Day 7 of Israeli operation: Suspense in Israel and Gaza for ground operation
Although Israeli Defense Forces have the defense cabinet’s green light for a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, the final go-ahead had not been given Friday, Jan. 2 – Day 7 of the Gaza campaign by the trio of decision-makers, prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Tzipi Livni. Suspense is high on both sides of the border.
debkafile quotes the view among high-ranking military sources that this decision is a historic one: Without a decisive ground assault on Hamas, a million citizens of the South will be entitled to feel that for the first time in 60 years, the state has abdicated its responsibility for their safety.
Hamas will take it that Israel has lost its nerve.
debkafile‘s military sources report tacticians are discussing at least two scenarios. One favors a short in-and-out incursion with heavy tanks, armored infantry and air units hitting Hamas hard before pulling back. Another advocates a broader more fundamental treatment to destroy Hamas’s military capabilities root and branch, withdraw and then follow up with sorties as necessary – as per the successful West Bank model.
IDF officers warn that time now is of the essence; every hour that leaves Israel tanks stationary outside Gaza encourages Hamas propagandists to mock the Israel government (in Hebrew). A government that does not defend the rocket-blasted citizens of Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba, they say, will not defend Tel Aviv either when the rockets start coming.
Hamas is feigning eagerness for an Israeli incursion in order to boost its own morale, Southern command officers stress. This pose is broadcast to support the argument for an immediate ceasefire. In fact, say the officers, Hamas is scared and ill-prepared.
Apart from the hard core of 1,500 members of its military wing, the Ezz e-Din al-Qassam, Hamas’ rank and file consists of 13,000 members of their police force and teenagers aged 15 to 16. They have been trained superficially to use the old Russian Phagot 9k-111 guided anti-tank missiles, which is the most advanced anti-armor weapon in the Hamas armory. It was manufactured in the 1960s for the Red Army.
Israel tanks are equipped with counter-measures for far more sophisticated weapons.
In any case, Hamas’ courses were limited to practice shoots at stationary targets. They have never been exposed to realistic combat situations, requiring them to stop a fast-moving column of Israeli Chariots under artillery fire and aerial attack.
Ahead of a potential invasion, Israeli air strikes destroyed the private homes of at least 45 Hamas commanders by Friday night as a means of breaking their fighting spirit.
Aware of its deficiencies, Hamas has stopped firing its heavy 120mm mortars at Israeli targets and is keeping them in reserve for an Israeli tank advance in the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s high military command and intelligence experts are urging the Olmert government to seize the moment. They believe that striking Hamas now would be put Israel’s feet on the shortest and most effective path to an exit from the Gaza war. They argue that it is better to go in hard now for an initial incursion and then decide how to proceed according to results. A slow, hesitant action must be avoided at all costs because the Hamas would soon pick up on any signs of vacillation or weakness.