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Photo: IDF Spokesman
Golani troops during Protective Edge
Photo: IDF Spokesman
Ron Ben-Yishai
The battle in Saja'iyya is not just against Hamas and Islamic Jihad
Analysis: As the IDF tackles the heart of the terrorist groups' presence in Gaza, Israel can also give a lesson in deterrence to Hezbollah and other enemies of Israel that may soon be on its doorstep.

Most of the fighting in Gaza is now in the suburb of Saja'iyya. On both Saturday and Sunday nights, Golani Brigade soldiers, primarily patrol troops, fought multiple battles with terrorists, as they worked to uncover the terrorist infrastructure.

 

 

And although Hamas is trying to spring some surprises in other sectors too - such as the infiltration Monday morning from northern Gaza - Saja'iyya is now the almost exclusive focus of the fighting on the ground. It has been identified as a hotspot for terrorism of all kinds and at all levels, both logistical and operational.

 

The moment the IDF went in there, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were delivered direct blow to the solar plexus. It is not by chance that rocket fire at distances of more than 40 km ceased shortly after the fighting in Saja'iyya began.

 

While a few tunnels shafts have also been exposed, but a third of the infrastructure in the area is still intact, and there is a lot of work still to do. As such, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon is under political pressure from heads of the communities surrounding Gaza not to end the operation before they can be assured that the tunnels have been dealt with, a move in line with his own comments on the situation Sunday night.

 

As Saja'iyya is the operational and logistical center for the two major terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip (primarily because of its proximity to Israel's Gaza-area communities, and the possibility it offers for firing on the central region), Hamas and Islamic Jihad have a significant presence there. This is quite different to their presence in, for example, the nearby Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun and Zeitoun neighborhoods; only Jabaliya and al-Shati are they stronger.

 

As noted by Nahum Barnea, Saja'iyya is to Hamas more or less what Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon was to Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War - both a symbol and a military stronghold. The destruction in Saja'iyya that I see in the pictures reminds me very much of what I myself saw in Bint Jbeil in 2006.

 

So the battle of the Gaza Strip will not be decided in Omar al-Mukhtar Square in the center of Gaza City, but in Saja'iyya. When the IDF completes its mission there – and if the political leadership gives it the time and freedom to act – Golani troops, backed by engineering and armored units, will be the decider.

 

If it is at all possible to have a deciding factor in a war against terrorism and guerrilla warfare, this will be the place.

 

Let's put things into clearer perspective: What is at stake in Saja'iyya are not just the shafts from terror tunnels and the subterranean warfare system, nor is solely about the rocket launching systems. This is a battle for hearts and minds.

 

The IDF will make every effort to clearly demonstrate its can fight terrorism and win, thereby cementing itself in the enemy's psyche as a beast one should not provoke.

 

And this objective is the essence of the deterrence that Israel is seeking, not just against Gaza but also against Hezbollah, and perhaps the global jihad organizations that may reach its borders to the north and the east. As such, the battle in Saja'iyya is critical and fateful; Hamas and Islamic Jihad know it too, and it will be bitter.

 

One ray of light is that in Golani, commanders live – and, sadly, die - by the principle that can be summed up in one shout: "Follow me!"

 


First published: 07.21.14, 15:47
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