Posting: January 8, 2009
Major Ro’i Rozner, of the Kfir Brigade, has been killed by mortar fire in a fierce battle in the region of the former Jewish community of Neztarim. We salute him.
It was obvious yesterday that our government seemed to be on the verge of agreeing to a ceasefire — which was enormously worrisome — and then backed off. The reason given for backing off was that there were elements of the agreement that turned out to not be acceptable to us.
I have since learned that there were, in essence, two versions of a ceasefire agreement being floated, and that we had actually agreed to one and then backed off because it became apparent that what was on the table was the second version, not what our government thought it was agreeing to. What is more, I have been advised that Sarkozy was at the heart of this confusion, having lead Israel to expect one thing and then offering Mubarak something else.
So… we backed off, and decided to continue our operation. But we have not yet decided to expand it to the next stage, which would have involved bringing in some of the reserves who have been called up and are waiting, and sending troops into the south of Gaza. Those in the Security Cabinet who were in favor of expanding the operation with an eye to toppling Hamas were Haim Ramon, Eli Yishai, Daniel Friedmann and Rafi Eitan; eight voted against doing so. Barak, who dragged his feet with regard to starting the war, seems most eager to call a halt now.
We are, in essence, in a modified holding pattern while we wait to see what develops diplomatically. Amos Gilad has been sent to Cairo to participate in discussions Still worrisome. It is not yet time.
As for continuing the operation, what we did was to release flyers in the area of Rafah — near the Philadelphi Corridor — warning people to leave their homes. Five thousand people left, seeking temporary shelter in nearby schools.
And last night we began bombing in the area — bombing both additional tunnels and houses. We had already destroyed at least 100 tunnels, but it is said there are some 200 more still in existence. As to the houses, not only are weapons stored in many of them, but in many cases the tunnels exit holes are inside of houses so they are not visible.
The Post editor-in-chief, David Horovitz, made the point this morning that we learned from Lebanon that an army trapped in indecision is most vulnerable: the army must keep moving to avoid being a target. Indeed. The indecision, such as it exists, is totally political and diplomatic. Our troops have been exceedingly well prepared and trained and are comporting themselves excellently.
While we have not yet sent troops to the south, I note that there are those who are advocating that we return to the Philadelphi Corridor and stay there. Horovitz says that Yom-Tov Sama — who is now advising the head of the Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant — has urged that we return to the Corridor and stay for 25 years.
Rather than even attempting to examine the elements of the various cease-fire proposals being advanced, I would like here simply to review the major issues and their import.
 There is talk of a temporary cease fire, to be followed by a permanent one. The parameters of each would have to be clearly defined, if indeed there would be two stages. There has been some suggestion that Israel should halt unilaterally, which strikes me as a horrendous idea.
 Israel must retain the right to act if Hamas either renews smuggling or again launches rockets or fires mortar shells. We cannot have a cease-fire that prevents us from responding defensively.
 The issue of opening all crossings permanently is key to what Hamas seeks. In fact, Hamas has said if it doesn’t get the crossings opened, it won’t agree to a cease-fire. The parameters and conditions for this would need to be carefully spelled out — if indeed we were to agree at all, which seems unlikely. Hamas is seeking normalcy while we are seeking to isolate it. (Humanitarian aid would continue to flow.) There is talk of some monitoring by Europeans of the crossings, which is likely to be fairly useless.
 The big issue for us is the matter of the re-establishment of tunnels by Hamas and its renewed smuggling of weapons in order to rearm. And the ultimate question is whether it’s actually possible to set up a system that would block this from happening. There remains some serious doubt in this regard.
Major Israeli defense officials are saying this won’t be possible.
Egypt, it goes without saying, must be a key player. The Egyptians have been vociferously denying that they have been lax in their monitoring of the situation until now, and are somewhat defensive. But evidence is that for years they might have done much more, and, in fact, blithely looked away.
By agreement, since we pulled out of the Philadelphi Corridor in 2005, Egypt has had 750 soldiers stationed on its side of the border. They are requesting permission to put in more. Permission is required because our peace treaty with Egypt makes this area demilitarized.
There are some US army engineers in the area now, as well, working as advisors with the Egyptian troops, and there is talk about bringing in more, to remain on a permanent basis. Presumably, they would be empowered to destroy tunnels.
But a question of great sensitivity arises here regarding what any monitors/observers/advisors from another country can do on sovereign Egyptian soil. Egypt will not take kindly to suggestions that it is falling down on the job and that other forces must act. There is a parallel here with Resolution 1701, which put in place enhanced UNIFIL in Lebanon: UNIFIL is not empowered to act unilaterally against Hezbollah, only at the behest of the Lebanese army.
On the other side of the Sinai-Gaza line is the Philadelphi Corridor (and Rafah). When Rice spoke this week about bringing back the PA, it was to place them here. The regrettable arrangements Rice manufactured in 2005 had us gone from Philadelphi and the PA in. She wants to return to this situation, but it is not going to work. Hamas will not stand for it — they’ve already said so — and the PA has not the power to withstand Hamas.
This is where our presence might be invaluable.
So here we are, once again, at a cross-road. Will we slow down and then agree to a diplomatic arrangement, or hit Hamas even harder than we have so far?
Olmert visited the south and received a briefing today. In a statement he issued, he admitted that we have not yet reached our military goal: We are not in a place that yet assures long term peace for the south of our nation. Said he: “… the IDF hasn’t been asked yet to do whatever it takes get to this point.”
Well, you want to ask, Why the hell not? If security for the south was our stated goal, why has action to secure it not been ordered?
“This decision is still ahead of us,” declared Olmert.
The decision is, of course, to be made by the political echelon. To me, it’s a no-brainer. We haven’t reached the point of protecting our citizens adequately yet, and we have a superbly trained and functioning force ready to move ahead to achieve this. Do we stop now for a diplomatic arrangement that at best would provide dubious protection?
