Israel Launches Ground Offensive in Gaza

Sunday, January 4, 2009 | Tag Cloud

By David Haggith

israeli-tanks-columnJERUSALEM, ISRAEL (Worthy News) -- On Saturday, January 3, Israel launched a ground assault against Gaza on what was the eighth day of its aerial assaults against the seaside strip of desert. Israel's stated objective for the ground confrontation is to end all rocket attacks. The immediate objective of the ground operations, according to Major Avital Leibovitch, a military spokeswoman, "is to destroy the Hamas terror infrastructure in the area of operations."

How Goes the Battle

As Israeli troops entered Gaza, Hamas-led armed forces approaching them were shot at by the Israeli Defense Forces troops and by IDF (Israeli Defense Force) "gunship" helicopters. Israel entered Gaza in the north on Saturday evening, after giving multiple warnings to Gaza residents via phone calls and leaflets and giving multiple international warnings that a ground assault was imminent if rocket attacks coming out of Gaza did not end.

Because the rocket attacks did not end, the leaflets were dropped Saturday, which read: "Area resident, as result of the acts undertaken by terror activists in your area against Israel, the IDF is forced to respond immediately and operate in this area. For your own safety, you are asked to leave the area immediately." By giving such warnings, Israel incurs greater risk to itself by losing any element of surprise and giving Hamas as much chance to escape assault as it gives to civilians.

The first attack has focused on Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun where rockets have been launched against Israel. Saturday, artillery guns and tanks shelled parts of Gaza. By nightfall, much of Gaza was left in the dark. Elsewhere, Israeli navy vessels have imposed a blockade on Gaza, a move intended to prevent foreign vessels from reaching the intended combat zone with potential munitions reinforcement.

The IDF has also blown up a fuel depot. The burning depot lit up the blackened sky around 8 P.M. Saturday while Israeli planes swooped down on other nearby targets. As fire streaked through the night sky and tracer rounds sliced searing trails through the darkness, thousands of Israeli troops and convoys continued to poor over the border in a single-file march toward their mission.

The assault is apparently proceeding without any surprises. One military official said, ""For the time being, we are facing several hubs of resistance, yet we are not dealing with massive resistance. Since we entered there have been no unusual incidents, and the troops are operating in line with pre-determined objectives."

The IDF has stated that Hamas in now having difficulty carrying orders to its own forces. Several high-level Hamas commanders have been killed. The army has effectively split the territory in thirds by surrounded Gaza City. Israel believes Hamas is conducting its command operations from within a hospital in Gaza City, using the infirm as human shields for their operations. "Hamas operatives are in the hospital and have disguised themselves as nurses and doctors," one official said. Hamas has typically used private homes, schools and mosques as headquarters and munition dumps.

Israeli military sources have said that Operation Cast Lead has resulted in the bombing of 1,000 targets by the air force. Military Intelligence Major-General Amos Yadlin said that "Hamas has absorbed a very hard blow. Dozens of its command headquarters were hit, hundreds of terrorists were killed, ammunition dumps and production facilities were destroyed. Their ability to govern has been harmed, its leaders have completely abandoned the population and are worrying only about themselves." He added that "Hamas has made itself hated in the world and the region, and found itself isolated."

The Possibility of War on Other Fronts

Israel must also brace itself for the possibility of an opportunistic war developing on a second front in the north. Hezbollah, the Shiite movement in Lebanon, called on Hamas to "defeat Israel and kill as many Israeli soldiers as they can." Hezbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah, assured the movement Saturday that "Hamas will defeat Israel in the ground attack.... It is when they kill soldiers and destroy tanks that the course of the battle will be determined."

Israeli officials have said they are watching the nation's border with Lebanon in case Hezbollah launches attacks of its own that need to be confronted. Hezbollah occupies part of Lebanon, often pits itself against the Lebanese government, and is backed by Iran and Syria. It maintains close links with Hamas as an allied force with a common goal of destroying Israel. Hezbollah is also known for its hopes of a war on two or three fronts (possibly including Syria) with Israel.

