Operation Cast Lead Going Strong

Soldiers Putting Up an Israeli Flag in a Staging Area near Gaza. (AP)

Soldiers Putting Up an Israeli Flag in a Staging Area near Gaza. (AP)

Operation Cast Lead seems to be going well, so far. Over 325 targets have been bombed, and over 360 Palestinians killed (almost completely Hamas-people. Some human rights estimates place the number of civilian casualties as low as 45). Police Headquarters, Hamas safe-houses, munitions stores, rocket launchpads, prisons, a Hamas-run mosque, grad trucks, smuggling tunnels, et al, have been hit. The death toll on the Israeli side has been low, considering the number of rockets being lobed into Israel (80 just on Monday), with only 4 dead, (2 of whom were Israeli Arabs, proving that Hamas’ rockets do not distinguish between Jews and non-Jews), and 2 wounded. Israel reports that it is readying to send in ground troops (though this will undoubtedly increase our death toll). On Hamas’ end, things are not so clear.

Iranian clerics and Hezbullah’s Nasrallah call for a third Palestinian Intifada and that Muslims throughout the world rise up against their governments, mentioning Egypt in particular, in order to support the Palestinians, whom they have deemed to be the most “noble” of people. Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Aboul Gheit, however, has slammed Nasrallah for such statements, saying that Nasrallah’s comments are as good as a declaration of war on Egypt, and that Nasrallah just wants there to be as much chaos in Egypt and other countries as exists in his [Nasrallah’s] own country. In addition, Aboul Geit, while condemning Israel’s actions, places the blame squarely on Hamas for firing rockets and/or allowing rockets to be fired into Israel. Egypt’s President Mubarak has, also, issued a statement refusing to open the Rafah crossing with Gaza unless Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is in charge there. (Egypt does not need more Islamistspouring into its country, and unlike Israel, does not conduct itself while on the one hand running a military campaign and on the other letting in aid professionals due to concerns for civilians). Egypt and Turkey are working to broker a peace deal, or more accurately, a form of ceasefire. Showing concern over Hezbullah’s posturing, Egypt has warned Israel that a ground incursion into Gaza will likely result in the opening of a Northern front, with Hezbullah attacking Israel. Nasrallah, however, has made no mention of a possible attack on Israel. Nonetheless, it would be foolhardy for Israel not to be prepared for such a surprise attack, and thus, the North of the country, particularly in Kiryat Shmona, is preparing for the possible outbreak of war.

Unconfirmed resports have claimed that Ahmed Ja’abri, a high ranking Hamas military commander, perhaps even a Chief of Staff, was killed in an air strike on a Hamas security structure. In addition, the IDF has reported that Hamas’ armed wing, the Izzadin al-Qassam forces, have been greatly weakened. Yet, other IDF reports indicate that Hamas’ military forces are still in tact. Hamas has, also, announced that it has called up its reserves, and has enlisted 1,000 new volunteers in order to prepare for the potential Israeli ground invasion. What do these conflicting reports mean? Without a doubt, Hamas’ forces have been weakened. It is impossibe to sustain such damage as has been inflicted on Gaza over the last 72 hours without being weakened. The question is, simply, of how much. Hamas may, or may not have lost its top military commander. Let us, for the purpose of this analysis, assume that the man is, in fact, dead. Does this, then, make a difference to Hamas’ abilities. I argue that, no, it does not. Hamas has organized itself, for the most part as a guerilla organization; this involves a military command structure with a commander in chief, officers, troops, etc. While this holds true for most of Hamas’ forces, its military wing, similar to Hezbullah’s, is most likely comprised of smaller, somewhat non-integrated, cell-like units, so that the loss of a single unit does not effect the whole military wing. If this is so, which at present cannot be proven, each smaller group will have its own commander, to continue its fighting activities, regardless of what other units are doing. In a second scenario, in which the suppositions of strategists and researches as to the structure of Hamas’ military wing prove untrue, and it is in fact structured like a typical military, the death of the commander in chief will, also, not effect Hamas’ effectiveness, as his deputy will, simply, rise to take his place. While it is possible that Hamas is, in fact, greatly weakened, and that its claim to strength and military integrity is simply posturing in an attempt to deter a future Israeli ground invasion, Israel should, nonetheless, be prepared for a tough battle in Gaza, should it go in with ground forces, as appears likely.

As a side note, Hamas has, also, attempted to send a message to Israel to stop its attacks, other than by rocket force. An unnamed Hamas official has claimed that Gilad Shalit has been wounded in an Israeli air strike. This message should have absolutely no bearing on the Israeli military. First, this operation is not about freeing Gilad Shalit. Rather, the goal is to weaken, or destroy, Hamas, and to stop the rocketfire onto Israeli territory. Second, we should not be so quick to forget history. During what is now referred to as the First Lebanon War, Palestinian forces claimed that Israel had killed kidnapped Druze soldier Samir Asa’d (As3d) in an air strike in 1991. After a long period of negotiation and great bartering, and the releasing of Palestinian prisoners, the body of Asa’d was brought home. Coroner reports found that Asa’d had, in fact, been killed by 3 knife wounds, one in the back and 2 in the ribs, which could not possibly have been inflicted by a bomb. Thus, we should be careful in paying too much attention to what these individuals tell us with regards to our captured soldier and should focus on performing this military operation as well as possible.

The point of this slightly disjointed post is to say that Israel is doing well with their aerial attacks on Gaza and should keep it up. Should they send in ground forces (a topic discussed in previous posts), they should be prepared for though battling in the densely populate streets of Gaza. Israel should, also, be prepared for the potential opening of a northern front. Hamas, however, is far from having unanimous support in the Arab world, which should be remembered and capitalized upon. Last, Israel should be wary of an reports coming out of Gaza with regards to anything, from military preparedness to captured soldiers.

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