Israel’s abrupt about-turn from the Gaza Strip on March 3 differed from the Turkish pullback from northern Iraq before accomplishing its mission against the PKK Kurdish rebels – although both interruptions were pretty much dictated by Washington.
Whereas the top Turkish generals wanted to go all the way against the Kurdish terrorists, Israel’s chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi lined up with prime minister Ehud Olmert in objecting to a broad-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip.
Apart from Ashkenazi, most of Israel’s high officers were in favor of a massive offensive to once and for all crush the ruling Hamas leadership, its bases and its missile infrastructure.
Like the Turkish invasion of Iraq a few days earlier, the launching of Israel’s ground incursion of the Gaza Strip on Feb. 29 was trumpeted by Israeli politicians and military chiefs as a major offensive without a time limit. The public was told that the operation would unfold in stages until Israeli forces had reoccupied most of the territory. They would stay on for several months for the clean-up.
But here, too, what happened on the ground was quite different from the way it was plugged.
1. No more than 2,500 Israeli ground troops entered a small strip of northern Gaza with orders to wipe out terrorist bases and missile positions only up to 2.5-3 km inside the Palestinian territory.
This limit kept the soldiers away from populated areas – and therefore heavy loss of life on both sides – in a territory considered the most densely populated in the world. But it also distanced the troops from its targets.
Intelligence of 90-km missiles that can reach Tel Aviv
This narrow strip had seen at least six Israeli military incursions in the last 24 months. Hamas and its allied groups knew by heart the limitations placed on Israeli operations and, months ago, had withdrawn its armed presence to a safe distance deep inside the Gaza Strip.
After three hours, the Israeli force had accomplished its mission and asked for its next orders, expecting to be told to advance. (See also HOT POINTS below)
But this order was not forthcoming.
Turkey’s leaders were under no illusion that their army’s failure to reach the PKK’s remote havens in the Qandil Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan would be an invitation for more Kurdish terror in Turkey’s towns and attacks on its military. So, too, Israel’s policy-makers and generals fully grasped that Hamas would keep up its Qassam missile and Grad rocket attacks if the army was held down to a 3-km strip of Gaza.
Furthermore, shortly before the Israeli incursion, American and Israeli military intelligence received word that Al Qaeda in the Middle East had obtained the technology for the manufacture of surface missiles with a range of 90 km, compared with the extended range Katyusha, or Grad rockets, of up to 26 km.
The technical specifications had been smuggled into the Gaza Strip and reached the hands of Hamas and Jihad Islami technical experts, they learned. Once those missiles are operational, Israel’s main commercial city and center of its defense establishment will be exposed to the threat of Iranian-made missiles from two directions.
They could come from Lebanon’s Hizballah in the north and the Palestinian Hamas in the south. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that Hizballah has recently taken delivery from Iran of missiles with a range of 300 km. They were smuggled through Turkey.
Israel’s General Command, like that of Turkey, came under fire for their shortcomings from the parliamentary opposition.
Israeli opposition leaders accused the prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak of misleading the public. While pretending a large-scale, exhaustive operation had been mounted against Hamas terrorists, in fact, it was just another small-scale, ineffectual strike – and even that was abandoned under pressure from Washington.
Unfinished operations support the terrorists’ Moqawamah strategy
Some of the fiercest criticism came from inside the government and the prime minister’s own Kadima party: deputy prime minister Haim Ramon, internal security minister Avi Dichter – ex-director of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence service, and transport minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and chief of staff.
They complained that the ground operation had not been decisive enough to be a deterrent or achieve military gains.
Clearly, without fully appreciating the effect of their actions, the governments of the United States, Turkey and Israel unconsciously succumbed to the rules of Moqawamah, the doctrine sweeping radical Muslims across the Middle East, whereby perpetual jihad is its own reward. Its fighters do not need to win battles as long as victory is denied the enemy.
Ankara and Jerusalem were reluctant to go to war and took advantage of the American bulldozer to cut short an offensive into which they were dragged willy-nilly by the generals.
In doing so, they gave the PKK and Hamas the satisfaction of throwing in the towel.
Wednesday, March 5, defense minister Barak tried to extricate Israel from the crippling toils of the destructive Moqawamah.
He persuaded US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before she departed the Middle East that the practice of aborting military engagements with terrorists and leaving them unresolved and up in the air would seriously erode America’s strategic positions in the region, especially in Lebanon.
If Hamas is allowed to gets away with an inconclusive encounter in Gaza – the position at the moment – the message will be flashed to Iraq, Lebanon and even as far as Afghanistan, Barak maintained. This business must not be left unfinished; Hamas must be crushed in Gaza, even if the price Israel bears is a heavy one.
Shortly after Rice left for home, she gave the nod to a reconstructed Israeli list of Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip.