A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
January 6, 2009--Day Eleven of War with Hamas, Heavy Urban Fighting
Today marks the 11th day of the fighting with between the IDF and Hamas. The events of last night dominated most of the news broadcasts. The large scale bombing and shooting shown live on Israeli television last night turned out to be a friendly fire accident that killed three Israeli soldiers. A tank was directed to fire at a building. Unfortunately, it struck a building Israeli soldiers were in. The building collapsed killing the three soldiers and wounding 20 more. Television pictures of the fighting last night showed forces extracting the wounded there under Hamas fire. Israeli television news cameras were forced to move away from the border today, to avoid a rerun of yesterday's rumors swirling around Israel, awaiting information on what happened to be released.
On the ground in Gaza, the IDF is maintaining an unprecedented level of secrecy on the status of the forces. They have successfully cleared out the area of Bait Hanun, Sheik Zayis, and Bait Lahiya from Hamas fighters. These are the areas closest to the population centers of Israel and are the locations from where most of the missiles were fired until now. Israel is tightening its grip around Gaza City itself, as well as the Jibalya refugee camp. The IDF is advancing very slowly into the more populated areas. Hamas has been sending suicide bombers against Israeli forces. In one case today they succeeded. The other cases have been foiled by the troops. Israeli troops are finding tunnels under buildings, wherever they advance, with the buildings totally sabotaged. Hamas is making continued efforts to try to kidnap Israeli soldiers. So far they have been unsuccessful.
The news from Gaza this afternoon stated that civilians were killed in a UN school building today. Israel does not deny that the building was attacked. It showed footage of the school being used a few days ago to fire a rocket at Israel. Today the school was used to fire mortar fire at an Israeli army patrol, the soldiers answered with fire. It is clear Hamas is using civilians as human shields; the IDF has made it clear that if fire is directed from any building, that building becomes a legitimate target. Israel is walking a very difficult line. On one hand, it is clear Israel's first priority is to reduce the number of Israeli casualties to the minimum. On the other hand, it is trying to minimize the civilian casualties amongst the Palestinians. These goals becomes more difficult the further Israel gets into the depths of the urban areas of Gaza. It also explains the very slow and careful advance.
The number of missiles that landed on Israel was down today. One long range missile was fired at Gadera, 30 kilometers from Tel Aviv. This is the first time that city suffered an attack. The rest of the 30 or so missiles landed, mostly, in Sderot and the surrounding area. Since the ground attack began, Hamas missiles have continued to land, but in smaller numbers. The number of long-range missiles has dropped dramatically.
What is the status of Hamas at the moment? Most Israeli observers believe that this answer can be divided in two. The civilian government of Hamas is not functioning. If free elections were held today, they would never be re-elected. Their leaders have been hiding for two weeks. Any semblance of civil control does not exist in Gaza. On the other hand, their military commands have not been hurt that badly. They are still able to fight and have retreated into the urban centers to await the Israeli advance.
While there has been a great deal of talk on the diplomatic front, today, most Israeli observers do not believe any real progress has been made. The Egyptians want Israel to further harm Hamas, while the Iranians want Hamas to fight on for their own reasons. The IDF is also not interested in a ceasefire. It believes they have not reached the point of making inflicting enough permanent damage on Hamas to change its fundamental actions. Late this evening there was a press conference in Cairo where French President Sakorzy reported that progress had been made. Egypt has made a ceasefire proposal along the lines of the French proposal, but it is not clear at this time where that is going.
The UN security Council Met tonight in open session. Secretary of Rice state the American position which is that fundemental change had to come to Gaza. She state "The situation before the current events in Gaza was clearly not sustainable. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis lived under the daily threat of rocket attack, and frankly, no country, none of our countries, would have been willing to tolerate such a circumstance." She also announced that Israel was opening a humanitarian corridor into Gaza. It worthwhile to read her full remarks here.
One final thought. The main news broadcast tonight in Israel devoted 15 minutes (toward the beginning of broadcast) to the lives of the four soldiers lost last night. Each soldier was a world of his own, and it would be impossible for anyone watching the broadcast not to be moved by the lives lost. A survey taken yesterday, and today shows that 74% of Israelis support the ground attack an increase from the 19% who answered they supported a ground attack when asked last week. It is to be seen whether the support will hold up with additional stories of casualties that no doubt will be heard in the next few days,
There is a good article in the WSJ today by Bret Stephens An Endgame for Israel. I wish I could be as optimistic.