A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending Jan.1, 2009

Hamas misled, surprised by Israeli air offensive


27 Dec. In an air offensive dubbed “Cast Lead,” Saturday, Dec. 27, some 60 Israeli bombers struck 100 targets, destroying dozens of Hamas military compounds across the Gaza Strip in reprisal for the Palestinian long-term missile blitz.

The operation had two elements of surprise.

1. Official sources leaked media reports Friday, Dec. 25, conveying the impression that the major military operation approved by the Israeli cabinet had been called off.

2. Egypt misled Hamas, reporting reliable information that Israeli would not strike on Saturday, its Sabbath Day.


Olmert: Israel's objective is normal life for southern citizens


27 Dec. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert defined the objective of the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip as “improving the lives of citizens in the South and giving them a normal life.” He addressed a televised speech to the nation Saturday night, Dec. 27, flanked by defense minster Ehud Barak and foreign minister Tzipi Livni. On possible outside intervention, he warned that Israel would not hesitate to fight off any aggression. He also vowed to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

At the same time, Hamas' Damascus-based politburo chief Khalad Meshaal outlined his objective for a ceasefire as being “an end to the Israeli siege” and opening of all the crossings into Gaza including the Rafah gate to Egypt. He called on West Bank Palestinians to launch an “intifada.”


An Iranian aid ship due to dock in Gaza in 12 days


27 Dec. Iran's Red Crescent will send an aid shipment to the Gaza strip “in the face of the Israeli blockade,” according to a state broadcast Friday. The cargo of 2,000 tonnes of food and medicines accompanied by 12 Iranian doctors will sail from Bandar Abbas, HQ of the Revolutionary Guards Navy, and arrive Tuesday, Jan. 6.


Israel air force pummels Hamas forces, blows up 40 Philadelphi tunnels


28 Dec. debkafile's military sources report that Hamas kept a reserve fighting force in and around the smuggling tunnels they dug under the Philadelphi border strip between the Gaza Strip and Egyptian Sinai. Sunday, Dec. 28, Day 2 of the Israeli air offensive, the Israeli air force struck 40 tunnels between 3 and 15 meters deep – some packed with explosives or fuel stocks. The heavy bombs triggered secondary blasts in a chain reaction.

A crowd of Palestinians trying to flee the Gaza Strip were stopped by heavy machine gun fire from Egyptian forces.

Chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi reported to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that the first wave of air strikes in Gaza Saturday destroyed 50 percent of the “missile pits” which Hamas had scattered around the territory, some containing missiles operated by remote control.


Gaza Operation Day 2: Israel calls up 6,500 reservists, Hamas steps up long-range rocket attacks


28 Dec. The Israeli cabinet Sunday, Dec. 28, approved call-up orders for 6,500 reservists the day after Israel's devastating assault on hundreds of Hamas military sites in Gaza. Hamas activated its Iran-made improved Grad Katyusha unit, sending rockets as far north as Moshav Bnei Ayish near Yavne to the northeast and the big port city of Ashdod to the north, both nearly 40 km from the Gaza Strip. One fell in the yard of an Ashdod home. Two landed in Ashkelon, injuring three people.

The Israeli assault on Hamas continues to focus on aerial action.


Israel air strikes continue in S. Gaza after 271 killed in earlier raids of Hamas sites


28 Dec. Massive Israeli air raids destroyed Hamas compounds across Gaza leaving 271 dead and hundreds injured after a week in which Hamas fired 200 missiles at Israeli civilian targets.

Also hit was a Hamas military officers' passing-out ceremony in which several police chiefs were killed. The Israeli military spokesman said the Gaza operation is “just beginning” and would be expanded and intensified as necessary. Hamas and other Palestinian factions ordered its “fighters to avenge Israeli attacks.” An Israeli man was killed in Netivot in its first reprisal raid.

Egypt condemned Israel for its military attack, but held Hamas responsible for refusing to heed warnings and failing to protect the Palestinian people. It has mobilized its rescue and medical services in Sina to aid Palestinian casualties.

The Israeli air attack began 11.00 a.m. local time Saturday, Dec. 27, eight days after Hamas terminated the informal Gaza ceasefire by showering missiles and mortar rounds on 250,000 Israeli civilians.

Since Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005, the Palestinians have fired 6,000 missiles.


Israeli bank interest slashed


29 Dec. The Bank of Israeli governor, Stanley Fischer, reduced interest by 0.75% to all-time low of 1.75%. he accused the commercial banks of not passing the saving on to their clients.


Hizballah leader thinks time is running out for Israel. Oil rises on possible Gaza invasion


29 Dec. Hassan Nasrallah in his second speech in two days on the Gaza crisis Monday, Dec. 29, did not offer to help Hizballah's Hamas allies, only advice. In his view, Israel cannot hold out for long with its air attacks but is wary of sending ground troops into battle because it expected a high casualty toll.

