A Shadow War is also Fought against Hamas by Israeli Undercover Troops in Gaza and West Bank
Saturday morning, July 8, the Israeli military announced the withdrawal of the armored force fighting under tank and helicopter cover in the al Atrat outskirts of the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya since Thursday, and the advance of a second contingent through the Karni crossing into central eastern Gaza to carry on the counter-missile purge.
Earlier reports that Israeli troops had taken up positions in the evacuated Israeli locations of Eilei Sinai and Dugit were not repeated.
The immediate consequence of the redeployment from northern Gaza was a hail of 25 Qassam missiles from the purportedly purged sector against three Israeli towns, Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot as well as smaller villages and kibbutzim. Three civilians were injured and 12 suffered shock. Missiles exploded in the center of Sderot, Kafra Azza and Saad. The entire population of 200,000 which lives and works in places within range of Palestinian missiles from Gaza, realized they had become targets.
It can therefore not be denied that the Israeli offensive, renamed Oaks of Bashan, has not achieved its goal of stamping out the Qassam menace. In fact it is more acute than ever – bigger numbers and longer range. Netivot, a small town, populated by some 30,000 people, many new immigrants, which is the site of a pilgrim destination, the tomb of the Kabbalist Baba Sali, was shaken by their first missile explosion half a kilometer from its houses and streets.
Operation Oaks of Bashan has also done nothing to help bring Corporal Gilead Shalit home, 12 days after a Hamas-led assault team attacked an Israeli army post, killed two of his comrades and kidnapped him. The Israeli incursion has also not made enough headway in purging Palestinian gunmen or locating the tunnels favored by Palestinian terrorists for surprise attacks and smuggling.
Friday, Hamas again tightened the screw by announcing in an e-mail to the media that their captive, Corp. Shalit, is alive and well and treated humanely according to the tenets of Islam. Israelis were called on to “raise their voices and tell the truth about the soldier and the feelings of his family. The Hamas message claimed that most Israelis are demanding negotiations with the “Palestinian resistance.” Ehud Olmert and his contemptuous attitude are the only source of the threat to Gilead’s life, it is said.
Early Saturday, July 8, a second Israeli armored force backed by tanks and helicopters pushed into the Karni crossing into eastern central Gaza and advanced on Sejaya east of Gaza City. Once again Israeli troops are staying well away from densely populated town districts. As in Beit Lahiya, they are cleaning out the town fringes of armed Palestinians. On the first day, 4 Palestinians were killed, three of them Hamas gunmen.
This tactic, termed “incremental,” as dictated by the heads of government, is problematic in three ways:
1. Seeing that Israeli troops are not advancing into urban districts but keeping to the fringes, Hamas is pulling its operatives back to safe harbor in populated areas.
2. This allows Hamas to preserve its own troops while sending Jihad Islami and Popular Resistance Committees members to resist the Israeli advance as canon fodder.
3. Hamas planners infer from the Israeli tactic that there is no intention to wipe out its military strength. Therefore, the Hamas regime may come out of the clash damaged but not extinguished.
Israeli military experts refute some of these conclusions
A. Air strength is being applied to destroying Hamas fighting strength. The Islamist group has no recourse against aerial attacks and is therefore shopping desperately for a supply of ground-to-air missiles, which would be smuggled into the Gaza Strip through Egyptian Sinai.
B. Israeli forces have not limited their offensive to incursions above ground. Special forces are operating deep behind enemy lines.Tuesday, July 4, for instance, an Israeli ambush south of Gaza City targeted and killed Thayasar Roei, liaison officer between Palestinian national security forces and Hamas.
Thursday and Friday, several second-level Hamas operatives were taken from their homes. Hamas is sure they were captured by Israeli special operations teams for the purpose of smashing their political and religious institutions as a continuation of the swoop last week of 70-80 West Bank Hamas notables.
Israeli undercover troops are now following up with a second round of detentions of heads of the Hamas A-Dawa clerical, recruitment, education and social welfare institutions.
This overt and undercover trial of arms between Israel and Hamas is just beginning. Hamas is not a large movement; its hard core numbers no more than 12-15,000 men. Its leaders are perfectly aware that if the Israeli operation persists for long enough, it is capable of grinding their movement down to the point that will take years to recover.
It is therefore likely that Hamas will not take its punishment without striking back, possibly by mounting more surprise attacks like the one that captured Gilead Shalit and took Israel unawares on June 25. Israel may also have surprises up its sleeve.