|Israel Resource Review
||6th March, 2008
Policy Research Analyst, Center For Near East Policy Research
Posting; March 5, 2008
"Could Be Worse"
The situation is not exactly wonderful , but truly something much worse than what we're seeing right now might have developed.
Condoleezza Rice has left. After meeting with Tzipi Livni today, she held a press conference, at which time she announced that Abbas has agreed to return to the negotiating table, although it is unclear as to when he will actually meet Olmert again.
I had written at some length yesterday about how he likely didn't want to return in any event, and the pressure that was put on him by Hamas and the radicalized environment made it very difficult for him to sit with the Israelis. And yet . . .
It's clear that he was greatly reluctant , if, even in Rice's presence at their joint Ramallah press conference, he didn't agree to negotiate. He held out, I would guess, for all he was worth. But in the end, what has euphemistically been referred to in the press as a "lobbying effort" by the US went into action after he had declined to cooperate to further that peace process.
I would say (without inside knowledge) that it went something like this: "You know the millions of dollars we're about to give you? And the military and governmental technical assistance? And all the rest? You can kiss it goodbye if you don't do your part here."
What remains significant is that Rice made it very clear that Abbas's return was not predicated on a ceasefire in Gaza, with Israel committed to taking no further action. This means we did not cave. Undoubtedly, we've been told to cool it, and most certainly Olmert will make efforts to do just that. But the principle of our right to defend ourselves stands strong in the understanding between the US and Israel.
What we're likely to see in the short run are operations that are smaller than the one in the north that caused the furor in the last few days. Last night, for example, IDF troops from an elite unit entered Gaza, covered by helicopters, and possibly aided by tanks as well, for what has been termed "routine activity." There was a gun battle, and a senior Islamic Jihad figure was killed and several other IJ gunmen wounded. The troops have already left Gaza.
The bad news is that Abbas is still trying to pressure Israel for further concessions, and to use the US to do it. Thus Rice has agreed to send in Lt. Gen. William Frasier III next week, to "prod" the process.
My prediction is that in spite of this cooling it, and what will be Olmert's best effort in this regard, the situation will heat up again before terribly long. The fuse of the Israeli people is short at this point. If there are extensive rocket attacks that do significant damage, or that reach even further than has been the case until now, Olmert will be forced to act aggressively, or he will lose his coalition.
And the good news is that he now has sanction to do so. Act aggressively, that is. (See the next item.)
What is more, once we ratchet up our activity in Gaza, Abbas will be constrained by the situation and will refuse to negotiate.
The Security Cabinet meet today and this is what they determined:
A. The State of Israel will act continuously and systematically in order to achieve the following main goals:
* To bring about the cessation of rocket fire and other terrorist actions from Gaza;
* To reduce the strengthening of Hamas , including in coordination with - and by - Egypt;
* To advance the negotiations process with the Palestinian Authority while maintaining freedom of action in the struggle against terrorism;
* To strike at the Hamas regime in Gaza;
* To avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza , to the extent that the matter depends on Israel;
* To expedite action on the home front, as is being carried out by the Government and as was presented at the 24.2.08 Cabinet meeting;
* To maintain the legitimacy of, and freedom of action in, continuing to strike at Hamas; to this end, diplomatic and information efforts vis-a-vis the international community will continue.
B. The action policy for achieving the aforementioned goals may include the
following actions (among others):
* Action against launch areas and striking at projectile weapons' support network of activists and knowledge, and production and storage facilities, and against other military and infrastructure targets.
* Action against Hamas institutions in the Gaza Strip. The targets will be approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
So we now know that official policy says it's not only Israel's goal to stop the rocket attacks, but also to strike at the Hamas regime and reduce their strengthening (which means basically stopping the smuggling -- which might require an Israeli presence in the Philadelphi Corridor). This policy maintains the right to have freedom of action in striking Hamas.
In essence, it says that a ground incursion has been sanctioned, pending the approval of the prime minister, defense minister, and foreign minister. This is not to say that it's mandated, but rather that it can proceed without further cabinet meetings being required.
For the record, Barak wants to go in, Olmert is trying to avoid doing so, and Livni, in spite of her tough words, is reported to stand somewhere in the middle. But, as I indicated, a change in circumstances might change all of this.
The word from the fighting during the Warm Winter Operation is this:
There were two Givati battalions involved along with the Sa'ar armored battalion and some special forces. There is high praise from the officers for the extraordinary bravery and commitment of the troops who fought; morale was said to be high. I always say that the fact that we have troops of this caliber is our secret weapon and what keeps us strong.
It is also being reported that lessons learned from Lebanon were implemented.
On the other side, it was reported that Hamas fought fiercely and was well equipped but was less well organized than had been expected. In some instance, report the officers, Palestinians were killed by what is euphemistically referred to as "friendly fire." Palestinian gunmen, aiming badly, hit their own.
The whole issue of what is moral with regard to civilian causalities is taken most seriously by our fighting forces. The balance is often such a fine one. Clearly, sometimes their civilians, inadvertently will be killed in our efforts to protect our own. And sometimes we take additional risks, in order to protect their civilians. The bitter irony is that while we, perhaps more than any other nation on earth, work to protect innocent life, even if it is the life of someone (especially a child) from the enemy side, we are accused of war crimes and all the rest.
The brief fighting in northern Gaza in the last days provided instances of what we are up against. And, I confess, as much as I know about these things, I am still shocked at the callousness of these Arabs. They say, even in PA textbooks, "our enemy loves life, but we love death." And boy, is it true.
The IDF acted, very properly, to safeguard our own, by giving permission to open fire when a source of fire against our soldiers was clearly identified as coming from a home, without determining whether civilians were also present.
