We are in an eerie phase of Israel’s Gaza invasion. Operations have begun and Israeli forces have entered the territory. Some offensive operations have begun but mostly from the air or artillery. The major expected ground assault has not materialized. Palestinians are poised for the worst, but they know they’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
Reading today’s Haaretz, it seems there may be disagreement among Olmert, Peretz, chief of staff Halutz and his own senior commanders on what the proper order of battle should be:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday rejected a proposal by Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the Israel Defense Forces for a ground operation in the northern Gaza Strip against the ongoing Qassam rocket fire.
According to government sources, the operation, which will target Beit Hanun, will take place, but Olmert wants the operation to be “prolonged and exhausting,” and did not believe that the plan he was shown fit the bill…
The sources added that while IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz approved the plan, other IDF officers opposed it, and Olmert was informed of their objections.
The operation was aimed at halting Qassam rockets from being fired at southern Israel. Meanwhile, six of the homemade rockets struck the western Negev and Sderot on Thursday evening.
As best I can tell, Peretz (possibly along with Halutz) seems to have prepared a short range plan that would attempt to knock out Qassam sites, but would not involve a thorough “cleansing” or wholesale or long-term eradication of such capability. Olmert, after hearing of displeasure expressed by Halutz’s commanders has ordered Peretz’s plan thoroughly revised so that it will be a longer and more comprehensive operation.
One can only wonder what more Israel can do than it already has done to stop the rocket launches. And certainly no plan, whether it be Peretz’s or Olmert’s will stop a determined enemy from attacking Israel in whatever way and by whatever means are available to it.
Another consideration may be causing a delay in the full-scale assault: an Egyptian request to give its mediators several more days to broker an agreement. Notably, Khaled Meshal was due in Egypt today to speak with Egypt’s intelligence chief presumably to find a way to reach a compromise that might satisfy both Israel and the militants. Peretz appears in favor of the delay while his presumably more hot-headed field commanders may be tearing at the bit to attack. At any rate, there seems little love lost between the Defense Minister and whoever the unnamed “defense officials” may be who are referred to here:
Defense officials were furious at Peretz Thursday night, accusing him both of revealing that the planned military offensive in northern Gaza had been postponed and of denying initial reports that the postponement had been at Egypt’s request.
Part of the IDF’s plan in supposedly rooting out the Qassam menace appears to involve a forced exodus of the Palestinian civilian population from northern Gaza:
Meanwhile, in Gaza…leaflets were flung from helicopters last night over Beit Lahiye and Beit Hanoun, the two northeast corner towns of Gaza used by Qassam rocket launching crews to set up their attacks on the Israeli hamlets and towns around Gaza. The leaflets warned residents ‘to stay away’ as the IDF prepared to shell the residential areas and move in. Not since Operation Grapes of Wrath in southern Lebanon, when Israel warned civilians to leave south Lebanon and then proceeded to shell the region to drive out Hizbollah forces, has Israel taken a step so clearly aimed at forcing people out of their homes…Operation Grapes of Wrath ended with an accidental Israeli shelling of a UN encampment set up to provide refuge for fleeing Lebanese, killing some 120 people. As of noon…there were reports of hundreds of Beit Lahiye and Beit Hanoun families moving out of the area.
Robert adds the reference to the grave shelling error during Operation Grapes of Wrath which forced its demise. This of course reminds us of just how capable the IDF is of royally messing up its operations through the wholesale killings of Palestinian civilians. Would anyone care to doubt that this outcome is certain if all-out hostilities commence in Gaza?
Presumably, elimination of northern Gaza’s civilian population would give Israel freer reign to extirpate both the Qassams and the militants who fire them. But to me this strategy is little better than the U.S. strategy in retaking Fallujah last year. You have a “cesspool of violence” (their view not mine) and so decide to root out the evildoers. First you uproot civilians, then you go in and get the bad guys. Problem is, the bad guys have long gone by the time you get even remotely close to where you could catch them. Eventually, you have to leave as you cannot occupy the town forever. So what happens? The bad guys reinfiltrate Fallujah and you’re back where you started. Except for the casualties and dead on our side and theirs.
And even should you “cleanse” Fallujah (or northern Gaza) of bad guys, they just move elsewhere finding a weak point in our defenses to exploit. In the case of Fallujah, the insurgents moved to other towns in Anbar province.
