The Terror Journal

A Journal on Terrorism and Genocide

Hamas seeks Gaza war of attrition ending in IDF pullout

Palestinian Hamas MilitantsThe moment of decision is nigh. In a few days’ time, at most, Israel’s political leadership will have to decide on the continuation of the ground offensive in Gaza.

On day 13 of Operation Cast Lead, which was Thursday, three Israel Defense Forces troops were killed in separate incidents in the Gaza Strip.

In the diplomatic arena, Hamas spurned the Egyptian mediation initiative, while the United Nations Security Council discussed the draft of a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire.

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Five days into the ground component of the operation, it is becoming apparent that Hamas has not been defeated. Its men, most of whom had disappeared from sight when the IDF troops entered, are beginning to emerge from their hideouts to plague the forces’ rear flanks.

The IDF is entering one of the offensive’s most dangerous phases. Staying on the ground without progressing creates targets for the enemy to hit. Hamas’ intransigence seems to stem at least in part from the hope that if they draw enough Israeli blood over the following days through a series of consecutive clashes, Israeli public opinion will turn and force the government to order the military to pull out without reaching an agreement.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who visited the headquarters of the regional division deployed along the border with Gaza, said Thursday that the operation has not yet achieved all the goals it was meant to achieve.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who also visited the division and continued down south to visit reservists training at Tze’elim army base, told army officers there that a cease-fire does not seem to be within reach.

The General Staff has already presented both to Barak and to Olmert two blueprints for expanding the operation, formulated by GOC Southern Command Major General Yoav Gallant. Both plans of action involve sending thousands of additional troops into the Strip. But it seems that the political echelon is not endorsing either plan in any definite terms.

The ministers have a third option. They could decide on the rapid conclusion of the operation and pull out the troops even without reaching a formal cease-fire.

Meanwhile, the multitude of diplomatic channels is making progress on that front more difficult. With so many mediation efforts in play (by the United States, Egypt and France), the way out is not yet visible.

Thursday night U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reentered the picture in her surprising endorsement of the United Nation Security Council’s new initiative to call for an immediate cease-fire. This put Jerusalem under pressure, throwing Israeli diplomats into a rearguard battle which Thursday yielded a draft which did not call for an immediate cease-fire.

As for the various mediators, they are having some difficulty understanding what Israel wants to achieve. The Israeli leadership is split on this issue. As things stood Thursday, Olmert was in support of broadening the operation and reaching a cease-fire at a later stage. Barak is seeking to reach bring about a quick resolution by reaching an agreement.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in turn, is inclined to support an immediate pullout from Gaza without consolidating an agreement with Hamas, relying on the vivid threat of an Israeli reentry in case of renewed rocket fire for security stability.

The Egyptian mediation effort, meanwhile, seems to have reached the end of the road. Even after sustaining nearly 800 Palestinian casualties, Hamas did not need more than 24 hours of deliberations to announce it was rejecting it.

Hamas is hoping that a war of attrition ending in an Israeli pullout will allow it to declare victory. The price which the civilian population is paying is not so disturbing to the organization’s leaders. On the contrary: It even serves to increase the dependence of the Strip’s inhabitants in Hamas.

Israel, for its part, isn’t very enthusiastic about the Egyptian initiative.

The firing of four Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel was no surprise to Jerusalem. It went according to the initial intelligence assessment that said Hezbollah will express solidarity with the Palestinian suffering in Gaza by launching via a proxy organization – in this case a small Palestinian organization. But it looked like a launch for the record.

Source: By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff Haaretz

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