At 7:15 am, precisely when the radio announced that “the operation exhausted its utility,” the alert system in Sderot went off. At first it was intermittent crackle, followed by two brief consecutive statements: “Color Red,” “Color Red.” Haim and Zehava Kuznitz, who are hosting me, rushed to their secured room while I trailed behind them.
The initial, almost instinctive feeling was as follows: “What was the point of the IDF operation that ended an hour ago, if the Qassams continue to land here and Grad rockets continue to land in Ashkelon?”
We heard a loud blast. Haim said we can get out of the secured room – and then, the alert system came back to life: “Color Red.” We turned around and returned to the secured room. And then, we heard another explosion. Haim tried to find out whether there were any injuries or damages, and it turned out that the Qassam landed in an open area. We went back to our coffee.
Even though Monday morning it appeared as though “Warm Winter” hasn’t changed a thing, it’s too early to judge. This operation apparently ended because it indeed exhausted its utility. That is, the Givati and armored corps troops had run out of opportunities to hit Hamas gunmen or gather intelligence information. Therefore, there was no point in staying there and becoming targets for Hamas.
In that respect, the decision to get out of Gaza was appropriate, assuming there would be more operations of this type and that the aerial activity won’t end.
The only chance to avoid a large-scale operation in the Strip in the near future is through a sequence of such raids – using one brigade, more or less, in conjunction with an aerial assault. And we should emphasize this: the aerial assault does not only support the ground forces – it is important in and of itself, in terms of striking targets that ground forces do not reach.
‘We couldn’t bear sense of humiliation’So what did the combined ground and aerial operation that ended Monday morning achieve? First, it created a new erosion equation that would force Hamas to think twice before its next Qassam offensive. It was completely clear that this morning Hamas would fire several rockets at Ashkelon and the western Negev, just to show that the Israeli operation achieved nothing. Yet the operation’s true effect can only be measured over time, when the effect of “Warm Winter” along with other operations of this type would form a critical mass that would erode the power of Gaza gunmen.
Hamas lost about 70 men in three days, and that’s a lot – even for a group that sanctifies death. It would be improper to use the term “balance of terror” in this context, because none of the sides – either us or Hamas – feel any terror, but rather, a desire to lower the casualty toll.
The second achievement: The operation erodes Hamas’ status in the eyes of residents of the Strip. It doesn’t matter how often Hamas spokesmen repeat the mantra “the people is behind us,” phone conversations with Gaza residents create a wholly different impression.
The third achievement: The operation creates legitimacy among the international community to a situation of fighting in Gaza. This legitimacy is also created as a result of the fact that the media no longer view fighting in Gaza as “news,” and also because the ongoing attacks on Ashkelon make it clear that Israel did not pounce on the Palestinians for no reason. A testament to this legitimacy could be seen in the fact that no real pressure was exerted on Israel to end the operation on the part of official political elements, including in the Arab world.
The operation’s fourth achievement was nicely defined by Haim Kuznitz, when we drank our coffee after the second Qassam landed Monday morning. “We are willing to sustain the Qassams when it’s clear to us that the IDF is fighting those who fire them,” Haim said. “What I couldn’t bear was the sense of humiliation when we sustained but did nothing.”
However, the operation also had some drawbacks: Hamas is learning the IDF’s combat tactics, and the military leadership there also makes assessments and draws lessons, while improving its deployment accordingly.
Yet overall, the IDF proved that it knows how to fight. Givati troops who participated in the operation described clashes from a very short range, the deployment of Palestinian explosive devices, and much fire on the part of Hamas forces who prepared for the possibility of an IDF incursion. The fact that we ended the operation with two soldiers killed and several others lightly to moderately injured attests to high fighting capabilities and proper operational planning.
However, we must remember that Hamas is learning our moves, and what worked well during “Warm Winter” may not work as well in the next operation.