In a different battle from the ones that claimed the soldiers I named yesterday, we lost one other soldier: St.-Sgt. Alexander Mashevizky, of the Engineering Corps. If I locate a photo of him, I will run it, for he, too, should be honored.
Yesterday, Hamas terrorists stationed themselves on the grounds of an UNRWA school in the refugee camp of Jabaliya in northern Gaza and fired mortar shells at nearby IDF troops. The troops returned fire; an IDF investigation indicates that they acted according to procedures.
However, what happened subsequent to this is that there was an explosion and over 30 Palestinians inside the school building — of the many more said to be hiding there — were killed. Our defense officials say that booby-trapped bombs were hidden in the school and were set off by the fighting, killing persons inside.
A great deal has been made of this, and it hurts our public image. This is particularly painful because it is clearly and unequivocally Hamas that is at fault here. Yet one continues to read of the deaths “caused” by Israel.
I routinely point out that when Hamas conducts itself in a fashion that puts civilians at risk, that it is guilty of a war crime. Here I would like to refine this statement a bit, and in the process demonstrate how difficult it is for Israel to cope with the situation:
Someone with considerable knowledge with whom I spoke this morning pointed out to me that Hamas is not a sovereign nation and is not a signatory to international agreements that define the rules of war — and what constitutes a war crime. Hamas does as it pleases, without legal entanglements or concern for the standards of the international community. And he’s right. So technically what I need to say is that Hamas is behaving in a way that is defined as a war crime by the civilized international community, but Hamas does not care.
The issue is how the most civilized and moral of nations, Israel, handles itself in military confrontation with a group such as this.
Today I attended a special briefing at the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, on the issue of what constitutes victory for Israel, in both the military and diplomatic aspects. Dr. Dore Gold, who heads the Center, spoke, as well as Brigadier General (res.) Yossi Kupervasser.
When the issue of Hamas willingness to sacrifice civilian lives was raised, Dr. Gold referred to Sheikh Nizar Rayyan, the Hamas terrorist leader who had been taken out by Israel recently. Rayyan’s family was with him when their house was hit. Information about their refusal to leave, even after IDF warnings, had made the press. Dr. Gold, however, said that when Rayyan knew the IDF was coming after him, he actually called his family, which had been elsewhere, to join him.
I have now searched the Internet for information on this, and found the following that came from Ma’an, a Palestinian news agency that interviewed Walaa, one of Rayyan’s surviving daughters:
“‘My father raised us all to love martyrdom,’ Walaa said. ‘If you had the chance to ask my 4-year-old sister Aaysha, who died in the attack, she would have told you that she preferred to die martyr.’
“…According to one of his four wives, Rayyan would tease his children in the days before his death, and ask them: ‘Who wants to die martyr with me?’ and all his children used to answer, ‘Yes daddy, we all want to be with you alive or dead.’ His youngest son said, ‘I can’t imagine that you die martyr and leave me behind unable to see you. I want to die with you.'”
How to cope with this?
Christopher Gunness, an official with UNRWA, has now said that UNRWA was “99.9% certain there were no militants or military activity in its school.”
And I am 99.9% certain that Gunness is lying. I speak as someone who has done years of research on UNRWA and has known for a long time that terrorists use UNRWA schools. (I have documented material on this and will return to the subject in due course.)
I am certain because I know the IDF does not just shoot at schools and I believe what they’ve said here.
Residents living near the school, who wisely chose to go unidentified, told AP yesterday that they saw terrorists shooting near the school. And some of those who were killed inside the school have been identified by the IDF as part of a rocket launching cell. They include senior operatives Imad Abu Askhar and Hassan Abu Askhar.
We will never know how many others of the 30 allegedly killed in that operation were actually terrorists and not “innocent” civilians.
Last year the IDF filmed a terrorist who was operating — and firing mortars — from an UNRWA school. They provided the video to UN Secretary-General Ban, who promised to investigate. He has yet to give an answer.
Enemies of Israel are all about.
General Kupervasser spoke at today’s briefing about the fact that the air operation was important, but did not achieve goals that were critical. We hit some weapon storage and many weapon production sites. Some key figures were taken out, but not enough. Thus has the ground operation been necessary.
