The IDF’s intensive strikes on the bases of Hamas’ operational force in Gaza Tuesday are not merely a response to the rocket and sniper fire originating in the Strip and targeting western Negev communities. These strikes are directly linked to Monday’s terror attack in Dimona.
The Dimona suicide bombing was apparently carried out by Hamas men who originated in the southern Mount Hebron region. The IDF’s strike Tuesday was meant as a signal to Hamas’ leadership: If you escalate the fighting originating in the West Bank in order to hit Israel’s soft underbelly – we will hit you where it hurts the most; that is, attacks on the bases of the forces used by Hamas in order to enforce its rule in the Strip.
Hamas and other Palestinian organizations were the ones to introduce the principle whereby fighting in the West Bank cannot be separated from the fighting in Gaza. A significant part of the Qassam rocket attacks from the Strip are carried out in response to successful IDF operations against senior figures in those same groups in the West Bank.
Now, the IDF is applying the same principle – but in the opposite direction. As it turns out, Hamas’ Gaza takeover created not only a problem, but rather, also an opportunity for the IDF. It is much easier to attack government bases and symbols in Gaza in order to press the Hamas leadership instead of pursuing one terror cell or another in the West Bank.
The IDF has already targeted bases belonging to Hamas’ operational force here and there in the past, but not to such extent and with such lethal results as we saw Tuesday. The objective was to show Hamas that Israel has the ability to escalate the fighting should Hamas continue with its suicide bombings, whether from the West Bank or via the Sinai. The same is true should heavy rocket fire continue to target the Negev.
Next step: Surgical strikes on Hamas leadershipShould Hamas not be deterred by the strikes, the IDF will move on to the next phase: Surgical strikes that would target the organization’s political and military leadership. Should this fail, the security cabinet is expected to approve an intensive ground incursion in the Strip; what is referred to as the “big operation.”
Olmert, Barak, cabinet ministers and Chief of Staff Ashkenazi still hope that the IDF can refrain from embarking on a large-scale military operation in the Strip. At the same time, security officials are increasingly realizing such operation is apparently unavoidable. Even if Israel quickly establishes well equipped and well monitored fence systems along the border with Egypt and in the southern Mount Hebron area, rocket attacks will continue, as well as infiltrations via the Philadelphi Route – just like the fence established on the Lebanon border in the wake of the May 2000 withdrawal failed to prevent the abduction of IDF soldiers in July 2006.
It doesn’t matter how much effort the Egyptians invest in blocking the Philadelphi Route. Experience shows that if the IDF fails to block the route, rocket fire, terror attacks from the Strip, and Hamas’ strengthening process will reach such scope that it would force Israel to embark on a comprehensive operation whether it likes to or not.
Sooner or later, Israel will be forced to seal off the Philadelphi Route on its own and regain its operational freedom and intelligence superiority in every point in the Gaza Strip.