Let us pray not.
And right now, in spite of vigorous efforts to secure a ceasefire, and our potential willingness to cooperate, it looks as if Hamas attitudes and statements may move our government in the direction of further forceful action:
Eight radical Palestinian movements headquartered in Damascus — primary among them Hamas and Islamic Jihad — have met to discuss the situation in Gaza. Now a spokesman for these groups has declared:
“Palestinian organizations, notably Hamas, see no valid basis in the Egyptian plan for a solution to the crisis… The Franco-Egyptian initiative does not contribute towards finding a solution since it is a threat to the resistance and the Palestinian cause, allowing the enemy to continue its aggression.”
We cannot declare a cease-fire with ourselves. And Hamas is not ready to have one imposed.
It must be remembered that Hamas leadership consists of radical, jihadist revolutionaries. They do not make compromises and they do not surrender easily. They have to be beaten to the ground.
Hamas still retains some military leadership and forces, and some rocket supplies. They are defiant and arrogant in their attitude, even as they are hurting badly. Even if the political leadership of Hamas ultimately might agree to a cease-fire, the military wing is unlikely to truly honor it. “We will win, or we will die,” they have said.
Our defense officials say Hamas is still capable of delivering a “quality” (let us say, “serious”) terror attack.
To date, the IDF is reporting that engagement with Hamas forces is lighter than had been expected. This is what General Kupervasser was referring to yesterday with regard to flushing them out. Instead of doing battle, Hamas troops are going into heavily populated urban areas and melding with the civilian population. Leadership is in hiding, either in bunkers or places such as hospitals.
Let me add one other factor of considerable importance here: the question of deterrence and how we appear at the end of this war. We have to come out having vanquished Hamas sufficiently so that there is no question that Israel and not Hamas is victorious. Anything that makes Hamas seem to have achieved an advantage, such as opening of crossing and normalization of the situation, in return for their holding their fire, would be disastrously counterproductive to our goals.
They would broadcast to the world that they had achieved what they wanted by attacking us. And this would further motivate and energize radical jihadist forces in other places — such as Hezbollah to our north and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
This must be a consideration in terms of how a cease-fire might be structured.
Questions have been raised about securing the release of Gilad Shalit. I am not seeing this as a central issue in resolution of the war. But, off the record, it is being said that the hundreds of Hamas fighters we are capturing will give us a new advantage on this score.
Our fighting stopped for three hours again today, to allow in more humanitarian supplies. A European Commission official is due to arrive soon to coordinate these humanitarian efforts. I think this is an excellent way for the EU to be occupied.
A barrage of three Katyusha rockets coming from Lebanon hit the Nahariya area of northern Israel this morning; two people were lightly wounded when a rocket went through the roof of a retirement home. We returned fire.
The rockets were fired from the southern town of Nakoura, where, in late December, eight Katyusha rockets pointed at Israel and ready to be fired were discovered by a local farmer. He informed the Lebanese army, which defused the rockets.
What happened today is being considered an isolated incident. It is thought that these rockets were launched by a radical Palestinian group in Lebanon and not by Hezbollah. The rockets were an older model than what Hezbollah now possesses, and it would be expected that if Hezbollah were attacking there would be more than three rockets launched. The suspicion is that a Palestinian group is trying to drag Lebanon into the war.
Israel, none-the-less, has let Lebanon know that it is held responsible for rocket launching.
More rallies for Israel (hopefully I’ve gotten all that have been sent to me)
St. Louis (from Paula Lemerman) Today, January 8, 7:00 p.m., 2 Millstone Campus Drive
Toronto (from Steve Tanennbaum) Today,Thursday, January 8, 7.30 p.m., Beth Tzedec synagogue, 1700 Bathurst Street
Posting: January 7, 2009
“A Tough Task”
In a different battle from the ones that claimed the soldiers I named yesterday, we lost one other soldier: St.-Sgt. Alexander Mashevizky, of the Engineering Corps. If I locate a photo of him, I will run it, for he, too, should be honored.
Yesterday, Hamas terrorists stationed themselves on the grounds of an UNRWA school in the refugee camp of Jabaliya in northern Gaza and fired mortar shells at nearby IDF troops. The troops returned fire; an IDF investigation indicates that they acted according to procedures.
However, what happened subsequent to this is that there was an explosion and over 30 Palestinians inside the school building — of the many more said to be hiding there — were killed. Our defense officials say that booby-trapped bombs were hidden in the school and were set off by the fighting, killing persons inside.
A great deal has been made of this, and it hurts our public image. This is particularly painful because it is clearly and unequivocally Hamas that is at fault here. Yet one continues to read of the deaths “caused” by Israel.
I routinely point out that when Hamas conducts itself in a fashion that puts civilians at risk, that it is guilty of a war crime. Here I would like to refine this statement a bit, and in the process demonstrate how difficult it is for Israel to cope with the situation:
Someone with considerable knowledge with whom I spoke this morning pointed out to me that Hamas is not a sovereign nation and is not a signatory to international agreements that define the rules of war — and what constitutes a war crime. Hamas does as it pleases, without legal entanglements or concern for the standards of the international community. And he’s right. So technically what I need to say is that Hamas is behaving in a way that is defined as a war crime by the civilized international community, but Hamas does not care.
The issue is how the most civilized and moral of nations, Israel, handles itself in military confrontation with a group such as this.
Today I attended a special briefing at the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, on the issue of what constitutes victory for Israel, in both the military and diplomatic aspects. Dr. Dore Gold, who heads the Center, spoke, as well as Brigadier General (res.) Yossi Kupervasser.
When the issue of Hamas willingness to sacrifice civilian lives was raised, Dr. Gold referred to Sheikh Nizar Rayyan, the Hamas terrorist leader who had been taken out by Israel recently. Rayyan’s family was with him when their house was hit. Information about their refusal to leave, even after IDF warnings, had made the press. Dr. Gold, however, said that when Rayyan knew the IDF was coming after him, he actually called his family, which had been elsewhere, to join him.
