Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)
Late this afternoon — in line with a Security Cabinet decision yesterday to expand our actions against Hamas — IDF ground operations began in Gaza. This followed a heavy artillery bombardment to soften things up.
Large numbers of troops from the Infantry Corps, Engineering Corps and Armored Corps have entered at several points, accompanied by intelligence units, in the north of Gaza. (Reports are being received of three different fronts advancing.)
Our troops have engaged with Hamas fighters already and it is believed that more than 30 Hamas people have been killed.
As I write there have been no Israeli casualties. This is significant because there had been dire predictions of booby-trapped ground that awaited our troops entering on foot. Either those predictions were erroneous or the “softening up” we did with artillery took care of it.
An IDF official has stated that, “For the time being, we are facing several hubs of resistance, yet we are not dealing with massive resistance.”
Tens of thousands of additional reservists have been called up, to be utilized as needed.
At the moment, for whatever it means, there are no rockets being launched from Gaza. There are expectations that launchings may well start again and even intensify for a period.
Our navy has established a blockade at sea, to prevent Hamas from being aided in that direction.
Prime Minister Olmert has said, briefly, “The time has come for Israel to do what Israel must do.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave a brief statement tonight in which he said, “it won’t be easy, it won’t be short.”
“We have been biting our lips for long enough, but now we must provide our citizens with what every citizen deserves – peace and quiet.”
All Barak said about the aim of the operation was that it was to hit Hamas and its infrastructure hard.
We know that there was no specific goal of taking out Hamas enunciated in the Security Cabinet decision — because both Eli Yishai (Shas) and Haim Ramon (Kadima) abstained in protest of the fact that it was not.
There has been a good deal of criticism of the “triumvirate” of Olmert, Barak and Livni for not being more explicit with regard to the goals of this operation. But at this point I am holding my peace.
Two things seem possible to me: One, that they know exactly what they would like to do, but are being careful not to set a goal publicly that might not be met — which would bring the accusation that we had failed.
And two, that they have tiered goals, so that how far we move towards more difficult goals depends on how successful we are with the first goals. For example (and this is just my example), perhaps we will try to substantially weaken Hamas, but if we find that goes well might eventually move on to take out Hamas.
The goal here, besides weakening Hamas, is to declare victory over Hamas. There is a vast political, diplomatic, public relations element at work here — not just the military. If we fail to achieve what we said we would achieve, it’s hard to claim that victory. If a fairly vague “hitting Hamas hard” is the stated goal, we’re well on our way to achieving it.
Barak is saying with a tone of assurance that we’ll come out ahead this time. This is desperately important.
I will make no comments here, no predictions, regarding what this operation will look like, or where it will lead our troops within Gaza. Will they enter Gaza City? Go south? Don’t know.
This seems like a good point to review our situation:
Since we pulled out of Gaza in 2005 — an act that was supposed to bring peace to the area and an opportunity for the Palestinians to develop the region — more than 6,000 Kassam rockets, mortar shells (and, until recently, in only small numbers, Katyusha rockets), have been fired at us.
In June 2006, terrorists associated with Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. An IDF operation into Gaza at that time was not successful in rescuing him.
Sderot and surrounding areas have been enduring attacks for a long time. Rockets were launched by Hamas even when the PA was in charge of Gaza, but the intensity of the attacks increased after Hamas took Gaza in June 2007. Since they took over, there have been more than 6,000 rocket launchings and mortar shell firings by Hamas and associated terrorists organizations. This past year, 2008, there were more than 3,200.
In addition, during the period that Hamas has been in control in Gaza, it has been smuggling in from the Sinai vast quantities of weapons of increasing sophistication, as well as training troops to establish an army.
From the time of the Israeli operation in June 2006, in response to the Shalit kidnapping, until this time, there have been only brief Israeli incursions inside Gaza or air actions, in response to particular rocket attacks. A weapons storage facility or a launching site would be taken out.
This past June, Israel and Hamas arranged an informal period of quiet (know as a tadiyeh ). Understood as part of this agreement, during which Israel was committed to cease any actions inside of Gaza, was that Hamas would stop smuggling of weapons and engage in serious negotiations for the release of Shalit.
Hamas failed to honor either of these stipulations, and in fact some rockets continued to be launched during the six months of ostensible quiet — but in lesser numbers.
Ultimately, in December, it was Hamas that opted not to negotiate a renewal of the six month period of quiet. And it was Hamas that began to launch — or sanctioned the launching by related groups — of larger numbers of rockets, including, now, more of the sophisticated Grad Katyushas, with a great range and precision. At least 1 million Israelis are within a range of these rockets.
No nation in the world can tolerate such a situation. Hamas is sworn to our destruction.
And yet, in spite of this, there is opposition internationally to our operation. There are major demonstrations in various places. There are places in the world where Israel simply cannot be right.
The ultimate irony — a very bitter irony — is something I saw cited on YNet: A demonstrator in the Netherlands called out, “Ann Frank is turning in her grave.” Ann Frank would have been standing on a chair cheering us, for had there been an Israeli army in her day, she would not have died in a concentration camp. The point here is that we’re never going the way of Ann Frank again, and that is what Hamas seeks.
But this is not the whole picture: we are gratified for much support. Right now the White House is quiet. The head of the EU, the president of the Czech Republic, said via a spokesman that “from the perspective of the last days, we understand this step as a defensive, not offensive, action.”
At present, the UN efforts to require us to stop are stalemated, as the Arabs are still pushing a one-sided resolution that will not pass.
While much of the world loves to cast us as heartless monsters, the fact is that our humanitarian stance is extraordinary. Who but us behaves in this careful fashion:
On Thursday, when we were preparing to hit the home of Sheikh Nizr Rayyan, we placed a phone call to that home first, warning the family (which ultimately opted not to leave).
Before our ground operation started today, leaflets were dropped advising civilians to move out of the way.
Earlier this week, a Gazan boy with a serious head injury was rushed through into Israel and taken to Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva. We had been scheduled to open the Kerem Shalem crossing tomorrow for movement of other wounded Gazans into Israel, but I will assume this has been co-opted by the ground operation.
On Thursday, Col. Moshe Levi, commander of the IDF’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), flatly rejected Palestinian claims that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza: In the course of one week, we facilitated the passage into Gaza of more than 330 trucks carrying food, medical supplies and medicines, even as our south was being bombarded with missiles from Gaza. We also facilitated the transfer of 10 ambulances and 2,000 units of blood.
On Friday, we allowed 300 Palestinians in Gaza who have citizenship elsewhere to come through into Israel.
It is important to remember, as we begin the ground operation, that Hamas, totally oblivious to the welfare of its own people, uses those people as human shields, by storing weapons and launching attacks inside civilian population areas. Deaths of civilians that will result, in spite of major Israeli efforts to avoid them, will be on the head of Hamas.