A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
December 29, 2008--Day Three of Attack, Israel Expands Target List, Ground Attack to Come, Nasrallah Crosses a Line
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) engaged in a third day of air assaults on Gaza today. Following a preplanned play book, the Israel Air Force (IAF) attacked its next set of targets, symbols of government and individual leaders of the military wing of Hamas as well as members of Islamic Jihad. The IAF was successful in killing the leader of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, but the limits of an air assault are becoming obvious, with the army disappointed at the limited number of high level targets. By continuing the air assaults, the risk of killing civilians increases. To-date, Israel has been very successful in limiting the civilian casualties, but that may not continue.
Hamas managed to launch more then 80 rockets on Israel today. One Grad missile landed in Ashkelon and killed an Arab Israeli construction worker. This evening a woman was killed in Ashdod and a man was killed near Kibbutz Nachal Oz. These attacks were expected, and Israel expects an even larger number of missiles in the days ahead. Earlier toigth IAF was successful tonight in intercepting a truck carrying additional Grad missiles; the truck, was struck and large secondary explosions could be seen from the Israeli border.
The big question of the day is whether there will be a ground assault. I think that it is clearly coming. When speaking in the Knesset today, Minister of Defense Barak warned that i the next few days are going to be painful. He was obviously warning that there will be casualties once the IDF enters Gaza- but enter Gaza, it will.
There are some commentators who are suggesting that Israel can stop after the air strikes, but Israel's decision makers have clearly decided that stopping now would not be in the country's best interest. It would allow Hamas to say that the IDF was afraid of it. The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting piece today by Yossi Klein and Michael Oren called Palestinian Need Israel to Win, in which they stated that only through victory against Hamas is there any chance for peace. Minister of Interior Meir Sheetrit, a member of the Israeli cabinet, was interviewed tonight on London and Kirchenbaum. Yair London stated that no Israeli spokesman had made it clear what the true goals of the mission were. Sheetrit responded by saying –"the goal of the mission is to make it so painful for Hamas that they will not be willing to launch missiles again." He stated that anything less than that would be a failure. He went on to say that: "We live in the Middle East- if we want Hamas to understand us we must not talk to them in English, but in Arabic" (meaning, the only thing they will understand is force). Minister Haim Ramon said very similar things in an earlier interview.
Demonstrations continue against Israel and even more so against Egypt in the expected places- Beirut, Damascus and Teheran. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has spoken publicly (from his hiding place) twice in the last 24 hours. Last night he crossed a line not seen before- he publicly called on the people of Egypt to revolt against the Egyptian government and force the opening of the border with Gaza. Egypt has responded by saying that Nasrallah has declared war against Egypt. As I wrote last week, part of this war is a proxy war between the moderates in the Arab world and the Islamic extremists.
Much of the western world remains more or less supportive, with balancing statements coming from England and France, while Spain and Germany issued statements blaming Hamas for not renewing the ceasefire. The US government in the waning days of the Bush Administration has clearly given Israel a full green light to do whatever it thinks it needs to do. The incoming Obama administration is just hoping this is over before the inaugural.
There have been a number of troubling violent demonstrations by the Israeli Arab community in the last few days, but these demonstrations have been contained. There have been some random attacks on Jews in the West Bank as well, but between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority police, they have managed to limit the actions.