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Ron Ben-Yishai  

 

Psychological win, for now

Aerial assault great success, but ground incursion may be needed to secure op’s objectives

Published: 12.28.08, 18:20 / Israel Opinion

At this point already, after a day of fighting, the IDF and Israeli government can boast a strategic achievement in respect to Israel’s deterrence: Our Air Force and intelligence arms showed once again highly developed and almost unprecedented abilities to identify a large number of targets and hit them from afar efficiently and accurately, while causing very few casualties among civilians not involved in terror.

 

The government proved that it is able and willing to take tough decisions during an election campaign, when international conditions are inconvenient. Officials in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran understand what this means, and it will likely affect their moves in the immediate future and in the long term. They will not rush into actions that would risk a direct confrontation with Israel.

 

Another achievement involved in Israel’s opening move is the home front’s preparedness and the steps undertaken in order to take care of it during the fighting. Here, we see significant improvement compared to what we saw during the Second Lebanon War.

 

On the other hand, within the Gaza theater, the initial achievement is mostly psychological. Hamas’ leadership in Gaza and its government arms have been stunned and have not yet recovered. However, the Hamas’ and other groups’ combat and terror abilities were only partly hurt for the time being.

 

This was expected. There are dozens and possibly hundreds of sites used for storing and launching rockets and mortar shells across the Strip, as well as hundreds of tunnels – not all of them can be hit from the air, certainly not within 24 hours. At the same time, we should note that the extent of rocket and mortar attacks in the first 24 hours was smaller than expected. Moreover, the accuracy of rocket hits in our territory was minimal, while no anti-aircraft fire targeted our planes.

 

Extreme caution

It appears that the firing of rockets and mortar shells was undertaken hastily – mostly as a sign of provocation and display of power, rather than cool determination to cause damage on the Israeli side. However, Hamas’ military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has remained mostly unscathed; the group is apparently saving these forces for the IDF’s ground incursion.

 

The Air Force’s ability to hit Hamas’ combat infrastructure and best trained forces is hindered by the fear of mass civilian casualties. Hamas produces and stores weapons in residential buildings, while launching rockets and mortar shells out of densely crowded areas, including schools and mosques.

 

The UN recently permitted attacks on civilian installations or structures if it’s proven that they were used to stage terror activity – as long as the harm to terrorists is greater than the damage caused to the civilian population (and also, as long as all the steps have been taken in an effort to minimize civilian casualties.) However, it is clear that should a misfired bomb kill and injure dozens of civilians, including women and children, the UN would be the first to condemn Israel and accuse it of committing war crimes. This will also end the operation prematurely.

 

Therefore, the Air Force has adopted extreme caution, with the assistance of the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence. For that reason, since last night the army has been sending written and phone messages, asking Gaza residents to immediately evacuate apartments and buildings that are used for storing weapons, entrances to tunnels, and rocket launching sites. Yet if this does not help, there will be no other choice but to embark on a ground operation.

 

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