January 4, 2009

Israeli troops focus on the "launch basket"

Uriel Sinai/Getty ImagesIsraeli forces in Gaza have thus far employed classic military strategy. Their initial thrusts into the densely populated Gaza Strip sought to isolate the northern city of Gaza and the sprawling Jabaliyah refugee camp from the rest of the territory. It is from the areas north, east and south of Gaza and Jabaliyah that Hamas fires rockets into southern Israel. Using these locations allows Hamas to maximize its reach into Israel.

Hamas no longer has to rely on the short-range homemade and grossly inaccurate Qassam rockets. The Qassam could only reach Sderot, the Israeli city closest to the border with Gaza. With its Iranian-supplied "Grad" rockets, Hamas can now strike as far north as the major Israeli port city of Ashdod, and as far east to Beersheba in the Negev desert. To hit these cities, Hamas must fire its rockets from the northeast corner of the Gaza Strip. That area is known in military parlance as the "launch basket" - noted in red on the map below.

This launch basket - about 10 square miles of territory - was a priority target for the air campaign, and is a primary target for the Israeli ground forces entering Gaza. Israeli troops must clear and control the launch basket if they are to stop Hamas from firing rockets at Israeli cities. Almost one million Israelis live within rocket range of the launch basket.

As of Sunday, Hamas was still able to fire rockets at Israel, despite Israel's claim that its forces control the northeastern section of the Gaza Strip. It's a big area and firing a small rocket that only requires a car battery can be hard to spot and stop. That said, this is the area that the Israeli forces must secure.

Urban warfare against a committed and dug-in enemy who has had ample time to prepare defenses and obstacles is very difficult and can cost high casualties. The Israelis do not, or should not, have any desire to reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip. For now, they need to isolate Gaza city and the Jabaliyah refugee camp to prevent resupply and reinforcement from the southern Gaza Strip, but more importantly, they must clear and control the launch basket.

The Israeli population is behind this operation. The Israeli political leadership needs to allow the Israeli military to do whatever it takes to prevent Hamas from firing rockets at Israel. Securing the launch basket in northeast Gaza is a good start.