For those of you just in from outer space, Israeli air strikes began against Hamas, a militant Islamist group, in the Gaza Strip on December 27 in response, the Israelis say, to the relentless but mostly ineffective rocket and mortar attacks launched by Hamas into southern Israel. Israeli ground forces and heavy armor followed a week later after the initial softening up.
Much of world opinion is pro-Palestinian as their propaganda machine cranks out photos and video tapes of the horrifying damage being done in Gaza by the Israeli military, or the IDF (Israeli Defense Force ). To date over 1000 Palestinians are said by medical personnel to have been killed by the Israeli air strikes and subsequent fighting, many of whom were civilians.
Israel remains convinced that their response in their air and ground assault is a correct one given the situation. “Where was the world when our cities were being rocketed for eight years?” asked an IDF tank commander.
In order to understand what’s going on the Middle East it’s necessary to cast a cold eye on these most recent events and leave the propaganda machines at home:
An arranged truce was broken by Hamas militants six months ago in order to poke a stick into Israel’s eye. Southern Israel, including the small coastal city of Ashkalon, were targeted by Hamas to remind Israel, among other things, that Hamas existed as the voice of authority among the Gazans. In addition, the rocketing of southern Israel may have been the bait Hamas used in order to draw an overkill response out of the Israelis. During the summer of 2006, Hezbollah, a group of anti-Israeli militants in southern Lebanon lured the IDF into a ground and air assault on its forces, an assault which made the Israelis look inept.
The Israeli response that summer was poorly planned and badly executed. While Hezbollah took grievous losses and lost ground, they nevertheless proved to have hit upon the one tactic they never tried before: goad the IDF into a swamp of confusion and stand up to their soldiers on the field of battle. From the point of Hezbollah, they stood up to the vaunted IDF and only lost the encounter because they had no air force or tanks. Hamas may have had the same notion as Hezbollah, and they acted upon it it.
Unfortunately for Hamas, Israel had learned its lesson and has not repeated the mistakes of 2006. There is no hesitation now, no delicacy of feelings about killing civilians. Hamas wanted war in the Gaza Strip and war is what they got.
Over a week ago, the IDF began its ground assault on Hamas concentrations, ammo dumps and chain of command. The latest information from UN observers indicates that Israeli Special Forces are already fighting near the center of Gaza City, the most populated part of Gaza, today.
Hamas has continuously called for the complete and utter destruction of Israel. And to this end they have been trained, equipped and supported, Israeli and American intelligence services say, by Iran. Hamas has booby-trapped schools and apartment buildings; they store weapons and fighters in mosques.
What looks like a big bad schoolyard bully, Israel, picking on puny innocent little Hamas as seen on Al Jeezerah, an Arab TV news center, is viewed by Israelis as a war for their very existence. Thus the stakes for everyone in this conflict could not be higher.
Ordinarily, history says wars are never won, they are just lost. This time may be different. Israel, the evidence indicates, will not stop its forces in the Gaza Strip until Hamas has been crippled. Hamas can win, as Hezbollah “won” a Pyhrric victory in 2006, by not being shattered and spent. One of these two things is going to happen in Gaza: Israel will win by breaking Hamas, or Hamas will win by avoiding being broken.
Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of the Jerusalem Post, said Monday in Ashkalon “The most ethical moral imperative for Israel is to prevail in this conflict over an immoral Islamist philosophy.” In short, Israel is not going to accept anything short of militarily defeating Hamas’ ability to wage war ever again. They will refuse any and all permanent truces that do not include this proviso.
“Al Jazeerah ran a tape of the Hamas and civilian wounded coming into Shifa Hospital in Gaza City,” said Moshe Halbertal, an Israeli professor who helped write the IDF’s Soldier’s Code. ”So you have this great great Goliath crushing these poor people, and they are perceived as victims. But from the Israeli perspective, Hamas and Hezbollah are really the spearhead of a whole larger threat that is invisible. Israelis feel like the tiny David faced with an immense Muslim Goliath. The question is, who is the David here?”
The fighting has intensified. Although a quartet of of Middle East peacemakers, including the US, the EU, the UN and Russia has tried to halt the fighting, neither side appear to be willing to sit down to talk.
Recent rumors have it that secret talks between the Israelis and Hamas are taking place currently in Egypt. One self-described Hamas leader gives us pause, considering Hamas’ precarious situation: “Gaza will not break. Our victory over the Zionists is near.” Zionism, we recall, is a 19th century ideal of Jews who wanted by right or by force to create and occupy Israel in Palestine.
Hamas rockets continued to hit southern Israel on Wednesday, although they were much diminished in number and accuracy. Israel has called up reservists and sent them into line positions in the Gaza City fighting. The use of reserves sends a strong signal that the IDF plans to ratchet up the offensive which has already killed and wounded as many as four thousand or more. Israel reports 10 dead and more wounded. If they push on through Gaza City and succeed in cutting the Strip in two, it will be the IDF’s deadliest assault on militants in decades.
The UN Human Rights Council passed a toothless resolution Monday, strongly condemning Israel for its Gaza operation. It called for an independent fact-finding mission to investigate all violations of international human rights law. Israel has come under international condemnation for its attacks while the Hamas rocket and mortar attacks, which precipitated the current chaos in Gaza, have gone largely unnoticed by the UN.
Doubtlessly, by the time readers have finished this article, the situation in Gaza will be different if not better or worse. One thing I know: this time, the Israelis are playing for keeps and to that extent, Hamas, it seems, has made an enormous blunder and will pay dearly for doing so.
On Friday, the Israeli Central Command and Olmert’s administration decided to cease operations in Gaza and called upon Hamas to do likewise. Israel said it had “achieved all it’s goals” with it’s invasion of the Gaza Strip. They believe they have broken Hamas and therefore have come to a stop. Hamas denies it is broken and rejects a ceasefire against the IDF. A few rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel today. No injuries were reported. Prior to today’s declaration by the Israelis, the strongest condition on the Israeli menu was that there would be a complete halt in Hamas’ relentless rocketing of Israeli towns adjacent to Gaza’s northern border, Askelon and Sderot. More like big villages than cities, but Israeli land nevertheless.