debkafile Analysts: Israel’s anti-missile operation is supreme test of its intelligence capability. Hamas terrorist teams in Gaza still have the us

The Israeli defense cabinet’s reliance for stopping the Palestinian missile offensive on aerial attacks against Hamas targets, resumed targeted assassinations, or even controlled artillery bombardment, means the Sharon government has ruled out a ground incursion for the time being. The prime minister is not even tempted to take this course by the credit he would chalk up at the Likud central committee’s fateful session Sunday that will determine if he stays in politics.
The decision to avoid a ground operation makes the air offensive contingent more than ever on the new intelligence system the Israeli army deployed when it withdrew to new lines outside the Gaza Strip two weeks ago. The effectiveness of the ongoing air strikes should become apparent in the decline of Qassam strikes against 45 Israeli towns and villages within their range. But In the best scenario, it will take days of constant pounding to stop them altogether.
Saturday night, the Israeli air force struck Fatah arsenals in Khan Younes acted on intelligence data that the Hamas was not the only terrorist force shooting Qassam missiles. The Fatah facilities were known to be used to hide Hamas’ war equipment, including weapons smuggled in from Sinai since Israel’s pull-out.
But the steering of Israeli warplanes to the correct targets faces a major difficulty: the Hamas operatives who have made free of the Gaza Strip – and, since Israeli troops left, northern Sinai has well – ran for cover underground after four of their number were killed in an air strike in Gaza Saturday.
Hamas thus leave themselves with the options of their old-and-tried suicide attacks inside Israel and shooting missiles by night from densely populated urban districts. The open escape hatch to Egypt means they can flee across the border to elude Israeli air strikes in between mounting their assaults. Israel lost the ability to block this maneuver when its troops departed the Philadelphi border enclave of Rafah.
The “controlled use” of the artillery battery just positioned at Kibbutz Nahal Oz in the western Negev is also of limited value as a deterrent, given the crowded conditions of Gaza’s towns. Mass civilian casualties are no part of Israel’s operational planning. But it is a useful device for throwing off US pressure “not to allow the situation to deteriorate” by invading Gaza – already applied Saturday. It also gives the Hamas a breathing space to develop more attacks.
Sharon declared: “We didn’t’ leave Gaza in order to return” On the other hand, the defense cabinet accepted the army’s proposal to draw a cordon sanitaire around the missile sites, especially in northern Gaza. This can only be achieved by means of a limited Israeli incursion into Gaza’s fringe areas.

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