Operation “Cast Lead” (Oferet Yetzuka): The Effects So Far

December 29, 2008 -- Jerusalem -- So far, Operation “Cast Lead” (a Hanukkah allusion – this is the traditional material dreidels used to be made of) has taken the nature of a pre-planned air campaign, with some of the fire coming from other sources, such as IDF navy boats: all of it, so far, based on first-rate intelligence and using precision-guided munitions accurately aimed at specific targets, of two sorts:
  • Pre-determined targets, carefully analyzed in terms of their significance, priority, and likelihood of collateral damage (to be avoided). These have included command posts, training bases – including a deadly strike on the Hamas police HQ at the very first minute – rocket “silos” and depots, weapon laboratories, including one hidden within the Islamic University, and, with remarkable technical success, 40 of the 200 tunnels servicing Gaza from Egypt.
  • Occasional opportunities, such as trucks carrying rockets (one of which was successfully destroyed this evening), small units of Hamas and Jihad operators on their way to an attack, and other identified targets. So far (but our luck might run out) most if not all of these identifications turned out to be well based, although a certain level of civilian casualties can hardly be avoided in the densely populated areas in which Hamas shields itself.
The immediate purpose is to radically reduce, even if the IDF cannot fully destroy, the capacity to fire at Israeli towns and villages – and indeed, the level of launches has been distinctly lower than originally feared, even though they did continue. The long-range rockets which survived Saturday’s strike on the secret silos were being used, and a standard, Iranian-supplied Grad (“Katyusha”) rocket claimed another life this morning (Ahmad Jibril’s “al-Quds” radio in Damascus, which serves as a Hamas mouthpiece, first claimed that “a Zionist settler was killed in occupied Majdal” – i.e., Ashqelon – but then dropped the boast when it turned out that the victim was a Beduin construction worker from the Negev). Ultimately, a sharp reduction of the threat may require a series of land incursions, preparations for which – including a limited reserve call up and some troop movements – are being undertaken at this time.

The broader goal, already achieved to some extent, is to knock Hamas off balance, undermine its legitimacy, question its wisdom (to put it mildly: President Shimon Peres speaks of the utter folly of their actions) and ultimately force its leadership – which has not yet been directly targeted – to come to terms on a solid, stable ceasefire, without any linkage to the West Bank. It is likely that if and when this happens, Israel will take a more relaxed view of the economic sanctions now in place against Hamas (the point about the damage that they do to the people who live under their rule has been made already, with a vengeance). The problem, for the time being, is that the Hamas leadership, despite some minor signals, is still taking a defiant attitude – “we shall not raise a white flag of surrender,” and deliberately ignores and even attacks the would-be Arab mediators.

Thus, Israel can be satisfied so far by three other aspects of the campaign:
  1. Arab reactions, at the governmental level (despite the anger in the streets) have been muted, and in many cases actively adversarial from the embittered Hamas’ point of view: both Egypt and the PA confirmed Israel’s claim that Hamas was duly warned.
  2. International responses, even in Europe – again, despite some heated demonstrations (in which the Left, sadly, is often drawn into doing the bidding of Hamas, a repressive party of the religious right wing…) – have so far been cautious, and at times, reflected an understanding of Israel’s motivations.
  3. Internally, most Israelis, even in the stricken areas, express support for the government and the IDF and seem to demonstrate some staying power – giving the government the time it badly needs to keep up the pressure.
The question of time is in fact linked to the basic rationale for the operation as a whole, as carefully stated by the government – namely, creating a “new reality” in the South, either by reducing Hamas or by forcing it to rethink the utility of its attacks on Israel. This will require more time and patience, given Hamas’ posture – and these, in turn, are colored by the international reactions. Hence the importance attached to shows of support, such as AJC’s response, and to the ability of Jews everywhere to join the fray in the parallel battle over public diplomacy.

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