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Hamas in the Crosshairs By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, January 05, 2009

On Saturday, Israel began its much-anticipated ground offensive in Gaza amid a climate of uncertainty. By Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours into the invasion, there was evidence that the mission was succeeding.

Two of Israel’s intelligence chiefs gave upbeat assessments of the general situation. Amos Yadlin, the head of Israel’s military intelligence, said that “Hundreds of terrorists have been killed and weapons and ammunition stocks have been destroyed.” Moreover, according to Yadlin, “the Hamas government isn’t functioning.”

Yuval Diskin, the head of the General Security Service, was also upbeat. He told the Israeli cabinet that Hamas was nearing the point of suing for a ceasefire as a result of Israel’s military pressure. “A real threat exists today against the Hamas enterprise in the Gaza Strip,” Diskin said. “The [Hamas] leaderships in Gaza and abroad feel an existential threat.”

There’s no question that Israel’s war effort so far looks much better than the one against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. The one-week bombing campaign that preceded this weekend’s ground invasion was carried out without grandiose claims that Hamas had been smashed. It was well-calibrated, effective, and diverse, targeting everything from smuggling tunnels and munitions stocks, to government buildings and top Hamas leaders.

Israel has also benefited from much-improved military leadership. In 2006, then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz – a small-time, far-Left union boss – proved grossly inadequate to the task of directing Israel’s armed forces. At the military helm this time is Peretz’s far more suitable replacement, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. A decorated soldier, Barak now has a chance to atone for the severe blunders he made as prime minister back in 1999-2001, when he unwisely ordered the withdrawal from Lebanon and then involved Israel in the destined-to-fail summit with Yasir Arafat at Camp David.

The early successes of Israel’s current offensive are a testament to its new and improved military strategy and leadership. For instance, the ground invasion began with impressive coordination between infantry, artillery, tank, air, and naval forces, reflecting careful planning and solid intelligence on the crowded, difficult Gazan terrain. By Sunday evening IDF forces had cut off northern Gaza from the south. Israeli naval craft had also reportedly brought forces to the strategic Philadelphia Corridor between Gaza and Sinai, where Israeli warplanes have already destroyed dozens of smuggling tunnels but many still remain.

In contrast to the Lebanon war, now widely judged a strategic debacle, Israel’s aims in the current offensive are specifically defined. These include taking control of rocket-launching sites in the north of Gaza and isolating Gaza City, where most of Hamas’s top leadership is believed to be hiding among a population of 800,000.

One reason Israel tried to put off the ground invasion is that it entails casualties. On Sunday, Israel suffered its first military fatality of the war when Staff Sergeant Dvir Emanuelof, 22, died of wounds sustained in a mortar shell attack earlier in the day that injured 28 other soldiers, one of them critically. But it is Hamas that has paid the higher price. Dozens of Hamas terrorists were reported killed in the day’s fighting. The loss of young soldiers in the battle against terror is a recurrent Israeli tragedy, but high morale among the troops belies claims that the IDF’s prestige had sagged since the failed 2006 war.

Despite the difficult urban combat that likely lies ahead, particularly in Gaza City, the military picture warrants cautious optimism. However, political clouds still hang over the Israeli military response. On Sunday, the Israeli government announced that it had no intention to reoccupy Gaza, a statement that seemed aimed at appeasing critical international opinion. Left unanswered, though, is the question of what, absent a renewed IDF presence in at least northern Gaza and the Philadelphi Corridor, is supposed to prevent Gaza—with or without Hamas at the helm—from rearming and resuming its aggression.

Political—rather than military—objectives also seem to inform the rushed timeline for the Gaza offensive. In what sounds ominously like a replay of the summer of 2006, even the most optimistic Israeli assessments give the ground invasion a maximum of two weeks to accomplish its objectives before the next U.S. president, Barack Obama, takes office. More pessimistic assessments speak of far less—a few more days—before international political pressures get overwhelming. The Israeli army’s determined effort to eliminate the terrorist threat in Gaza deserves better than these artificial deadlines.

Equally misguided is talk in American and Israeli quarters of international monitors or, worse yet, of replacing Hamas with Fatah—an organization that shares Hamas’s goal of destroying Israel. Such proposals bespeak an ongoing refusal to learn lessons about the abject impotence of such monitors (the Philadelphi Corridor from 2005 to 2007; southern Lebanon since 2006) or the depth of Palestinian enmity to Israel after fifteen years of disastrously failed efforts at peacemaking.

Despite the Israeli invasion, Hamas was still able to fire another 45 rockets and mortars at beleaguered southern Israel on Sunday, taking a toll in injuries and shock victims. For those willing to see, the costs of failure in Gaza are tragically apparent.

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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