A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
January 10, 2009--Day Fifteen of War with Hamas, An indepth Analysis of Where the War Stands
Today was the fifteenth day of Israel's war with Hamas. It started two weeks ago, on Saturday afternoon, when Israel attacked Hamas installations from the air, in response to renewed rocket fire Hamas directed at southern Israel.
Where does Israel stand after two weeks of battle? Has Israel attained its goals? How does it end?
The first question, as to where Israel stands, should be looked at in the context of Israel's stated goals for the war. Those goal have been deliberately vague. The statements from Israeli politicians range from "seeking to stop the rocket fire", to "needing to undermine the rule of Hamas", or "looking to change the 'basic situation' on the ground". What this really means, or should mean, is undermining the basic claim of Hamas-- that it is possible to rule, while at the same time maintaining the armed struggle. That has been what differentiates Hamas from Fatah. Fatah came to the strategic decision that if it was going to build any type of Palestinian state, it could not do so and fight Israel at the same time. It decided to make its historic compromise and accept the partition of Palestine. Hamas opposed that decision and called for the continued struggle. When it ran for election in the parliament, and more importantly, when it seized power in the Gaza strip, it claimed it could do both: Build a Palestinian state, while continuing the struggle with Israel.
Israel did what it could to make clear Hamas' plan was not an option. That is what the whole issue of the crossings is all about. Every time a rocket was fired at Israel, Israel would close the passages. Closed passages do not allow Hamas to keep its promise of economic development in Gaza. Which brings us to today. Israel's goal in this operation is to show it is impossible to continue the armed struggle if Hamas or the Palestinians want any chance of building a state.
Two weeks into the fighting, it is abundantly clear to most Gaza residents that this is the case. However, this may not be clear to the leadership of Hamas. Hamas leaders sold their people the story Israel was weak, they forced Israel out of Gaza thanks to their resistance, and after Israel's perceived debacle in Lebanon, it would not be willing to respond aggressively to Hamas' actions.
Hamas successfully kidnapped Gilad Shalit, fired Qasasams continually at Israel, with hardly any Israeli response. They claimed Israel would be afraid of their army of fighters, who they paraded on TV, making claims they were ready to fight the IDF. The IDF actions in the past two weeks have disintegrated that thesis. Israel has shown it has the will to take whatever actions necessary. The performance of the IDF on the ground has shown Hamas' fighters pose no significant threat to IDF ground troops. The Hamas' military wing promised to fight Israel from the borders of Gaza. Instead, Israel has pushed aside Hamas forces almost effortlessly. It has not been cost free. Several Israeli soldiers have lost their lives, mostly due to Israeli mistakes. The number of loses so far has been so low that it has surprised even the Israelis.
The IDF clearly has learned the lessons of Lebanon and integrated these lessons into Israel's battle plans. The degree they have succeeded has amazed most observers. The IDF has successfully integrated all the advance in technology with the old fashioned command leadership for which the IDF has always been known. These factors, combined with an unprecedented level of coordination between ground, air, and naval units has given the IDF ground forces and unprecedented level of lethality and allowed them to operate freely. On Israeli TV last night (Israel time) one of Channel 2 reporters accompanied a naval ship which was giving close support to ground forces operating along Gaza beaches. The naval ship was able maintain close communications with the ground forces. Using the superior night vision equipment, the ship was able to ferret out potential foes of the paratrooper unit and eliminate them from 100 meters offshore-- before they could even fire on the advancing paratroopers.
The result of all Israel's efforts has been to make it clear to all in Gaza, and possibly more importantly, in the west bank, that the concept you can build a state, defend yourself against Israel and continue the armed struggle is an absolute fallacy. Much has been written about how this war is undermining Abu Massen. I believe this claim is false.
Certainly, the Palestinians on the West Bank are angered by the images coming from Gaza. However, they understand that is what Ramallah could look like-- if Hamas came to power, and they want no part of it. The people of Gaza see every moment what the rule of Hamas has brought them. Have they become lovers of Israel? No! Many, no doubt, hate Israel even more today than they did before. But many of them have come to the realization the Hamas way does not work.
Starting late yesterday a number of Israeli army officers have been giving "off the record" briefings, in which they have been saying Hamas' military wing has been hurt much worse than reported. That hundreds of their fighters have been killed, whole units destroyed and large number of their fighters have walked away from the fight.
An incident today was very telling. Amir Mansi, the head of Hamas' rocket firing unit in Gaza City, was killed today. He was killed when his men refused to go out and fire a mortar, for fear of being killed themselves. So he went out himself to fire the rocket. Mansi was killed on the spot by Israeli troops. The incident shows two things. The first fact, of course, is many Hamas troops are not willing to expose themselves to possible Israeli fire. The second fact, is since Mansi was killed by Israeli ground troops in Gaza city, indicates Israeli forces have advanced further than reported, into the city itself.
Which brings us to the end game. Israel has to destroy Hamas' last myth-- that Hamas forces withdrew into the city to draw the IDF in and then inflict unbearable pain on the Israeli forces. Israel does not have to occupy every house in the Gaza, nor does it have to arrest every Hamas operative. Israel just has to show it can do whatever it wishes and Hamas is powerless to stop them. I think Israel is on the cusp of achieving that goal.
In the meantime, the Hamas leadership is claiming it will never give up the armed struggle, and that any agreement for a ceasefire must allow it to maintain its struggle. Despite that statement, Hamas representatives have flown to Cairo to try negotiate a ceasefire agreement based on the Egyptian initiative that it has so far rejected. Egypt, which for public consumption, has been calling for an immediate end to the attack, has been working at all deliberate (and I stress deliberate speed) to facilitate the reaching of an agreement. It is very important to Egypt that Hamas limps away from this war weakened to the point it understands that if it wants to keep ruling, it can only do so if it gives up the armed struggle. Egypt has been crystal clear about that fact.
Today, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit stated, in no uncertain terms, that Egypt will not reopen the Rafiach crossing to allow Hamas to rearm. Gheit stated, Nasrallah can demand that Egypt open the border crossing all he wants, but Egypt will never do that, if it means helping Hamas rearm and continue the struggle, which he believes only hurts the Palestinian cause.
None of this means the war will end in the next day or two. Hamas fired 21 missiles at Israel today. Israel is intensifying its pressure on Hamas, distributing leaflets today warning that the next stage of its attack is beginning. The end game is becoming clearer, and how soon Hamas leadership realizes this, will determine how much longer the people of Gaza have to suffer.