Israel weighs broadening Gaza offensive to press Hamas for ceasefire

debkafile‘s military sources report Sunday, Jan. 11, after a day of heavy Israeli aerial bombardment and Hamas rocket fire, the two warring parties dashed forward: The Israeli high command poured reservists into the Gaza Strip to pile military pressure on the enemy, while Hamas-Gaza leaders headed for Syria aboard an Egyptian military plane to persuade the Damascus faction to endorse a ceasefire.
Egyptian officials, in talks with Gazan leaders in Cairo Sunday, concluded that if the embattled group cannot talk its hardline politburo chief Khaled Meshaal round, it would go for an unlimited unilateral ceasefire regardless. The Hamas delegation is due to return to Cairo Monday with answers from Damascus.
Saturday, debkafile‘s sources disclosed that Hamas-Gaza had reached breaking point and was ready to drop its conditions for a ceasefire.
Our sources report that, in addition to turn the heat on Hamas, the deployment of fresh Israeli reserve units Sunday had the additional goal of relieving the troops fighting in Gaza for more than two weeks – at a moment when the Israeli campaign appeared to have lost focus and traction.
Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert laid it on the line Sunday when he said Israel must press on with its offensive against Hamas and not throw away its gains at the last moment.
It became plain last week that, instead of going hard after two primary objectives – the capture of the Philadelphi Corridor and Rafah in the south and the missile and rocket-launching sites in the north – the Israeli high command had spread the troops out thin and relying on heavy aerial bombardment. This did not stop Hamas rocket fire – albeit at a declining rate, 23 Sunday, two of which hit schools that were luckily empty – and Hamas continued to smuggle arms.
High-ranking military officers fault the heads of government for failing to spell out clearly the one or two central objectives whose attainment would permit the army to say it had finished the job and the Gaza campaign was over.
At one point last week, the infantry and tanks looked like grasping the thorns and entering Philadelphi through Rafah and Gaza City through Jebalya. Tens of thousands of leaflets warned Palestinian householders to leave their homes and escape harm.
But then, instead of going after two major wins, the troops stopped at the boundaries of the target-arenas.
Some officers familiar with the scene report that, apart from occasional snipers, Hamas fighters stay clear of the battlefield, fighting a “war of shadows.” Combat engagements in the Gaza conflict are infrequent. Indeed, the Palestinian terrorists of the Nablus Casbah and Jenin on the West Bank were fiercer and more warlike than their Hamas contemporaries. Media accounts of armed confrontations are much exaggerated. In 16 days, not a single Israeli tank was damaged.
IDF Military Intelligence Head Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, briefing cabinet ministers Sunday, pointed out that Hamas fighters were evading encounters with Israeli forces, hiding in built-up urban areas and hoping to gain the advantage by “remote control” tactics. In his view, Hamas is scared of more fighting and looking for an honorable escape that offers an end to the hostilities without requiring its forces to show a white flag.
Those officers say that, were it not for the brief loss of focus, the Israel army could have prevailed and brought the war to a finish last week. By holding back, it gave Hamas hope for a face-saving outcome, which is why it keeps on shooting missiles and rockets against Israel.

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