The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) engaged in its most devastating aerial assault on Gaza in its history starting Saturday and into yesterday.
“We left them in a complete state of shock and awe,” said a senior Israeli security source, describing the assault that killed 275 Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others. The surprise was complete.
At 11 a.m. local time on Saturday, more than 60 Israeli warplanes assembled near Gaza awaiting orders.
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By no small coincidence, 11:30 a.m. accompanied the Hamas government’s weekly Saturday cabinet meetings.
The action, called Operation Cast Lead by the Israelis, fully underway by noon Saturday. Within a short amount of time, Israeli pilots had reported that they had dropped approximately 100 bombs on some 50 targets across the Gaza Strip, with 98-percent accuracy.
Fighter planes hit Hamas training camps, the main Hamas headquarters and prison known as the Saraya in Gaza City, other Hamas offices and government buildings. Hamas-owned al-Aqsa TV was also hit by Israeli air strikes.
In the second wave of attacks, dozens of fighter planes were sent against 50 similar targets. The Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) helicopter force, in the third wave, was put on alert in order to identify Hamas rocket launchers and hit terrorist squads.
According to an Israeli security official in the IAF, “In the first round of the operation, Air Force jets hit the Hamas’ police academy and killed some 80 Palestinian armed terrorists.”
The same official said that fighters hit underground bunkers in the second round of attacks that had served as rockets launch areas and weaponry storage.
The operation’s results during its first hour pleased Israeli officials.
“The objective was to create shock and awe among the Palestinians while also creating diversion and deception,” a security source told Israel radio. “Hamas thought that we were becoming more flexible in terms of our position on the border crossings when we let them bring in goods on Friday… They weren’t expecting this.”
The Israeli security source was quick to stress that it only marked a successful opening strike, and the IDF plans an ongoing operation that could last for weeks.
The IDF said yesterday targets were carefully selected in recent months in an effort to isolate the civilians from the terrorists.
Hamas TV acknowledged yesterday morning that the 180 of those killed were Hamas military personnel.
A news ticker from Hamas TV, carefully monitored and translated by the Palestinian Media Watch organization, ran a news item from 10 a.m. yesterday, announcing: “More than 180 Palestinian policemen were killed including the [Police] Commander, General Tawfik Jaber.”
In the background, Hamas TV repeatedly broadcast scenes of dozens of bodies of uniformed Hamas who were killed in Israel’s first attack Saturday when Israel struck the Hamas officers’ course graduation ceremony.
Additional Palestinian sources reported the IAF also attacked metal factories and although al-Aqsa TV’s studio was destroyed, broadcasting continued from a mobile studio.
Heading Toward A Ground Operation
“The operation is intended first and foremost to bring about an improvement of the security reality of the residents of the south. It may take some time,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said during a Saturday press conference.
Mr. Olmert outlined the objectives of the operation, which includes restoring calm for Israeli citizens living within the range of Hamas’ rockets and mortars.
Israel is preparing for the possibility that the Israeli home front will be attacked and that Hamas will fire long-range missiles.
“It is quite possible that in the short term the quantity of missiles will increase and that these will reach destinations farther than we have previously been accustomed to,” Mr. Olmert said.
Israel Defense Minister Barak said, “The operation will continue and be expanded as is necessary dependent of the assessments of the IDF General Staff and the security establishment.”
As part of part of preparations for a wide-scale ground assault in the Gaza Strip, the IDF Operation’s Branch decided to deploy armored vehicles near Gaza.
According the officers in the IDF Southern Command who spoke on the record with the Israeli media, “The Paratroopers Brigade in the Gaza Division are ready and the Golani brigade, after a series of training operations, are also ready to join so that if the IDF does deem a ground assault necessary, its state of readiness is good. The aerial assaults hit the medium command level of Hamas hard as well as also its war rooms. Now we are preparing for a ground incursion.”
To formalize the current situation, Mr. Barak asked the Israel Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for authority to call up reserves with emergency call-up orders.
Shelling Israel And Killing A Man In Netivot For The First Time
In the course of the weekend, Palestinians fired rockets at Israel at least 70 times.
Netivot is a proud, thriving and well-run city, in the relative terms of southern Israel. At 2:40 p.m., the sirens went off in Netivot, giving residents a 30-second warning.
A great deal of panic could be seen in a two-block area of in Netivot. Children had difficulty deciding what building to run to in one of its poorest slums. They spread out over both sides of Weizman Street, with its brown three-story blocks with thin walls and trash-filled yards. A teenage girl stood in the doorway of her apartment building, calling to her father, who was still outside. She made it difficult for the others to get inside. And when the rocket hit, it was deadly.
The rocket penetrated the wall of a bedroom on the second floor of Block 57. A round hole the size of a motorcycle wheel. The residents, a family of Ethiopian immigrants, ate lunch in the living room. They were unharmed, but Beber Vaknin, 59, who was standing outside, near the entrance to the adjacent block, took a piece of shrapnel in the chest and was killed instantly.
Vaknin became the first resident of Netivot to be killed by in the Palestinian attacks on Southern Israel.
U.N. Security Council
The U.N. Security Council convened on Saturday night at the request of Libya, which demands an immediate end to Israel’s attacks. The council members adjourned for a recess when it could not agree on a joint statement.
The Arab bloc insists on obtaining a statement demanding that Israel stop the violence immediately. However, other Security Council members are interested in a broader statement that would require all sides to end the violence and further address the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
The Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev sent a letter to the secretary-general as well as to Security Council members. She stressed the operation was being conducted in virtue of Israel’s right of self defense, and it was aimed at terror organizations not civilians.
Yesterday morning, Ms. Shalev gave an unusual interview to the Israeli radio in which she expressed her surprise at a “new attitude of the Americans” and said the American government was not supporting it as it once had when Israel felt isolated at the United Nations.
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com .