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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Israel to attack Hamas in Gaza?

The Sunday Times of London is reporting this morning that Israel is planning to attack Hamas in Gaza "within weeks" in a bid to crush the Hamas terrorists who seized power in Gaza last week.
ISRAEL’s new defence minister Ehud Barak is planning an attack on Gaza within weeks to crush the Hamas militants who have seized power there.

According to senior Israeli military sources, the plan calls for 20,000 troops to destroy much of Hamas’s military capability in days.

The raid would be triggered by Hamas rocket attacks against Israel or a resumption of suicide bombings.

Barak, who is expected to become defence minister tomorrow, has already demanded detailed plans to deploy two armoured divisions and an infantry division, accompanied by assault drones and F-16 jets, against Hamas.

The Israeli forces would expect to be confronted by about 12,000 Hamas fighters with arms confiscated from the Fatah faction that they defeated in last week’s three-day civil war in Gaza.


Israeli officials believe their forces would face even tougher resistance in Gaza than they encountered during last summer’s war against Hezbollah in south Lebanon.

A source close to Barak said that Israel could not tolerate an aggressive “Hamastan” on its border and an attack seemed unavoidable.
My first comment about this story is to consider the source. I have noted in the past that Uzi Mahnaimi is an extreme leftist who looks for any excuse to make Israel look bad. In January, Mahnaimi reported that Israel was going to attack Iran's nuclear facilities with 'tactical nuclear weapons.' The report came with lots of details about what Israel was going to do - like this report. We're still waiting for it to happen.

Second, Barak is continuing to threaten Olmert that Olmert must resign before the final Winograd Commission report is released. I don't really see Barak keeping to that pledge unless he thinks that he (Barak) will be the sole candidate for Prime Minister against Netanyahu. If Barak forces Olmert to resign and gets Livni as Prime Minister, he's no better off than Netanyahu would be if Livni became Prime Minister. There would be a popular Kadima candidate. Barak has to try to force new elections. If it's successful, an operation in Gaza would not only make Barak look good - it would also make Olmert look good. If it's unsuccessful, it's a disaster for both of them. The final Winograd report is due out in late July or early August. My first inclination is to say, don't look for a full scale invasion of Gaza before then. And by then, we may well be too busy in the north. But Barak is a big risk taker as we saw with the 'unilateral withdrawal' from southern Lebanon and at Camp David in 2000 and at Taba in 2001. He could be gambling that the Gaza operation will be successful, that he will be the hero and that Olmert will still be the goat when the Winograd Commission report comes out after the operation is completed. Still, I can't see Barak committing that many ground troops to Gaza within the next month. That would be too risky even for him given what we know about Syria.

Third, I agree that Israel will have to do something about Hamas sitting in Gaza. But I doubt that a ground invasion is going to be it. Everyone in this country is paranoid about another 'occupation.' I would look for a lot more targeted hits but nothing really serious until - God forbid - something hits InMyBackYard.

There's also a second article by Mahnaimi in today's Times. The second article implies that my second deduction above is correct:
“GOING into Gaza is inevitable,” said Brigadier-General Moshe Yaalon, a former chief of staff of the Israeli army. “No one will do the job for us, we should prepare for a land attack in Gaza, and the question is not if but how and when.”

Yaalon said he was aware of the heavy price Israel might pay for a major land incursion into Gaza. But that was the army’s job, he insisted.

Military sources said three Israeli divisions amounting to 20,000 soldiers stood ready for an onslaught. An attack is not imminent, but the troops are on standby for a possible incursion later this summer.
For the record, Yaalon was fired as Chief of Staff by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon because he opposed the expulsion of the Jews from Gaza.

This part of the 'plan' sounds credible:
Having learnt from last summer’s conflict in Lebanon, the Israelis will go for a quick onslaught, aimed at killing as many militants as possible in a matter of days. Hamas will try to bog down the Israeli army in close-quarter fighting.

“We won’t have more than a week for the fighting,” said an Israeli source familiar with the plan. “We’ve been instructed to cause as little damage as possible to the local population.”
But this is nonsense:
So enormous are the political and diplomatic sensitivities that Israel’s prime minister is flying to Washington this weekend to outline his plan at the White House.

America does not want another summer of gruesome television pictures showing its ally at war with an elusive Muslim foe in a landscape of shattered homes and dead civilians. It also knows that if Gaza is to remain cut off, short of food and denied money from overseas, this could prompt a humanitarian crisis that will be quickly exploited for propaganda throughout the Middle East.
Olmert's trip to Washington was planned a long time ago. Bush is scheduled to deliver a major address on the Middle East next week, near the fifth anniversary of his June 24, 2002 speech in which he called for a 'new 'Palestinian' leadership' that was not connected to terrorism. He's still waiting for it.

And finally, one last bit of irony. Mahnaimi talks about a 'Palestinian' intelligence officer named Abu Fadi who escaped from Gaza on a fishing boat. Guess how he escaped:
Down on the Gaza shore, the fleeing intelligence man, Fadi, jumped into his waiting boat. An Israeli gunboat signalled to the crew as he and his men scrambled aboard – Palestinian fugitives on an Israeli vessel saving them from the Hamas hit squads.

There are many strange allies in wartime, and, if Hamas has anything to do with it, the covert British and American alliance with Palestinian “moderates” is about to be made embarrassingly public.

Ransacking Fadi’s office, the masked gunmen will have found a treasure trove of intelligence files. “We’ve discovered documents that will shock the world when published,” the movement proclaimed. The propaganda war, at least, has already started.
In conclusion, I think Mahnaimi's thesis has something to it but it was way overblown.

I also think that it's not going to help Fatah to have the US, Britain and Israel backing it. If anything, that will just drive the 'Palestinians' more into Hamas' hands. And that's exactly what's happening.

Update 5:53 PM

Captain Ed Morrissey has weighed in on this question, and I find myself agreeing with much of what he writes:
Normally an armed force would want a 2-1 advantage in troops before advancing against an entrenched enemy, but even that might be light for the kind of warfare Israel would likely face from Hamas -- hiding in civilian garb, using non-combatants as shields, and so on.

The Israeli Air Force would have less effect in this fight than one might think. They can target Hamas assets out in the open, but most of those assets will remain hidden in cities. Unless the Israelis plan on carpet-bombing places like Gaza City and Rafah, the Air Force will remain mostly irrelevant. Air power will probably have to be limited to helicopter gunships in support of infantry and armored units, and they will be vulnerable to missile attack.

Israel has to do something about Hamastan, without a doubt, but the question is what can they do most effectively. They would be better off taking out the major military points of Hamas and sealing off Gaza. Otherwise, the Israelis would not only have to roll across the entirety of Gaza, but they would also have to re-occupy it to keep Hamas from rising up again in the vacuum of their withdrawal.
My guess is that most of the 'major military points' can be taken out from the air (although they may need some bunker buster bombs for the tunnels). I don't believe Hamas is as well entrenched underground as Hezbullah is and with the sandy soil in Gaza, it would be much harder to dig down deeper.


At 11:12 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Good commentary, Carl. Note that if the story is true Barak will be waiting for a trigger -- the operation would not be launched unless there is a demonstrable need.

Keep up the posts -- they're essential reading for us in the distant parts of the world.


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