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Israel Considers How To Retaliate After Gaza Rocket Attack Injures 67 IDF Soldiers

Two Key Options - Major Ground Operation Or Limited Strikes To Include Hamas Leaders Combined With Israeli Sanctions

Latest Rocket Attack Leaves Israel No Option But To Escalate Confrontation

Israeli ambulances entering the Zikim army base

It was about two o'clock in the morning - terrorists just over the border in Gaza launch three Qassam rockets at the IDF training base near Kibbutz Zikim. One of them explodes near the tents where most of the soldiers are sleeping. Pandemonium - 67 are wounded from the rocket shrapnel and by concussion. Several are seriously wounded. Ambulances and helicopters rush to the scene and within forty minutes or so all the injured are being treated and evacuated to hospital. In light of the gravity of the Zikim attack and the recent split between radical Hamas and more moderate Fatah, IsraCast foresees Israel declaring total war against Hamas in Gaza.

The daily rocketing from the Gaza Strip has killed and wounded Israeli civilians soldiers from time to time. But never have the home-made Qassams ever taken such a large toll of casualties. It is apparently a 'strategic' Qassam one that will alter the current confrontation between Israel and the Gaza Strip which Israel totally evacuated two years ago. In Jerusalem, one day after holding peace contacts with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from the West Bank, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert meets with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the IDF's top brass to discuss Israel's response.

It is not a question of If but When and how wide-scale Israel's retaliation will be for the rocket attack from Gaza that injured 67 IDF recruits at the training base near Zikim inside Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert began urgent consultations with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni along with IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi. One of three Qassam rockets exploded in the middle of the tent camp at about two in the morning catching the soldiers asleep - most of the wounded suffered from concussion and shrapnel while a couple were in serious condition. Why the IDF had recruits living in tents exposed to Qassam rockets is being hotly debated in Israel.

Palestinian terrorists launching Qassam rockets

The rocketing from Gaza has been going on daily ever since Israel totally withdrew from the Gaza Strip two years ago. It turned into a game of Russian Roulette - when would one of them explode amid children, other civilians or soldiers? Most of the rockets were aimed at the Israeli town of Sderot where residents have been pleading with the government to take tougher retaliatory action that until now has focused mainly on air strikes, and shelling of the Qassam rocket teams. There have been many close calls with the rockets hitting an empty kindergarten and last week the terrorists gave a 'present' to the children of Sderot - a rocket attack as they were on their way to school for the new school year. That Russian roulette is apparently over. The 'strategic' Qassam that caused multiple casualties last night will no doubt trigger a severe Israeli response and their are various options.

Opposition leader Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud told IsraCast last week that the Prime Minister must order a massive ground operation to dismantle the Hamas leadership and destroy the stockpiles of explosives and weapons that the terrorists have smuggled into Gaza from Egypt since the Israeli withdrawal. The IDF carried out a similar campaign in the West Bank five years ago after a wave of suicide bombers killed hundreds of Israelis. Since then the Israeli security forces have succeeded in almost totally suppressing terrorism from the West Bank. However, critics of conducting a similar operation into Gaza argue that this is what the terrorists are waiting for. They have mined many of the access routes and built bunkers in many of the refugee camps. IDF tanks and ground forces would eventually win but the cost would be very high in both Israeli and Palestinian civilian casualties inside the most densely populated area in the world. In the end the IDF could get bogged down and eventually be forced to pull back. In any case, IDF forces have been training at a specially built center that resembles the Gaza terrain.

Another possible option is to escalate IDF special forces strikes inside Gaza to strike at the terrorist infrastructure and which would also target the so-called Hamas political leadership that includes Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. After Hamas drove Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas out of Gaza last June, Haniyeh has tried to play the role of political leader while 'outsourcing' the Qassam rocketing to the Islamic Jihad. For their part, Hamas terrorists specialized in firing mortars at military targets. But there is no question that Hamas and Haniyeh are running the show in Gaza; therefore the Israeli conclusion after the Zikkim attack is that Hamas must bear the consequences of its actions. In other words Israel might declare an 'open season' on the Hamas political leaders and not only the known terrorist kingpins. The idea would be to keep the whole Hamas leadership on the run - as one Israeli expert put it: 'Haniyeh should not be able to sleep in the same bed two nights in a row'.

Israel has targeted top Palestinian leaders before such as Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the movement's founder. Although it did not eliminate terrorism entirely it kept the leaders on the run worrying about their own skins rather than planning fresh attacks on Israel. After the bloody rift between Hamas and President Abbas and his Fatah movement on the West Bank this policy may be more practical now. Olmert and Abbas are now conducting a peace dialogue that includes an improvement in living conditions for West Bank Palestinians. After Hamas forced Abbas out of Gaza, his West Bank supporters may relish the thought of Israel really cracking down on their Hamas rivals who are persecuting Fatah members inside Gaza today. This could also be combined with Israeli sanctions on the electricity, fuel and water that it supplies to the Gaza Strip. This approach then would be carried out on two tracks - take off the gloves and smash Hamas in Gaza while showing Palestinians there who voted for Hamas that terrorism against Israel doesn't pay.

David Essing

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