Leadership: Planning For Gaza II

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April 11, 2009: Despite the ferocious pounding it took during the last 22-day Israeli offensive into the Gaza Strip, rockets and mortar fire continue to rain into Israel on a regular basis. Moreover, Palestinian militants continue to dig tunnels to smuggle in weapons and explosives and to harass Israeli troops with small arms fire. Although in disarray, Hamas is rebuilding and Palestinian terrorists have proven resilient in their ability to recover from the damage they received during Operation “Cast Lead”. 

During the operation itself, Hamas was hopelessly outmatched both by the awesome firepower and the skillful tactics of the Israel Defense Forces. The operation’s objectives were to cripple Hamas and end the relentless terrorist attacks. But yet they continue. There are a number of reasons for this and why the problem has returned so soon. 

Previous Israeli offensives into Palestinian territory, particularly “Operation Defensive Shield” in the West Bank in 2002, have proven remarkably effective in stopping or severely reducing the number of terror attacks occurring in Israel. But Gaza is different. For one thing, Gaza City is a heavily populated urban environment.   That means more area for militants to hide and go underground, making it the toughest terrain for attacking troops. Also, unlike the West Bank in 2002, the terrorists aren’t just members of the government, they are the government and Hamas’ influence is far more deeply entrenched and rooted into Gaza society than militants in the West Bank were six years ago. Finally, Gaza shares a porous border with Egypt, akin to the border Mexico shares with the United States. Like Mexico, the Gaza-Egypt border is miles of sand dunes patrolled by notoriously incompetent and corrupt Egyptian law enforcement who are likely to do business with Bedouin smugglers to make an extra buck. Then there’s the tunnels that infest the border, bringing in supplies and equipment. 

All of this makes it more difficult for the IDF to stamp out Hamas in one swift lightning stroke as in 2002. But many are quick to point out that all is not lost. The Israelis have a number of advantages against their foes in addition to the oft-quoted firepower and logistics. For one thing, Gaza is still a small area, far smaller than Iraq, which suits Israelis offensive perfectly given their extremely tight manpower. The Israelis are masters of urban warfare, spending billions on training every year. They also know what to expect when fighting Palestinian militants in cities since they tend to use the same old tactics of hiding arms in mosques, while using schools and hospitals as command centers, and taking human shields to maximize civilian deaths. Knowing this, the Israelis have a pretty good idea of how to respond to situations that develop on the ground. 

The most important factor, however, was time. In 2002, militants in the West Bank enjoyed none of the strengths those in Gaza have so the IDF could quickly hunt down and disrupt terrorist activity entirely, at least for awhile. The Israelis are beginning to realize that, despite the intensity of the fighting and the damage dealt to Hamas, “Cast Lead” simply lasted for far too short a time to be completely effective. Given the different elements thrown into the mix, two months would have a better timeframe to shoot for. As it is, the bombs keep falling and another Israeli incursion seems likely in the near future. -- Rory Walkinshaw

 


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