Israel: Humiliated Hamas Lashes Out

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January 21, 2009:  Hamas thought they were invulnerable to Israeli attack. By placing so many of their military and government facilities in densely populated residential neighborhoods, they believed any Israeli bombing or shelling would cause high, and politically unacceptable,  civilian losses. But the Israelis used surprise, more precision than expected, and innovations like calling civilians in the target area and telling them to get out before the bombs hit nearby. As a result, most of the 1,300 Palestinian dead were Hamas personnel, and nearly all the damaged structures were those used by Hamas. The Palestinians cranked up the spin machine anyway, and accused the Israelis of war crimes and genocide. But Israel responded with a media campaign featuring aerial videos of Hamas fighters setting up mortars and rockets next to schools and residential neighborhoods. This didn't stop the usual alliance of leftists, anti-Semites and Islamic radicals from calling Israel names. But the mud didn't stick nearly as much as in the past. It's as if the Israeli campaign was seeking to humiliate and discredit Hamas, as much as it was to destroy military and government assets.

Dozens of senior Hamas officials were killed by smart bomb attacks. The families of these Hamas leaders often died as well. Israel ignored Hamas attempts to protect its leaders by surrounding them with women and children in residential areas. What dismayed Hamas the most was Israel finding the location of their officials. Even before the ceasefire took effect on the 18th, Hamas death squads were rounding up the usual suspected (members of rival Fatah, and anyone else unlucky enough to be suspect) for torture and execution. The UN did not pay much attention to this, as it has been going on for over two years in Gaza. In that time, over 400 Fatah members have been killed by Hamas death squads, and many more Fatah (and any other Hamas rivals) tortured, wounded or jailed. Hamas apparently didn't realize that there were other ways to get target locations, besides informants on the ground. But all they understood was informants, so Hamas went after informants, and Hamas felt better after. But the bombings continued.

Israel believes it has destroyed 60 percent of the 200 or so smuggling tunnels that bring weapons (particularly long range rockets for attacks on Israeli civilians) into Gaza. Israel wants Israeli or American sensors and technicians prowling the Egyptian border to detect all the tunnels, and for Egyptian border guards to destroy them. Hamas opposes this (as do many Egyptian officials, especially the ones who benefit from the bribes of the tunnel operators). Negotiations continue.

Ultimately, Hamas found that hiding their senior leadership in hospitals or orphanages offered the best protection from Israeli attack. Weapons and key items of military equipment could also be stored there. Hamas apparently exercised some restraint,  in to what degree they took over these institutions for military purposes. Someone in Hamas began doing the math, and realized that, at a certain point, a hospital full of weapons and Hamas personnel stopped being a hospital to Israeli commanders, and became a prime target.

Israel believes that Hamas had about 3,000 rockets in late December, and that during the 22 day campaign, about 700 of those rockets were fired in the general direction of Israel, while Israeli air (mostly) and ground forces destroyed another 1,300. That leaves Hamas with about 1,000 rockets, and dozens of functioning smuggling tunnels to Egypt through which components for replacement rockets can be moved.

Hamas claimed that Israeli bombs and troops did $1.9 billion worth of damage. It was probably closer to a few hundred million dollars. There were only about a thousand smart bombs used, and many of these were small ones (like the new U.S. 250 pound SDB, which Israel recently received). Hamas claimed that 5,000 homes were destroyed (and 20,000 damaged), along with 16 government buildings and 20 mosques. There are about 147,000 buildings in Gaza. Israel may take another media shot at Hamas by releasing photos of what was actually destroyed, and let Hamas try to dance away from their lies. But that may not be necessary, as Hamas is already the growing  target for ridicule in the Arab world. If Israel was trying to get Hamas exposed as a bunch of tyrants, genocidal liars and blowhards, they seem to have succeeded,

January 20, 2009:  The last Israeli troops were leaving Gaza, and taking up positions along the Gaza border.  Apparently Israeli forces are being prepared for a quick return to Gaza if Hamas and Egypt do not come through on the terms of the ceasefire (mainly the security on the Egyptian border.) Palestinians continue to fire rockets into southern Israel, and shoot at Israeli troops.

January 19, 2009:  Hamas accepts the ceasefire, sort of, they way they usually do. That means rockets will still be fired at Israel, Hamas will still call for the destruction of Israel, and peace will depend on how effectively smuggling into Gaza can be controlled. Israel has made it clear that, whenever it believes Hamas is becoming too dangerous, it will send bombers and troops in again.

January 18, 2009: The initial response to the Israeli ceasefire was the launching of eight rockets into Israel. These were fired from residential neighborhoods in or around Gaza City. Sometimes the Israelis caught the launch on one of their UAV vids. Many of these videos have quickly shown up on the Internet. While intended to expose Hamas culpability in the deaths of Palestinian civilians, the vids have also been a major blow to Hamas morale. Israeli use of UAVs has been more intense than in any previous conflict. The Israelis have also developed techniques to get information seen from the air, to the appropriate troops (air force, artillery, nearby infantry, Information War) quickly.

January 17, 2009: Negotiations with Hamas over a ceasefire continued, and about two dozen rockets were fired into Israel. In an effort to break the deadlock, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire, to begin at 2 AM on the 18th. Israeli troops would stay in Gaza until Hamas agreed to a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops moved into Gaza city, easily destroying any Hamas fighters who tried to interfere. Hamas fighters were not prepared for combat, and this is a serious problem for Hamas. It was not just lack of training (some Iranian trained Hamas fighters also got killed quickly), but a lack of combat leadership. Higher Hamas commanders had worked up elaborate defense plans, but there was not lower ranking (lieutenants, captains and sergeants) to carry it out. Hamas is largely based on spectacle,  theater and putting on a show. That doesn't work on the battlefield, at least not as well as the Israeli approach (good leadership and lots of training).

Israeli troops used new training techniques (and lots of practices) to keep their losses low. While about 400 Hamas fighters were killed trying to oppose the Israeli advance, only nine Israeli troops died (and this includes four killed by friendly fire).

January 14, 2009: Hamas has agreed to a truce, that would halt rocket and mortar attacks into Israel, and allow goods to enter Gaza. Hamas is fighting Israeli demands that strict security be established to keep weapons (especially long range weapons) out of Gaza.

 

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