Israeli fighter planes and helicopter gunships continued to pound targets in Gaza yesterday, and reportedly hit 40 tunnels that served for smuggling weaponry under Philadelphi Road, tunnels on the border between Gaza and Egypt with bunker-buster bombs.
It took three minutes for IDF jets to destroy the 40 tunnels for smuggling weaponry under Philadelphi Road in the southern Gaza Strip. Dozens of fighter planes simultaneously targeted the border between Egypt and Gaza and in one blow, severed the smuggling route of rocket, weapons and explosives for Hamas and other terror organizations.
The quick operation was preceded by preparation and intelligence-collecting work by the Israeli Intelligence, which lasted for a long period.
Following the attack on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, dozens of Palestinians breached the border and ran toward Egyptian Rafah. Egyptian Border Guard policemen opened fire, first shooting in the air to deter the Palestinians, and subsequently firing machine gun fire and even an anti-tank rocket at the infiltrators.
The attack on the tunnels was intended to stop the supply of further rockets to Hamas, but one of the IDF’s main tasks in the past two days has been to target the reserves of rockets and launchers that the terrorists already hold. Security officials estimated yesterday that Hamas’ ability to launch from bunkers has been damaged by 50 percent since the start of the operation.
The targets that were bombed on Sunday and yesterday were not only Hamas military and training installations, as on the first day of the operation, but also strategic targets intended to undermine Hamas’ rule – government ministries, the central prison, the studio of the Hamas al-Quds television station, a large fuel and diesel depot in Rafah, main roads, the Finance Ministry building, the Beit Hanoun municipality, and in the evening, the General Intelligence building built by the Americans over a decade ago for the Fatah regime.
After the large-scale air strikes, the Israel Defense Forces is preparing for the next possible stage of Operation Cast Lead – a ground incursion. Large forces, mainly belonging to the Golani and Paratroopers Brigades and the Armored Corps, are concentrated around the Gaza Strip. For the first time in the past three years, an artillery battery was stationed yesterday in the Gaza area. Additional units will join the forces as needed.
What may disrupt the IDF’s preparations is the weather. In the coming days, stormy weather is expected, which will hamper the aerial and ground activity. This has been taken into account in the operational plans.
Siren Alert Ready For Beer Sheva, Too
On Sunday, Hamas proved that it has rockets with a 30-kilometer range, after a rocket fired from more than 30 kilometers away landed in the yard of a home in a community north of Ashdod. Following this, the residents of Beer Sheva, Yavne, Gedera and nearby communities may also be hearing the sirens. The Israeli Army Home Front Command therefore called upon the residents of these cities and communities to locate safe rooms in their homes.
According to the instructions, when the siren sounds, the residents have one minute to look for shelter in a protected space, and they must remain there for five minutes. Today, the Home Front Command will begin giving residents of the new communities handbooks that explain how to protect themselves from rocket strikes.
Israel Rejects Demands For A Cease-Fire
Israel is rejecting all feelers from heads of state and foreign ministers who looked into the possibility of trying to reach a cease-fire with Hamas.
Among those who have done so are the foreign ministers of Qatar, Great Britain and Russia, as well as the U.N. secretary-general. The four of them spoke by telephone yesterday with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
The Russian foreign minister demanded an immediate cessation of all military activity and a cease-fire.
Ms. Livni told her counterparts that at this stage, the military operation would continue until its main goals had been accomplished: “a change in the security situation with Hamas in the south.” She told them that Israel has no intention of overthrowing the Hamas regime in Gaza, but said, “Hamas must understand that Israel will not stop its military operation until it is clear to Hamas that it cannot and will not try in the future to launch rockets at Israel.”
Foreign Minister Livni also spoke with the EU’s foreign policy director and with the foreign ministers of Spain, Italy and Turkey. She told them that Israel expects them to show understanding regarding Israel’s need to defend itself and continue operating in Gaza in order to change the security situation.
On Sunday, during a briefing that Ms. Livni held in Sderot for ambassadors serving in Israel, she said, “I don’t accept the calls for a cease-fire. The only way that it may be possible to shorten the operation is with a clear statement that Israel has a right to defend itself and that the international community supports Israel against Hamas. This is the message that you should convey.”
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia spoke by telephone with U.S. President George Bush, asking him to use his influence in order to organize influential countries to stop the Israeli offensive. “We need to organize a coalition of countries so that Israel will stop the killing, the torture and the blockade that it has imposed upon the occupied territories,” he said.
Israeli Arabs In Revolt
The Israeli Arab citizens, who comprise 15 percent of Israel’s population, held a general strike yesterday in protest of the Israeli bombings in the Gaza Strip. Demonstrations and rallies were held in many Arab towns throughout the country. Violent riots were dispersed by the police.
Batya and Moshe Cohen, a couple from Afula, encountered rioters on the North-South road near the Israeli Arab city of Umm el-Fahm, where an angry mob miraculously attacked and damaged their car, causing the two to be lightly injured. They were taken for medical treatment at Haemek Hospital in Afula.
“We almost went to heaven,” said Batya in alarm. “We escaped from the mob. It was awful, I still can’t believe how we were saved. It was a real Hanukkah miracle.” Batya’s mother Idit said that her parents had gone to visit her sister, who is soon expected to give birth, and the incident occurred on their way back home.
“My mother called me and started to say in tears that they had been stoned,” she added.
The Cohens were on their way from Hadera back to their home in Afula, when they encountered the riots.
“We were on the Wadi Ara road, and stood in a long traffic jam,” said Batya.
After nearly running out of gas due to waiting in the traffic jam, they stopped off in the gas station at Umm el-Fahm junction, not knowing about the riots there.
“Within a second, hundreds of young people surrounded us, some wearing masks, and started to attack the car and throw stones at us,” Batya said. “I saw murderous looks in their eyes; someone threw a huge cinder block at the car. At the last moment, my husband got up his courage and started to quickly drive away.” The couple’s car was completely demolished, and the police are continuing to investigate the circumstances of the incident.
In the large Israeli Arab communities, such as Umm el-Fahm, Kafr Kana and Arabe, thousands participated in riots and clashed with the police, which prevented them from reaching the main roads. About 20 Israeli Arab rioters were arrested by the police. In the course of the riots, harsh calls were heard such as: “We are part of the Palestinian people and we can’t stand by and watch the killing and the murder.”
“The strike is a sign of unequivocal identification with the Palestinian people,” said yesterday Abed Anabtawi, spokesman of the Israeli Arab Supreme Monitoring Committee.
Violent riots also took place in smaller villages. A police car that passed through Kabul junction last night was stoned, and the front windshield was damaged. The policemen managed to get out of the vehicle and were not hurt, but several dozen young people congregated at the spot and continued to throw stones.
In Haifa, 400 Arabs and Israeli left-wingers held signs and denounced Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Large police forces faced the rioters and ensured that traffic would not be disrupted. Over 700 people held a large demonstration in the Israeli Arab city of Fureidis, in which a private vehicle was hit by stones thrown at it. Large forces of the coastal region police, headed by local police commander Lt. Cmdr. Roni Attia, arrived at the scene. The car that was hit was traveling on the old Tel Aviv-Haifa road, and police sources say that its windshield was shattered at the entrance to the village.
“There is a general guideline by the police to raise the state of alert and increase forces in sensitive locations,” police sources said. “We are prepared for any scenario that could arise due to the situation in the south.”
In the Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, young people set fire to tires and blocked the entrance to the area. In Baana and Deir el-Assad, about 100 demonstrators gathered, shouting: “With spirit and blood we will redeem Gaza.”
They threw stones at cars in the area. Following the riot, large police forces were called in, under the command of Carmiel station commander Dep. Cmdr. Rami Neumark, in an attempt to rein in the young people.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, leading Arab affairs expert at Bar Ilan University, analyzes that “Israeli Arabs are now caught between a rock and a hard place: They cannot identify with the state because it is Jewish and Zionist, while they are not Jews and most are not Zionists.”
Their question of dual loyalty arises today more than ever, as some Israeli Arabs prefer their affiliation with the Arab and Muslim world, and not with Israel.
Ironically, the one Israeli citizen who was killed yesterday as a result of a missile attack on Ashkelon was an Israeli Muslim Bedouin construction worker who was killed at a construction site in Ashkelon when he suffered a direct hit and was killed instantly.
2.2 Billion Shekels Per Week
While the Kassam rockets fall upon the inhabitants of the southern communities and Air Force fighter jets continue to bomb the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government is beginning to think about the bill that will be presented at the end of the operation. According to various assessments, the cost of fighting in Gaza adds up to 100 million shekels ($25 million) per day, and various Israeli government officials estimated yesterday that one week of military action would cost the taxpayer NIS 2.2 billion.
This amount includes two components – the direct military cost, which includes moving the aircraft, tanks and artillery, calling up the reserves and the rest of the military cost; and compensation for the direct and indirect damage that was caused to apartments and businesses in the south as a result of the continued Kassam rocket and Grad rocket strikes in the region.
If the fighting should last for two weeks, the cost will reach NIS 3.5 billion, and if the operation should last for a month, as the Second Lebanon War did, the economic damage will add up to NIS 6 billion, NIS 3.5 billion of it the direct military cost, and the remainder compensation for the damage that will be caused by the fighting.
For the sake of comparison, the cost of the Second Lebanon War was higher, amounting to approximately NIS 10 billion because of damage to thousands of apartments and businesses and because of the payment of enormous compensation for the damage caused in the war. Unlike in the summer of 2006, this time the fighting has caught the economy in a state of sharp slowdown, and the local economy is at the brink of recession.
Industrial manufacturing has stalled, exports are in retreat and private consumption has slowed down sharply.
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com.