One only wonders how this would work out in Gaza. But it’s entirely possible that once the IDF leaves the bad guys will simply move back into northern Gaza and take up where they left off. Unless, that is, the IDF plans on entirely and permanently uprooting Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanun, the two towns nearest to the launching sites. This of course would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions as would be a semi-forced expulsion/exodus of civilians from the area in order to promote the IDF’s ease in uprooting the militants.
In this hour of darkness, it is some small comfort to find brothers and sisters in arms who share my mistrust of the IDF’s plan and motives; and who hold out some hope that somehow common sense, cooler heads, call it what you will, can prevail and avoid the utter horror and bloodshed that appear to be in store should the IDF let loose with a full scale assault. Robert Rosenberg has been that “brother” over the past few days. His Ariga report today echoes many of the thoughts I wrote in yesterday’s report on the Gaza horror (given the time difference between the west coast and Israel, we may’ve even been writing at almost the same time).
Israel Using Hamas Political Echelon As Bargaining Chips?
Rosenberg expands upon the Shin Bet’s strange plan to arrest virtually the entire Hamas political echelon (at least those who weren’t smart enough to go underground to evade capture) and investigate them for their supposed complicity in terrorist crimes:
…Israel…put into motion a secret plan approved weeks ago by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz — the arrest of dozens of Hamas officials, including ministers and parliamentarians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The 87 Hamas officials, including 64 elected officials, from Palestinian parliamentarians to at least two major city mayors (Jenin and Qalqiliya), are not being held as counter-hostages, as part of Israel’s efforts to win the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, Israeli officials insisted. They are all going to be questioned as suspects in specific terror cases and charged if evidence is found against them. Among those arrested are at least two Palestinians suspected of direct involvement in the murder of Asheri.
A separate Haaretz article quotes the IDF’s denial that the detainees (or should we call them ‘kidnap victims??’) are ‘bargaining chips’:
An IDF spokeswoman said the arrests were part of an operation against suspected terrorists, and were not “bargaining chips” for the release of abducted IDF soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit.
“They are not bargaining chips for the return of the soldier. It was simply an operation against a terrorist organization,” she said. “They will be investigated, brought before a judge to extend their detention and charge sheets will be prepared.”
You can see how much credence Haaretz gives to the army’s denial in the following sentence which directly contradicts the IDF:
The arrests are part of several moves designed to increase pressure on the militant group to free a captive soldier. Israel blames Hamas for the abduction of Shalit, kidnapped Sunday by militants who attacked an IDF post near the border with Gaza.
Army Radio speculated that the lawmakers might be used to trade for the captured soldier, but the IDF refused to comment on the matter.
Those who follow official Israeli government pronouncements as I do will know how to read these tea leaves: whenever an official denies that Israel’s tactics are intended to achieve thus-and-such a goal, you pretty much know that the denied motivation is precisely the actual one that motivates the Israelis. So of course the Hamas operatives ARE being held as counter-hostages despite what Israel’s Kabuki spokespeople say. But the very idea that such a stupid plan can have its desired impact of threatening or cowing or even dismantling Hamas and the PA is ludicrous as Robert notes:
The more pressure on the population, the more the Hamas government wins popular support;
Arresting Hamas Legislators As Attempt to Derail National Unity Government
Today’s NY Times adds another interesting and convincing dimension to the Israeli sweep against Hamas’ elected officials:
Ali Jarbawi, a professor and dean at Birzeit University here, said he thought the real goal was to remove the Hamas government from power.
Israel wants to continue with its unilateral policies based on the idea that there is no “Palestinian partner,” said Mr. Jarbawi, who turned down an offer from Hamas to join the government as an independent. “If you build up your strategy on having no partner, then you have to ensure you don’t have one. So when Palestinians tell you that there is about to be a political agreement among the factions, putting their house in order at last, you intervene.“
So, according to this thinking the coming together of Hamas and Fatah in a national unity government severely threatened Olmert who would rather have a divided and severely weakened PA.
Rosenberg views dubiously Israel’s entire rationale for the Gaza operation:
Operation Summer Rains is thus gradually transforming from an operation…meant to put pressure on the Palestinian population to put pressure on the Hamas government to put pressure on the Hamas militants who are holding Shalit, into an operation with three goals: freeing the soldier, ending the Qassam fire, and bringing down the Hamas government.