But look at some of the other situations they faced:
In one instance, a boy of about ten was sent by the enemy to retrieve the gun of someone who had been killed. The IDF commander on the scene ordered that fire be halted. Our soldiers watched the boy get the gun and bring it back to the others; they would not kill him.
It was Tzipi Livni in a recent press conference who brought attention to the fact that Hamas sends small children up on to the roof of a building that they know Israel is planning to attack. They count on our essential humanity, and it works. We won't bomb a building that has small children sitting on its roof. The truly obscene part is that Hamas wouldn't care if we did bomb those children -- they'd simply use this in a huge PR campaign.
Speaking of obscene: The UN Human Rights Council, which is one of the more anti-Israel organizations (right in line with the UN itself) held a moment of silence yesterday for the "martyrs in Gaza" killed by the IDF. This was in response to a request by the Iranian foreign minister. An Israeli spokesperson considered it a good sign that the members of the council were asked to rise for the moment of silence and yet everyone stayed seated. Not good enough for me. No one walked out or voiced indignation, either.
On the other hand, there is this story: A Palestinian woman delivered twins in Barzeli hospital in Ashkelon recently. As they were premature, they were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. When a Grad-Katyusha was shot near the hospital last week (traumatizing the staff), these babies were among the ones brought into the hospital bomb shelter.
Yes, we love life.
Posting: March 4, 2008
The focus now is on Rice, who is currently here in Israel after some hours in Egypt and a meeting with Abbas in Ramallah.
Earlier today the word was that Rice was going to work with the Egyptians to arrive at an arrangement that would permit Hamas and the PA to jointly share responsibility at the Rafah crossing on the Gaza side. Hamas was opposed to this weeks ago, when Abbas had demanded it. I don't think there would be a different response now.
The idea was that this would give Abbas a "face saving device" that would allow him to return to the negotiating table. This is not something that Hamas would wish to foster, and I'm not certain this was clear thinking in any event. The fact that Abbas's people would be working with Hamas at the crossing doesn't mean he would have the latitude to sit with Israelis, with whom Hamas is at war. It's not a question of saving face, it's a question of saving his neck. The radical anti-Israel fervor in play within Palestinian areas even in Judea and Samaria constrains him, as well. The atmosphere is not one of moderation.
All of this is assuming Abbas would really want to return to the table, in any event. It occurs to me that this just might have provided him with a good out. He knows by this time that he isn't going to get all that his negotiators have been demanding -- all of east Jerusalem, return of refugees, etc. -- and he can't come back to his people with less.
While I have no details on what has transpired, it seems that Rice's "plan" has not worked -- because Egypt vetoed it, or Hamas wants no part of it, or Abbas isn't interested.
At any rate, at the press conference Abbas held with Rice after their meeting, he declared that "peace and negotiations are our strategic choice." Then he called on "the Israeli government to halt its aggression so the necessary environment can be created to make negotiations succeed, for us and for them, to reach the shores of peace in 2008." That was it, no announcement to return to the table.
He is clearly far more afraid of Hamas than of Livni. What can his position be after Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum declared that "Once again, this visit is designed to provide more support for the Israeli occupation to commit new massacres and . . . to provide cover for Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people"?
And so Abbas follows the script: "No one can justify the killing actions of the Israeli army over the past few days." He libels us with his claim that 20 children are among the "dozens" of civilians we've killed in Gaza in days past. Remember that Chief of Staff Ashkenzi made a deliberate point of announcing that only 10 civilians in all had been killed.
Abbas also demanded at the press conference a complete ceasefire, meaning also in Judea and Samaria -- which would require us to halt actions against terrorists there. Those IDF operations stand between us and renewed terror. This tells us, once again, where he's coming from.
And Rice? She declared that she still believes a peace deal is possible by the end of this year. Her boss, George Bush, agrees with her, saying that 10 months is a long time to work out a deal. They are, forgive me, both nuts. Is there any thought on the part of either of them to the implications of a radical terrorist Gaza and an ever-weakening (essentially terrorist) Fatah? Have they worked out what it means to strike a deal with half the people? Or is that signed piece of paper all that matters to them -- come what may to Israel after that? (This is a rhetorical question.)
It was apparent yesterday, and I apologize for not having been more explicit about this before, that the operation in Gaza was terminated because of Rice's imminent arrival. All was supposed to be relatively quiet while she was here.
There has been criticism leveled at the government , however, that, with this pulling out, it has caved completely in deference to US demands and will not go back in for more operations. I'm not ready to say this yet. I hope I never need say it, but that remains to be seen.
At any rate, there are tough words from Tzipi Livni. In a meeting with foreign diplomats here yesterday, she told them that Israel may have to reoccupy Gaza. In a statement she put out today, she declared, "We cannot afford this kind of extreme Islamic state controlled by Hamas. [Israel evacuated Gaza] not in order to come back, but we might find ourselves in a situation where we have no choice."
The US position with regard to our actions in Gaza is, to my mind, fairly despicable. Always, there is a preliminary statement charging Hamas with responsibility for the situation because of the rocket launchings and an acknowledgment that we have a right to defend ourselves. Then it deteriorates with a caution that we are being reminded regularly to take care not to damage any civilian life. Well, where precisely, does this leave us, as the terrorists deliberately position themselves among civilians? The US would give us a nod and then effectively tie our hands.
Need I say it again? That our army is the most moral in the world, and that in combat it adheres to rules designed to absolutely minimize civilian damage. But our people are dying and traumatized, and to not defend them is wrong.
Make no mistake: If the Allies had been required to go by the rules the US would require of us, Hitler would have won hands down. There's a lesson for us there.
Rice was to meet with Olmert this evening . As I have no word on the results of that meeting, and this is about to go out, that news must wait for another day.
