Massed Tanks Seek to Repair Israel’s Tattered Deterrence

Steely lines of hundreds of tanks, thousands of armored infantry and commandos menaced the Gaza Strip as of Monday night, June 26, from three jumping-off points: the Nahal Oz base opposite Gaza City, Kissufim opposite Deir al Balah and Khan Younes in the south and Sufa opposite Rafah. Made up of the Golani and Givaty armored brigades and special operations units including the elite Sayeret Matkal, they presented a picture of armored might not seen for many years on the world’s television screens, even in US military sieges of Karbala and Falujja, in Iraq.
Prime minister Ehud Olmert ordered this display the day after a Hamas-led terrorist force tunneled its way from Gaza and came up behind an Israeli army post and tank, killing the tank commander and a soldier, injuring six and taking a hostage.
Olmert had a number of objectives in mind:
1. The most urgent: to rebuild the Israel armed forces’ faded deterrent strength in the eyes of the Palestinians and the Israeli public. It has been gravely eroded by years of Israeli “self-restraint” in the face of Palestinian terrorist actions and a succession of Israeli missteps:
— The pullback from Gaza belatedly admitted as reckless by most military experts;
— The concomitant metamorphosis of the Philadelphi border zone dividing Gaza from Egyptian Sinai from an enclave controlled by Israeli forces to the main highway for replenishing Palestinian terrorist groups with weapons and fighters;
— The rise of Hamas as head of Palestinian government;
— Al Qaeda’s incursion of the Gaza Strip;
— The ill effects of Israeli dithering over measures to stamp out the Palestinian Qassam blitz on Israeli civilians living within range of Gaza launch pads;
— The need to eclipse the impact of the successful combined Palestinian operation against the IDF’s Telem post inside Israel and their capture of an Israeli hostage;
— The hope of scaring the Palestinian terrorists into appreciating the weight of the iron colossus about to hear down on them if they refuse to give up the Israeli corporal and instead insist on haggling.
debkafile‘s military sources predict that an extensive military operation may be hours off rather than days. With every hour that goes by without the Israeli soldier’s recovery, the heat mounts for military action. In the 48 hours since he was kidnapped, it looks increasingly as though his Palestinian captors do not intend letting him go in a hurry and are digging in to extort as much military, diplomatic and propaganda capital from the abduction as they can get.
The spokesman of the Palestinian terrorist umbrella, the Popular Resistance Committees, Abdullah al-Al, stepped up the war of nerves Tuesday by claiming that Gilead Shalit had been moved to a spot “where the Zionists would never reach him.” The PRC was hitting back at a statement by the deputy chief of staff Moshe Kaplinsky that an IDF action was underway to prevent the hostage’s transfer from the Rafah area to outside the Gaza Strip.
In a further sign of tension, Egypt deployed 2,500 police and security officers on its Sinai border with Gaza to keep out the flow of Palestinian refugees that might be triggered by an Israeli military operation.
The Palestinian terror groups are worried by a possible IDF invasion of the Gaza Strip. They would prefer to prevent it, but have on the other hand reconciled themselves to the inevitable.
All parts of the Palestinian ruling establishment – whether Fatah or Hamas – have foregone the control of events, letting it pass into the hands of the heads of the terrorist groups and, to a limited extent, Khaled Meshaal, the extremist supreme Hamas leader based in Damascus, who is himself manipulated from Tehran and Damascus.
Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly asked Hamas and his own security force to find the missing Israeli soldier and hand him over to avert an Israeli raid of Gaza – but has been consistently ignored. Israeli intelligence officials report that he has not been trying too hard to solve the crisis. The real live wires are the Egyptians, headed by General Omar Suleiman.
Israel therefore finds itself looking at an emergent Iraq-type reality. As in Baghdad, the powers-that-be in Ramallah and Gaza have little control over events on the ground, which are largely dominated by groups dedicated to terror and violence.
Fixed in the Palestinian national consciousness is the conviction that the Hamas-led combined attack on the Israeli Telem army post was their greatest victory in six years of fighting Israel. They are therefore determined to make it a historic turning-point that will wipe out all their reverses – even at the price of provoking the IDF’s return to the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians are not deterred by the land and sea blockade Israel has thrown up to seal the Gaza Strip off from the outside world.
Public pressure on the government and military in Israel is no less insistent and complicated. All three national policy-makers are new to the job and must struggle with the abrupt collapse of the military-security concepts bequeathed them by Ariel Sharon. A large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip must aim not only at rescuing Gilead Shalit but also replacing the bankrupt Sharon security strategy with a doctrine that arms Israel with the tools to repel and win the current round of the Palestinian war. This is a tall order for Israel’s top military tacticians. They must come up with a winning card when the Palestinians hold an ace, the hostage Gilead Shalit.
As plotted by debkafile‘s military analysts, Israel’s Gaza campaign may be split into five operations:
One: The armored force standing by at Nahal Oz will head west, skirt Gaza City from the south and head for the former Netzarim settlement on the Mediterranean coast. This move will sever Gaza City and the north from the rest of the territory.
Two: The armored force waiting at Kisufim will push west up to the former Katif and Kfar Darom junctions to cut Gaza City off from Rafah. These two moves will partition the Strip into three sections and isolate the Palestinian refugee camps of Nuseirat, Al Bureij and Al Muazi, which are hotbeds of terrorism.
Three: The combined armored-special operations units would strike out from Sufa towards the former Morag and Morag junction and reach the seashore at the point that used to be Peat Hasadeh. This force would then turn south up to the former Rafah Yam location at the tip of the Philadelphi enclave on the Israel-Egyptian border; and so isolate Rafah and its outlying refugee camps. This is where Israel intelligence estimates Gideon Shalit is being held.
Four Israeli special operations forces accompanying the armored column, joined by commandos landed by air and sea, will occupy Rafah and the camps and conduct a house to house search, leaving no stone unturned, for the missing soldier.
Five: Heavy air raids will be staged on terrorist strongholds, including targeted strikes against their leaders, although most will have already gone to ground.
debkafile‘s military experts do not expect the Palestinians to show massive resistance in the first stage of this operation, except for directing scattered Qassam, mortar and rocket fire against f the invading Israeli force. The real crunch will begin when Israeli troops strike into populated districts. But that will only happen if they fail to find the missing soldier in Rafah.

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