Israeli military operation in Gaza entered its fourth day yesterday against the backdrop of heightened Hamas rocket fire at Israeli cities and towns and the looming threat of an Israeli ground invasion.
Lutafi Nasrallah Din, 38 of the Israeli Druze village of Daliat el-Carmel, an NCO in the IDF’s career army, killed in the Nahal Oz area on Monday night, was buried in his village.
In Ashdod, Irit Shetrit, 39, mother of four children, who was killed at a bus stop on Monday night, was buried in Ashdod.
The Israel Air Force meanwhile continued to bombard targets across Gaza focusing on ministry buildings, Hamas outposts, installations and even individuals.
In the meantime, the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF, successfully targeted and killed Ziad Abu Tir, a senior Islamic Jihad operative in an air strike. The IAF attacked his house in Abassan, which is near Khan Yunis. Four other Palestinians were killed along with Abu Tir, including his brother and nephew and two other people. The home of Maher Zakut, a senior operative in Islamic Jihad’s military wing, was also bombed. He was not at home at the time of the air strike and that he was not hurt.
Another air strike was carried out with the goal of taking out a tunnel that had been dug toward Israel. Inside the tunnel were between three and four terrorists. The tunnel in question was dug in the southern part of the Gaza Strip and was begun a few dozen meters from the border. The assumed purpose of the tunnel was either to have it blow up beneath an IDF outpost or to use it to kidnap another Israeli soldier.
It was in this very same sector that Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. The tunnel was destroyed, while the terrorists were busy digging.
The troops around Gaza were instructed to maintain a heightened level of alert so as to prevent any such terror attacks from being perpetrated.
The IAF used bombs with a small diameter in order to blow up the tunnels beneath Philadelphi Road, which is the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
The bombs in question are marked by the U.S. Army as SDB GBU-39, and are known for their high penetrability and their tremendous destructive power.
They were developed by Boeing specifically so that they could be carried by American stealth bombers. They are relatively small in size and they can also be carried by F-15 and F-16 jets that are used by the IAF.
These bombs, which weigh 113 kilograms, have the destructive capabilities of bombs that are far heavier then they are, thanks to the speed with which they penetrate and their kinetic energy. They can be fired from a great distance without risking the life of the pilot. They spread their wings and become stabilized, at which point they glide toward their target.
Israel bought 1,000 of these bombs with the approval of the US. Congress in September. The first batch was supplied in early December and they are already in operational use.
Meanwhile, Israeli Security officials have informed the Israeli media that about 90,000 Gaza residents live near Hamas military installations which have been targeted for attack.
Preparing For A Ground Attack
One of Israel’s most respected military experts, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, observed in an Israeli media interview that “the illusion as if we might be able to suffice with just an air operation alone faded against the hail of rockets out of Gaza, even though that outcome was certainly anticipated in light of our experience in Lebanon. The State of Israel has no choice, if its leaders want to win this war and if the IDF wants to meet its principal purpose of defending the citizens of Israel and its sovereignty, but to prepare for a major ground operation in the Gaza Strip.”
If and when IDF ground troops enter Gaza Strip they are going to find themselves facing an armed force that is prepared for battle. In a process that began five years ago, Hamas’ military wing has become an organized military body that has amassed weapons, planted bombs and trained combat troops who are now waiting to fight IDF soldiers.
The man who turned Hamas into an army is Ahmed Jaabari, who currently is considered to be the commander of Hamas’ military wing. Mr. Jaabari began the process of turning the small terror cells into organized military units: The northern Gaza Strip is under the command of Ahmed Ghandur, Gaza City is under the command of Raed Saad, the central Gaza Strip is under the command of Ayman Nofel (who currently is under arrest in Egypt), Khan Yunis is under the command of Mohammed Sinwar and the southern Gaza Strip is under the command of Mohammed Abu Simala.
In addition to those brigades, Hamas also has a navy of 200 soldiers and special task forces for planting bombs, firing rockets and gathering intelligence. Hundreds of people belong to those forces.
The Hamas army, which is estimated to be comprised of some 20,000 combat troops, operates on the basis of a fairly organized chain of command. In the past number of years, as part of the learning process from engagements with IDF troops, Hamas forces have learned to use special auxiliary troops, such as units that fire mortar shells, to cover the fighting combat troops.
Hamas established a military academy with training camps across Gaza. Palestinian sources say that Hamas sent a large number of people off to Iran for training. The people who received training in Iran then returned to the Gaza Strip and passed on their new knowledge to the other troops.
In the past number of years, but particularly so in the past six months, Hamas has smuggled enormous quantities of weapons into the Gaza Strip. Along with rifles, pistols, sniper guns and ammunition, Hamas succeeded in smuggling in more sophisticated means, such as anti-tank rockets, heavy machineguns that are used as anti-aircraft guns and large quantities of explosives.
In the course of the truce agreement, say Palestinian security officials, Hamas prepared the ground in advance of an Israeli ground operation. Hamas operatives dug tunnels that were filled with explosives, planted large bombs along the main roads and held exercises in urban warfare. Furthermore, Hamas’ anti-tank units have improved significantly and underground bunkers have been built to store weapons and to serve as headquarters, shooting positions and observation posts. Hamas has also booby-trapped houses, built decoy tunnels and suicide bombers await the invading Israeli forces.
One high-ranking Israeli military officer told the Israeli Ma’ariv newspaper a number of months ago that no one thinks lightly of Hamas’ capabilities.
“In the course of this past year it has spent all of its time planting bombs across the Gaza Strip,” said the officer. “Some of them are in deep burrows that, as soon as our first tank crosses them, will blow up, but there are also burrows in which the terrorists will hide. We anticipate trained snipers with high-quality equipment. Everything Hezbollah had in Lebanon has been smuggled into Gaza. We’re prepared for everything and know how to cope with those capabilities.”
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.