Israeli Operation Spares Civilians; Hamas Targets Them
Special to The Asian Tribune by Dr. Richard L. Benkin
On Saturday, December 27, 2008, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) carried out a massive air strike on Hamas targets throughout the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the terrorist group’s continued rocket fire on Israeli civilians. The attack, dubbed "Cast Lead" was directed at Hamas security installations, training camp, weapons manufacturing plants, and other Hamas military facilities. Sources from both sides of the conflict admit that there was not a single Hamas facility that did not suffer major damage.
A report by Israel National News said that experts called it "the most lethal single day of bombing in the region in at least 41 years." The casualty count is 282 dead (including several top Hamas commanders) and 330 wounded, but that should rise as more bodies are recovered from the rubble. Even Arab sources are admitting that Israel managed to keep the casualties almost entirely to Hamas fighters. All Israeli planes and pilots returned home unharmed.
In 2005, Israel unilaterally evacuated the Gaza Strip after 38 year there with the expressed purpose of giving the Palestinian Arabs a chance to run their own area. Jewish groups purchased the hot houses previously used by evacuating Israelis to successfully grow vegetables in the arid Gaza soil; and they donated the hot houses to the Palestinians.
It was hoped that the agricultural bounty provided by the hot houses, along with the extensive Gazan employment in Israel would be the basis for a successful Gaza economy. Almost immediately, however, the plans started to unfurl. Video footage showed Arabs triumphantly desecrating evacuated synagogues and destroying infrastructure left for them by the evacuating Israelis. The hot houses were destroyed or misused by Arabs and never produced the product that had produced earlier.
Moreover, in January 2006, Hamas won an electoral victory in Gaza and in June 2007, ousted all Fatah forces in a military takeover. Soon after that, Hamas turned Gaza into a base for terrorist attacks on Israel, forcing the latter to close the crossings that brought both terrorists and workers into Israel. Since 2005, Palestinian Arabs have fired over 6,000 missiles onto Israeli civilians, according to Israeli and Arab sources.
Israeli defensive efforts put an end to Hamas’ suicide bombers and terror attacks on the Jewish state and so Hamas and its surrogates began firing rockets and missiles indiscriminately into Israeli civilian areas located in the Negev region in Israel’s south.
After the Hamas-Hezbollah War in the summer of 2006, the Israel and Hamas agreed to a truce. Every Hamas truce—or hudna–is temporary and engaged in only until the terror group believes it might have the strength to fight Israel. That war was started by an unprovoked raid by Hamas into Israeli territory and its kidnapping of Israeli, Gilad Shalit. Hamas has refused to allow the Red Cross or other international bodies see Shalit, and his fate remains unclear to this day. Despite the hudna, there were regular rocket attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas until Israeli efforts forced a temporary halt. But on December 19, Hamas unilaterally voided continuation of the truce and resumed regular rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. In the week that followed, the terror group launched over 200 rockets onto Israeli civilian areas. Ultimately, that is what forced Israel’s hand.
In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an address to the nation Saturday night that the Gaza operation’s aim is "improving the lives of citizens in the South and giving them a normal life." With Hezbollah—the terrorist group occupying Lebanon—and Iran threatening to intervene, he warned that Israel would not hesitate to fight off any aggression. Olmert also addressed the people of Gaza saying that Hamas not they were not Israel’s targets.
In contrast, Hamas television on Sunday extolled the indiscriminate killing of Israeli civilians, showing pictures of injured Israelis and medical evacuation scenes. These scenes were overlain with include pictures of bloody skulls captioned, "let them taste violent death” and narrators screaming "send them to hell" and "tear them to pieces."
There was more evidence of the contrast between the two parties as the operation moved into its second day. Hamas responded by firing more rockets on Israeli civilians, killing one man and injuring several children. Israel, on the other hand, dropped leaflets in Gaza Saturday night and Sunday warning people to stay from the areas from which rockets have been launched and which the IAF was targeting. It flattened Hamas’ main security compound and started operations in southern Gaza. Hamas also has promised “hundreds” of suicide bombings in Israel, although they have been impotent in carrying them out for some time.
Israeli commanders are cautious not to be complacent with the air strikes’ success. That is what happened in the 2006 war, and it led to a much delayed and therefore much less effective ground campaign in Lebanon. Thus, Israel has called up 6,500 reservists and moved tanks close to the Gaza border. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would launch a ground offensive if necessary to end the Hamas rocket reign of terror; but has not to this point. The first objective of a ground war would be to destroy the complex of tunnels that were built with Iranian help and traverse almost the entire area. Although it was widely reported that they “shook a lot” during the air strikes, the tunnels were able to keep about 15,000 Hamas fighters safe. The second objective would be to cut of Gaza from Egypt at the Philadelphi border.
Egypt’s role in this war thus far has been unclear. Like other Arab nations, Egypt has condemned Israel, but it also blamed Hamas for bringing this on the people of Gaza. Moreover, in the period leading up to the air strikes, Egyptian officials misled Hamas by insisting that Israel would not strike on a Saturday because it is the Jewish Sabbath.
As a result of those assurances, many Hamas fighters emerged from their underground lairs to participate in a public ceremony at which many Hamas fighters were killed. On the second day of the offensive, Israel bombed tunnels that Hamas uses for smuggling operations into Egypt. Much of the contraband is military and is used in operations in Egypt itself. It is also significant that Palestinian Authority President Mahnoud Abbas gave his first televised address on the conflict from Egypt. Standing with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit, Abbas blamed Hamas for the Gazans’ suffering in the conflict. "We said to them [Hamas], we ask you, don't stop the ceasefire. The ceasefire must continue and not stop, in order to avoid what has happened." This phenomenon of Arabs blaming Arab terrorists for the conflict with Israel was unknown before the 2006 war when several Sunni Arab states blamed Iranian client and Shiite Hezbollah for that conflict.
Did Egypt intentionally mislead Hamas? Several people said they did for three major reasons. Many Egyptians have reported being miffed at Hamas for being intransigent in Egyptian led negotiations for a cease-fire and for withholding information from Egypt in talks for Shalit’s release. Hamas is also an arm of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian-born Islamist group that has tried to seize power there before. The third reason why Sunni Muslim Egypt would like to see Hamas eliminated is the latter’s growing alliance with and dependence on Shia Muslim Iran, which also scares the Saudis who have been conspicuously silent on the current conflict.
- Asian Tribune -