The commander of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operation in the Gaza Strip, southern regional commander, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, has called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to authorize expanding the operation to its third phase.
The phase would include sending large numbers of reserve troops into Gaza and taking over large portions of the territory. Mr.â€¨Galant told the senior Israel Ministry of Defense leadership the IDF can achieve a “decisive situation” against Hamas without being forced to take Gaza in its entirety.
Expanding the operation, he told Mr. Olmert and Mr. Barak, would come at the cost of soldiers’ lives and would require extending the reservists’ terms of duty. However, it would solve southern Israel’s security problems for many years to come. â€¨â€¨
He said the operation has created a “once in a generation” opportunity to solve the problem of Hamas.
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“If we don’t do that we’ll be missing an historic opportunity,” Maj. Gen. Galant said. He he anticipates that ending the operation at its current stage would result in quiet along the Gaza front for a number of years. During that time period Hamas would likely resume its rearmament and, and Tel Aviv would then fall within range of their rockets. â€¨â€¨
He also addressed efforts to persuade Egypt to take â€¨more effective actions to prevent arms smuggling on the Philadelphi Road. “Israel,” he said, “can only count on the IDF.” â€¨â€¨â€¨
Preparing For Intensified Army Activity â€¨
IDF troops are preparing for activity at a level of intensity that has not yet been seen. â€¨â€¨On Saturday, the IDF warned the Palestinians to prepare â€¨themselves for a possible offensive. Leaflets that were distributed throughout Gaza announced an “escalation in the army’s operations.” â€¨â€¨
“In the near future,” the leaflets read, “the IDF will continue to â€¨attack tunnels, weapons caches and terrorist activists with mounting â€¨intensity throughout the entire Gaza Strip. For the sake of your safety â€¨and the safety of your family you are required to refrain from remaining â€¨in proximity to terrorist elements or places in which weapons are stored â€¨or terrorist actions are perpetrated. You should continue to heed the â€¨instructions that are given to you… “
Throughout the weekend, only a small number â€¨of engagements between IDF troops and Hamas fighters occurred, resulting in seven soldiers sustaining light injuries. The troops were mainly engaged in â€¨clearing the areas now under their control from bombs and in breaking â€¨any routines so as to impede any efforts by the terrorists to strike at â€¨the troops. â€¨â€¨
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) attacked some 60 targets, including 10 rocket-launching sites, five tunnels that served for arms smuggling and 14 ammunition â€¨storehouses and weapons production sites. Golani Brigade soldiers killed â€¨a suicide bomber in the northern Gaza Strip who was armed with a bomb â€¨belt. â€¨
IDF Troops Kill Leader Of Rocket Forces â€¨â€¨
Amir Mansi, who was defined as the commander of the rocket crews in â€¨the Gaza City area, was among the 50 terrorists who were killed by IDF forces over weekend. He was among the more important Hamas officials who had been believed to have been involved with the BM-21 Grad rocket attacks against Israel. IDF officials say that Mansi came under fire after he was identified firing mortar shells at Israel.
Mansi, who was trained by Hezbollah, was killed on the spot, and two terrorists who were with him were hit.
According to eyewitnesses who were nearby when the incident took â€¨place, Mansi, 28, was seen walking in the streets of Gaza City â€¨late on Saturday afternoon. Several minutes later, as Mansi was â€¨passing by a school in the northern Gaza Strip, a powerful â€¨explosion that shook the street and its inhabitants was heard. The same eyewitnesses recalled that a missile fired by the IDF scored â€¨a direct hit on him. â€¨
Mansi, one of the greatest Palestinian experts on rocket launching, was killed instantly. â€¨
Mansi was the son of Yusuf Mansi, â€¨the communications minister in the Hamas government, also considered a religious extremist figure. â€¨
An Israeli security source described the hit as a heavy blow to â€¨Hamas. “This is a figure of the first rank on Hamas’ team,” the source said. “He was a particularly knowledgeable expert on operating Grad rockets. â€¨Operating a long-range rocket is much more complicated than the Qassam â€¨rocket, and so he was in charge of the training and launches.” â€¨
A high-ranking commander in the Gaza sector added, “We are seeing â€¨people deserting and going AWOL among Hamas’ combat personnel. They are â€¨afraid to go out and fight. Therefore, today we saw Amir Mansi, a â€¨high-ranking man in high trajectory fire launches, whose subordinate â€¨did not go out to launch rockets, so he went out to launch them â€¨himself.”