Israel's Deputy chief of staff Maj. Dan Harel warned: The campaign has just started. It won't be quick. The worst part is not behind us but still ahead and we must be ready.”

The Israeli officer added after dozens of air strikes and naval bombardment from the sea Monday: “Not a single Hamas house is left standing.”

A possible Israeli invasion of Gaza has produced tangible international economic fallout: Oil prices have risen past $40 the barrel, the dollar has slumped 1.5% against the main world currencies and the price of gold shot past $882 an ounce.


FM spokesman in Tehran: Iran has began preparing operations against Israel


29 Dec. On Day 3 of Israel's Gaza operation, the spokesman said Iran had embarked on preparations for operations against Israel in line with the directives laid down by supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khameini in his speech Sunday.

In his speech, Khameini issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to stand up and defend Palestinians against Israel. He said “true believers” were “duty-bound to defend” the Palestinians. Khamenei did not spell out what he intended. The foreign ministry statement said believers killed in their cause would be counted martyrs.

A group of hardline clerics is signing up volunteers to fight “against the Zionist regime” in the Gaza Strip “in either military, financial or propaganda fields.”

debkafile: Egypt has led widespread Arab voices blaming Hamas for the Gaza crisis and accusing Iran of manipulating the Palestinian cause as a power play for its own ends.


Two Israeli armored divisions stand by outside Gaza


29 Dec. A Hamas truck carrying Grad rockets was blown up in Jebalya by an Israeli air strike.

The most important mission carried out by the Israeli Air Force Sunday was the destruction of 40 smuggling tunnels, severing Hamas' arms, fuel, ammunition and reinforcements lifeline from Iran and Syria via Egyptian Sinai.

Whereas Saturday, Israeli bombers struck with missiles, Sunday, they dropped Guided Bomb Unit-28 (GBU-28) on the Philadelphi tunnels. This laser-guided, 5,000-pound conventional munition was developed for penetrating hardened Iraqi command centers located deep underground. It carries a 4,400-pound penetrating warhead.


Day 4 of Israeli operation: Israel military and Shin Bet deny recommending 48-hour truce


30 Dec. In Hamas' first public statement, a masked spokesman read out a “Jihad Letter, which said: “The sea of Gaza will run dry before Hamas surrenders. If Israeli attacks, Palestinian children will gather up their soldiers' body parts.”

An Israeli officer told debkafile that even a small incursion of 1-2 km inside the Gaza Strip might ease the missile pressure on civilian towns and villages, by making Hamas units focus on self-defense instead of launching missiles.

On Day 3 of the conflict, Hamas overcame the havoc Israel's electronic warfare wrought to its communications system by deploying runners using every means of transport, from bikes to donkeys, to keep the chain of command intact.

Hamas' most pressing problem is morale. The top level of Hamas, government heads and commanders, including their “chief of staff” Ahmed Jabari and chiefs of divisions, battalions and companies, are hunkered down in underground bunkers, afraid to surface for fear of being struck down by Israel bombers alerted by Shin Bet intelligence spotters. Resentment of this is growing in Hamas ranks, including the missile crews who operate in the open and whose numbers have swelled the death toll.


Czech Foreign Minister defends Israeli strikes


30 Dec. The Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who takes over the European Union's presidency on Jan. 1, defended Israel's right to strike Hamas.

“Let us realize one thing:” he said. “Hamas increased steeply the number of rockets fired at Israel since the cease-fire ended on December 19. That is not acceptable any more. Israel has the right to defend itself,” he said after France condemned Israel's operation against Hamas and called on both to stop fighting immediately.

The Czech foreign minister indirectly blamed the Palestinian group for the growing civilian death toll, saying it put its bases and gun warehouses in densely populated areas.


Three Israelis killed, 32 injured in 100 Hamas missile attacks Monday


30 Dec. On Day 4 of Israel's Gaza operation, Hamas hit back hard with volleys of rockets and missiles at points closer to central Israel than ever before. The three Israeli dead were IDF career officer, Sgt. Maj. Lutfi Nasr e-Din, 38, from Daliat Hacarmel, at Nahal Oz, a woman motorist, Irit Sheetrit, 39, who sought shelter in the Ashdod bus terminus, 30 km from Gaza, and earlier in Ashkelon, Hani al-Mahdi, 27, a construction worker from the Bedouin Negev village of Ar'ur.

At the Nahal Oz facility, seven soldiers were injured, one critically, by incoming Palestinian mortar fire. Hamas' night barrage also struck Ashdod, Ofakim, Yavne (25 minutes drive from Tel Aviv), Netivot, Sderot and Shear Hanegev. Ashkelon was battered day and night. Ofakim, like Yavne, was hit for the first time by 3 missiles and suffered five injured.

Following this barrage, the Homeland Command extended the radius of schools that would not reopen Tuesday, Dec. 30, after the Hanukkah holiday from 20km to 30km.

