December 28, 2008

The Israeli Attacks on Gaza

As I predicted(although it did not require much prescience), the Israelis have launched their initial attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza. As I also predicted, there has been condemnation from virtually every Arab and Muslim country, and the Europeans have called for Israel to stop its use of "disproportionate force." The demonstrations in the Arab and Muslim countries, as well as some in Europe and South America, were to be expected, but one should ask the demonstrators where they were when rockets were landing in Israel every day.

The European Union tried to strike a more moderate tone, but didn't quite succeed. The EU's Javier Solano claimed the EU has condemned Hamas's rocket attacks against Israel, but that the current Israeli operation is "inflicting an unacceptable toll on Palestinian civilians..." I would like Mr Solano to define what is the acceptable toll on Palestinian civilians so the Israelis have an idea of how many they can kill. Insane? Absolutely. At least French President Nicolas Sarkozy did mention that the Israeli attacks were provoked by Hamas in his call for Israel to stop its operations in Gaza.

The operation in Gaza is a long time coming. Israelis have had enough - 6000 rockets into their southern border cities since they withdrew from Gaza in 2005 have galvanized public opinion in support of the operation. This will not be a small, punitive raid - it will be a concerted military offensive designed to eliminate Hamas's ability to launch attacks on Israel. It also will be an effort to eliminate as many Hamas militants as possible, and that might include some of the Hamas political leadership as well.

Much of this might be accomplished with precision air strikes based on excellent intelligence. Israel has the capability for both. The initial air strikes seemed to surprise even Hamas leaders as Israeli warplanes, both fixed and rotary wing), hit virtually every significant Hamas security installation in the Gaza Strip. Follow-on attacks were aimed at destroying the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. This serves two purposes - it staunches the flow of arms into the area and prevents the escape of Hamas militants into Egypt.

In case the Israelis cannot degrade Hamas sufficiently from the air, they are prepared to launch a ground offensive as well. The planning has been going on for some time now. Israeli armor and infantry units with supporting artillery and logistics are already in place near Gaza with more on the move. The Knesset authorized the callup of 6,500 reservists to provide the manpower that will be required to successfully mount an incursion into the Gaza Strip.

Some analysts have suggested that the mobilization is meant to intimidate Hamas. Hamas does not intimidate easily - rockets are still falling on Israeli cities, including the port city of Ashdod. In my opinion, the Israelis fully intend to address the issue of Hamas once and for all. If that requires what amounts to an invasion, the Israelis will do just that.

Israel has limited time to accomplish its objectives before international opinion and more ineffective United Nations resolutions call for an end to the operation. This is one of the problems they misjudged in the 2006 war with Hizballah. They put off the ground invasion of Lebanon, assuming that the United Nations would call a cease-fire and end the rocket attacks on northern Israel. That effort dragged on and on while thousands of Israeli troops waited on the border. By the time the order came to move, they did so in the face of international condemnation.

History should have taught the Israelis that they need to move quickly and accomplish their objectives as fast as possible, ahead of the United Nations decision cycle. Launching the attacks on a Saturday was good start.

Hamas knew this was coming and took no action to stop the rocket launches into southern Israel, in fact, the attacks intensified over the last few weeks. If they meant to provoke Israel into a military confrontation for whatever reason - to stop talks between Syria and Israel, perhaps? - they succeeded.

Barring a decision in Tel Aviv to call off the operation, I think Hamas is in for a tough week.