A security source in Gaza assessed that Mansi had been forced to fire the mortars himself because his troops had refused. Mansi allegedly had no choice, and he was forced to go out and fire the mortar shells himself. â€¨
IDF officials said they believed 300 Hamas fighters had been killed in battles with IDF troops – in addition to the others who had beenâ€¨killed in IAF strikes that were carried out in the week preceding the ground operation.
A high-ranking Israeli officer said Hamas has suffered hundreds of casualties from the range of fighting.
“There are entire companies and battalions that have simply been wiped out,” he â€¨said. “We’ve also identified fear among activists to make an appearance â€¨that might endanger them when dealing with IDF soldiers. Only when theâ€¨Hamas people stick their heads out of their bunkers will they realize â€¨the magnitude of the destruction that Israel has caused them.”
The IAF also attacked last night the home of Ahmed Jaabri, the commander of Hamas’ military wing, in Gaza City’s Sajaiya neighborhood. The IDF has attacked some 60 targets in Gaza since last night, including tunnels and a mosque that served as a weapons storehouse where a machinegun and shells had been stored.
IDF officials also allege that the mosque served as a â€¨training ground and a meeting place for Hamas activists. â€¨ â€¨ â€¨
In the meantime, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Israel yesterday, after having met with with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo Saturday.
He told the Egyptian leader Germany was prepared to send a team to Egypt that would examine how to prevent arms smuggling. The Italians also voiced their willingness to send troops, as did NATO, which announced that it would help address the arms smuggling routes from Iran to Gaza. â€¨
Israel Accuses: Condoleezza Worked Against Us â€¨
Relations between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were warm until a short time ago, but two days ago something changed. During the night between Thursday and Friday, when the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire, Ms. Livni spoke with Ms. Rice seven times – tough conversations with raised voices. â€¨
Israeli officials accused Ms. Rice of having worked behind Israel’s â€¨back and of having been the “engine” behind the wording of the Security â€¨Council’s resolution, contrary to the promises that she gave to Israel.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s dramatic appeal to President George W. Bush last Friday at 3:30 a.m., where Mr. Olmert demanded that the Americans veto the resolution – caused Bush to force Ms. Rice to abstain from voting although she had wanted to support it from the beginning. â€¨
A tough conversation between Ms. Livni and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also erupted. Israeli officials claim that Mr. Miliband was theâ€¨ one who put pressure on the French to hold the vote on Thursday nightâ€¨ and not postpone it by 24 hours, as the Americans and the â€¨ â€¨ â€¨
IAF Commander Sets Personal Example And Bombs Gaza â€¨
In the initial stages of the current IDF operations, were complaints existed about how Israeli commanders had been watching events unfold on their computer screens instead of leading their troops on the battlefield. This reminded many people of the 2006 War in Lebanon, when Israeli military commanders chose to remain in their command posts near the border fence.
As the past two weeks have transpired, IDF commanders have worked to change that image.
Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan personally took part in one of the air strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Mr. Nehushtan, formerly an F-16 squadron commander, flew in the plane he knew so well from the days when he commanded the squadron at the IAF’s Hatzor base.
The IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, has been seen in the combat zone in the Gaza Strip, and Mr. Galant accompanied IDF Armored Corps troops from the 401st Brigade, while other high-ranking commanders have also begun to set a personal example and have gotten into the fray of things along with their subordinates. â€¨
In addition, Israel Navy Commander Maj. Gen. Eliezer (Cheney) Marom was aboard an Israel Navy missile boat off the Gaza coast, while Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni also entered the battlefield when he came to visit the troops from the 401st Brigade, which is subordinate to him.
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com