Hamas tries to hit us indirectly, using booby-traps, etc., and to avoid direct confrontation. We are trying to flush them into the open. They have had Iranian training, but are not as well trained as Hezbollah. Our efforts in fighting them have been impressive and our casualties minimal. But right now there are fighters remaining and rockets remaining, and they still have the capacity to launch against us.
The more the pressure is maintained on Hamas, and the more they are in isolation, the more likely that they will crumble. Every day their ability to fight erodes further. What is needed is time.
Says General Kupervasser, Hamas has not yet surrendered its goal of using Gaza as a base to attack us. They are not yet convinced that there’s a new game. And indeed, Hamas made a statement to this effect today, declaring that there is no intention of accepting a permanent ceasefire and they intend to keep fighting the “occupation.”
The general believes that given enough time we could get Hamas to that point. They have a vested interest now, he says, in holding on to control of Gaza. If they see that they must decide between losing Gaza or surrendering the fight, they might give up the practice of attacking us. Destroying us would become only a dream, for the future.
Perhaps. (I and others still suspect that giving up the practice of terrorism would be only a temporary maneuver on their part.) What is clear, however, is that it is not time to stop. They are not yet on their knees. Victory is close, but not yet ours.
In line with all of this, the IDF was talking today about expanding the operation to move into all of Gaza, and the Security Cabinet was supposed to meet to discuss this. Temporarily this was put on hold because of potential progress (if we can call it that) in the diplomatic arena.
The diplomatic progress involves discussions between Sarkozy and Mubarak, in an attempt to come up with a cease-fire plan that is acceptable to both sides. For the first time, Rice, instead of stalling, was saying this is going in a good direction. What is more, she was talking about re-instating Abbas in Gaza. This is her own pipe-dream, a step towards the fulfillment of the negotiations she’s worked on. But it’s not going to happen.
All-in-all, however, this was a most worrisome state of affairs.
Sarkozy wanted us to stop fighting now, while this ceasefire is being discussed and shaped in its particulars. But Olmert told him, nothing doing: We haven’t come this far to stop for an unknown quantity in terms of arrangements.
Both Sarkozy and the PA (Abbas is most eager) have lent the impression that we’re solidly on board. This is not the case.
The core issue is the stopping of smuggling and how to achieve it. Egypt must be a key player here, as a major part of the action to stop it would take place on Egyptian soil. (Interestingly, talk about the Philadelphi Corridor has diminished.) Egypt for the first time today is saying it needs help, notably Israeli help, certainly with intelligence. And it is said there would be a significant contingent of US army engineers involved.
But what has evolved is that there are other elements of the proposal Egypt was advancing that are definitely not to our liking: Including Hamas in discussions and opening all crossings.
That being the case, the Security Cabinet has now met and said we are going forward with the battle. In the coming days, we will be continuing the operation in order to achieve our goals. Hamas must be squeezed and crushed. Our government — glory be! — is not caving. Breath a sigh of relief.
Olmert has no intention of returning to a glorified version of what we had with Hamas before, and has no intention of negotiating with Hamas. He wants conditions imposed on a vanquished Hamas. Livni has said this repeatedly — negotiations with Hamas would give it credibility. We want to isolate and weaken Hamas. The mere fact that Egypt is thinking about making concessions to Hamas to get them to stop firing shows with certainty that they are not vanquished yet.
Israel has expressed gratitude to France and Egypt for its efforts and will be sending a delegation to participate in discussions regarding the cease-fire. Said cease-fire is several days down the road, at least.
We held a three-hour cease-fire today, at the request of Sarkozy, to allow more humanitarian supplies to come in and the civilian population to collect materials from warehouses.
As soon as this time was over, Hamas hit Beersheva with two Grad rockets.
Atlanta (information from Joel Margolies)
Today, Wednesday, January 7, at 7:30 PM, Ahavath Achim Congregation, 600 Peachtree Battle Ave NW
Fort Lauderdale FL
Tomorrow, Thursday, January 8, 5:00 PM, at US Federal Building, Broward Blvd. and Third St.
For info: (305) 864-5110
Sunday, January 11, 3:00 PM, Tennessee Legislative Plaza
Tomorrow, Thursday, 12:00 PM, noon, Love Park, Center City