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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Will Barak and Olmert go after Hamas in Gaza?

When Ehud Barak became Defense Minister, Times of London columnist Uzi Mahnaimi claimed that within weeks, Ehud Barak was going to have to do something about Hamas in Gaza. That was just a bit more than a month ago.
At the time, I equivocated:
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.
Today, a "high-ranking IDF officer" told the Jerusalem Post that Israel is on a 'collision course' with Hamas and that something must be done sooner rather than later:
Claiming that Hamas has jumped light years since Israel's disengagement from Gaza, a high-ranking IDF officer said that there was currently a limited window of opportunity for Israel to confront the Hamas threat in the Gaza Strip.

"There is an opportunity today since the world has not yet become accustomed to the new Hamas entity, and Hamas has not yet fully completed strengthening it's military capabilities," the officer said, adding that Israel was on a "collision course" with the Islamist group.

"The Gaza Strip is a boiling pot, the fire underneath is fueled by [a poor]economy and [an Islamist ideology] and the lid over it is Israel," the officer was quoted as saying by Israel Radio. "Hamas is currently not acting against Israel because it is not in the group's interests, but one must not mistake this with the organization's ultimate goals," he added.

The Egyptians, the Americans and the Europeans, the officer said, could not be counted on by Israel to stop Hamas.

The IDF Southern Command has operational military plans for Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and recently conducted several weeks of training for infantry, armor, and engineering units, said the officer. He added that recent operations in Gaza along the border were aimed at preventing Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives from planting bombs and digging tunnels in the area, but he said that these operations had not yet dealt with the foundations of terror in Gaza.

Hamas, the officer went on to say, had established a full-fledged army, consisting of four brigades, corresponding to the different sections of the Gaza Strip. The brigades were made up of a number of battalions and platoons. In addition, Hamas had smuggled in the past two months over the twenty tons of explosives via the Philidelphi Corridor from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip.

Furthermore, the officer claimed that the group had obtained anti-tank missiles, as well as an unknown number of anti-aircraft missiles. Hamas also reportedly possessed old models of Katyusha rockets, and they were working to improve the range of their cache of Kassam rockets, he said.

'They have an organized military," the officer said, adding that the total number of infantry had reached some 13,000 recruits. "They have the manpower, they have the training, they have the motivation; the principle is creating a balance of deterrence against Israel," he said.
How is it that 'our friends the Egyptians' can prevent people from entering Hamastan from Egypt and they won't allow food to enter Hamastan from Egypt but weapons are still entering through the Philadelphi corridor (the area running along the Gaza-Egypt border starting from Kerem Shalom)? The problem is that an air operation won't do it in Gaza and Barak will need to commit a large number of ground troops - which means the northern border will be exposed.

Here's my guess: Look for a step-up in operations over the next few weeks, and a very sudden (and hopefully quick) ground attack with reserves being called up to hold down the northern border and hopefully keep the Syrians and Hezbullah at bay. But it looks like something will have to happen before the rains come in October. I would bet on sometime during the second half of August.

Note that the Winograd report release is likely off until early next year, which means that there is no pressure on Olmert to resign and Barak cannot wait that long. This has to be taken care of before it becomes irreversible.


Israel Television's simulcast of the nightly news magazine on the radio just reported that the 20 tons of weapons smuggled into Gaza in the last two months compares with 36 tons that were smuggled in during all of 2006. Thus the number is significant.

The television analyst says that an operation requires preparation - principally diplomatic and domestic. He doesn't think this will happen right away. Again, I would look for it starting a month or so for now with the goal of finishing before the rains come in October. And the television analyst said not to look for Israel to reconquer Gaza. He's probably right about that.


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