The Israeli economy grew by 4.1 percent in 2008. The Palestinian economy in Gaza didn't. Hamas blames Israel for the economic collapse in Gaza, because a blockade intended to keep out weapons, for use against Israel, also keeps out other goods. Israel applies economic pressure in much the same way Hamas does (by crippling economic growth in southern Israel with rocket attacks.) But Hamas and Israel have different priorities. For Israel it's survival and growth. For Hamas it's the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a worldwide Islamic religious dictatorship. From a distance, it's easy to ignore the goals of Hamas, but the closer you get, the uglier, and more lethal, Hamas becomes. For example, Egypt has remained very hostile to Hamas, and any ceasefire that does not curb the organizations violent behavior. A recent poll of Israelis shows 95 percent of Jewish citizens support the operations against Hamas. Those are numbers no politician in a democracy can ignore.
The Israeli Air Force has been launching about 90 attacks a day on targets in Gaza. Smart bombs and guided missiles have been used extensively. For the last two years, the Israeli Army has been developing new tactics and equipment for fighting Hamas and Hezbollah type gunmen in urban areas. The Israelis have built training areas, with dense urban construction, and run many of its ground troops through special exercises. How well the new tactics and training are will be seen in the next week or so. The new tactics are meant to minimize civilian casualties, while enabling Israeli troops to quickly move through the area and kill or capture enemy personnel and equipment. Reservist units being called up, that have not gone through the special training, are being sent to the new training centers for at least a few days of instruction on the new tactics. These new methods, while officially secret, apparently involve some new fighting tactics, and lots of electronic warfare. Hamas has had to operate with both cell phones and landline communications down. In addition, their walkie-talkies are sometimes jammed, and apparently listened to carefully by Israeli electronic warfare troops. This is causing command and coordination problems for Hamas fighters.
In the north, the military has warned civilians that Hezbollah may begin firing rockets if Hamas looks like it is taking too much damage (that is, being defeated in the court of public opinion.) So far, about 550 Palestinians have died, and seven Israelis (including three soldiers killed in a friendly fire incident).
Hamas cannot win when fighting Israel, and is determined to win an Information War. That means getting the maximum number of Palestinian civilians killed or wounded and getting images of that onto TV worldwide. While Israel is keeping reporters out of the combat zone (since December 29th), Hamas is not, and reporters from Moslem nations are eager to tell the story as Hamas wants it told (you get expelled from the area, or worse, if you don't, but that's a story that won't get reported until long after this is all over.) Getting enough diplomatic pressure on Israel to force a ceasefire allows Hamas to re-arm and increase its attacks on Israel. You only have to look at the Arab language message coming from Hamas through all this. The destruction of Israel and extermination of the Jews is what Hamas is all about. They make no secret of it, but do play it down in their non-Arabic press releases. That's because Hamas knows that, by playing the victim, they get more sympathy (and threats of sanctions against Israel) from the West, and mode aid (cash, volunteers) from the Islamic world. Hamas believes last year was a victory for them, as terrorist attacks killed 36 Israelis in 2008, up from 13 in 2007. Most of these attacks were not the work, directly, of Hamas, but rather West Bank based terrorists or Israeli Arabs caught up in the "destroy Israel" movement. Although most Israeli Arabs are better off than Arabs anywhere else in the Middle East, many still back calls for the destruction of Israel, because it's (for most Arabs) the right thing to do.
Calls for a ceasefire are going unanswered because Hamas and Israel cannot agree on the terms. Israel wants an end to the smuggling from Egypt and an international police force ensuring that no more rockets or mortar shells are fired into southern Israel. Hamas will not accept this, and is urging that Israel stop bombing targets in Gaza, and get its troops out of Gaza. In return, Hamas offers a ceasefire like the one that ended in December (fewer rockets fired into southern Israel, but no restrictions on the smuggling from Egypt). Arab diplomats are demanding acceptance of the Hamas rules, while European diplomats are urging Israel to "be reasonable".
January 4, 2009: Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who just rotated into the presidency of the European Union, has made himself very unpopular in Western Europe by pointing out that Israel is simply defending itself. There's a big split between East and West Europe when it comes to terrorism and dealing with totalitarian governments (like Hamas). East Europe has half a century of recent history living under the rule of tyrants (Nazis and communists) who knew how to spin the media. While Western Europeans have read books like "1984", East Europeans lived it, and they have not forgotten. They will eventually, but they have only been free since 1989. Given another decade or so, and their memories of their despotic rulers will soften, as will their attitude towards modern day tyrants-with-good-publicists. Outfits like Hamas not only learned much from the Nazis and communists, but actually admire these two groups. Arabs were very pro-Nazi during World War II, and Hamas ally Hezbollah, up in Lebanon, has adopted the infamous Nazi straight arm salute as their own.
Hamas managed to fire about 30 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel. This activity is expected to decline even more as Israeli troops physically occupy the areas in northern Gaza from which most of the rockets are launched. Even now, Hamas has taken to launching the rockets from backyards in Gaza City. Palestinian civilians are fleeing the fighting, knowing well the Hamas preference for using civilians as human shields.
January 3, 2009: After nightfall, Israeli ground troops entered Gaza, quickly cutting the top third of the 41 kilometer long Gaza Strip off from the rest. This area has about 440,000 people, most of them crammed into Gaza City. The advance was preceded by the first use of artillery against Gaza in two years.
In eight days of operations, 430 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed. Hamas has not been as successful as it hoped in using civilians as human shields, and running up the civilian death toll. Lots of dead civilians are essential to Hamas success (it getting enough Western countries threatening Israel and forcing a ceasefire). Fighting on the ground will cause more Israeli military personnel, but will make it more difficult for Hamas to get Palestinian civilians killed.
January 1, 2009: Hamas managed to fire about 70 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel. Israeli aircraft hit 25 targets in Gaza, including a mosque that was being used for storing weapons and launching rockets. Israel believes that 57 percent of the 390 Palestinians killed in Gaza so far were Hamas personnel, 11 percent were civilians, and, for the remainder, it was unclear.
December 31, 2008: Hamas has fired about 60 rockets and mortar shells a day into southern Israel since the Israeli bombing began on the 27th. These attacks have killed four Israelis and wounded several dozen.