But it is not at all clear if it can accomplish any of those three goals. The more pressure on the population, the more the Hamas government wins popular support; even as Israel was issuing dire warnings about the Qassam fire coming from the northern Gaza area, Qassams were being fired into the Western Negev; and even if Israel were to arrest all the Hamas parliamentarians and all its ministers, the Fateh leadership would not be able to step in lest it appeared as if they were merely Israeli collaborators.
Finally, he raises this chilling possibility should Israel actually fully eradicate Hamas and the PA:
Indeed, if Israel is not careful…it could bring down the PA itself. And that would mean Israel is once again responsible not only for security, but for the health, education and welfare of the Palestinians, to the tune of billions of shekels. Furthermore, it would likely mean a new eruption of intifada-style warfare in the territories, which would once again damper the Israeli economy, driving away tourists, harming international investment, and curtailing the impressive 5-6 percent economic growth rate Israel has enjoyed for the last year.
But of course it is not in Israel’s interests to entirely eradicate the PA. Just to cause enough disintegration to prevent anyone from being able to govern effectively. Israel for many reasons vastly prefers a fragmented, ungovernable Palestinian entity to one that is stable and coherent. For while a stable, coherent Palestinian government might rein in militants and end terror; it would also command the respect of the international community and possibly force Israel to negotiate with it in good faith. While some may see this view as cynical, I ask how in heaven’s name can Israel believe what it is doing now can ever lead to any coherent Palestinian governing authority? Sure they can try to destroy Hamas (and fail), but what is their alternative? Fatah? They think Fatah is going to be more moderate or amenable after this mass-hooliganism on Israel’s part? All I can say is “Hah.”
Mubarak Announces Hamas Agrees to Terms for Kidnapped IDF Soldier’s Release
I can’t believe I read the entire Haaretz article referenced above and almost missed the most hopeful part of it (at least potentially hopeful). Hosni Mubarak says that Hamas has agreed to terms for Corp. Shalit’s release:
Palestinian militants have agreed to a conditional release of Shalit, but Israel has not yet accepted their terms, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in remarks published Friday.
In an interview with Egypt’s leading pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram, Mubarak said “Egyptian contacts with several Hamas leaders resulted in preliminary, positive results in the shape of a conditional agreement to hand over the soldier as soon as possible to avoid an escalation.
“But agreement on this has not yet been reached with the Israeli side,” Mubarak said.
The president said he had asked Olmert “not to hurry” the military offensive in Gaza, but to “give additional time to find a peaceful solution to the problem of the kidnapped soldier.”
A Foreign Ministry official said Israel did not know of such an offer.
“In general Israel’s stance is, as the prime minister said earlier, that the soldier will only be released unconditionally and there will be no negotiations with a gang of terrorists and criminals who abducted a soldier from Israeli territory,” the official said.
Mubarak’s remark implied he was claiming a role in Israel’s decision.
“Israeli leaders promised, and I hope they will stick to it, not to shed the blood of innocent Palestinian civilians in any hurried military operation,” Mubarak said.
“At the same time, Egypt warned Hamas leaders of the dire consequences of adopting of tough positions and urged them to shoulder their responsibilities in view of the dangers and difficulties faced by the Palestinian people at the present time,” Mubarak said.
It is hard to know what all this means. Is Mubarak exagerrating the possibility of a solid agreement in order to burnish his own credentials as Mideast peace negotiator? In the event that Hamas is willing to engage in a prisoner swap for Shalit will Israel go along or will it truculently try to force the issue and go it alone in attempting to secure the soldier’s release? I have said many times here that both sides in this conflict “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Cleary, Mubarak is warning both sides in this particular contretemps not to make the same mistake they’ve made in the past and botch an opportunity to potentially resolve the crisis short of a bloodbath.
And I’d like to know where the Hell is the Bush Administration on this? Why aren’t they restraining both sides with forceful statements instead of milquetoast pronouncements forgotten as soon as they’re uttered? We’re AWOL as usual when push comes to shove in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel’s conduct is becoming so outrageous, so beyond the pale of accpeted international norms, that some cooler heads outside the immediate zone of conflict must prevail.