Posting: March 3, 2008
Today I provide an overview of what is transpiring with regard to Gaza.
As the barrage of rocket and missile attacks on Israel from Gaza has intensified, we have been doing targeting of the launchers and launching sites. This has been done in the main from the air, but there are also ground sorties by relatively small numbers of our troops -- who go in and then come out fairly promptly. These attacks have been on-going with some frequency -- and, I must add, with minimal to no apparent effectiveness with regard to stopping the terrorist attacks. It has been explained that the effect will be cumulative and that it will take time, but this remains to be proven.
Over the last several days Hamas has escalated the rocket attacks on us, and there seems to have been a specific reason: We had just attacked by air, and killed, five people in Khan Yunis, who were "senior operatives" of Izzadin Kassam, Hamas's armed wing. They had just returned from abroad, most likely Syria, Lebanon or Iran, and had been trained to carry out an attack on a major Israeli target. Reportedly the IDF had been tracking them since their return. The escalation by Hamas was thought to be a warning for us to cease such operations.
As Ashkelon came under fire, we initiated an operation in the north-east of Gaza, where most of the Kassam rocket fire originates: an agricultural region adjacent to Gaza's border with Israel, and the eastern portions of the Jabalyah refugee camp, Beit Hanun, and the Sajaya neighborhood in Gaza City -- all areas that have a proximity to the western Negev.
This was an operation of a somewhat larger scope -- involving Givati Brigade infantry and Armored Corps battalions -- and was dubbed "Operation Hot Winter." It is what has generated the furor internationally. But this was still on the scale of a relatively modest operation -- not "the" big one that is being predicted and anticipated.
Now it has been announced that this first stage of "Operation Hot Winter" is completed, and the troops have been brought back to Israel.
The IDF says that 100 Palestinians were killed during the operation and 90 more arrested. Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has made a particular point of stating that 90 of the 100 killed were gunmen. This is to counter the exaggerated numbers of civilians killed that is reported by the Palestinians.
We are being told, however, that this doesn't end "Operation Hot Winter," and that additional stages will follow. The goal is to clean out a swath of territory in the north-east of Gaza and render it free of Kassam launchings. Stopping Katyusha launchings is more difficult because their greater range permits them to be launched from deeper inside Gaza, sometimes from the center or west of Gaza City. Ultimately if this approach is to succeed it will have to include operations that penetrate deeply enough to take out Katyusha launching sites as well.
Layperson without military expertise that I am, I confess to being confused as to how any territory that is cleaned of launching equipment and terrorists for the moment can be kept clean if our troops are brought out promptly and we are not there to do enforcement.
The answer by Mark Regev, spokesperson for Olmert, in a press conference this evening, is that we're hurting Hamas and throwing them off balance, and that if we persist in this direction it will have an effect. Maybe.
Our troops were only out hours when new attacks were launched, although, of course, they did not necessarily originate from the same place that had just been cleaned out. Eight Kassams landed in Sderot and another four elsewhere in the Negev. In addition, three Grad-Katyushas were shot at Ashkelon, with one hitting an apartment house and another landing near a kindergarten.
Meanwhile, Hamas is gloating that our pulling out so fast represents "defeat" for us, and that we have been unable to stop the rocket fire. Defeat? In the long run, not at all! But we haven't yet stopped the rocket fire. Izzadin Kassam announced today that it intends to continue to launch rockets at us.
Now as to that major ground incursion that is the subject of so much speculation, I have little to offer beyond more speculation. Certainly Regev was non-committal about it this evening.
I wrote yesterday that the Security Cabinet would be discussing this on Wednesday, which is when Rice will be ending her visit here, and that there were various guesses as to the reasons for this timing. The sense that the incursion may be ordered after Rice leaves remains strong.
But I have since encountered yet another possible reason: That there is some hope (on whose part is not clear) that Rice might be able to convince Hamas to stop the rockets, making it unnecessary for us to go in now.
Well . . . this raises a couple of different questions: The first is why it would be assumed that Rice has leverage with Hamas. I feel as if I must be really missing something here. The speculation is that Rice, who will be stopping in Egypt before arriving here, will utilize the Egyptians as mediators with Hamas.
Perhaps absolutely nothing will transpire , but this rings bells for me. Egypt as mediator? But mediation suggests an attempt to bring two parties to an understanding via compromise. What compromise here? Hamas needs to be told that if they don't clean up their act, their heads will roll. Nothing less. Would Rice make some conciliatory gesture (appeasement) in order to get them to stop, so Abbas will meet with Olmert again and her vaunted "peace process" can proceed? Let us hope and -- in the absence of evidence to the contrary -- assume not.
Yet this still leaves another question: Is quiet from Gaza sufficient reason to stop plans for a ground incursion? If Hamas, for whatever reasons, calls a halt, are we then content? This is the heart of the matter. Yes, of course, we want them to stop. But even if they do, they will still be smuggling and manufacturing weapons and strengthening for the future. Their capacity -- including the effectiveness of their rockets -- will be greater down the road than it is now.
The stated goal for a ground incursion is NOT to stop the rocket launchings. It is to block the smuggling at the Philadelphi Corridor and to destroy caches of weapons and Hamas's CAPACITY to launch rocket attacks. It is also to weaken Hamas infrastructure -- including their army of 15,000 -- or even to take out Hamas.
And yet, I've read that Olmert still hopes that the rocket launchings will slow down so he won't have to order that major incursion now. As if that is all that matters.
Without question, it is the attacks on us that have placed the issue of going into Gaza more firmly at the center of our radar screen. But now that it's there -- and most of the nation and probably most of the government -- wants to go in, we should not lose focus or be blind to long term implications.
