A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
December 31, 2008--Day Five of War with Hamas, Hamas Strikes Beersheva, Ground Forces Await Better Weather
Today was the fifth day of Israel's war with Hamas. The rain continued to fall on Southern Israel helping to conceal the firing positions of Hamas' missiles. Hamas succeeded in firing 60 missiles at Israel. Those missiles landed in all parts of southern Israel. Last night after the first missile reached Beersheva a decision was reached by the mayor of Beersheva to close the schools. That turned out to be a providential decision. A grad missie landed in a high school math class, this morning. Thanks to the mayor's actions the class was empty.
The Grad missiles are the same missiles Hezbollah managed to fire on Haifa during the last Lebanon War. They were manufactured in China, purchased by Iran and then smuggled into the Gaza Strip through the Sinai Desert.
Israel continues to attack from the air. The largest attack was made this evening on a Mosque. The decision was made on the highest levels, after irrefutable evidence that those who fired the Grad missiles took additional missiles and went to hide in the mosque. Israel attacked to make it clear that if you fire missile at Israel there are no safe places.
Yesterday afternoon the news in Israel was dominated by discussion about the possibility of a ceasefire. It's not clear whether or not this was a planned trail balloon, but the oppostion to the idea was overwhelming. The feeling of most Israeli policy makers, and most important, of the Shin Bet, is that to end the fighting now would give Hamas a victory. Hamas has been hurt, but nothing would subtantailly change. From an Israeli perspective, the only way to bring a successful conclusion to this action will be with a ground campaign. The Hamas has been saying bring it on-- hoping for a repeat of what happened to Israel in Lebanon.
However, the Gaza Strip is not Lebanon. It is a small area of land, which Israel surrounds on three sides. Egypt, which is far from friendly to Hamas, borders Gaza on its fourth side. While some of the Hamas fighters have been trained in Iran they are said to be not nearly as capable as the Hezbollah fighters, and the terrain, of course, is not a significant factor. Israel will have to show that Hamas' ground capacity is merely a paper tiger in order to undermine Hamas in a significant way.
The European Union's Foreign Ministers are demanding a ceasefire. Not only they do they want a ceasefire, but they also want to ensure the border crossing into Gaza are kept open. That is effectively Hamas' position and would give Hamas a clear victory in this war. What often gets lost, is the only reason Israel closes the border crossing, is in response to Hamas or other terror groups attacks. Border closing was the only non-lethal response Israel could make to these attacks-- Of course some Israelis have been suggesting that every time a missile lands on an Israeli city, Israel should fire a 155 mm arillery shell at downtown Gaza City. Somehow, closing a border crossing for a day or two in response to an attack seems the more humane policy.
This evening in Denmark an Israeli stand selling Dead Sea products (Ahava) was attacked by a gunman, reportedly to be Palestinian. This follows an attack earlier this week on a synagogue in Chicago. There has been only limited violence in the west bank, this, thanks to the joint efforts of the IDF and the Palestinian Authority.
The media has reported growing anti-Israeli demonstrations. A careful examination of the demonstrations show they have been rather small, and most of those participating seem to be Palestinians. I have not seen any opinion polls in the US, but anecdotally, there seems to be widespread understanding of Israel's actions. I appeared on a wide range of radio shows in the last two days from Georgia to Washington state, (some of them call in shows), and I must say the questions both from the hosts and the callers have been overwhelmingly supportive. The most difficult question to answer, has been the existential question "when will this ever end?". Seven million Israelis would certainly like an answer to that question.