The IDF’s Successful Beit Hanoun Operation Cannot Turn the Clock Back

“Operation Autumn Clouds” wound down early Tuesday, 7 Nov. after Israeli forces occupied the northern Gazan town of Beit Hanoun for six days, for the loss of an Israeli soldier, 1st Sgt Kiril Golanshin, 21, from Shekef. Most of the 58 Palestinians killed were armed Hamas adherents.
In Beit Hanoun, the Givaty Armored Infantry Brigade and smaller units demonstrated a new combat method which Israeli special forces first tested in the Aug.1 raid on Baalbek during the Lebanon War, adding improvements for the Gaza operation. Police anti-terror squads joined the operation for practice.
The tactic consists essentially of select groups of elite fighters swooping at speed on defined populated urban areas for pinpointed missions. This method is part of the tradition of the select IDF commando units called Sayarot. In Gaza, Givaty applied the same tactic to larger units of up to brigade and battalion strength. The men were protected by a large number of tanks – hence the decision taken after the Lebanon war to continue the manufacture of the Chariot 4. Snipers were scattered across rooftops in the heart of the most densely populated section of Beit Hanoun.
In contrast to the Lebanon war, Israeli forces were thoroughly prepared for the Gaza operation; they received precise intelligence and their performance in battle was first-rate. The general staff and southern command also operated like clockwork.
The IDF was clearly anxious to prove it had pulled itself together from the reverses of the Lebanon war, had drawn the necessary lessons and the entire outfit, from high command down to generals, officers and men, had recovered their self-confidence and sense of balance.
That said, Israel faces the same dilemma as did the US in Iraq after its purge of Falujja, the Iraqi Sunni hotbed town of half a million inhabitants. It did not take long for Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists to re-establish their strongholds in the ruined city. Sustainability was the problem there and Israel’s war planners also have to accept that, notwithstanding the military success of Operation Autumn Clouds, it has not permanently rid northern Gaza and Beit Hanoun of Hamas, its terrorists and its missile teams.
This transient effect is accounted for on two grounds:
1. Hamas and the allied Jihad Islami and Popular Resistance committees pulled the bulk of their forces out of Beit Hanoun when the Israel raid began and held ready to move back when the field was clear.
Israeli tanks and armored vehicles encountered surprisingly few of the advanced anti-tank rockets Hamas recently smuggled into the Gaza Strip. This was because Hamas has not yet stockpiled these weapons in sufficient quantity and prefers to hold it back for a later stage in the conflict. Furthermore, the Russian wonder weapon, the anti-tank Metis-M 9 – which on Nov. 1 debkafile‘s military sources revealed had turned up in Gaza on Nov. 1 – is likewise being held back from the battlefield. Hamas is reserving the Metis for use in a scheme for creating a 2-4 km cordon sanitaire on the Israeli side of the Gaza border and sniping at Israeli armor from a distance, as Hizballah did in the Lebanon War.
The Hamas military command, to which Syrian officers and Hizballah operatives have been attached, decided to stick to its original plan and wait the IDF out, reckoning that the Israelis would not stay in Beit Hanoun more than a week.
Finally, Hamas has not trained enough anti-tank rocket teams and is reluctant to expose them prematurely to Israeli drones, helicopters and tanks.
Monday, Nov. 6, when Israel troops were seen to be preparing to move out of Beit Hanoun, Hamas brought out two weapons: an 18-year old female suicide bomber was sent to blow herself up near a group of Israeli soldiers. The group was under cover and only one Israeli soldier was slightly hurt. Then two anti-tank rocket teams were eliminated by Israeli helicopters before they did any harm.
The two incidents were Hamas’ way of warning Israel that this time the soldiers got off lightly. Next time round, these two weapons would come to the fore with lethal effect.
2. In the six days of the Israeli army’s presence in Beit Hanoun, missile fire against towns and villages across the Gaza border never stopped, whether from parts of the town which the IDF did not occupy or nearby Beit Lahiya, which was left to the Israeli air force.
The Lebanon War proved that the air force is not up to stopping short-range rocket attacks.
The Israeli high command made sure to broadcast the message to the public at the end of Autumn Clouds that the Qassam barrage on Sderot should be expected to fade completely but only to diminish. The IDF has not hit on a panacea for short-range missiles.
The second message was that military situation in the Gaza Strip vis-a-vis Israel can only be drastically transformed by the reoccupation of the Philadelphi Route along the Egyptian border plus Israel’s recovery of the Rafah border terminal. These two steps would cut Gaza terrorist groups off from their feeding-tubes in Egyptian Sinai.
But given the present situation of Israel’s foremost ally, the United States, and the Bush administration’s preparations to begin exiting Iraq, the IDF is not about to stick out its neck as the only Western army in the Middle to declare a war of territorial reoccupation for the sake of restoring geo-strategic equilibrium to the lawless Gaza Strip, especially when Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is due in the White House next week.
Another factor in play is that Israel is led by the same politicians and chief of staff who presided enthusiastically over Israel’s voluntary pullback from the Gaza Strip 14 months ago and did nothing to prevent it falling into the hands of jihadist terrorist Hamas in January. They can hardly be expected to admit their errors and turn the clock back.
This is the Hamas’ strongest card and the Israel army, however competent and innovative, is in no position to snatch it back.

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