Here I would like to share what Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz wrote about this:
"What's at stake in the current escalated conflict between Hamas controlled Gaza and Israel is the issue of freedom -- operational freedom. Hamas's operational freedom to inexorably build up its strength and secure its hold on Gaza, move on to take over the West Bank and ultimately defeat Israel . . . and Israel's operational freedom to stop it."
If Horovitz is correct, and I most certainly believe he is , then nothing less than a full and major ground incursion will do.
This is what Dore Gold, in a briefing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has to say about this issue:
" . . . Israeli security sources are . . . concerned that Iran will try to smuggle its Fajr rockets to Gaza in the future. A 45-kilometer-range Fajr 3, for example, could be smuggled in sections and assembled in Gaza.
"As long as the Philadelphi route is open for Hamas smuggling, the risk to Israel will grow as Iran exports rockets of increasing range to the Gaza Strip. The port of Ashdod is the next likely target, but should Fajr rockets reach Gaza, there is no reason why Hamas cannot pose a threat to Tel Aviv. Control of the launch areas in northern Gaza could significantly reduce the ability of Hamas to harass Sderot and the communities of the western Negev with rocket and mortar fire. The repeated lesson of the last seven years is that only Israel can ultimately be responsible for its own security."
A few additional points: There is talk in the media of Hamas seeking a cease fire, and reaching out to Arab nations to mediate it. Even Abbas has offered to negotiate a ceasefire, which I find laughable. Regev said this evening, however, that our government has not received any communication either from Hamas or via a third party with regard to this, and that their public rhetoric suggests just the opposite.
Thankfully, I've noted in statements from Israeli decision makers a clear understanding of the dangers of a so-called ceasefire, or more accurately, hudna, because it would tie our hands while Hamas continued to strengthen.
As to Olmert's response to the halting of negotiations , I find a perspective so obtuse that it is close to unbearable. The negotiation process will continue, he declared, even if it has been frozen the last few days. (I haven't head that it was unfrozen from the PA side -- it's Olmert expressing pathetic eagerness.) We absolutely must do this, he declared, for "Absence of negotiations would lead to [turning the West Bank into Gaza], and anyone who can't see this is lying to himself."
Well, this is backwards. As long as we're in Judea and Samaria, Hamas cannot gain the upper hand. But as soon as we were to pull out and turn things over to the PA, as a part of negotiations, Hamas would take Fatah down and be at our eastern flank. And if he says he doesn't know this, Olmert is lying.
Tonight the question was asked of Regev whether, in light of Abbas's statements of recent days (which I've reported here), the government would reconsider whether Abbas is truly a moderate.
Regev's answer was that the leaders of the PA offer the best there is for negotiating. He didn't defend their moderation. The implication, not overtly verbalized, is that the government is so eager to for those negotiations, so adamant in its refusal to admit there is NO peace partner, that it'll take what it can get.
Posting: March 2, 2008
Before I turn to latest happenings , I would like to update previous information given regarding the appropriate contact information for Condoleezza Rice. Apparently there were some problems with the phone numbers I had provided.
The main switchboard to the State Department is 202-647-4000. But better still, I have discovered that there is a Public Communication Division that accepts opinions from the public. This may be the best way to go:
Phone 202-647-6575 Fax 202-647-2283
It is important to protest before she flies here. This is with regard to Abbas's pro-terrorist statements of last week -- the question being how she can expect Israel to negotiate with him. And now, of course, there is the demand that she not try to prevent Israel from exercising legitimate self-defense.
So, precisely what IS happening here? Good question, to which there is no definitive answer. There is a certain amount of treading water, and a good number of predictable statements from various quarters.
At the request of the Palestinians and Arabs states , the Security Council has met to discuss the situation in Gaza, and is calling for an immediate cessation of violence in the area. (Do they remotely imagine that Hamas pays attention to such demands?) The statement also emphasized that this violence must not interfere with peace negotiations.
Tomorrow the Council meets to draft a resolution; if the Arabs had their way it would be a one-sided condemnation of Israel, but the US is sure to block this.
Hamas is making the most of this, accusing Abbas of collusion with Israel. It issued a statement, addressed to Abbas, saying, "If you think that you will return to the Gaza Strip aboard an Israeli tank you are living in an illusion . . . "
Khaled Abu Toameh reports that Al Jazeera as well as most of the influential Arab TV stations have provided Hamas with a free platform for leveling its allegations against Fatah. (This tells us a great deal about those Arab nations.)
Many are buying this: There have been violent protests by Arabs across Judea and Samaria because of the IDF operations. In Ramallah there was even a joint rally with protesters displaying flags of both groups.
Israeli Arabs are also on board protesting for Hamas. The Israeli Arab Higher Monitoring Committee -- which consists of Israeli citizens who work against the State of Israel -- has decided to draft a proposal for national unity between Fatah and Hamas and is planning a rally against Israeli operations on Tuesday. And the Arab MKs -- who in my opinion have absolutely no place in the Knesset because they are not loyal to the State -- have made their own declarations. MK Jamal Zahalka (United Arab List - Ta'al), for example, claimed that "an offensive on Gaza is an offensive on the entire Palestinian Authority, with everything that this entails."
It is imperative, then, for Abbas to come out strongly against Israel ("worse than the Holocaust") and to voice sympathy for Hamas.
And it becomes clear how foolish are notions , bandied about here in Israel, that see us taking out Hamas so that Fatah can take over.
Abbas did a bit of clarification today, explaining that the halt in talks represented a temporary hiatus. He is, perhaps, hopeful that the US will put a damper on our operations. But this remains to be seen.
Rocket attacks continued today with some 30 launched into Israel, including some Grad-Katyushas into Ashkelon. There have been some injuries.
Early this morning we leveled Ismail Haniyeh's headquarters, and carried out other operations.