Overnight, the Israeli air force pounded the Hamas-ruled government compound in Gaza City, hitting the prime minister's office, and the foreign, finance and interior ministry buildings and Hamas command centers. The Palestinians raised their death toll to 360.


Israeli cabinet resolves to continue offensive against Hamas, MDA at top alert


31 Dec. Prime minister Ehud Olmert said: “Israel held back for years and finally decided to try a ceasefire. But it was violated by Hamas.” His office said the French 48-hour truce idea was not on the table. If conditions change and a solution that guarantees a better security situation in southern Israel comes up, we will reconsider. But we are not there yet.

From Wednesday night, Magen David Adom goes on highest level of preparedness in all parts of Israel in view of the widening radius of Hamas missile attacks and forecasts for the coming weekend. For the first time in its history, MDA has enlisted hundreds of volunteers to man more than 600 ambulances, some brought out of emergency stores.


Hamas broadens rocket scope Wednesday, firing every few minutes


31 Dec. On Day 5 of the Gaza conflict, Wednesday, Dec. 31, Hamas loosed a massive hail of 35 rockets and missiles every few minutes as far as the 40 km-extremity of Beersheba, Ashdod, Yavne. debkafile's military sources attributed the Hamas recovery to three causes:

1. Heavy rain and mist over the region which inhibited Israeli air force action against missile sites in Gaza.

2. Hamas restored its chain of command.

3. It managed to transport large quantities of missiles from underground caches to firing positions.

Belatedly, by Tuesday night, the Israeli war command appreciated its error in omitting to launch a limited ground incursion on Day 3 of the campaign. Israeli leaders wasted precious time in futile discussions on international demands for a ceasefire, which had no chance of holding up.

Now, Israeli tanks and armored forces must wait for the weather to clear while watching Hamas broaden its swathe of attacks and suspect it of holding in reserve rockets with a range of 50-55 km, bringing them ever closer to central Israel.


Day 5 of Gaza operation: Beersheba under intensive Hamas rocket attack


31 Dec. Nine sophisticated, heavy Grad rockets had hit Beersheba by the end of Day 5 of the Israeli operation against Hamas, Wednesday Dec. 31. Most exploded in built-up areas. One dropped through the ceiling of an empty classroom. Twenty-one shock victims taken were hospitalized.

Beersheba's 250,000 citizens were ordered to stay close to solid buildings and schools shut until further notice. Beersheba University suspended studies. Missiles also struck Netivot, Ofakim,Yavne, the Eshkol farming district and Sderot, causing damage and light injuries. Omer and Hatzerim went on their first missile alert.

Beersheba is the largest town and the most distant, 40 km, from Gaza ever to come under rocket attack. When citizens complained the alert sirens were not working, soldiers were posted to operate them manually. Local radio stations update Homeland Command directives to residents in several languages – including Russian and Amharic for new immigrants

Tuesday, as Palestinian missile and rockets against several Israeli towns and villages mounted to 50, Israel called up another 2,500 reservists and rejected ceasefire calls as premature.

The call-up order raises the number of reservists Israel has mobilized for the Gaza operation to 9,200. Israeli tank, infantry, armored and artillery units are massed outside the northern, central and southern Gaza Strip awaiting orders to go in.


Hamas plans to defeat Israeli ground incursion with epic “last stand” at Gaza City


1 Jan. Hamas strategists expect the Israeli ground operation to start with a simultaneous three-prong incursion of armor and special forces from the north, the east and the south. The invaders will occupy most of the 40×20-kilometer area of the Gaza Strip within 5 to 7 days at most, skirting and encircling Gaza City and other main towns. They will then, according to Hamas' calculations, carve the territory up into five pockets:

Pocket 1 will extend from the southernmost Philadelphi belt on the Egyptian border up to the southern outskirts of Khan Younis. Israeli units will then set about destroying the hundreds of smuggling tunnels.

Pocket 2 will cover the Khan Younes district up to the Kissufim junction.

Pocket 3 will cover the central region of the Gaza Strip up to the Karni Crossing, including the Moazi and El Bureij refugee camps.

Pocket 4 will encompass Jebalya, Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahiya, the primary rocket and missile sites, up to the northern border with Israel.

Pocket 5 An Israeli force will encircle Gaza City and send detachments into the town to liquidate Hamas targets and terrorist operatives.

Hamas believes the IDF force will be at its most vulnerable when its Gaza City siege force is faced with an active fighting front of 3,000-5,000 armed Palestinians. By day, they will mingle with the civilian population and by night emerge from hideouts in private homes to hit the Israeli armored forces from the rear with anti-tank weapons and suicide bombers.

The Palestinian group's leaders are counting on wearing the Israeli forces down over weeks and inflicting enough casualties to drive them into an ignominious retreat.

Thousands of Hamas combatants have begun infiltrating Gaza City and taking over civilian apartments after shedding their uniforms.

debkafile's military sources disclose that Israel's war planners have factored Hamas' thinking into their calculations and built tactics to catch them unawares.

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