The Gaza Strip


Saving Hamastan for Abu Mazen

By David Eshel
Defense Update, January 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

President George W. Bush's visit to the Holy Land last week was seven years too late.

While the mutual shoulder-slapping in Jerusalem's plush five-star hotel was feted by all the dignitaries present, salvoes of Qassam rockets and mortar shells slammed into Shderot. But these painful events near the Gaza border did nothing to deter the American president, who continued spelling out his "vision" of a peaceful Palestinian state, "living side by side with Israel".

Unconfirmed reports from Jerusalem indicate that President Bush gave Israel an all-clear for its long-delayed military operation against Hamas in Gaza. It is now common knowledge that a similar wink was given Olmert on the eve of his botched Lebanon Two adventure.

A military foray into the Gaza Strip will not be a walk in the park for the IDF. Hamas has learnt a lot from Israel's deplorable conduct during the Second Lebanon War, as well as its past actions in Gaza and the West Bank. Its rocket offensive into Israel is a direct copy of Hezbollah tactics. An army of some 10,000 soldiers has been equipped and trained by Hezbollah and Iranian instructors.

IDF Southern Command chief Major General Yoav Gallant warned that Hamas could bolster its forces to include anti-tank units and special forces. Advanced weapons systems could pose great danger to IDF freedom of operations in the Gaza Strip, the general said. Yuval Diskin, the head of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, said Palestinian terrorists have smuggled more than 112 tons of explosives into Gaza since Israeli occupation forces withdrew from the strip in 2005. Brigadier General Moshe (Chico) Tamir, commander of the IDF Gaza Division, told reporters in Jerusalem that Hamas is secretly building a Hezbollah-like bunker system in Gaza.

Hamastan in Gaza is certainly a great catastrophe for Abu Mazen. Half of his Palestinian people are not under his authority and there is near zero chance that he can regain control over Hamastan, which was taken from his security forces last June. Even in the West Bank, Abu Mazen is really in control of not much more than his immediate surroundings of the Mukatta fortress in Ramallah. Only the IDF and Israel's Shin Bet have prevented Hamas from routing the Palestine Authority (PA) security in the West Bank.

Hamas reaped a small and easy victory over a weak opponent last June, but Hamas has brought about Israel's declaration of Hamastan as enemy territory, with all its inevitable repercussions in future actions. The occupied Gaza Strip is fenced off from Israel and Egypt, their two only exits. They are surrounded by a strong Israeli army and cut off from their homeland in the West Bank. They are even regarded with suspicion by the majority in the Arab world.

Eliminating Hamas for Abu Mazen's benefit would prove a grave mistake. The Israeli army could perhaps push back the Qassam missile launching sites from the border region, but the IDF will certainly refrain from capturing the main cities. These will therefore remain ideal launching sites for rockets, shielded by dense population centers, which Israel will hesitate to attack from the air. Occupying only the sparsely populated areas will only render temporary respite to the continued bombardment of Shderot. Moreover, after clearing captured areas of Palestinian terrorists, the Israeli army would probably be forced to pull out and hand the "cleansed" territory to the forces of Palestinian Authority.

Adoption of such a controversial idea will no doubt stir considerable outrage within the Israeli political community and certainly in the IDF establishment. The very idea of Israel’s national army being pressed into service to capture a territory on behalf of a foreign entity, and that of an openly declared hostile one, will be regarded as abhorrent.

But should the Israeli military succeed in pulling Abu Mazen's "chestnuts out of the fire" in Gaza, it is common knowledge that once inside the strip, Palestine Authority security forces will quickly disintegrate once again, only to be swallowed up by the far more resolute Hamas. In fact, the Bush-Olmert policy, of placing all their bets for a Middle East breakthrough on the inept Mahmoud Abbas, condemns any plan of theirs to certain failure.

But Israel is on the horns of a most difficult dilemma. With more Qassam rockets flying out from Gaza, some with longer range, more Israeli towns and cities are now coming under fire. This was correctly predicted even before Israel retreated from the Gaza Strip two years ago. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been saying for months that with every day that passes, Israel draws closer to a large operation in Gaza in face of the incessant rocket attacks and the unprecedented Hamas military buildup.

Assuming the IDF eventually does go into Gaza, what are its chances of success? In focused actions, it is easy for the army to maintain Israel's technological superiority, but the deployment of large scale forces deeper into the Strip for an extended period would involve much more costly contact. Merely "softening up" the opposition inside the urban areas, prior to the introduction of forces, will require massive artillery fire and air support that is almost guaranteed to cause scores of civilian casualties as well. Moreover, fighting in the closed, dense and highly populated Gaza refugee camps will quickly force the infantry and armor into costly urban combat, in which Hamas will be able to operate with substantial skill and motivation.

Israel cannot allow its army to suffer another fiasco after the second Lebanon war of 2006. IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi solemnly declared that under his leadership the IDF will not suffer another such defeat. The army chief’s desire to prompt the prime minister and his government to allow him and the IDF to embark on a large-scale Gaza operation may be understandable.

