January 10, 2009

Israel's next moves in Gaza

Israeli aircraft are dropping leaflets in the northern Gaza Strip, particularly targeting the sprawling Jabaliyah refugee camp that abuts the Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket launch areas, and Gaza City itself. The leaflets warn the residents of an impending escalation in attacks on known Hamas militants and locations.

There has been some press speculation that the next step in the Israeli ground campaign is to move into the cities in preparation for a re-occupation of the Gaza Strip. The Israelis left the Gaza Strip in 2005, hoping that the removal (forcibly at times) of the Israeli settlements and the departure of Israeli occupation forces who had been there since 1967, would lead to relative calm on their southern border. That turned out to be a miscalculation as Hamas almost immediately began attacks on Sderot.

The Israeli occupation of Gaza was difficult and not something they want to repeat. I believe they have no intention of actually occupying the area, but have called up a large number of reservists to give them some options on how they proceed on the ground. With this pool of troops, they will push further into the cities, starting with Gaza City and the Jabaliyah camp. The word "camp" is a misnomer - these are now cities, having been started in 1948.

Moving through Jabaliyah and Gaza City will be tough urban warfare against a committed, wel-equipped and trained enemy who has had at least three years to plan and fortify their defenses. It will be bloody, and if the noncombatants want to not be "collateral damage," they should distance themselves from known members of Hamas and any location associated with Hamas. When the Israelis enter these areas, they will be ruthless in digging out the militants. That means lots of firepower in contained areas and close quarters.

Once the Israelis decide to move, they will concentrate their efforts on those two areas first. The goal of the operation has always been to stop Hamas and Islamic Jihad from firing rockets at Israeli cities. Rooting out the militants from the "
launch basket" should slow the pace of attacks if not eliminate it entirely.

The timing of the leaflet warnings coincides with Hamas pulling out of the Egyptian-French sponsored indirect talks in Cairo. That may have been a fatal error for the terrorist group. I did note that the Hamas leader who vitriolically refused to participate in the Cairo talks lives safely in Damascus, not Gaza.

There seems to be little chance of stopping an Israeli escalation and movement into the urban areas of the northern Gaza Strip. The Israelis have not been deterred by international (except the United States) condemnation and seem intent on achieving their aims.

The Israelis do not want to re-occupy the Gaza Strip. However, they are serious about a secure southern border. If that means killing a lot of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, it's regrettable, but that's what they will do. Hopefully, the noncombatants will heed the leaflets.