I have now searched the Internet for information on this, and found the following that came from Ma’an, a Palestinian news agency that interviewed Walaa, one of Rayyan’s surviving daughters:
“‘My father raised us all to love martyrdom,’ Walaa said. ‘If you had the chance to ask my 4-year-old sister Aaysha, who died in the attack, she would have told you that she preferred to die martyr.’
“… According to one of his four wives, Rayyan would tease his children in the days before his death, and ask them: ‘Who wants to die martyr with me?’ and all his children used to answer, ‘Yes daddy, we all want to be with you alive or dead.’ His youngest son said, ‘I can’t imagine that you die martyr and leave me behind unable to see you. I want to die with you.'”
How to cope with this?
Christopher Gunness, an official with UNRWA, has now said that UNRWA was “99.9% certain there were no militants or military activity in its school.”
And I am 99.9% certain that Gunness is lying. I speak as someone who has done years of research on UNRWA and has known for a long time that terrorists use UNRWA schools. (I have documented material on this and will return to the subject in due course.)
I am certain because I know the IDF does not just shoot at schools and I believe what they’ve said here.
Residents living near the school, who wisely chose to go unidentified, told AP yesterday that they saw terrorists shooting near the school. And some of those who were killed inside the school have been identified by the IDF as part of a rocket launching cell. They include senior operatives Imad Abu Askhar and Hassan Abu Askhar.
We will never know how many others of the 30 allegedly killed in that operation were actually terrorists and not “innocent” civilians.
Last year the IDF filmed a terrorist who was operating — and firing mortars — from an UNRWA school. They provided the video to UN Secretary-General Ban, who promised to investigate. He has yet to give an answer.
Enemies of Israel are all about.
General Kupervasser spoke at today’s briefing about the fact that the air operation was important, but did not achieve goals that were critical. We hit some weapon storage and many weapon production sites. Some key figures were taken out, but not enough. Thus has the ground operation been necessary.
Hamas tries to hit us indirectly, using booby-traps, etc., and to avoid direct confrontation. We are trying to flush them into the open. They have had Iranian training, but are not as well trained as Hezbollah. Our efforts in fighting them have been impressive and our casualties minimal. But right now there are fighters remaining and rockets remaining, and they still have the capacity to launch against us.
The more the pressure is maintained on Hamas, and the more they are in isolation, the more likely that they will crumble. Every day their ability to fight erodes further. What is needed is time.
Says General Kupervasser, Hamas has not yet surrendered its goal of using Gaza as a base to attack us. They are not yet convinced that there’s a new game. And indeed, Hamas made a statement to this effect today, declaring that there is no intention of accepting a permanent ceasefire and they intend to keep fighting the “occupation.”
The general believes that given enough time we could get Hamas to that point. They have a vested interest now, he says, in holding on to control of Gaza. If they see that they must decide between losing Gaza or surrendering the fight, they might give up the practice of attacking us. Destroying us would become only a dream, for the future.
Perhaps. (I and others still suspect that giving up the practice of terrorism would be only a temporary maneuver on their part.) What is clear, however, is that it is not time to stop. They are not yet on their knees. Victory is close, but not yet ours.
In line with all of this, the IDF was talking today about expanding the operation to move into all of Gaza, and the Security Cabinet was supposed to meet to discuss this. Temporarily this was put on hold because of potential progress (if we can call it that) in the diplomatic arena.
The diplomatic progress involves discussions between Sarkozy and Mubarak, in an attempt to come up with a cease-fire plan that is acceptable to both sides. For the first time, Rice, instead of stalling, was saying this is going in a good direction. What is more, she was talking about re-instating Abbas in Gaza. This is her own pipe-dream, a step towards the fulfillment of the negotiations she’s worked on. But it’s not going to happen.
All-in-all, however, this was a most worrisome state of affairs.
Sarkozy wanted us to stop fighting now, while this ceasefire is being discussed and shaped in its particulars. But Olmert told him, nothing doing: We haven’t come this far to stop for an unknown quantity in terms of arrangements.
Both Sarkozy and the PA (Abbas is most eager) have lent the impression that we’re solidly on board. This is not the case.
The core issue is the stopping of smuggling and how to achieve it. Egypt must be a key player here, as a major part of the action to stop it would take place on Egyptian soil. (Interestingly, talk about the Philadelphi Corridor has diminished.) Egypt for the first time today is saying it needs help, notably Israeli help, certainly with intelligence. And it is said there would be a significant contingent of US army engineers involved.
But what has evolved is that there are other elements of the proposal Egypt was advancing that are definitely not to our liking: Including Hamas in discussions and opening all crossings.
That being the case, the Security Cabinet has now met and said we are going forward with the battle. In the coming days, we will be continuing the operation in order to achieve our goals. Hamas must be squeezed and crushed. Our government — glory be! — is not caving. Breath a sigh of relief.
Olmert has no intention of returning to a glorified version of what we had with Hamas before, and has no intention of negotiating with Hamas. He wants conditions imposed on a vanquished Hamas. Livni has said this repeatedly — negotiations with Hamas would give it credibility. We want to isolate and weaken Hamas. The mere fact that Egypt is thinking about making concessions to Hamas to get them to stop firing shows with certainty that they are not vanquished yet.
Israel has expressed gratitude to France and Egypt for its efforts and will be sending a delegation to participate in discussions regarding the cease-fire. Said cease-fire is several days down the road, at least.
We held a three-hour cease-fire today, at the request of Sarkozy, to allow more humanitarian supplies to come in and the civilian population to collect materials from warehouses.
As soon as this time was over, Hamas hit Beersheva with two Grad rockets.