Hamas Relentless in its Provocation

With the battle raging, Hamas has maintained its rocket fire into Israel, which provoked the attack in the first place. Three people inside of Israel were wounded by rocket fire on Saturday, and more than forty rockets were fired into Israel on Sunday. Several rockets scored direct hits on buildings in the towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, but no injuries were reported. Hamas vowed defiantly, "Your incursion into Gaza will not be a walk in the park and Gaza will become your cemetery." Hamas also radioed Hebrew messages into Israel that stated, "Be prepared for a unique surprise, you will be either killed or kidnapped and will suffer mental illness from the horrors we will show you."

A spokesman for Hamas, Izzadin Kassam, indicated that Gaza is a trap that lies in wait for Israel: "Israel will pay a heavy price. The Zionists started approaching the trap which our fighters prepared for them.... Gaza will not be paved with flowers for you, it will be paved with fire and hell." Israel claims, however, that Hamas's leadership is hiding underground.

Since Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in August and September of 2005, Hamas has used the time to lay in munition stores, dig tunnels and plant mines, while continuing almost daily to try to provoke Israel into an attack with its rockets. Range of the rockets in recent weeks has increased alarmingly, making it more and more perilous for Israel to allow Hamas to continue to lay in arms.

Israel's Longer-Term Plans for the War

Israeli security officials sought to make clear that their objective is not to reoccupy Gaza. While the intensity and length of the ground operations will depend on the success of diplomatic efforts to achieve a sustainable peace, the operative word being used by everyone with any sympathy toward Israel is "sustainable" or "durable." That means the IDF will have to clear out the nest of arms that have been laid in by Hamas and will have to establish a situation where more arms cannot enter. To accomplish the latter, Israel has said it wants international monitors before it will leave the area, but Hamas has indicated such monitors would not be acceptable.

"Large numbers of forces are taking part in this stage of the operation, including infantry, tanks, engineering forces, artillery and intelligence," a military spokesman said. Use of the phrase "in this stage" could indicate that other stages are already intended. The entrance of engineering corps along with the fighting soldiers also indicates that the assault will not be an immediate in-and-out event. It appears likely that the Israel's military is preparing for a much broader scope of operations.

Further support for the likelihood of extended operations can be derived from the fact that tens of thousands of reserve forces have been ordered to training bases in Israel over the weekend. Training of large numbers of reserves indicates the possibility of a third phase of operations beyond the present ground assault. Such an action, however, may just be prudent caution in case necessary: "Calling up the reserves and gearing them up will provide us the flexibility we need in case of any development, particularly if the operation in Gaza is expanded," an army official explained. But an Israeli army spokeswoman, Major Avital Leibovich, told CNN. ""We have many, many targets. To my estimation, it will be a lengthy operation."

No statements from Israeli officials have indicated the end is near. Israel's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, was the most clear to indicate that longer operations are planned. He said the ground incursion "won't be easy and it won't be brief.... We're continuing to expand the operation while being well aware that this move will include challenges, difficulties, and also victims." He added that the IDF has "dealt an unprecedented heavy blow to Hamas. Our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activities against Israel and Israelis from Gaza, and to bring about a significant change in the situation in southern part of Israel.... We are doing it because of the faith that, at this time, this is our duty to citizens of the country."

The defense minister stressed that Israel is a peace-loving country and that the ground assault was debated at considerable length before the action was taken. "Every alternative was examined thoroughly, while we examined every possible scenario.... We won't abandon our citizens. The IDF's job is to defend the home front."

Israel's Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni has also indicated broader objectives. She said on Israel's Channel 2 that toppling Hamas was "a strategic Israeli objective.... I cannot accept a state controlled by a terror organization in Gaza."

The ground incursion was approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Barak, and Foreign Minister Livni at a meeting held Friday night, but the operation was approved in principle ten days ago by Olmert's cabinet.

The Arabic word "hamas" can mean zeal, enthusiasm, fire, ardor, fervor or fanaticism. Used as an Arabic acronym HaMaS is the short form of Harakat al-Muqawima al-Islamiyya, which means 'The Islamic Resistance Movement'. The United States along with the European Union has deemed Hamas as a terrorist organization. Its charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Over the past 8 years Hamas has fired over 10,000 rockets and mortars from Gaza into the internationally established, sovereign lands of Israel against civilian targets.

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