January 15, 2009--Day Twenty of War with Hamas, Israel Eliminates Top Hamas Leader, Ceasefire Near
Israel's major efforts to achieve last minute gains in the war between the IDF and Hamas were successful. Its biggest accomplishment was killing Said Siam, Hamas' Interior Minister. He was responsible for Hamas' police force, including the successful coupe against Fatah and importantly, for the relations with Iran and other external powers. The head of Internal Security and the individual who is responsible for Hamas' armed forces were with Siam at the time.
Most observers believe this was a very difficult blow to Hamas. Siam was responsible, more than anyone else, for the transformation of Hamas from a political/terrorist organization to a government, with some sort of claim to a regular army. He is also said to have been the most extreme of the Hamas leaders, and supposedly pushed for an end to the ceasefire. It may not be a coincidence he has made three trips to Teheran since Hamas took power. It should also be noted that members of Fatah are not crying about Siam's death. He was responsible for throwing Fatah members off buildings and other acts of brutality during the Hamas coupe.
Last night the IDF advanced to various locations in Gaza City itself. The Palestinians claim the IDF has advanced into the very center of the city, while the IDF claims that it's not quite there. It is clear that the IDF can go anywhere it wishes. Last night the IDF advanced into areas Hamas thought it would never go. This mission resulted in only two wounded Israeli soldiers. This evening there are reports from Gaza that the IDF is engaging in a man hunt to find all of the senior leaders of Hamas.
Psychologically, the events of the last few days seem to have broken Hamas. When the war first began, Izadim el Qassam (Hamas' military wing) said it would defend the border. Then it said it would defend the built up areas. When they failed to do that, they claimed they would defend Gaza City. Now the IDF has penetrated to wherever it wants to go in Gaza and it is clear to everyone that Hamas' claim of having a significant military force is worthless. This is probably the ultimate success of the mission.
Rockets continue to be fired at Israel. Hamas fired 24 rockets so far today, including one that injured a number of people in Beer Sheva. This evening the Kitchen Cabinet is meeting to hear special negotiator and Coordinator of Government Operations in the Territories Major-General (res.) Amos Gilad's report, following his return from Cairo. Initial reports are that Hamas has not agreed to all of Egypt's positions. Egypt, on the other hand, is making it clear that if Israel agrees they will force Hamas to agree.
The IDF has been making significant accomplishments on the ground and in the air. Unfortunately, Israel's seemingly mistaken attack on the UN compound, and the intentional attack on a building housing foreign journalists is not helping it win its losing battle on television screens around the world. The sooner the fighting ends the better, from that perspective.
I expect we will see the IDF taking some additional dramatic actions tonight, followed by the cabinet accepting the ceasefire proposal tomorrow morning.