Pressure on Olmert to take major action in Gaza is coming from many quarters, including within his own coalition.
A key advisor to Defense Minister Barak (Labor) put it directly: "Unless Olmert finds a way to decisively address this situation, he will find his coalition unable to support him any longer."
While Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima), chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, announced that he intended to convene a special meeting on the issue. "The State of Israel must make a strategic decision to order the IDF to prepare quickly to topple the Hamas terrorist regime and take over all the areas from which rockets are fired on Israel," he said, adding that the IDF should prepare to remain in those areas for years. Bravo for him!
And so, at this morning's Cabinet meeting, Olmert's words -- delivered, no doubt, in good part to mollify these critics -- were strong and appropriate:
"It must be clear. Israel has no intention of halting counter-terror operations for one moment. Anyone who thinks that by extending the rockets' range he will deter us from our operations is gravely mistaken. We will act in accordance with the government's decisions, at the time we decide, with the strength we decide on, without respite in order to strike at the terror organizations - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others, including their leaders, those who dispatch them and those who supply them weapons.
"Nobody has the right to preach morals to Israel for taking basic measures to defend itself . . . "
Olmert further asked the rhetorical question as to where all those concerned about humanitarian suffering in Gaza have been with regard to humanitarian suffering in Sderot.
But these are, in the end, just words and not a decision to do that ground operation.
To my astonishment, that great appeaser, Haim Ramon, at the cabinet meeting this morning is reported to have demanded: "Why don't we shoot at the sources of the fire? According to international law, we are allowed to do it. The issue was legally examined during the Second Lebanon War and the conclusion was that if they fire from a village, we are allowed to fire back even if this is a populated area."
Ramon, you must remember, is Olmert's good buddy and sometime mouthpiece. He would not say this without sanction. And what he is suggesting is a way of getting tougher that is still not that ground operation.
Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann will now be looking into the legality of shooting back immediately at the site from which a rocket is launched, even if the launching was done from a civilian area.
No decision regarding what comes next -- which ultimately may simply be continuation of the operation as it is currently going on and not approval for the full incursion -- was made at the Cabinet meeting today. That is being tabled until the Security Cabinet meets on Wednesday.
Now, Wednesday just happens to be when Condoleezza Rice will be here. There is no way, as Aaron Lerner has pointed out, to be certain if this timing is designed to provide an excuse not to escalate, or to enable us to wait until she leaves before beginning the incursion.
It should be noted that we permitted 62 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza today.
And our government is preparing our representatives abroad for the public onslaught that is ensuing.
Posting: March 1, 2008
Motzei Shabbat (after Shabbat)
The scenario that is now unfolding was fairly inevitable, I believe.
The whole notion of "negotiating" with Abbas , who nominally represents only the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, while Hamas is in charge in Gaza, was fairly ridiculous. Abbas can neither speak for nor control what Hamas does. But he is bound both by his own terrorist predilection and by his own weakness not to cross Hamas. Abbas really approves of Hamas goals, even though he prefers different tactics. (His rare and muted criticism of Hamas today was that "It is in the interest of the Palestinian people not to give Israel any pretext to continue its aggressions.") Abbas also knows he would be out on his ear, or worse, if he openly criticized Hamas or supported Israel's right to self-defense. Support the "enemy" in actions against one's brothers (who just happen to be terrorists)? Impossible. Which fact is one of the best arguments (there are so many) for NOT relying on Abbas as a moderate who can negotiate peace.
The Israeli government, however , supported by an equally out-of-touch American government, has continued to proceed as if this negotiation were the path to "peace." But Hamas, of course, is part of the equation, and cannot be discounted: Hamas is the spoiler. Just the other day, Tzipi Livni made some inane statement about how stopping the "peace process" would be a victory for Hamas. She's correct, in the sense that Hamas doesn't want a "peace process" to succeed. But the bottom line is that the Palestinians, as a people (if such a people even exists) has to show a readiness for peace, and at present that is not the case.
And so, this is where we are as I write tonight (with undoubtedly much to follow):
Approximately 45 rockets have hit Israel today . There are Kassams aimed at Sderot, but also Grad-type Katyushas -- a much more serious weapon -- being aimed at Ashkelon now. At least six people, including two children, have been injured.
In response to this, the IDF launched an operation in which 47 Palestinians have been killed and many others wounded.
As is fairly inevitable, there have been some Palestinian civilian deaths reported. Israel is clear about the fact that we are only attacking rocket-launching operations, but there is the perennial problem of the terrorists operating from civilian areas. And then we have situations such as the one in which it was claimed that we killed a baby, but, according to AP, local residents said the baby was killed when one of the rockets launched at Israel fell short and landed on the baby's house.
Sadly, two of our boys -- St.-Sgt. Maj. Doron Asulin, 20, and St.-Sgt. Maj. Eran Dan-Gur, 20, both from the Givati Brigade's reconnaissance battalion -- were killed, and five others wounded.
The Palestinian response has proceeded thus:
Earlier today, according to reports, Ahmed Qurie, head of the PA negotiating team, said, "What is happening in Gaza is a massacre of civilians, women and children, a collective killing, genocide. We can't bear what the Israelis are doing, and what the Israelis are doing doesn't [give] the peace process any credibility." He advanced the possibility that peace talks might be called off.
Abbas said that the Israeli action is "worse than the Holocaust."
According to a Haaretz report, Qurie tonight notified Tzipi Livni, his Israeli counterpart in negotiations, that it was halting peace talks. Whether this is serious and permanent, a temporary stance, or a ploy (a threat aimed at controlling us), I cannot say. But if we escalate our operations in Gaza -- as is exceedingly likely -- the Palestinians will not return to the table.
The immediate Israeli response has been appropriate.