Atlanta (information from Joel Margolies) Today, Wednesday, January 7, at 7:30 p.m., Ahavath Achim Congregation, 600 Peachtree Battle Ave NW
Fort Lauderdale FL Tomorrow, Thursday, January 8, 5:00 p.m., at US Federal Building, Broward Blvd. and Third St. For info: (305) 864-5110
Nashville Sunday, January 11, 3:00 p.m., Tennessee Legislative Plaza
Philadelphia Tomorrow, Thursday, 12:00 p.m., noon, Love Park, Center City
Posting: January 6, 2009
“Pain and Progress”
Our boys are in the toughest of fights now, since the beginning of this war.
Overnight, we suffered three losses in the Golani Brigade. This happened in Saja’iya, when a contingent of our troops hid in an empty house and the house was hit by one of our own shells. This happens, but it’s tough, tough stuff.
They have been identified as Yousef Moadi, 19, who was buried in his Druse village of Yirka today; Maj. Dagan Wartman, 32, from Ma’aleh Michmash, who served as the doctor for Golani 13th Battalion; and St.-Sgt. Nitai Stern, 21, from Jerusalem.
And there was a forth death overnight: Capt. Yehonatan Netanel, 27, from Kedumim, of the Paratroopers Brigade.
May there be no more occasion for reporting such news.
And may their families be comforted with the knowledge that they had gone bravely to protect our nation.
Soldiers killed in Gaza: From…
From Top left (clockwise): St.-Sgt. Nitai Stern, 21, from Jerusalem; Yousef Moadi, 19, from Haifa; Capt. Yehonatan Netanel, 27, from Kedumim; Maj. Dagan Wartman, 32, from Ma’aleh Michmash. Photo: IDF
In the course of the day, yesterday, another 12 soldiers had been wounded in other action; I understand most of these injuries were light to moderate.
For our part, in intense gun battles, we killed 100 Palestinian terrorists and captured 80, who will be interrogated. That interrogation should be greatly helpful in securing intelligence for our operations.
All and all, we are moving as had been planned and are said to be making good progress.
According to the Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh, a very reliable source, Hamas desperately needs the fighting to stop, but is searching for some way to turn this into a “victory.” At this point, what Abu Toameh describes is a rather schizoid situation, with some leaders wanting to call it quits and others wanting to keep fighting in order to “score some kind of ‘military victory.'” Hamas is on the verge of collapse.
Hamas’s leaders in Gaza have thrown away their cell phones and gone into hiding. They cannot be reached, and are no longer in direct communication with Hamas leaders in Damascus, or with their patrons in Damascus and Teheran. The leadership in Gaza knew nothing about the decision, made in Damascus, to send a mission to Cairo to discuss a cease-fire.
All in all, the military wing of Hamas, Izza al-Din al-Qassam — which is what we are now fighting, is in control of Gaza, as the political elements in Gaza have abdicated. The fighters have been charged with doing everything possible to prevent the collapse of the Hamas regime. But because they have no guidance from local leadership, the result is chaos and anarchy: except for some long-distance communication from Syria, the gunmen are in charge on the street. Hamas as a local governing body has collapsed.
This has implications not only for our ultimate victory, but for what lies in store for Gaza after the war.
Reports are surfacing that if matters continue to go as intended, we might be finished in 78 hours. It is not clear if this is what was intended, if we’re progressing faster than had been expected (which seems to be the case), or if this is all the time it is estimated we will have before the international community intervenes.
About that international community:
The Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, which chairs the EU at the moment, said in a press conference:
“We didn’t have a specific plan for the cease-fire because the cease-fire must be concluded by the parties. We can help it, mediate, assist a solution, but it not up to us to propose the conditions of the cease-fire.”
And so there is speculation by some analysts and diplomats that the visit of the EU delegation, and the separate visit of Sarkozy, were meant in part for domestic consumption.
Certainly, “we think you should stop, but you have to work it out, we can’t tell you what to do,” does not seem to be a major threat to our military progress.
Sarkozy, without a doubt, has been a thorn in our side, however. Where did he go as soon as he came to this area? To Ramallah, to meet with President Abbas. And standing next to Abbas (talk about playing to the Arabs), he declared that the fighting must stop “as soon as possible.” He said he would be delivering the message that the violence must stop when he came here.
But it seems to me that Olmert handled him as well as he might have. Yesterday he appealed to him to block a Security Council resolution for a ceasefire. France currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council.
“We defined from the very beginning a limited goal – to change the security situation in the South and to free thousands of citizens from the threat of terror.
“In view of the diplomatic developments, it would be unwise to pass a resolution on the matter, since past experience has proven that Israel cannot afford restricting its freedom to act against terrorism…
“Sometimes the need to find a compromise in the UN comes at Israel’s expense… “
I do not know what Sarkozy said to Olmert, other than offering a vague promise to keep working on the issue with him, but I would not hold my breath with regard to his cooperation in the matter. It would be nice to be pleasantly surprised here.
The Security Council is scheduled to meet and discuss the situation in Gaza later today (well after this will have gone out). French Foreign Minister Bernard Koucher (who is no friend to Israel) will be presiding over this meeting. The goal enunciated by some parties is to promote an immediate ceasefire. But it’s not going to happen so fast.
Said Zalmay Khalilzad, US Ambassador to the UN, there should not be “false expectations”: “Practical arrangements have to be put in place in which everyone has confidence that it will be maintained, it will be respected, it will be observed,” and these will take more than “a day or two.”
In any event, Israel has no expectations with regard to what the UN might do, and intends to proceed as necessary. “We’re fed up with empty gestures,” Olmert has said.
President George Bush has been a sterling friend during this process. He said:
“I understand Israel’s desire to protect itself and that the situation now taking place, in Gaza, was caused by Hamas… I know people are saying, let’s have a cease-fire. And those are noble ambitions. But any cease-fire must have the conditions in it so that Hamas does not use Gaza as a place from which to launch rockets.”