Even if Israel is able to reoccupy the Strip without suffering too many losses, which is disputed within and outside the army, and even if the IDF kills or detains Hamas and Jihad leaders, commanders and activists, the IDF will not be able to eliminate the resistance. Moreover, a new occupation of the Gaza Strip will result in bloody guerilla warfare, inflaming the Palestinians not only in the Gaza Strip, but also spilling over into the West Bank.

Retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) said recently there is a negative mood among the Israeli public and the lack of confidence in the government is unprecedented. The chief lesson from the war is the need to weigh carefully whether decisions on military operations are compatible with the ability of these operations to achieve realistic military objectives that will realize Israel’s strategic goals. According to General Brom, Israel would do well to be cautious.

The time has come to disengage the Israel-Palestinian process from wishful thinking and concentrate on more realistic solutions.

Gazans rush to buy food, fuel made scarce by Israeli blockade

By Barak Ravid et al.
Haaretz, January 23, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

Some 200,000 Palestinians poured out of Gaza and into Egypt early Wednesday, after masked gunmen blew dozens of holes in the wall delineating the border.

The Gazans rushed to purchase food, fuel, and other supplies made scarce by Israel's blockade of the Strip, after militants detonated 17 bombs in the early morning hours, destroying some two-thirds of the metal wall separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Hamas did not take responsibility for knocking the border wall down, but Hamas militants quickly took control of the frontier, as Egyptian border guards took no action.

Israel imposed a full closure on the Gaza Strip last Thursday in response to massive barrages of Qassam rocket fire on southern Israel. Defense Minister Ehud Barak allowed limited transfers of fuel Tuesday for the power plant in the Strip and medical supplies for hospitals. Security sources said Israel intends to keep the crossings into the Gaza Strip permanently closed except when it is necessary to provide for emergency humanitarian needs.

Alarm for Egypt as Gaza crisis crosses the border

By Ian Black
The Guardian, January 23, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

Egypt is watching with mounting alarm as the crisis in the Gaza Strip spills over onto its own territory — part of a nightmare Middle Eastern scenario in which the ever-volatile Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets dangerously out of hand.

Israel threatens to unleash 'holocaust' in Gaza

Times Online, March 1, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

An Israeli minister warned yesterday that the Gaza faces a "holocaust" if Islamist militants there do not end their daily barrages of home-made Qassam rockets, and their increasing use of Iranian-built Grad missiles.

"The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves," Matan Vilnai, the Deputy Defence Minister said.

The use of the term "holocaust" is usually restricted to descriptions of the Nazi genocide of the Jews in Europe in the Second World War. Mr Vilnai's spokesman issued a clarification: "The minister used the Hebrew term 'shoah' which means 'catastrophe' and in this context does not refer to the Shoah — the Holocaust."

Israeli blitz could derail peace talks

Sydney Morning Herald, March 2, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians in a land and air blitz in the Hamas-held Gaza Strip today.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the Middle East peace talks formally revived in November at a US conference had been "buried" under the rubble of the Israeli incursion.

Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak said: "Hamas bears full responsibility and will pay the price. We are not happy that civilians have been victims but the responsibility is on Hamas and its firing of rockets at Israel."

The urban battlefields were littered with debris as frightened Gazans hid inside their homes and imams read Koranic verses over mosque loudspeakers.

Israel to be uprooted: Ahmadinejad

Sydney Morning Herald, March 2, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted that Israel would be "uprooted" and its leaders put on trial as he condemned deadly Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip. "I already said last year that the real Holocaust was in Palestine," Ahmadinejad told state television in an interview. He said the Jewish state was facing a looming confrontation: "Gaza is the beginning, the real issue is elsewhere. They should know that both in the prelude and in the real thing they face a defeat and this time they will be uprooted."

Olmert: Gaza ops will go on, world should stop preaching

Jerusalem Post, March 2, 2008

Edited by Andy Ross

After a night in which the IAF pounded targets in the Gaza Strip, including the office building of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stressed that military operations to stop rocket attacks on southern Israel would go on:

"It must be clear. The state of Israel has no intention of halting counter-terrorism actions even for a second. If somebody thinks that by extending the rockets' range, he will succeed in deterring us from our activity, he is gravely mistaken. We will act in accordance with the outline that the government will decide on, with the means that we decide on, at the time we decide, with the strength we decide on, without respite in order to strike at the terrorist organizations - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the others, including their leaders, those who dispatch them, those who provide their weapons, those who allow them into act in given places, according to the outline that we will choose."

Regarding across-the-board condemnation, including from the UN Security Council, of the IDF operations that have reportedly killed some 80 Palestinians since Wednesday, the prime minister urged the world to stop preaching:

"The State of Israel defends its residents in the South and, with all due respect, nothing will deter us from continuing to defend our residents. Nobody has the right to preach morality to the State of Israel for taking basic action to defend itself and prevent hundreds of thousands of residents of the South from continuing to be exposed to incessant firing that disrupts their lives."


AR November 2012: Here we go again.