During Thursday’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operations, the Israeli army targeted, identified and killed Islamic Jihad terrorists who in recent days launched rockets into Israel including, Nasser Halil Hassan Ouda, 21; Muhammad Faez Yadeb Hanedi, 24; Anwar Abed al-Hafiz Abu Salem, 23.
Israeli ground troops encountered and shot armed gunmen in several different incidents.
On Thursday morning, an Israeli officer, Maj. Roi Rosner, 27, from Holon, Israel, was killed when an anti-tank missile hit Israeli troops from the Kfir infantry brigade.
On Thursday afternoon, Sgt. Amit Robinson, 21, a tank crewman from kibbutz Magal, was killed Thursday by sniper fire in Northern Gaza.
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The Israel Air Force (IAF) attacked approximately 25 targets, including: â€¨
- Nine Weaponry storehouses, most of them hidden under the homes of Hamas terrorists;
- Weapons smuggling tunnels;
- Four rocket launching sites;
- A vehicle carrying a rocket launcher;
- Two Hamas outposts;
- and five cadres of armed terrorists operatives, some of which fired at Israeli forces.
On Wednesday night, the IAF attacked a number of targets, based on IDF and Israel Securities Authority (ISA) intelligence, including the house of Yaser Natat, who commands the rocket-firing program in the Rafah area, and the house of Muhammad Sanuar, the commander of the Hamas “Han Yunes Brigade.”
The Middle East Newsline confirmed the IAF had knocked out the Hamas government’s telecommunications facilities in Gaza.
Hamas has lost its entire cellular phone system, operated by PaTel, the Palestinian telephone system, due to IAF attacks, as well as most of its landlines. Its secure communications system has now been totally disrupted by Israel’s military.
PalTel reported that at least three of its technicians were killed during the war.
The IAF also knocked out Hamas’ military communications systems. Over the last two years, Hamas’ military wing operated the Senao system of Taiwanese origin, which is meant to prevent interception or jamming. It was comprised of two-way handheld wireless radios with a range of 35 miles.
Hamas military leaders have been forced to cease most of their communications with field units, and messages are now transmitted through couriers or walkie-talkies.
“This [walkie-talkie] is also becoming difficult because we are running out of batteries,” a Hamas operative said.
The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has said the IAF has combined manned and unmanned aircraft to target and strike Hamas operatives and facilities throughout the Gaza Strip. CSIS, said to be close to members of the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama, said the air force has eroded much of the Hamas command structure.
“One should not underestimate Israeli success in purely militaryâ€¨ terms,” the CSIS report, titled “The Fighting in Gaza: How Does It End?” said. “The IAF flew roughly 150 sorties on December 27, the first day, and over 100 the next three days. Hamas quickly dispersed both its personnel and weapons and equipment, but the IAF has continued to have excellent targeting support from its unmanned aerial vehicles and other technical intelligence assets, and support from anti-Hamas elements inside and outside of Gaza.”
The report, authored by former Defense Department official Anthony Cordesman, said Israeli air strikes have eroded Hamas’ military command. Mr. Cordesman cited such air force targets as Hamas weapons tunnels, shelters and other facilities.
“The IAF may not be able to find and hit every target, and some tunnels and sheltered areas, yet Hamas has clearly lost some key leaders and is losing most of its key facilities and much of its equipment,” the report said. “It may be able to fire limited numbers of rockets indefinitely into the future, but it will lose a significant amount of its weapons, as well as its training facilities and communications facilities.”
Mr. Cordesman said that Hamas has failed to reach the military capabilities of the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah. The report said Hamas does not have the training, experience or the equipment of the Lebanese-based militia.
“Hamas is not Hezbollah,” the report said. “It has not fought the IDF for years. Its forces are limited in training and experience, and do not seem to have had anything like Hezbollah’s access to the more modern and lethal man-portable and crew-served weapons – although it may well have some anti-tank guided weapon and portable surface to air missiles in reserve.”
CSIS determined that the Israeli military could quickly overpower Hamas in urban strongholds in the Gaza Strip. The report cited the lack of a Hamas military infrastructure, hampered by the refusal of the rival Fatah movement to battle Israel.
“For all of the talk about the difficulties of house-to-house fighting, it is important to note that most urban combat is over quickly unless both sides have extensive combat equipment and support capabilities, and that insurgent defenders generally take massive losses relative to the attacker,” the report said. “Hamas may inflict casualties in a few clashes, but it also has not yet demonstrated that it can bring together any kind of broad Palestinian resistance that has any effectiveness.”