The US is currently working on international channels outside the UN for establishing a “meaningful” ceasefire. The goal is said to be to end rocket fire by Hamas, secure opening of crossings, and insure that no further smuggling of arms is done. In some contexts I have read that Bush wants Hamas held responsible.
Olmert has spoken about disarming Hamas, but I see no mention of this. And, while Shalit is not being mentioned here (and should be!), I have read that Israel will not agree to normalization — which refers to crossings being opened — until Gilad Shalit is returned.
I would like to examine in some more detail the entire notion of observers or monitors at the Philadelphi Corridor to prevent smuggling of weapons. We have destroyed perhaps the better part of 100 tunnels running under that Corridor, but it is perfectly possible for many to be dug again, and for Hamas to bring in even more weaponry, if not prevented from doing so.
In general, the notion of international monitors is a joke. UNIFIL “supervised” in Lebanon while Hezbollah re-armed under the noses of these troops. Actually, the situation has been so ludicrous that UNIFIL does patrols that deliberately avoid Hezbollah strongholds. Egypt was supposed to be monitoring on its side of the Corridor, but, pleased to allow Hamas to harass Israel, has pretty much turned a blind eye to weapons smuggling.
When we pulled out of Gaza for the “disengagement” in late August 2005, we were supposed to remain at the Philadelphi Corridor (which, technically, is a sort of no-man’s land between Gaza and the Sinai). But then along came Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and pressured us to leave the Corridor. We should have said no — our security people knew it was a bad deal. This was about giving the PA more control, you see.
A deal was worked out in which the PA supervised on its side of the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza. (The Corridor is the entire length of the Gaza-Sinai border, Rafah is an actual crossing facility.) European observers were stationed there and theoretically information was supposed to be transmitted to us by computer informing us of who was crossing — there was a desire by Israel to keep out terrorists and the suitcases full of money they sometimes carry. This, too, was a huge joke. All the Europeans did was “observe.” And not only did we not reliably receive information in a timely fashion, we had no way to stop someone we objected to from getting through. Then Hamas took over, and it all fell apart.
So why should we have the remotest confidence now that any international forces will be effective there? And what will Israel ultimately agree to?
The Reuters report that Olmert was demanding monitors with real enforcement responsibility was encouraging — forces that were armed and trained and able to take out new tunnels.
Best of all would be our returning to the Corridor.
Lastly here now, I want to look at Livni’s comments yesterday on the arrival of the European mission. She said some very good things. For example:
“… a necessary war on terror does not end with an agreement. We don’t sign agreements with terror; we fight terror.”
But she also said,
“The region is divided between moderates and extremists. Each person in the region must pick a side to work with. Hamas works with Iran.”
And she concluded that signing an agreement with a terror organization would prevent Israel from advancing the “peace deal.”
The corollary: Allow us to take down Hamas properly, because you all want peace here, and then we’ll be able to achieve it.
A very dangerous and erroneous conclusion. But this is the way Livni is headed. She envisions a situation in which Hamas is destroyed, and Gaza is turned over to the PA — after which she is elected prime minister and manages to negotiate “peace.”
No, the Fatah is not Hamas. But it’s goals are not so different. It too wants us gone and seeks all of the land. We are not about to have “peace” with the PA. This approach is something that must be monitored, and protested, vigorously, once the war is done.
The catch here is that, Livni’s goals not withstanding, there is solid reason to believe that radical forces in Gaza would never accept the PA. That is certainly the opinion of some very savvy analysts.
The question, then, is who will be in power in Gaza at the end of the day. The mistake that fueled this situation was our leaving in 2005. What is certain is that the struggle will not end on the day the fighting stops.
After I posted yesterday, I received this information from Minka Goldstein and put it out now for all those in the Washington DC area who want to attend a rally for Israel:
Today, Tuesday, January 6, at 12:30 p.m. at the Israeli Embassy, 3514 International Dr. NW, DC Take the Red Metro Line — Van Ness Stop.
Wednesday, January 7, at 12:00 p.m. at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue Take the Red, Green or Yellow Metro Line — Gallery Place Stop, Chinatown Exit.
For more information, call 301-770-0881.
Posting: January 5, 2009
Golani Staff-Sergeant Dvir Emanuelof (22), who died of his wounds from a mortar attack in Gaza, was laid to rest in the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem last night. Thousands attended.
It is being reported that he told his mother, “Ima, I have to fight.”
I salute him, as does all the nation.
See here for a video clip of reservists off to serve. It does us proud.
Livni has met with representatives of all the major humanitarian organizations providing relief in Gaza to determine precisely what needs are. Crossings were closed yesterday, with the beginning of the ground incursion, but humanitarian supplies will be going in again today.
Our four brigades in Gaza have successfully surrounded Gaza City and divided the Strip in two. What this does is cut off the flow of men, weapons, and supplies to the north, and interfere with Hamas’s command-and-control facility.
Now our operation is being expanded as we go after the military wing of Hamas, Izz al-Din Al Qassam Battalions — both men and infrastructure. This fighting force still retains considerable strength, and were it to emerge at the end of the war with much of its fighting power intact, it would not only have capacity to hit us yet another day, it would also provide Hamas leadership with the rationale for declaring that we didn’t, and couldn’t, defeat them.
Thus this is a critical operation. But it is also a dangerous one.
According to Palestinian sources, our troops are on the outskirts of Beit Lahiya, Jabaliya, Saja’iya, and al-Attara. Homes, where gunmen, supplies and tunnel exits are hidden, are being surrounded, shot at, and, as appropriate, entered.
The heart of nation is with the soldiers conducting this necessary battle.
It certainly appears that a good deal has been learned since Jenin, where our men were ambushed in small alleys. I read of one operation in which holes were shot in the sides of houses before they were approached. Troops in certain circumstances are accompanied by dogs from a K9 unit that can sniff out booby traps; soldiers move around to avoid becoming stationary targets; troops in the dark use night-goggles and camouflage their faces. Attack helicopters hover overhead when appropriate, accompanied by drones, and release flares to confuse shoulder-launched heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. Artillery units shell heavily to support troops on the ground.
