred target of rocket fire and mortar shelling. In 2008, other cities and hundreds of thousands of Israelis gradually entered the circle of fire: first the cities of Ashkelon and Netivot, and later, during Operation Cast Lead, Ashdod, Beersheba, and other cities within a range of 40 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. The rocket attacks created a new reality in which nearly one million Israeli residents (about 15 percent of the entire population) are exposed to rocket fire and mortar shelling in various levels of intensity.
c. A significant improvement in the effectiveness of rockets and mortar shells possessed by Hamas and an increase in their quantity: in 2008, Hamas put into use 122-mm Grad launchers (for ranges of 20.4 km and approximately 40 km) and standard 120-mm mortars, which were smuggled into the Gaza Strip (in our assessment, from Iran). Those standard rockets and mortars, significantly different from self-manufactured rockets and mortars, not only increased the range of fire but also increased its effectiveness. That is a result of increasing the rockets’ warhead size and their fragmentation. As for the mortars—the standard 120-mm mortars are more precise and their range is greater than that of the other mortars possessed by Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.
The quantity of rockets held by Hamas and the other terrorist organizations has also increased, currently reaching, in our assessment, a constant supply of several hundred selfmanufactured 90 and 115-mm rockets and an unknown quantity of self-manufactured long-range rockets capable of attaining greater ranges (up to 19 km). Also, we assess that Hamas has dozens of standard long-range Grad rockets (122-mm) with a range of 20.4 km and a range of approximately 40 km, smuggled into the Gaza Strip through the tunnels in the Rafah region, some during the lull in the fighting.
As a result of the rocket and mortar shell fire, eight people were killed in 2008, four of them during Operation Cast Lead.1 During that operation, 58 people were injured as a result of rocket and mortar fire, 10 of them moderately and severely (as at December 31, 2008). Also, several dozen civilians were injured as a result of the rocket fire in 2008 (prior to Operation Cast Lead), and several hundreds suffered stress-related traumas. The number of fatalities, injuries, and stress-related traumas in 2008 is added to the number of casualties in the previous years of the confrontation (2001-2007): 10 civilians were killed, 434 were wounded, and thousands of civilians suffered from anxiety, shock, and various traumas as a result of the fire. The continuing fire of rockets and mortar shells has a severe, cumulative psychological effect on the population, causing severe damage to its social structure and severe damage to its feeling of safety. The fire also disrupts the efforts to promote a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians (the Annapolis process) by creating a lasting reality of rocket fire and counter-measures by Israel, which reached their peak in Operation
See the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center for statistical data in various spreads about the rocket fire and mortar shelling in 2008 compared to previous years:
a. Rocket fire chart in yearly distribution, 2000-2008
b. Mortar shelling chart in 2000-2008
c. Rocket fire chart in monthly distribution in 2008
d. Mortar shelling in monthly distribution in 2008
e. Rocket fire and mortar shelling during the lull in the fighting
f. Rocket fire and mortar shelling during Operation Cast Lead (as at December 31)
g. New Grad rockets and mortars which became operational in 2008
What Hamas Wants: It’s not peace, reconciliation, or even an end to the carnage.
By Clifford D. May
A thought experiment: Imagine that Hamas announces it will immediately cease and desist from firing missiles into Israel, that there will be no more such attacks in the future, and that it will release Gilad Shalit, the Israel soldier kidnapped two and a half years ago and held incommunicado ever since — with not even the Red Cross allowed to see him. What would happen then?
Moderate Israelis would pressure their government to make a reciprocal gesture: to stop the air attacks on Hamas’s command and control centers, release Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails and get serious peace talks underway.
But anyone who knows anything about Hamas also knows that such a scenario is implausible. Hamas was created to fight and win holy wars — not to seek peace and sing kumbaya with infidels. Hamas wants a Palestinian state in place of Israel — not next door to Israel. And for Hamas, preventing Palestinian carnage is not a priority. That’s not a slander, it’s a fact. As Hamas parliamentarian Fathi Hamad eloquently phrased it: “We desire death as you desire life.”
In 2005, Israelis undertook a real-life experiment: They said: “The Palestinians have a grievance: our occupation of Gaza and the West Bank — even though we administer those territories as the consequence of a war launched to annihilate us. But if our presence provokes violence, let’s see what results from our absence.” That summer, Israel pulled every soldier and settler out of Gaza. Every house of worship and cemetery was removed. But greenhouses were left behind.
Palestinians might have responded by using those greenhouses to grow flowers for export. They might have built factories, schools, hospitals, and hotels along their Mediterranean beaches. Had that been their choice, moderate Israelis surely would have made further concessions — for example, uprooting Israelis from the West Bank as well, and offering to negotiate a division of Jerusalem.
Instead, of course, Palestinians smashed the greenhouses and put Hamas in charge. Since then, Hamas has done nothing to spark economic development. Nevertheless, it has bemoaned the increasing destitution of unoccupied Gaza — now blaming it on Israel’s “siege” — and demanding aid, not least from Israel, which has given it (as has the U.S.), even as the rockets have fallen
We should understand by now that when Hamas officials vow to fight “occupation,” they are referring to any and all territory on which Israelis now exercise self-determination. Osama Hamdan, Hamas’s representative in Lebanon, said: “Our goal is to liberate all of Palestine, from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea…” Similarly Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar has said: ”We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay, nor his ownership of any inch of land.”
This is not merely a negotiating posture, on which there can be compromise once diplomats arrange meetings. It is, rather, a religious conviction. Article 11 of the Hamas Charters states unambiguously that “the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [endowment] consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.”
In Hamas’s view, a Muslim may do his duty and wage war for Israel’s destruction. Or a Muslim may shirk his duty. There is no third option.
One final thought experiment: Imagine that Hamas someday achieves its goal and wipes Israel off the map. Would that be the end of the global conflict now being waged by militant Islamists? Or would the Khomeinists of Iran — Hamas’s chief benefactor — al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba and similar groups be energized and encouraged? Having vanquished the “Little Satan,” what is the chance they could be sweet-talked out of continuing to battle the “Great Satan” in pursuit of the power and glory they believe is their due?
By contrast, if Israel can deliver a crippling blow to Hamas, the mission of the militant jihadists will appear to have lost Divine sanction. As my colleague, the historian Michael Ledeen, has noted: “Nothing is more devastating to a messianic movement than defeat.”
© 2009 Scripps Howard News Service
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.
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