Israel Opts for Major War Campaign in 11th Hour of Hamas Build-up
debkafile‘s military sources disclose that Israel’s security cabinet decided Wednesday, Nov. 22, that there is no option but to launch a major offensive against Hamas and its terrorist allies in the Gaza Strip – both to pre-empt their war build-up and reduce Qassam missile attacks which climbed to 80 in the last ten days. The date remains to be set. Operational proposals were not submitted by the army chiefs, said the announcement, but held back for presentation to a smaller forum which the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will summon.
Our sources note that special forces and Shin Bet units have already stepped up their ground operations against the missile crews in the northern Gaza Strip. These operations will soon evolve into a broader, harsher crackdown in other parts of the territory including the Philadelphi corridor.
The prime minister was finally convinced that the time for foot-dragging was over by intelligence data which showed Hamas hectically engaged in constructing state-of-the-art fortifications for withstanding deep incursions into the Gaza Strip. They are assisted by dozens of military advisers pouring in from Syria and Lebanon.
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen Dan Halutz, AMAN-intelligence commander Maj.-Gen Amos Yadlin and OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen Yoav Galant warned Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz that every day without Israeli counter-action maximizes future IDF casualties. They said casualties will be high even if Israel does not carry out an organized incursion of the Gaza Strip but confines itself to pinpointed strikes. Military intelligence also estimates that a full-scale conflict will soon prove unavoidable because the Qassam salvos are increasing in number and range beyond Sderot and Ashkelon; Ashdod and more Negev communities are being brought into the missile orbit.
As Palestinian missile attacks on the Israeli population proliferate, Sderot’s distress becomes intolerable and the popular clamor rises to curb the menace, the IDF has switched its counter-missile tactics in the Gaza Strip. Instead of the air force, special ground forces backed by Shin Bet units are spearheading strikes which target top Hamas missile commanders.
Monday night, Nov. 20, IDF infantry, undercover and Shin Beit units surrounded the home of senior Hamas missile commander Imad Hasnin in Gaza City’ Sajaiya district. Apparently forewarned, his bodyguards opened fire on the Israeli raiders. They used the anti-tank rockets, mortars and machine guns which have turned the missile commanders’ homes into fortresses – both against Israeli attack and Fatah adherents.
The Israeli troops, backed by rooftop snipers, fought their way to the targeted house in hand-to-hand battle with the Palestinian gunmen, stormed the building and killed Hasnin.
The raid was launched after Israeli intelligence was tipped off that Hamas had expanded its Qassam production facilities by 50% in the last two weeks, tripled output and increased the missiles’ explosive power. This development means that the Palestinian missile industry has grown too big to destroy by ordinary military means, particularly when it is fed by a constant flow of smuggled explosives entering through the wide-open Philadelphi corridor from Egypt.
Instead of targeting single launchers, Israel’s military planners therefore decided to focus on liquidating missile crews and reaching their commanders at home, as the only way to strike at the heart of the Palestinian cross-border offensive against Israeli communities.
The new tactic, successfully employed Monday night, calls for large commando units trained in street combat, who also risk relatively high casualties. It also calls for an intensive, high-grade intelligence effort to precisely mark the targets and provide details of the protective measures they employ.
A senior Israeli officer in the Gaza sector told debkafile that it will take several weeks before the new counter-missile assault model can dent Hamas capabilities for shooting missiles into Israel and begin reducing the barrage. Even today, Hamas is capable of firing salvos of dozens of missiles, he said, but is keeping the intensity down to about 10 launchings a day, in order to reserve the bulk of its arsenal for later stages of its showdown with Israel.
debkafile‘s military experts point out that the impending Gaza campaign will be the second war Israel has fought in five months. In most senses, it will be the sequel to the war offensive Hizballah launched from Lebanon in July. Hizballah may decide, or be instructed from Damascus and/or Tehran, to initiate another attack across Israel’s northern border to ease the pressure on Hamas by splitting Israeli forces on two fronts. The counter-argument to this depends on developments in Lebanon: The deeper the domestic crisis erupting in Lebanon in the wake of the assassination of Pierre Gemayel on Tuesday, Nov. 21, the less Hizballah will be free to start another war against Israel.