Israel: Talk To The Hand


February 17, 2009:  Despite the ceasefire in Gaza, since January 18th, Palestinians have fired, on average, two rockets or mortar shells into Israel each day. The response has usually been bombing attacks on weapons smuggling tunnels on the Egyptian border, as well as halting goods entering or leaving Gaza. The tunnel attacks include storage areas for weapons moved into Gaza. Hitting these usually results in spectacular secondary explosions, as the smuggled weapons detonate. Despite Hamas denials, Israel has identified many of the fired rockets as those previously manufactured and used by Hamas.

Hamas was forced to return ten truckloads of UN food aid that it had seized at gun point. The UN cut off all aid shipments until Hamas returned the stolen food, which Hamas did after a few days, explaining that they had simply stolen the wrong aid shipments and were very sorry.  

Fighting inside Gaza continues, as Hamas gunmen continue to kill, wound and terrorize real or suspected opponents. Over a third of the Gaza population is hostile to Hamas for one reason or another. Hamas, in turn, considers these people responsible for the targeting information the Israelis continue to get. The Hamas leadership is particularly concerned about this, because Israeli missiles and smart bombs are regularly used to kill Hamas leaders and key technical people. Hamas is believed to have killed over a hundred suspected opponents inside Gaza since late December. Many more have been injured or imprisoned. This violence continues because Israel continues to find and kill (usually with a guided missile) key Hamas personnel, especially those still involved with firing rockets into Israel. Thus Hamas believes there are still many Palestinians in Gaza who are providing targeting data.

The Israel-Hamas peace talks in Egypt are stalemated over several issues. First, the Israelis want Sergeant Gilad Schalit released. Schalit was kidnapped by Hamas gunmen on June, 2006. Now Hamas is hinting that Schalit may be dead. This may just be a negotiating tactic, as Hamas is still haggling with Israel over how many jailed Hamas members would be released in return for Schalit (Hamas wants a thousand, Israel offers much less). Israel also wants the freed Palestinian terrorists to be exiled, which Hamas opposes. The jailed Palestinian terrorists are experienced operators, and Hamas wants them to replace the terrorists Israel has been killing with missiles strikes. Israel also wants a halt to the rocket and mortar attacks. Hamas says it cannot halt all of them, because there are some splinter terrorist groups that it cannot control. Israel also wants a halt to the use of smuggling tunnels to move more weapons into Gaza. Hamas insists that it has the right to arm and defend itself. Israel believes that Hamas is not serious about the peace talks, and is only using them to prolong the temporary ceasefire. This allows Hamas to continue smuggling weapons in and firing rockets into Israel.

Israel held national elections, and more conservative and anti-Palestinian candidates were elected. As usual, no party won enough seats in the parliament (Knesset) to form a government, So there will be a week or more of bargaining, as the two largest factions (centrist Kadima and conservative Likud) try to make enough deals with smaller parties to form a majority block that can form a new government. If Kadima manages to remain in power, it won't treat the Palestinians any more gently than Likud proposes to do. Most Israelis have lost all patience with the Palestinians.  Hamas remains determined to destroy Israel, and appears to have no intention of changing that doctrine.

Relations with Turkey continue to get worse. It began last month when the Turkish prime minister accused the Israeli prime minister of war crimes against the Palestinians. The Israeli prime minister refuted the accusation and the Turkish prime minister stalked off the stage (at the Davos economic summit). Then the head of the Israeli armed forces pointed out that the Turks had treated Greeks in Cyprus, as well as Kurds and Armenians in eastern Turkey badly, and continues to kill Kurds. This further enraged the Turks, who are currently ruled by a pro-Islamic government (which feels it has to join the "hate Israel" crowd or lose street cred in Islamic conservative circles.)

February 7, 2009:  After six weeks in hiding, senior Hamas officials are appearing in public again, primarily as part of negotiating teams that go to Egypt to meet with their Israeli counterparts.




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