debkafile military sources: Most of the 40 armed Palestinians killed and 80 injured since last week were struck down by Israeli Air Force fire

An Israeli air strike Friday morning killed three armed Palestinians, injured one, in al-Atatra, after anti-tank missile was fired at Israeli troops in the N. Gaza location outside Beit Lahiya. Israel’s military chiefs can report no progress thus far toward rescuing the Israeli hostage Gilead Shalit held hostage by Hamas or halting the Hamas-led missile blitz.
debkafile‘s military sources add: Thursday’s clash after eight days of relative inaction was fought in the tiny al Atrat district on the northern fringes of Beit Lahiya, a Qassam launch center. It was the first exploratory skirmish between two unequal forces; Israeli troops watched for bomb traps from their tanks and on their electronic screens; the Palestinians waited to see if the Israeli column would venture into a built-up area.
Golani Brigade armored infantry went in under cover of tanks and helicopters. Its mission: to clean out the Qassam missile teams estimated to be concentrated in the farms and houses scattered in the district.
When night fell, both Hamas, which had spearheaded the shooting, and Israeli commanders understood that the engagement had only just begun, but that the rules were different from those conceived in advance.
Since Thursday’s score of Qassam launchings was as high as 13, directed east at Sderot and north at Ashkelon, it was clear to the Israeli generals leading the anti-missile campaign that cleaning out a single small district of Beit Lahiya would not suffice to halt the hail of missiles.
When he visited the troops Friday, chief of staff Lt.-Gen Dan Halutz explained the IDF goal as being to make the Palestinians appreciate the extremely high price they would have to pay for keeping up their missile volleys and holding on to Gilead Shalit.
Hamas leaders, most of whom are in heading, inferred from the definition of Israel’s “balanced, measured and incremental” offensive that Israel meant to use the hunt for missile sites and crews as the pretext for seizing slice after slice of Palestinian territory.
None of the three terror groups commands a regular army capable of building a front line or fortifying a city block as a firing barricade after the style of Iraq’s Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda in Falluja and Ramadi. Their RPGs, automatic rifles, sniper fire and anti-tank rockets can seriously delay and harass but are no match for Israeli armored infantry and its tank-air escort. The rival Fatah’s al Aqsa Brigades, the Palestinian Fronts and the national security services are staying well clear of the clash, despite the appeal broadcast by the Hamas interior minister Said Siyam to all PA security forces to fight Israeli troops.
Israel’s military planners and intelligence were not prepared for the tactics they encountered in the small township of al-Atatra Thursday. They must now go back to their masters in government for a decision on whether or not to go as far as pulverizing the armed Palestinian groups out of existence. The military will also need to be told how to adjust the operation’s tempo and receive answers on fallout – for Israel and for the Palestinian Authority, including Mahmoud Abbas, who has shut himself off from the events in Gaza.
Israel’s military chiefs can report no progress thus far toward rescuing Gilead Shalit or halting the Hamas-led missile blitz, while Hamas has been suddenly struck with the realization that the battle ahead may determine whether its movement lives or dies.

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