According to YNet, another target of our operations is Hamas’s fortified defensive system that exists both below and above ground. Action on razing this system will come in stages, as the IDF is working to secure additional intelligence.
A senior IDF officer has indicated that our troops are prepared to enter urban areas if this becomes necessary: “This is what the troops have trained for and are designated to do — to fight in densely-populated areas,” the senior officer said.
Over the past year, all of the troops that have been deployed in Gaza or may be deployed there, have received training at the IDF’s Ground Forces Command Urban Training Center near Tze’elim.
“We built models for them of places inside Gaza. There are places that replicate city outskirts, the casba marketplaces and over-populated refugee camps.”
Defense Minister Barak gave a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee today, in which he said the operation is “being held as planned”:
“Gaza City is partially besieged and the forces have reached the ground targets we set for them… Hamas has suffered a very heavy blow, but we have yet to reach the goals we set for ourselves, so the operation continues.”
He indicated that armored, engineering and artillery corps were taking part in the ground operation, supported by the Navy, Air Force and special units.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Olmert had phone conversations regarding a cease-fire with Tony Blair, the Quartet’s Middle East envoy; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Olmert presented them with Israel’s demands for a truce: The end of all projectile fire on Israel, the end of all terror acts, international monitoring of Gaza and the complete disarmament of Hamas.
Olmert, we are told, emphasized that Israel will continue its operation in Gaza until its conditions are met.
Reuters is reporting that an Israeli demand with regard to monitoring by international forces has to do with the Philadelphi Corridor and insuring that no further smuggling is going on. Israel wants fortifications along the stretch of the Corridor, with monitors that are heavily armed and equipped to search out and destroy tunnels that may be re-dug.
Yesterday, Foreign Minister Livni said:
“The war in Lebanon ended in a diplomatic arrangement, but today we are in a different place. The objectives today are military. We went in to strike against terrorism, and to impair the capabilities and motivation of Hamas. My position in favor of a long-range goal of toppling Hamas is known; this is not a one-time operation… For this situation to end in a diplomatic arrangement with Hamas would be contrary to our strategic goals; our diplomatic activity concentrates on weakening Hamas and striking it, as I described… Anything that weakens Hamas is good from our standpoint.”
Today she said to visiting foreign ministers (mentioned below) that Israel intends to “change the equation in the region” as the days of “Hamas firing rockets and Israel showing restraint” are over. She indicated that there was no constructive place for international observers yet, as Israel needed time to complete the military operation.
“Complete” — this indicates she is seeing international involvement as a follow-up to, and not a substitute for, our victory.
The northern border with Lebanon is being closely monitored in event of attack from Hezbollah there. UNIFIL and the Lebanese army have raised an alert with regard to this possibility.
Barak has indicated that we would be prepared to fight on both fronts at one. In fact, some of the thousands of reservists who have been called up, but have not yet been sent into Gaza, are being held back and prepared for this eventuality.
But the Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitari said today that Lebanon has no intention of being dragged into a war with Israel over Gaza and believes this is Hezbollah’s position as well.
Hamas is offering public defiance still. Strongman Mahmoud Zahar, in Gaza, called on Hamas fighters to “crush the enemy.”
A closer look, however, indicates something else. Our intelligence sources indicate that numerous Hamas leaders are still hiding in hospitals.
And it has been announced from Hamas’s political wing in Damascus that a Hamas delegation — headed by Imad al-Alami and Mohammad Nasr — will be visiting Cairo next Monday to discuss Israeli “aggression,” opening of border crossings, and lifting of the blockade. As if Egypt can negotiate a ceasefire with Israel to make this possible now.
Perhaps most significantly, even though it was mentioned last, the mission will be discussing an Egyptian proposal for reconciliation with Fatah. This is what they had refused to do previously. This is a bid for increased legitimacy and for tempering the relationship with Egypt.
It is unlikely that there will be any permanent alliance between Hamas and Fatah. As Martin Kramer, of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, says, “Hamas assumes (probably correctly) that its Palestinian opponents fed Israel with much of the intelligence it needed to wage precision warfare against Hamas. There is likely to be a vicious settling of scores as soon as a cease-fire is in place, if not before.”
Rockets are continuing to fall on Israel. Yesterday 50 were launched and today by late afternoon there had been over 30. This includes Grads that wounded nine people in Ashkelon. Rockets have hit several other locales as well, including Ashdod, Sderot, and Yavne.
It has been revealed that a Grad rocket shot into a Beersheva kindergarten at the end of December contained ball bearings to increase injuries. Thank Heaven, the decision had been made to close the schools, so no one was present.
It is feared that Rishon LeTzion and Rehovot, both over the 40 km. line — which represents the farthest that any rockets have reached thus far from Gaza, may be vulnerable to attack. They are preparing bomb shelters.
A report from the London Times indicates that there is Israeli concern that Hamas may have acquired Iranian-made Fajr-3 missiles, which have an even greater range.
Hamas has made claims about having kidnapped some of our soldiers, but the IDF is denying this.
Hamas has shot a number of Fatah-affiliated people in Gaza in the leg, to “insure” that they don’t fight on behalf of Israel. (A mere hint of what Kramer has suggested will be coming.) It has been revealed, however, that Al Aksa Brigades, a terrorist arm of Fatah, is fighting against Israel in Gaza.
The stream of international visitors who are here to push for cease-fire has begun. The European delegation consists of Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who heads the group, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Some of the visitors will be going to Egypt and Ramallah as well. A report on this — including an expansion of Livni’s comments — will follow tomorrow.
Here I would like to mention French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is coming on his own. Sarkozy was one of the first to criticize Israel when this war started, calling our actions “disproportionate.”
But he has told a Lebanese paper that “Hamas is largely responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (Photo: AP)
Speaking of things French, there is this good news: Yesterday there was a pro-Israel rally of 12,000 persons in Paris. Paris!
While in Harlem, New York City, Bishop Carlton Brown of the Bethel Gospel Assembly led a pro-Israel prayer service for 1,000 worshippers. All of NY’s TV stations covered this.
Listed here for your information are a number of scheduled pro-Israel rallies to take place in the US, sponsored by StandWithUs. Listed by time:
New York: Monday, January 5, 1:30 p.m., Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, 1st to 2nd Ave. at 47th St.
Denver: Monday, January 5, 5:30 p.m., Hebrew Educational Alliance, 3600 South Ivanhoe St.
New York: Tuesday, January 6, 12:30 p.m., Across from the Israeli Consulate, E42nd St. at Second Av.
Los Angeles: Tuesday, January 6, 4:30 p.m., In front of the Israeli Consulate, LaJolla and Wilshire
Los Angeles: Wednesday, January 7, 12 – 2:00 p.m., Federal Building in Westwood, Veteran and Wilshire
Boston: Thursday, January 8, 7:30 p.m., Congregation Mishkan Tefilah, 300 Hammond Park Pkwy, Chestnut Hill
If you are interested in helping plan or attend a rally in Seattle: email@example.com If you are interested in helping plan or attend a rally in Portland: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posting: January 4, 2009
Barry Rubin, in his latest piece, “On the Ground in Gaza,” observes how upside down and incomprehensible this world has become. His observations are a good way to begin today’s post: “Often, nowadays, it seems as if all history is being rewritten when it comes to Israel. In World War Two, allied air forces carpet-bombed cities even though there were no military bases in civilian areas. In France alone, tens of thousands of civilians were killed by allied bombs that fell on their intended targets.
“Even the Nazis didn’t put ammunition dumps in houses and use human shields. And up until now the blame for doing so would fall on those who deliberately and cynically sought to create civilian casualties in order to gain support for themselves
“Up until now, a country whose neighbor fired across the border at its people and even staged cross-border raids had the right of self-defense.
“Up until now, there has been a capability of understanding which group is inciting hatred, trying to turn children into robotic terrorists, calling for the extermination of another people, and committing aggression.
“Many people, many journalists, many governments, and even many intellectuals still understand the most basic principles of right and wrong as well as of the real world. Unfortunately, too many don’t or at least don’t when Israel is the target.”
This leads us directly to a video from the IDF with regard to our current operations — and why they are necessary — that is well worth seeing and sharing broadly:
We have large numbers of troops in the north of Gaza, so that Gaza is in essence divided, as I am reading it, into three sections, which prevents movement of weapons and fighters.
There have been reports of numerous tanks cited in the area of the former Jewish community of Netzarim, which is south of Gaza City. (No, I am not suggesting we are re-taking it for Jewish settlement purposes.) Apparently we have approached the outskirts of Gaza City.
We are said to be aiming to control areas which were being used for launching of rockets, and to do damage to the military wing of Hamas, which hasn’t been heavily damaged in the air attacks.
Our very finest fighters are involved here: Paratroopers Brigade, Givati Brigade, and Golani Brigade.
It seems that there is no intention of getting bogged down in the sort of house-to-house search (such as was done in Jenin in 2002) that is so dangerous to our boys, and is just what Hamas would like — not in Gaza City and not in the huge Jabaliya UNRWA refugee camp. Much terrorist activity emanates from Jabaliya, and rockets are often fired in its vicinity.
Last night, 30 of our boys from the Golani Brigade were wounded in a mortar shell attack, two seriously, three moderately, and the rest lightly. It has now been reported that one of those seriously wounded has succumbed to his injuries: St.- Sgt. Dvir Emanuelof, 22, from Givat Ze’ev.
St.- Sgt. Dvir Emanuelof, 22,…
Today an additional three were wounded. Fighting is intense. According to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, fighting has been mainly carried out from close range. “I spoke to the brigade and regiment commanders on the ground, and I’m encouraged by their determination and willingness to complete the mission.”
The IDF has placed an embargo on the details of the fighting.
Along with the ground operation, we are continuing air attacks. In a strike on Khan Yunis, we took out senior Hamas terrorist Hussam Hamdan, who was in charge of Grad-rocket launches into Beersheba and Ofakim, and senior Hamas terrorist, Muhammad Hilo, who was in charge of the Hamas special forces in Khan Yunis.
The Cabinet, in its weekly meeting today, was briefed on the war.
Prime Minister Olmert offered remarks at the beginning of the meeting, and in the course of which he addressed parents and family of our soldiers and security personnel:
“I have thought about you a lot since the operation began, especially since the decision about a ground operation approached. I asked myself and my ministerial colleagues if there was some other step, outlet or effort that we had not yet tried before sending our boys into a place fraught with such risks – from which some of them may not return. This morning, I can look each one of you in the eyes and say that the Government did its utmost before deciding on the operation.
“This operation was unavoidable.”
He ended with these words:
“We will behave as a responsible and reasonable society, the way we know how to behave in times of decisions of national importance. My heart and the hearts of the people of Israel are with its fighters.
“We in the political echelon will limit our statements, and try to transmit responsible and reliable information to the public in real time, and put our rivalries and disputes aside. Now more than ever, the people of Israel are one people.”
The reports delivered at the Cabinet meeting by security heads are encouraging:
According to Shin Bet head, Yuval Diskin:
“There are first signs that Hamas is toning down its views in regards to a possible ceasefire… The Hamas leadership abroad is stressed, working to obtain a ceasefire and disappointed by the Arab countries failing to stand by its side. The situation of the leadership in Gaza is similar. A real threat exists today on the Hamas enterprise in the Gaza Strip. The leaderships in Gaza and abroad feel an existential threat.”
The message from Military Intelligence chief Major-General Amos Yadlin was even stronger:
“Hamas understands that violating the lull was a strategic mistake. It suffered a great blow. Dozens of headquarters have been damaged, the ammunition warehouses and production infrastructure were destroyed. The ability to smuggle through the tunnels was damaged.
