The IDF Golani Brigades lost 13 soldiers in combat with Hamas early Sunday, July 20, in the Gaza Strip district of Shejayia, the military spokesman announced Sunday evening. The unit’s commander, Col. Rosan Aliyan, was seriously injured. The urban stage of the IDF’s Operation Defensive Edge has taken Israel into one of its most perilous wars, launched as Hamas’ rocket barrage against the Israeli population continued without pause.
After accepting a brief truce, that was requested and then violated by Hamas, Israeli forces went back to the operation begun overnight in the Hamas Sheijaya stronghold, which bristles with large rocket stocks and arms factories and is the site of concealed openings of terrorist tunnels that snake under the border into Israel 2 km away to a point opposite Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
Still ahead of the Israeli operation, after the troops finish cleansing Shejaiya are similar challenges to dismantle Hamas’ offensive capabilities in another three of their Gaza City strongholds: Shaati, Al Bureij and Nuseirat, before Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure can be said to have been disarmed.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz praised the Israeli units fighting in the Gaza Strip and pledged they will carry on for as long as necessary, until Israel is safe from Hamas terror. While regretting the loss of Palestinian civilian life, Gen. Gantz held Hamas responsible for the innocent casualties, by forcing them to stay in place in spite of Israel’s warnings to them to escape. Hamas could have provided the population with shelters, schools and hospitals, instead of investing in rockets and tunnels for Israel’s destruction, he said.
During Sunday, July 20, Israeli commanders rejected, then accepted, a Hamas request relayed via the Red Cross for a three-hour truce for the removal of its dead and wounded from the embattled Shejaiya district. The Palestinians reported 60 dead and 200 injured in Sunday’s battles there.
The truce was extended by two hours, despite attacks by armed Hamas bands on Israeli troops, in breach of the ceasefire, which was the third Israel had accepted in the 12 days of its Gaza operation.
Earlier, debkafile reported that the IDF tried to mitigate the bad news from Hamas warfront by releasing it in stages: first, the four soldiers killed Saturday night and later, the 13 Golani fighters.
The first four were Maj. Amotz Greenberg, 45, from Hod Hashorn and Sgt. Adar Bresani, 20, from Nahariya, were shot dead Saturday when their jeep was attacked by Hamas infiltrators bursting out of a tunnel.
On the Gaza battlefield, Paratrooper Staff Sgt. Bana Roval, 20, from Holon, was shot dead by a terrorist from another tunnel, and 2nd Lt, Bar Rahav, 21, from Ramat Yishai, was killed by a missile defense system in a nearby tank.
Hamas is not only bringing its deadly tunnels into play, but also planting small commando units heavily armed with anti-tank rockets across the paths of advancing Israeli armored forces.
Saturday, those commandos fired 10 anti-tank rockets. Without their Windbreaker armor, many tanks would have been destroyed and the casualty toll much higher.
However, most of all, Hamas is fighting to save its tunnel system from systematic destruction by IDF demolition teams. This system was designed to be the Palestinian Islamists’ highest strategic asset, comparable in importance to the IDF’s chain of fortifications along the Syrian border.
Around 16,000 men, around 15 percent of Hamas’ fighting strength, were assigned to the tunnel project in the last five years and substantial funds. The IDF will not be permitted to demolish this flagship project without a savage fight.
The most important conclusion for Israel’s war planners, from the first days of the ground phase of Israel’s Operation Defensive Edge, is that Hamas is standing firm and not cracking, even under the relentless pounding of their military infrastructure by Israeli artillery and air might, and appears determined to fight on.
Its commanders believe they can keep going for another 4 to 6 weeks, while also maintaining a steady hail of rockets against the Israeli population.
This estimate has spurred a major buildup of Israeli military strength for the Gaza operation. Another 50,000 reservists were called up Saturday night and a large number of infantry brigades started moving into the Gaza Strip overnight and will continue to arrive Sunday. The extra forces have made it possible to embark on the second, urban stage of the IDF operation, the breaching of the densely-populated towns.
A different type of combat lies ahead from the project for destroying tunnels. It is tougher and more perilous. But there is no other way to reach Hamas’ command centers and its longest-range rockets.
With this mission still unaccomplished, talk of a ceasefire sounds as though it comes from another planet. Hamas feels strong and confident enough to spurn the Egyptian-Israeli ceasefire proposal, which is firmly backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Every attempt to sway its political leader Khaled Meshaal, when he was buttonholed in Kuwait, ran into a blank wall. He summarily rejected invitations from Egypt and the Arab League to travel to Cairo and discuss the cessation of hostilities.
The various international mediation efforts have therefore nowhere to go.
As far as Hamas is concerned, no incentive has been offered tempting enough to persuade its leaders to give up their predestined war on Israel.
US Secretary of State John Kerry changed his mind about visiting the region for the second time this month, when the Obama administration decided to stay out of it and let Egypt handle the crisis. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who scheduled a visit for Saturday, postponed it indefinitely.
Israel has accordingly won a rare opportunity to deal with Hamas without being stopped short and the enemy saved by international intervention. But although it has wide popular support, this opportunity confronts Israelis with one of the cruelest, costly and drawn-out conflicts in their embattled history.