Mr. Cordesman said the Israeli army would not be required to attack all Hamas strongholds, because the Israeli military could rely on its air force to flatten suspected Hamas facilities in urban areas.
“It [Israeli military] can secure and isolate such strong points, attack only those strong points that have key value, and use airpower instead of house-to-house fighting,” the report said. “The problems the IDF faces because it was committed to a static war against far better defended areas long the Israeli-Lebanese border do not apply in Gaza, and Israel has had two years in which to retrain and improve its capabilities for joint warfare. Unless its political leadership repeats the mistakes of 2006, it does not need to fight the wrong kind of urban warfare.”
Still, Mr. Cordesman appeared to dismiss the prospect that Israel’s military would stabilize the Gaza Strip, and doubts Israel’s military will defeat Hamas or its insurgency allies.
“While no one should judge the outcome of any clash or series of battles before they are over, the more serious question will be whether IDF tactical successes have lasting strategic value, and produce any kind of stable political outcome,” the report said. “The deafening silence of the Israeli government in describing the broader goals behind Israel’s operations raise much more serious questions here than its military operations to date. It seems very unlikely, however, that any amount of Israeli tactical success can – by itself – bring an end to the war process.”
Israel’s current defense minister, Ehud Barak, was a research fellow at the CSIS during the six-month period after he completed his term of office as the commander in chief of the IDF on Dec. 31, 1994. After that, Mr. Barak entered Israeli politics and served as the interior minister, foreign minister and prime minister of Israel.
The Director of the Political-Security Staff in the Israel Defense Ministry Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad made a short visit to Egypt on Thursday morning to discuss Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s cease-fire plan. However, the Israeli government security cabinet instructed the IDF to exhaust the second stage of the operation in the Gaza Strip until it becomes clear whether the diplomatic measures initiated by Egypt and France are leading to a cease-fire. Sources in the Israeli government confirm that if the diplomatic talks fail, the prime minister will convene the security cabinet in order to approve the third stage of the operation and its expansion.
The London based al-Hayat newspaper reports that Mr. Mubarak had invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to meet with him in order to discuss the Egyptian cease-fire initiative. The item said Mr. Olmert said he would come to Egypt after the security cabinet meets.
Talks are also underway for a meeting between Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who will meet with President Mubarak in Cairo on Saturday.
The U.N. Security Council has come to no agreement. Libya demands that the Security Council vote on a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire. The U.S., U.K. and France wish to issue a statement rather than a binding resolution. Such a statement requires the agreement of all 15 members of the council. The statement that the three powers has offered emphasizes the need for a sustainable cease-fire that will include guarantees that arms smuggling to the Gaza Strip will be prevented.
However, Hamas has rejected any and all initiatives for a cease-fire that have emanated from Egypt and France.
Northern Israel Attacked
On Thursday morning, a second front opened up against Israel. At least three Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon on the city Nahariya area in the Western Galilee. A nursing home suffered a direct hit. Fortunately, all of the elderly residents were sitting in the breakfast hall when the attack occurred on Thursday morning. The rocket hit the roof of the building, penetrating to through the ceiling and crashing into the kitchen, destroying its water and electrical system.
Following the attack, all Nahariya school children were instructed not to report to school.
Within a few hours, the IDF shelled rocket-launching sites in Lebanon with artillery fire. Israeli security sources said that they believed that a pro-Palestinian was involved in the attack, and not by Hezbollah. Afat Mora, a Hamas spokesman in Lebanon, said on Thursday that his organization was not involved in the Katyusha fire.”
The Nahariya attack caused the Israeli Army Northern Command to convene for an urgent meeting to evaluate the situation, to discuss the possibility that the northern region could flare up if armed groups in Lebanon were to decide to launch attacks to show their solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza.
Senior intelligence officers, headed by IDF Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, warned earlier this week that Hezbollah or another Palestinian group in Lebanon might attempt to open a second front against Israel in light of the fighting in the Gaza.
Civilian Front: An Interim Assessment
With the second week of Israel’s Gaza Incursion coming to a close, initial insights about Israel’s civilian front have emerged.
In the first six days of the operation, 182 improvised Qassam rockets and 65 standard Grad katyusha rockets were launched against Israeli civilian targets – an average of 41 rockets per day (compared with an average of nine rockets per day in all of 2008). In addition, 277 mortar shells were fired.
The rockets fired at Ashdod and Beersheba reflect a significant upgrade in Hamas’ range capabilities. This expanded capability relies on standard katyusha rockets smuggled into the Gaza Strip, during the recent six-month cease-fire.
So far, four civilians in Israel were killed during this operation.
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com