Monday, March 03, 2008

Behind the Headlines: Israeli operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip

(Communicated by Israeli security sources)

On Saturday, 1 March 2008, a senior security source briefed reporters of leading international newspapers regarding the current IDF operation in Gaza. Following are highlights of the briefing:

The IDF operation began on Wednesday morning (27 February), when word was received of the intention of a special team of Hamas terrorists that had arrived from Syria and Iran to enter Israel and to cause damage and to perhaps abduct soldiers or civilians. Under cover of bad weather, they intended either to enter Israel through a tunnel or to use ropes to cross over the security wall and then penetrate an army outpost or civilian settlement in attempt to abduct civilians.

The orders for the operation came directly from Damascus and Teheran. Israeli forces managed to locate and kill the five members of the team, and in response, Hamas attempted to create a new equation in the region, whereby Hamas would fire rockets in retaliation to every Israeli attack. Hamas has been following a policy of brinkmanship since June 2007, in an attempt to retain its power.

Iranian-made 122 mm. GRAD missiles, which were smuggled into Gaza, were launched at Ashkelon during the events in Rafiah. The rockets were employed as a means of increasing the range of Hamas missiles, placing more Israelis into the line of fire. The current supply of rockets held by the Hamas is adequate for the launching of a few dozen daily, for many days. This, however, is also dependant on Israeli actions.

On Saturday (1 March 2008), Israel hit one of the rocket sites, destroying several hundred mortars. The IDF strategy is to try to hit rocket storage and launching facilities. Some of the rockets have a range of 20 kilometers; they originated with the Hizbullah in Lebanon, and Syria and Iran managed to smuggle them into Gaza when the border to Rafah was breached. The exact quantity of rockets that were smuggled in is unknown.

A large Israeli force, formed by the Givati Brigade stationed near Jabaliya, entered the Gaza Strip on Friday (29 March) and engaged the terrorists.
The number of Palestinian casualties is not clear, as media reports differ from actual fact. While there are definitely civilian casualties, it is a recognized Hamas tactic to use civilians as shields and to launch rockets from population centers. When civilians protest these actions, Hamas transfers them elsewhere. Current Israeli estimations predict that rocket fire will continue. Some of the Hamas leadership has fled, while all the living quarters of the leadership are empty. It seems apparent that the Israeli government has decided to show the Hamas leadership that it was a mistake to launch extended range missiles.

The length and extent of the operation will be decided by the government. At this stage it seems that the extent of the operation will be greater than previous operations, as it is necessary to contend not only with Hamas capabilities, but also with their intentions, and to show them that they cannot keep shooting at Sderot and Ashkelon with impunity. This is not the broad operation into Gaza spoken of previously. If Hamas, supported by Iran and Syria, increases its activities, the Israeli government has additional options. The Hamas leadership is not currently targeted but this may change in the future as it is a question of policy.

While no limited operation can stop all the rockets, the current operation has two aims:
  1. The operation was initiated in Jabaliya, the area from which most of the launchings take place.
  2. To demonstrate to Hamas that they will suffer additional casualties if the rocket launchings continue. If Hamas continues its rocket launching policy, it will bring the broad military operation upon itself.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad instructors who were trained in Iran and Syria and who entered Gaza via Egypt, are now training the Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip.
While it was problematic for Hamas to smuggle certain types of weapons through the dozens of tunnels beneath the border, during the period the border was open they managed to bring in heavy trucks filled with armaments and ammunition. The Syrians and Iranians were able to arrange the supply of new weapons, which is why Israel must now contend with previously unknown weapon types. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)


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