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Israel Alone By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Although Israel’s initial, concerted, surprise air-strike on Saturday dealt Hamas a harsh blow, by Monday and Tuesday the terror organization was already recovering. After managing to fire only about 30 rockets and mortars at Israel on Sunday, the number was back up to 100 on Monday, and the barrage continued on Tuesday.

Monday’s shellings cost the lives of three Israelis: an Arab Israeli working at a construction site in the coastal city of Ashkelon, an Israeli Druze army officer at a kibbutz bordering Gaza, and an Israeli Jewish woman in Ashdod, a major port north of Ashkelon. Another 32 people were injured. Throughout the day Hamas fired Iranian rockets at targets farther east and north of Gaza than it had ever hit previously, including the town of Yavne on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

Also on Monday and Tuesday Israel’s aerial bombardment of Hamas targets slowed down due to dense clouds covering the region. On Monday evening Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv with the chief of staff and heads of the intelligence agencies. The three political leaders emerged from the meeting reportedly agreeing that Israel’s campaign would continue and that its aim was to create a “new security environment.”

Still, a good deal remained unclear apart from weather conditions—not least how the Olmert government intends to deal with Hamas after letting the terror group increase its power to formidable proportions.

Not only was it reported on Tuesday that many of the Hamas operatives Israel has killed so far were ordinary policemen while the top-level leaders have gone into underground bunkers, but also that:

  • Hamas’s five territorial brigades in Gaza, numbering 20,000 fighters, remain almost unscathed, along with Special Forces for rocket and mortar fire and roadside bombs, plus commando forces;
  • The Israeli army expects Hamas to quickly rehabilitate its hard-hit control-and-command systems;
  • Iranian military experts may be advising Hamas, possibly on the ground in Gaza;
  • Along with the homemade and Iranian rockets it has used to bombard Israeli towns and villages, Hamas is thought to have smuggled in advanced antitank missiles and anti-aircraft guns; and
  • Hamas has built an extensive network of tunnels and burrows throughout Gaza for purposes of troop movements and entrapping Israeli tanks.

Meanwhile Israeli ground forces including infantry, tanks, and artillery kept amassing at the Gaza border while Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi spoke of “difficult moments to come” and Barak spoke of a “war to the bitter end.”

More sanguine assertions have been heard from some Israeli quarters that claim this time governments understand Israel and so far the media hasn’t been too hostile. Similar upbeat declarations were made at the start of the summer 2006 war against Hezbollah—a war in which Hezbollah ended up using its media allies to the hilt and governments and the UN, albeit with acquiescence from some of the Israeli leaders, ended up pressuring Israel to stop the campaign before Hezbollah was beaten.

On Tuesday Palestinian Media Watch reported that Hamas in Gaza was already deliberately exploiting the media-terrorist complex with staged scenes in hospitals and the like. For both the Washington Post and New York Times, three days of an Israeli counterattack on Hamas after seven years of the terror organization firing thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians are already too much.

As for governments and international organizations, if at the start the Bush administration was tacitly supportive—just as it was in the early stages of the anti-Hezbollah campaign before joining the anti-Israeli pressure—top UN officials including the secretary-general, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and British foreign minister David Miliband have already called for Operation Cast Lead to cease.

Now British prime minister Gordon Brown has joined the growing chorus by stating that “We are appalled by the continuing violence in Gaza and reiterate our call to Israel and Hamas for an immediate ceasefire to prevent further loss of innocent life.” On Tuesday the European Commission also announced that it “calls for an immediate halt to military hostilities that are having a heavy impact on the civilian population in Gaza.” In an afterthought, it “also firmly calls for a halt to the rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians.”

By Wednesday the Israeli cabinet was set to deliberate growing international pressures for a tentative 48-hour ceasefire, in which U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was already playing a key role. Barak was reportedly sympathetic, Olmert and Livni less enthused.

Hamas is a test both for Israel and the West in general—a test of whether, even after the mass atrocities perpetrated by fanatical movements in recent history, realism and resolve toward a genocidal actor like Hamas are possible. Assuming another flawed truce will not take hold and Israel will have to go into Gaza on the ground—with the accompanying bloodshed, casualty counts, footage from Gaza hospitals, tales about Palestinian families ripped asunder, and the like—the West, including the Bush administration sooner or later, will fail the test.

As for Israel, its government has also failed it over the past few years by allowing—amid obsessive shuttles to Cairo to arrange “ceasefires” and the like—Hamas to build itself to its present state of power and menace. A rain of rockets on Israeli towns means, though, that Israelis have less room for self-delusion and even weak leaders at some point decide to act.

But even if Israel perseveres in crushing Hamas, it will have to do so—amid all the other grave difficulties—under the psychological pressure of acting very much alone.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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