Next: Israel prepares Gaza ground incursion, Hamas gears for suicide terror

debkafile‘s military sources assess the next stage of Israel’s Gaza campaign as being a ground incursion of the Gaza Strip, to follow up the air bombardment of Hamas compounds Saturday, Dec. 27. Hamas estimates that in four minutes, dozens of Israeli bombers and helicopters flattened 30 “high profile” sites. At least 350 Palestinians were killed, 90 percent of them Hamas operatives, and between 700 and 800 more were injured. Some of the casualties are still buried under the rubble. The blow sustained by the Palestinian Islamist terrorist group was massive by any military standards and severely upset its military equilibrium. Its retaliation against Israeli towns and villages was therefore slower and smaller in scope that Israel expected.
The fifty plus missiles fired into Israel included a small number of 42-range Grad Katyusha rockets made in Iran. One Israeli was killed and several injured in Netivot and three more hurt when Sderot synagogue too a direct missile hit.
Nonetheless, Hamas is not ready to show a white flag, even after losing hundreds of its military and police personnel, including top commanders, and will make a supreme effort to retaliate from the Gaza Strip as well as mobilizing its substantial Hizballah-backed command center in Lebanon. Hamas operatives will be pressed into service as suicide terrorists. They remain active after Israeli units and Mahmoud Abbas’ special forces trained by US and British instructors conducted systematic crackdowns to crush them for more than a year. The second blow in the form of a formidable Israeli ground incursion without delay is therefore imperative to prevent Hamas getting its second wind.
While Israel’s air attack is counted a success, its war chiefs are taking care not to be trapped by an early achievement into the sort of blunders which led to the Lebanon war’s unsatisfactory conclusion in 2006. That campaign was commanded by a former airman, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who saw no point in a ground operation after Hizballah’s command center was razed by air – until it was too late.
The first objective of a ground force in the coming hours will be to destroy “Lower Gaza,” the underground city designed by an Iranian general and spread under most of the enclave’s area. This subterranean sanctuary kept the bulk of the Hamas army, 15,000 men, their officers and leaders, out of harm’s way during the Israeli air offensive Saturday. Their resistance must be broken before Hamas can be brought to surrender. Until then they will fight on.
The second Israeli objective must be to sever the Gaza Strip from Egypt by recapturing the Philadelphi border strip.
These missions are formidable indeed and may take weeks of ups and downs, which is why prime minister Ehud Olmert’s goal of restoring normal lives to the people of southern Israel is a lot less simplistic than it sounds. The air operation was indeed just the beginning.

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