As the threat of PA withdrawal from the talks was made, Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel stated that as far as Israel was concerned, the talks were "based on the understanding that when advancing the peace process with pragmatic sources [Fatah], Israel will continue to fight terror that hurts its people."
Livni then reiterated this stance, saying : "Even if the Palestinians suspend talks, it won't influence in any way the decisions or operations Israel carries out to defend its citizens. From the beginning this was the basis of talks with the moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority."
Of course, I don't for a moment buy this as having been the basis of talks, because, maddeningly, our government officials for a long time have been looking over their shoulders at the negotiations as they decided how to respond to Hamas violence. They repeatedly tempered our response out of fear of "ruining negotiations" (and of fear, as well, of how the US would react). But finally Hamas has gone too far, and pressure from an infuriated populace has grown too great.
Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i has told Army Radio that Israel had "no other choice" but to launch a massive military operation in Gaza. "We will use all our strength in every way we deem appropriate, whether in air strikes or on the ground."
And so, the reality of that major ground operation looms greater each moment.
But we are going to face enormous international pressure as we proceed. Already there is condemnation by Jordan and Egypt and we are being accused of spoiling the peace. I don't anticipate a good word from the EU. Abbas is talking about going to the Security Council.
And the US? Remember Rice was supposed to be coming here this week to help the "peace process" move ahead. What now? Won't Rice, for all her lip service to our right to defend ourselves, be pushing with all of her strength to get us to cool it?
Dear G-d, give those making the decisions here , in the face of all of this, the courage necessary to act! We must defy the world to protect our own. Ultimately not only does this ability to act protect our own and enhance our deterrence power, it is the best way to secure international respect.
As we do act, we must be mindful, always, that this war will be fought not only militarily, but in the press and via public opinion. Strong defenses (better, offenses) must be mounted in all quarters.
Posting: February 28, 2008
Saying "Damn them all" is not enough. It provides a brief catharsis, perhaps, and lets people know where we stand with regard to what's going on here. But by itself it's sorely insufficient. What must follow is action. And that I will address today.
In an interview today with the Jordanian paper al-Dustur, the "moderate" PA President Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), our "peace partner" said he doesn't rule out returning to the path of terrorism (known as "resistance"):
"At this present juncture, I am opposed to the armed struggle because we can't succeed in it, but maybe in the future things will be different." There is, you see, no final renunciation of terrorism, no moral condemnation of it. If it would help his cause, he'd gladly use it.
This, by the way, was precisely the position of his mentor, Yasser Arafat, during the Oslo years. As then special negotiator Dennis Ross later noted, Arafat never dispensed with the "terror card." This is the default position: Try negotiations and if they're not successful, fall back on violence.
Abbas additionally admitted here something that those of us who are familiar with his background understand well, but which is denied by those eager to embrace him as a "moderate." He not only tells us that he has his own terrorist credentials, but that he is proud of this:
"I had the honor of firing the first shot in 1965 and of being the one who taught resistance to many in the region and around the world; what it's like; when it is effective and when it isn't effective; its uses, and what serious, authentic and influential resistance is.
" . . . We (Fatah) had the honor of leading the resistance and we taught resistance to everyone, including Hezbollah, who trained in our military camps."
Is this not incredible? Who dares to say Abbas is a moderate after this? A rhetorical question, still, I'm afraid, because many will dare.
But we can make it as difficult as possible for those who would continue to embrace Abbas. And I ask each of you to do your part, and to pass this message along for others to do the same.
First, this question needs to be asked of the White House and the State Department: How can you ask Israel to negotiate with and make concessions for Abbas who says this -- and quote from Abbas.
President George Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Comment Line: 202-456-1111 TTY/TDD Comment Line: 202-456-6213
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Fax; 202-647-2283 or 202-647-6434
Phone: 202-647-5291 or 202-736-4461 TTY: 1-800-877-8339
Remember , a fax or phone call is best.
Then, contact either the Israeli Embassy or your nearest consulate and ask, in essence, the same question: How can you negotiate with the man who says this. Please stop! It puts Israel at risk. My information is that the Foreign Ministry notes American public opinion, so this can have an effect if it is done in solid numbers.
Use this link to find contact information for the Embassy or appropriate consulate. (Thanx Doris M.) If you navigate within the selected site you will find fax numbers and the rest.
Contacting the US government would be appropriate in any event, but what makes it even more critical now is that Rice is coming next week to help "move the negotiations forward." Negotiations with the man who made the above statement. Incredible!
What is more, while Rice gives lip service to our right to defend ourselves, there is concern that the situation shouldn't "get out of hand" while she's here. This merely increases or reinforces Olmert's reluctance to do that ground operation, even after the outrages of yesterday and in spite of the intense pressure on him from many quarters here. It has been suggested that action will come after she leaves, but there's been so much stalling I'll believe that when I see it.
Olmert did meet with Rice in Tokyo , where he told her that "The Palestinians are testing our patience to the limit." This could be read as a veiled declaration of intention to act very soon.
And Rice, being Rice, expressed understanding of our position and then launched into an expression of concern about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza. (Hint to Olmert: Don't think of making those conditions worse.)
She said she believes that the only solution to the "cycle of violence" (an inappropriate term of moral equivalency) is a negotiated peace. But she conceded that this seems less and less likely to happen any time soon.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying that we will continue to defend ourselves. What is happening is a ratcheting up of the limited operations -- missile strikes on those launching the rockets and their launching bases -- that have been on-going. Today 18 Palestinians in Gaza were killed. This time a strike was done near Haniyeh's home, likely as a message, as he is assumed to be in hiding.
The problem, as I've noted before , is that these operations are not effective against what we're facing.
