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Taking Off Gaza Gloves

Israel Will Use All Necessary Military Force To Suppress Rocketing From Gaza Of Israeli Civilians

Within Twenty-four Hours, Israeli Aircraft Strike Over 200 Terror Targets in Gaza

Israel Will Consider Attacks From Gaza In Same Manner It Relates To Similar Provocations From Any Neighboring Arab State

An Israeli official says Israel will now relate with same force to attacks from Gaza as it would from any other neighboring Arab state which provoked Israel. This implies that Israel will use all military force necessary to defend its civilians, without making any distinction between political and military wings and various terror groups. The IsraCast assessment is that Israel will attempt to break the Hamas motivation to rocket Israel and the terrorists' belief that violence and not negotiation will further its goals.

On Saturday morning, the clouds and mist cleared over Gaza from where Palestinian terrorists had been escalating their salvoes of rockets on Israel. Some sixty Israeli aircraft swooped in almost simultaneously at 11:30 AM to bomb scores of Hamas targets throughout the entire Gaza Strip. Within less than five minutes, the Hamas infrastructure was left in rubble. By the end of the day, some 225 Palestinians, who Israeli officials say were mostly Hamas and Islamic Jihad members, were killed with hundreds more injured.

Training Camp Utilized by the Hamas Terrorist Organization in the Central Gaza Strip. In June 2007, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. The building is utilized by Hamas as a weapons armory.

The terrorists fired back launching 70 more rockets in Israel - one scored a direct hit on an apartment building in Netivot, killing a 59 year old man and injuring several others, and as is always the case, many more Israeli civilians were treated for trauma. Operation 'Cast Lead' had began. Later in the day, Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared: "There is a time for quiet and a time for war - this is a time for war". For eight years, the Palestinians have rocketed and taunted Israel, now Israel has finally taken off the gloves. The operational goal is to break the Hamas motivation to rocket Israeli civilians at will. Until now, Israel has responded with limited air and ground strikes as well as the targeted killing of terrorist leaders. Barak speaks now of new rules for coping with what is in effect the terrorist state of Gaza supported by Iran and Syria.

Rule #1 – Zero Tolerance For Hamas Rocketing

Headquarters of the Hamas Terrorist Organization that was used as Yassir Arafat's Main Offices. Hamas took over the facility in June 2007 during the Gaza takeover. Now the facility is used by Hamas as its central offices to direct terrorism operations. The facility is also the office of Ismail Haniyeh - the Hamas Prime Minister.

The current operation recalls Israel's launching of the Six-Day War in 1967, when after being threatened by massed Arab armies on its borders, Israel planned, appealed to international diplomacy and when all else failed, launched a massive counter-strike. IsraCast alluded to this in its previous assessment on December 26th. In fact, the only surprising thing seems to be that Hamas was indeed taken by surprise and failed to understand that it had crossed a red line by pummeling the Jewish state with some 80 rockets on one day last week. This is rule number one – Israel will no longer tolerate the indiscriminate rocketing of its civilians. Second, Israel will strike all Hamas headquarters, training bases, rocket workshops and arsenals and even mosques, if they are used as Qassam storehouses.

Gaza Now In Same Boat As Any Aggressive Arab State

Hamas Terrorist Organization Training Camp. The camp is utilized as a central operational training facility of Hamas forces in the southern Gaza Strip, and includes an incarceration facility and a weapons armory.

While Prime Minister Olmert and the Defense Minister have made clear that Palestinian civilians are not the targets, and indeed Israeli border-crossings are to remain open for allowing the transport of food, medicine and fuel into Gaza, Gaza is being treated as any neighboring state that attacks Israel. One Israeli source says Gaza will continue to be hit in the same manner that Syria would be, if rockets were fired from its territory. It should be noted that this new approach may also apply to Lebanon. The Lebanese state has accepted Hezbollah as part of its elected government, and also views Hezbollah forces as part of the Lebanese defense establishment. If this is the case, Israel would have every right to hold Lebanon accountable for any future Hezbollah attacks. The discovery of eight long range Grad missiles aimed at Israel from south Lebanon highlights the volatility of the situation. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has apparently taken notice. Visiting the site of the concealed rockets, the Lebanese leader declared that south Lebanon should not be made a "launch-site for rockets" (he reportedly did not mention Israel as the target).

The initial response by Hamas spokesman has been one of defiance, they vow to continue rocketing Israel, not to raise a white flag of surrender nor give up their 'Palestinian rights' (i.e. the destruction of Israel).

Gaza The Test Case

What happens now? Day one of the operation has left Hamas reeling from the initial air-strike, but Israeli civil defense authorities have warned civilians to remain close to bomb shelters. After regrouping Hamas rocket teams may try to fire off more Qassams or long-range Grads at Israel and if so, will Israeli air-power will be able to suppress these attacks? Israeli pilots reported 98 percent accuracy in taking out their targets and that effectiveness may have crippled the Hamas capability of now launching rockets. This renewed display of Israeli airpower and the readiness to use it, will not go unnoticed throughout the Middle East.

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The current Israeli government in general, and defense minister Barak in particular, are reticent about sending ground troops and tanks back into Gaza. In fact, President Shimon Peres even declared: 'The IDF did not evacuate all of Gaza over three years ago, in order to return". However, the Defense Minister has not ruled out that such forces, now deployed along the Gaza border, could be sent in if required to halt the rocketing. What is clear is that a new Israeli policy is being implemented which dictates that everything will be done to create a new defense reality with Gaza. Gaza has turned into a test case for Israel in its overall confrontation with the Palestinians. It is often said, and indeed by many Israelis, that Israel has no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This indeed may be the case. But the problem arises what does Israel do when the Palestinian side believes it has a military solution? When the Palestinians believe that by their relentless terrorism will eventually wear down the Jewish state and force it to capitulate on its vital national interests?

Barak, Livni and Olmert have started a process of showing the Palestinians it will not work. Olmert and Livni tried against Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War but only partially succeeded because they lacked the recusant military and diplomatic skills to achieve a clear-cut victory. So far, with the addition of defense minister Barak and Chief Of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel appears to be succeeding. But it’s still early days.

Home Front Command prepares civilians for continued rocket fire from Gaza

For the long suffering residents of Sderot, the Hamas favorite target over the last eight years, their reactions are not surprising:

"It's high time, but why did it take the government so long?"

"We're ready to sit in our bomb-shelters for a month in order to finish the job"

"Now the Palestinians in Gaza are getting a taste of their own medicine"

"Anyone who protests against Israel's operation should come to live with us for a week under rocket fire and see what they have to say then"

Postscript: Despite Israel's prolonged restraint in the face of Hamas attacks, some foreign countries have chided Israel for 'disproportionate' use of force against Hamas. Interviewed on the British TV Sky Network, Barak recalled that when several hundred British citizens on the disputed Falkland Islands were threatened, the British government launched a war on the other side of the world to protect them. The Defense Minister could have mentioned the recent Russian operations against Georgia or the U.S – NATO offensive in Afghanistan (but these are only some of many other historical comparisons).

Pope Benedict has also issued a statement deploring the violence by both sides, while appearing to single out Israel when he noted that Israel's current response was not the way to relate to Hamas. Question – when has the Vatican ever issued a unilateral criticism of the unprovoked rocketing of the Israeli civilians?

The Israeli operation now underway comes in the midst of the general election set for February 10th. Frontrunner Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu has called a temporary halt to political campaigning in a show of solidarity with the government. If the current fighting continues for some time it might possibly lead to a postponement of election- day and if Defense Minister Barak is perceived as winning the war, it could lead to the Labor party leader making a last minute comeback.

David Essing

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