“Sof sof!” That’s “finally!” in Hebrew. Finally, a strong military response to Hamas with the promise of more to come. A sigh of relief follows this.
Whether the “more” will be all that is needed remains to be seen. But today was a most auspicious beginning for the operation. In fact it’s being called the most serious offensive in Gaza in over 40 years. So far there have been at least 170 sorties utilizing war planes and helicopters, and some 60 targets have been hit. These include (according to the IDF): Hamas headquarters in Tel Zatar; the tower in Gaza City that was used as an operations center; the Hamas police academy — which was bombed during a graduation ceremony, killing some 70; Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s office; and headquarters of the Izzadin Kassam Brigades (military wing of Hamas). Various other command posts, warehouses, training centers, security compounds, rocket manufacturing facilities and underground launching sites were hit.
Reports are that over 220 people in Gaza have been killed and many others wounded. According to Taher Noono, a spokesman for Hamas, most of those killed were members of the Hamas security forces, including police chief Tawfiq Jaber and the head of the organization’s Security and Protection Service, Ismail al-Jabary. (See http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?id=20601087&sid=aw5WKSxUSqHU&refer=home)
What this does, at last, is change the game, putting us in control and Hamas on the defense. This is not a “proportional” response to a particular rocket attack. We’re aiming for infrastructure now.
And we managed to come in for our first blows with a huge element of surprise: Word is that our opening of crossings yesterday led Hamas leaders to assume we were softening and had no intention of hitting them; nor were they expecting an attack on Shabbat. Additionally, they had factored in the coming election here and assumed that if we were going to hit at all it wouldn’t be until after that.
What is more, our attacks were incredibly accurate: We’d been honing our intelligence for a full year in order to be able to do this.
Prime Minister Olmert delivered a live TV address today, with Foreign Minister Livni and Defense Minister Barak joining him. We tried peace, he said, but Hamas has shown it is hostile and not interested in peace. He said the operation may take weeks and the south of the nation, bordering on Gaza, must be prepared for an escalation in the number of rockets launched — some reaching further than any have until now. It is estimated that as many as 150-200 a day could be launched.
Olmert also made it clear that we do not consider the people of Gaza our enemies and that we will do everything possible to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
We have tanks and infantry moving towards the border with Gaza now, as we prepare to go in as necessary. Barak is in consultation with Chief of Staff Ashkenazi on the next steps to be taken. In a press conference, Barak said the operation would deepen and widen as necessary. The IDF had prepared for months for this operation. “It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.”
Tzipi Livni put out this statement: “…today there is no other option than a military operation. We need to protect our citizens from attack through a military response against the terror infrastructure in Gaza. This is the expression of our basic right to self-defense.”
The question remains of precisely what the goals of this operation are.
Olmert said: “The operation is intended to radically improve the security situation of the residents of southern Israel.”
A statement released by his office put it this way: “…the IDF [has been] ordered to act to bring about a cessation of rocket fire for a length of time,”
That’s considerably vague and more than a bit simplistic. While the goal here is not to topple Hamas, this clearly is no longer a matter of simply getting Hamas to agree to another “lull” while they retain the option to hit us again at will.
In a statement I find astonishing (for him), Barak said today in a Fox News interview that, “For us to be asked to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like asking you to have a ceasefire with al-Qaeda. It’s something we cannot really accept.”
But precisely at what point will it be considered that we’ve done enough to “radically improve security”? And how long a cessation of rocket fire is “a length of time”? This is not sufficiently clear or straightforward.
The Post, citing “defense officials,” was more specific: Israel’s goals, they say, are to “end Hamas rocket fire, end smuggling of arms into Gaza and severely disrupt any Hamas military activity.”
That’s a major step in the right direction and implies a significant operation. We’ll have to see how they expect to end smuggling.
How far we go and how much we achieve will be determined in part by our strength in the face of the international outcry. Such an outcry is inevitable and has already begun.
That the Arabs say they’re “furious” comes as no surprise — whatever they may think privately about our taking on an Iranian proxy, this is the line they’ll take publicly. Abbas has condemned the attack, as has Egypt.
But already France, as well, has protested our “disproportionate response.” At least President Sarkozy also condemned the Hamas attacks.
For then we have (with acknowledgement to Lenny Ben David for calling this to my attention) the libelous charge by the Telegraph in the UK, stating that, “The attack on the Gaza strip is proof that Israel is addicted to violence. Slaughtering 155 civilians, many of whom are women and children, cannot be justified.”
See above for a Hamas spokesman’s accounting of who was killed. Most of those killed, reports the IDF, were in uniform. I cannot emphasize enough the fact that this was a razor sharp operation because of the preparatory intelligence work done. We didn’t go in and drop some bombs — we knew precisely where they were being dropped. The IDF spokesman’s office has released pictures of targets taken before the bombs were dropped. And please, keep this in mind as you encounter the negative press.
The UN and the EU have both called for a cessation of hostilities. So has Condoleezza Rice, who, while condemning Hamas attacks, expressed concern about “escalating violence” and called for the ceasefire to be restored immediately and fully respected.
This is where the international diplomatic preparation that Livni has been doing should kick in, if she’s done the job right.
But even so, we will have to monitor carefully and expose the outright Arab lies and distortions — which you may remember well from the Lebanon War.
The Hamas rocket response to our operation began by early this afternoon and soon took a toll. When 10 rockets were launched toward Netivot, one directly hit a private home, killing 58-year-old Beber Vaaknin and wounding three others. Another rocket that hit a synagogue in Eshkol Regional Council seriously wounded a man.
By 9 PM tonight over 60 rockets had been fired.
The Hamas verbal response was as bellicose as might be predicted.