I end by citing in total a JTA news release concerning the Jewish Council for Public Affairs:
"The Jewish Council for Public Affairs endorsed for the first time a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"At its annual plenum Tuesday in Atlanta , the body, an umbrella organization representing 14 national Jewish groups and 125 local Jewish community relations councils, resolved that 'the organized American Jewish community should affirm its support for two independent, democratic and economically viable states -- the Jewish state of Israel and a state of Palestine-- living side-by-side in peace and security.'
"The resolution also included compromise language reflecting American Jewry's ‘diverse views about current and future policies of the Israeli government towards settlements,’ and blamed the standstill in the peace process on Palestinian intransigence.
"It appeared to pass unanimously, though the Orthodox Union, which has been outspoken in objecting to any deal to share or divide Jerusalem, had considered abstaining. According to one of its officers, David Luchins, the O.U. was satisfied with the final text, but still felt it represented an attempt to 'micromanage' the peace process.
"The resolution came about in response to recent events like the seizure of Gaza, the 'reconstitution' of the Palestinian Authority and the latest U.S.-backed peace initiative, said the JCPA's senior associate executive director, Martin Raffel."
Before I comment on this state of affairs , let me add that the OU has put out its own release elaborating on its position, which it felt was not fairly represented in the JTA release.
See http://www.ou.org/public_affairs/article/37398 for the OU explanation. Apparently OU abstained from the final vote and, among its actions, "succeeded in defeating a proposed amendment to the resolution text which would have stated that the American Jewish community views the establishment or expansion of Israeli settlements as an 'impediment to peace.'"
Now, as to the position of the established Jewish community: There are multiple reasons for this resolution, only one of them being an ideological bent. We're looking, as well, at a reluctance to cross the government of Israel and the US government. And yet, it takes my breath away. From here in Israel, it feels as if we've lost the established American Jewish community to a considerable extent. They just don't get it.
Perhaps this also takes your breath away . And perhaps you are associated with or active in one of the national Jewish groups that belongs to this umbrella organization. A number of big groups is involved -- ORT, Hadassah, Bnai Brith, etc.
See http://tools.isovera.com/organizations.php3?action=printContentTypeHome&orgid=54&typeID=135&sortField=alpha for the list.
Perhaps you donate money to one or more of these groups, which increases your leverage.
Raise your voices. Let your distress be heard. This is not a time for remaining passive.
Posting: February 27, 2008
Over 40 Kassams were launched from Gaza today. Hamas has claimed credit for this barrage.
One rocket hit in Sderot near Sapir College , killing student Ronnie Yechiya, who was the father of four. Yechiya, who died of massive wounds to the chest, had had a kidney transplant five years ago.
Two other students on the campus were lightly wounded.
I already said "Damn them!" last time. What is there left to say now?
At least four rockets today went into Ashkelon , one near Barzilai Hospital. A couple of rockets came down on or near factories. One man was wounded when a rocket landed in the street.
David Tal (Kadima) knew what to say: "I think we're nearing the limit of the IDF's patience, the army is obligated to defend the citizens of this country."
But then there is Yossi Beilin, who insisted that the way to stop the rockets was to negotiate a long term "cease fire" with Hamas. Beilin, I swear, is a menace to the nation. A cease fire -- need I say it again? -- would give Hamas the opportunity to continue to arm without interference from us. Getting them to stop launching is not sufficient in and of itself.
And our vaunted prime minister? From Japan he declared, ""There is an ongoing war in the south. We regret that it once again cost human life." Note the passion in this message, the furious indignation. If there is a war in the south -- and there is -- it's time for him to start fighting it for real.
Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni of Central Command yesterday declared: "Without the massive IDF presence in the West Bank, Hamas would take over the institutions and apparatuses of the Palestinian Authority within days." That's even faster than I had thought them capable of doing it; they're gaining strength.
Shamni said that Hamas is working continually to gain greater influence in the region. While rockets attacks are not emanating from Judea and Samaria, some are manufactured in the region. While the PA was working to maintain order, said Shamni, it was not making serious efforts to stop terrorists.
That is so important it merits a repeat: The PA is not making serious efforts to stop terrorists.
And it's the IDF, which is doing an incredible job, that continues to stand between us and terrorism. All hell would break loose in a matter of days if we were to pull out.
Surely Olmert knows this. Perhaps this is why, also from Japan, he indicated that we might not achieve a full "peace" agreement in 2008, even though he really really wants to.
Just days ago I mocked the idea of international forces in Judea and Samaria to take over from the IDF "until the PA was strong enough to do the job." And here we see it: It ain't gonna happen. Not ever. The PA is going downhill.
Off the record, Israeli officials now admit that Egypt has quietly upped the number of troops it has on the border with Gaza.
Our peace treaty with Egypt from 1979 gives them permission to have no more than 750 troops there, as the Sinai is demilitarized, and now they have 1,500. We've permitted it with a wink and a nod. To deal with it officially would require making adjustments in the treaty.
There are Israeli officials sympathetic to the situation Egypt is contending with, who see this increase as no threat to us. And others who are simply not eager to take on Egypt right now.
But, warns MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) -- who, with solid reason, is ever mistrustful of Egyptian intentions -- it's a slippery slope: who knows how many troops will be in the Sinai in short order now that we've permitted them to go over the limit. And it's Aaron Lerner of IMRA who keeps pointing out that there are many things Egypt could do to control the border, such as bulldozing a no man's land, that would not require an increase in forces.
And, once again let us consider Olmert's words from Tokyo: Egypt, he told reports, is not violating the peace accords by increasing their troops as they have. He cannot be that ignorant. In point of fact, he is wrong.
