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Israel's Moderate Military Pressure In Gaza

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "Israel must not miss a chance to smash Hamas at the last minute"

Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "We are continuing effort to restore quiet while examining possibility of preventing future arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza"

IsraCast Assessment: "Israel attempting to synchronize military and political moves for solution to end war and threat of future Hamas rocketing"

Soldiers of the Paratrooper Brigade in an operation in the Gaza Strip

In Cairo, the diplomatic effort continues in the search for a solution to block future arms smuggling from Egyptian controlled Sinai into Gaza. This is a crucial Israeli goal required to prevent the Gaza Strip again becoming a ticking time bomb regardless of the UN resolution calling for an immediate and durable ceasefire. Meanwhile, Israeli is keeping moderate military pressure on Hamas as the terrorists continue to lob rockets at an estimated one-million Israeli civilians in southern Israel. At this juncture the Israeli approach appears to be a blending of military and diplomatic steps to resolve the crisis. If it does not succeed within the coming days all options maybe open.

Despite the UN Security Council resolution, calling for an immediate and durable ceasefire, Hamas continued to rocket Israeli villages and towns over the weekend while Israel responded with attacks on land, by sea and in the air. Israel's policy is apparently designed to keep moderate military pressure on Hamas, as political efforts continue in Cairo for a solution on blocking future arms smuggling from Egyptian controlled Sinai into the Gaza Strip. It is this issue which led to the Hamas rocket build-up which has sparked the current hostilities. As one Israeli source puts it, the continued Israeli pressure on Hamas is 'sheer necessity'. If Hamas is still rejecting any Egyptian plan while under Israeli fire, there is no chance at all of achieving an effective solution after a ceasefire.

At this juncture the Israeli approach appears to be a blending of military and diplomatic steps to resolve the crisis

At the weekly cabinet session Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared: "There is a need for a further IDF effort, Israel must not miss the chance to defeat Hamas terror at the last moment". Defense Minister Ehud Barak added: "We are continuing our effort to secure quiet in the south while checking possibilities for blocking Hamas arms smuggling". However earlier, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said: "Apparently our ground operation will soon ground down in keeping with the Security Council resolution".

Hamas map depicting the positioning of booby-traps and snipers in the Al-Attara neighborhood

Cairo is another focal point of the conflict, Turkey has joined the French-Egyptian initiative, working on a plan to block the arms smuggling from Egyptian controlled Sinai into Gaza. At the same time, Egyptian Foreign Minister Abu-Reit has rejected a German offer of sophisticated equipment to detect the underground tunnels. Abu-Reit claimed that the rockets were smuggled into Gaza by sea (something Israel categorically denies). Egypt also opposes the stationing of foreign inspectors along its border with Gaza. On the other hand, Egypt would not open its Rafah crossing into Gaza so that Hamas could rebuild its military strength. Abu-Reit declared that Egypt's role was not to beef-up Hamas, as demanded by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Egypt also opposes the stationing of foreign inspectors along its border with Gaza

The next step on the political track will be another trip to Cairo by Israel's Amos Gilad who has been in contact with the Egyptians on the smuggling issue. Gilad told Israel Radio that it was a dialogue aimed at reaching decisions without threats. There have been rumors that Israel might consider moving forces to the Gaza side of the Philadelfi Corridor with Egypt in order to stem the arms smuggling. Gen. (res.) Gilad said "Egypt has an excellent army and security service which are capable of blocking all undesirable security elements". In his words, the sole test will be in preventing the arms smuggling.

Haled Mashal

As for Hamas, Haled Mashal, its Damascus based leader, has rejected all proposals that could put a stop to the arms smuggling. Mashal, who has met with Egyptian officials in Cairo, has also demanded an opening of all of Gaza's border crossings. This, Israeli officials were quick to point out, would enable Iran to send in unlimited military supplies for Hamas to resume its attacks in the future. So even if a suitable mechanism for blocking the arms smuggling can be worked out in Cairo, Hamas can be expected to reject it out of hand. If and when that happens, it is hard to foresee future developments.

In any case, opinion polls indicate that Defense Minister Barak has gained at the expense of Kadima leader Livni

At today's cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was reportedly irked by media criticism for failing to attend the UN Security Council session that passed the immediate ceasefire resolution. Foreign Ministry officials contend the resolution was not a failure for Israel although US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice abstained in the vote.

But it may reflect rising tension between foreign minister Livni and Defense Minister Barak, as the February 10th election draws near. The question is being asked, whether Israel should postpone the election in light of the ongoing war in Gaza. Some commentators contend that it should, because the decision-making of the current government will be the major issue and Israeli voters may not be in a position to decide, if the conflict has not ended by Election Day. However, front-runner Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu favors going to the polls on time. Netanyahu argues: "Hamas must not be allowed to decide the date of an Israeli election". In any case, opinion polls indicate that Defense Minister Barak has gained at the expense of Kadima leader Livni. Before the outbreak of the war, Barak was blamed for Labors poor poll rating of only 8-10 MKs. Now the polls show Barak is turning into a labor asset with the party moving up to 17 MKs.

What does it all boil down to? Simply this - both Israel and Hamas are trying hard to emerge from this war perceived as victors not only militarily, but also politically. And, when a legitimate state battles a terrorist regime waging guerrilla warfare, they are not necessarily one and the same. Henry Kissinger once put it this way: 'If a conventional army does not win against a guerrilla force, it loses. But if the guerrilla does not lose against the conventional army, it wins".

David Essing

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