After a grueling air campaign that began seven days ago tonight, Israeli Defense Force troops marched into Gaza in the dark.
From where I stood, close to the border, one could feel the ground shake as the sound of massive explosions reverberated throughout the countryside. I could see the darkness of the Gaza skyline, punctuated by red flares and tracer bullets and I could hear the sounds of combat between the IDF and Hamas as evidenced by artillery and machine gun fire.
This was the fruition of a carefully executed plan, formulated ten days ago and executed in a private meeting Friday night between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Barak, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
The IDF entered Gaza at three different points – these included from the north close to the Mediterranean Sea and through the old Israeli settlements as well as from the Karni crossing. As I write this troops are already at least 2 km inside Gaza.
Large and varied forces are taking part in this stage of the operation including infantry, tanks, engineering forces, artillery and intelligence with the support of the Israel Air Force, Israel navy, the Shin Bet and other security agencies.
The cabinet has authorized an emergency call up of tens of thousands of IDF reservists. Hamas for its part, has long prepared for Israel’s invasion, using the cease fire period to dig strategic tunnels and rig some areas with explosives in anticipation of an IDF ground assault.
I watched live television coverage of the young men who are the brothers, sons and husbands of the entire country marching head on into enemy territory. Hamas publicly announced, â€œIf Israel dares to go into Gaza, it will turn it into a graveyard for Israeli soldiers.â€
Hamas also said that the IDF was “getting closer to the trap we laid for it,” adding that “our people will fight to the last drop of blood and won’t surrender. We prepared hundreds of suicide bombers meant to kill and capture dozens of soldiers taking part in the ground operations.”
Tonight Defense Minister Ehud Barak addressed the Israeli nation saying, â€œWe didn’t want to do this but 800,000 people are now under the threat of Hamas rocket fire. Any nation would take the same measures.â€ He somberly added that the ground incursion would put the lives of Israeli troops at risk.
Barak stressed that a lengthy debate preceded the ordering of the ground incursion. He added that Israel was a peace-loving country and pledged that the IDF will have the upper hand by the operation’s end.
I was with several IDF Infantry soldiers this week before they went into Gaza. They are in the prime of their lives, handsome, smiling â€“ some as young as 17. They could not tell me at the time, but they knew they would be going in tonight. When I asked one if he was scared, he shrugged and humbly answered â€œOf course not.â€ The soldiers know very well that the risk of them getting kidnapped is extremely high. It is already presumed that Israel will suffer casualties. The operation thus has to produce concrete results, lest the IDF withdraw from Gaza stigmatized by yet another perceived failure.
Cross posted to ROI120