“The organization leaders only care about themselves. There is harsh criticism against them among the Palestinians. Hamas has brought hate upon itself and found itself isolated in a lepers’ alliance with Iran and Syria.”
According to Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, we have killed about 400 in our operations, most of them Hamas. “Not much is left from the Hamas government.”
(A note here: the IDF is saying that about 40 civilians have been killed, roughly one in ten of those taken out.)
There is strong feeling here that Livni’s diplomatic efforts in making our case are paying off. In any event, the US is running interference for us at the UN, and blocked Libya’s move to call for an immediate cessation of our effort.
Rice is coming to New York to spear-head efforts to cobble together an acceptable cease-fire resolution. She and Bush both say it must be a balanced and sustainable cease-fire. Israel has made it clear that there is no point in stopping if we will have to go in again very soon. This sustainable cease-fire will not be easy to achieve.
Livni has made a further point that she doesn’t want a cease-fire that elevates Hamas and gives it legitimacy, she wants a cease-fire imposed upon Hamas.
Hamas resumed its barrage of rockets last night, after a temporary lull. Today over 30 — including both Kassams and Grads — have been launched, with four injured and a house that took a direct hit destroyed.
UN Secretary-General Ban has called Olmert to declare himself “extremely disappointed” with Israel ground incursion.” He’s not nearly as disappointed as we are, perennially, with the UN itself. He “insists” that we cease operations immediately, which carries no weight whatsoever here.
There is no further Security Council meeting scheduled until Wednesday. What is particularly notable, from my perspective, is that YNet this morning reported that according to “top diplomatic officials” we need not concern ourselves unduly even if a resolution that works against us were to be passed at that time:
“There have already been precedents, for example Operation Defense Shield [in Judea and Samaria in 2002]. A Security Council resolution will not necessarily stop Israel from proceeding with the ground operation in Gaza. It is in Israel’s sovereignty to make such decisions, since it is operating in self defense.”
If we are in a place where we are no longer running to appease those who oppose us, this alone is a much welcomed sign of increased strength.
On Friday, before our ground invasion, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, called for a “truce” that will “require bringing Gaza back into the fold of the Palestinian Authority through arrangements on the ground and renewed efforts to reunite Gaza and the West Bank.”
He did not clarify exactly how this state of affairs would be brought about.
I’m reading about some notion of placing the PA in charge of the Rafah crossing into the Sinai — a stipulation of Egypt for allowing the crossing to be opened. But as long as Hamas is standing, I do not imagine them tolerating this, or the PA having the strength to withstand what would ensue.
In the meanwhile, French president Sarkozy is coming tomorrow. What a disappointment he has been: there was expectation when he first assumed the presidency that he would be more amenable to understanding Israel’s situation. But, I imagine, he’s playing to the Muslim population and the anti-Israel sentiment within his nation: He has condemned what we’re doing.
Following Sarkozy, a EU delegation is expected.
Dr. Max Singer, writing for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, today address the issue of victory for Israel that I had raised yesterday.
We must face the fact, he says, that total victory is not possible because we are not prepared to totally occupy the Palestinians, as Japan was occupied after WWII, for long enough “to change their society into one that is ready to live in peace with Israel.” And we cannot destroy the Palestinians.
“Therefore after any war, Palestinian enemies will still be there seeking ways to attack Israel, and Israel will have to live with the continued existence of the Palestinians on our borders.” But “temporary” victories are very possible — victories that can be critical:
“Our basic task is to defeat each and every kind of attack that the Palestinians devise. Each of our victories will lead, some time later, to a new Palestinian attack which must be defeated in turn… we must go from victory to victory,” until the day when the political situation changes.
Dr. Singer concludes that the current victory against Hamas is one that “Israel can win because it must win, regardless of the cost. There is no substitute for this victory.”
What will this victory do for us?
“It will demonstrate to everyone that Israel is still – or again – capable of doing whatever is required to win the battles it needs to win to protect the country. It will show what some have come to doubt, that we are prepared to take whatever casualties, and whatever international condemnation, that we have to take to achieve our military missions, and we will undertake whatever military mission is necessary to protect our country.”
Posting: January 3, 2009
Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)
Late this afternoon — in line with a Security Cabinet decision yesterday to expand our actions against Hamas — IDF ground operations began in Gaza. This followed a heavy artillery bombardment to soften things up.
Large numbers of troops from the Infantry Corps, Engineering Corps and Armored Corps have entered at several points, accompanied by intelligence units, in the north of Gaza. (Reports are being received of three different fronts advancing.)
Our troops have engaged with Hamas fighters already and it is believed that more than 30 Hamas people have been killed.
As I write there have been no Israeli casualties. This is significant because there had been dire predictions of booby-trapped ground that awaited our troops entering on foot. Either those predictions were erroneous or the “softening up” we did with artillery took care of it.
An IDF official has stated that, “For the time being, we are facing several hubs of resistance, yet we are not dealing with massive resistance.”
Tens of thousands of additional reservists have been called up, to be utilized as needed.
At the moment, for whatever it means, there are no rockets being launched from Gaza. There are expectations that launchings may well start again and even intensify for a period.
Our navy has established a blockade at sea, to prevent Hamas from being aided in that direction.
Prime Minister Olmert has said, briefly, “The time has come for Israel to do what Israel must do.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave a brief statement tonight in which he said, “it won’t be easy, it won’t be short.”
“We have been biting our lips for long enough, but now we must provide our citizens with what every citizen deserves – peace and quiet.”
All Barak said about the aim of the operation was that it was to hit Hamas and its infrastructure hard.
We know that there was no specific goal of taking out Hamas enunciated in the Security Cabinet decision — because both Eli Yishai (Shas) and Haim Ramon (Kadima) abstained in protest of the fact that it was not.