Posting: February 26, 2008
"Response and Self Respect"
Bret Stephens (former editor of The Jerusalem Post), writing in the Wall Street Journal, today addresses the issue of the constraints that the international community attempts to put on Israel with regard to responses to Kassam attacks. Bless him, he has it exactly right:
" . . . The more vexing question, both morally and strategically, is what Israel ought to do about Gaza. The standard answer is that Israel's response to the Kassams ought to be 'proportionate.' What does that mean?
" . . . Israel's presumptive right to self-defense has no practical application as far as Gaza is concerned. Instead, Israel is counseled to allow goods to flow freely into the Strip, and to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.
" . . . But technology addresses neither the Islamic fanaticism that animates Hamas nor the moral torpor of Western policy makers and commentators who, on balance, find more to blame in Israel's behavior than in Hamas's. Nor, too, would an Iron Dome or the Phalanx absolve the Israeli government from the necessity of punishing those who seek its destruction. Prudence is an important consideration of statesmanship, but self-respect is vital. And no self-respecting nation can allow the situation in Sderot to continue much longer, a point it is in every civilized country's interest to understand." (emphasis added)
The head of the Electric Authority of the PA has announced financing from Saudi Arabia intended to underwrite a project to connect Gaza's electric grid to Egypt over the course of the next 12 to 18 months, so that a considerable portion of its electric power would then be supplied by Egypt rather than Israel. There has been, as yet, no comment from either Egypt or Israel. This project, besides reducing Gazan dependence on Israel, would bolster the PA claim to being in charge in Gaza.
Head of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, reported to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday that during the time that the fence at Rafah was breached, Al Qaida was able to enter Gaza.
He also said that the open border "enabled Hamas to bring back those who had left for training in Syria and Iran, including snipers, explosives experts, rocket experts and engineers." Additionally, large amounts of weaponry were brought in.
MK Tzvi Hendel (NU-NRP) spoke with clear understanding when he then observed that the situation in Gaza now was reminiscent of what happened during the years that we were aware that Hezbollah was building up and did nothing. "We must enter the Gaza Strip" he said, "not [just] in order to stay there for two days or two months, because there is no other solution." And how very right he is!
With regard to a Hezbollah reprisal attack on us because we are presumed to have assassinated Mughniyeh, Yadlin reported that it might come, as is traditional, following a 40 day mourning period.
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JINSA Report #752: What Do You Believe, Mr. Olmert?
Mr. Olmert, there's a bit of an argument in the United States - particularly among supporters of Israel - as to whether the United States is pushing the "peace process" and making unreasonable demands of Israel, or whether your government is pulling the administration toward an elusive "peace" with unstable partners.
President Bush laid out clear and responsible requirements for American support of Palestinian statehood. (Houses for Jews in the unallocated part of the British Mandate territory, on the other hand, REALLY irk him.) But the United States pushed for early Palestinian legislative elections, giving voters a choice between corrupt, secular terrorists and somewhat-less-overtly-corrupt religious terrorists. They chose the latter. After calling the vote "free and fair," the United States boycotted the winner, making Hamas the "victim" of American perfidy. The Administration now has all its eggs in the Abu Mazen basket. President Bush waived the Congressional prohibition on direct money transfers to the Palestinian Authority, saying Abu Mazen is "confronting extremists and pursuing peace talks with Israel." This would be the Abu Mazen who has been ginning up violent protests in Jerusalem against Israel and in support of Hamas.
One can fairly say that the United States has pursued policies that have had the effect of undermining Israel's security. Mr. Prime Minister, did we do those things over your objection, with your acquiescence or with your encouragement? It is important to us, as Americans, to know which it is.
President Bush is not the Prime Minister of Israel. He is not responsible for protecting your people and, at some point, you have to tell him and his emissary Secretary Rice that Israelis voted for you, not for them. Your obligation is first to Israeli citizens and only then to the Palestinian children Hamas has put on the rooftops of Gaza as human shields. Shirel Friedman, Oshri Oz, Roni Yehiye and the toddlers Yuval Abebeh and Dorit Benisian had first claim on Israeli protection. Yossi Haimov, Osher Twito and Gilad Shalit still do.
Unless . . .
Unless you believe limited incursions into Gaza are sufficient and you have no plan beyond them; unless you believe the "peace process" and the establishment of a Palestinian state is paramount, even if it is born in anarchy; unless your goal is to be out of places you don't want to be in regardless of consequences beyond your tenure; unless you think Abu Mazen just needs more money and you believe more weapons for Dahlan's thugs will produce security for Israel. If this is what you believe and what you are telling the President and Secretary Rice, OK. It's your country.
America - and Israel's American friends - can't be a stronger force for Israeli security than Israel is. If you and the President are on the same page - Palestinian independence by the end of the year come hell or high water - you can be quite sure the Administration will push you hard in the direction you want to go. If you have a different view of your responsibility and the future of your country, this would be a really good time to let the United States know.
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Open letter to Martin Raffel, Director of JCPA: Following JCPA Endorsement of Palestinian sovereign state in Judea and Samaria
FOUR QUESTIONS TO MARTIN RAFFEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE JEWISH COUNCIL FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS, THE JCPA, AN ORGANIZATION REPRESENTING FOURTEEN NATIONALLY BASED JEWISH GROUPS IN THE USA, ALONG WITH MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED LOCALLY BASED JEWISH COMMUNITY COUNCILS IN THE USA
BUREAU CHIEF, ISRAEL RESOURCE NEWS AGENCY
MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT, PHILADELPHIA BULLETIN
PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR NEAR EAST POLICY RESEARCH LTD
BEIT AGRON INTERNATIONAL PRESS CENTER
37 HILLEL STREET
JERUSALEM 94581 ISRAEL
tel. 02 5300125
cell. 0547 222 661
This week, Israel faced unprecedented escalated Arab missile bombardment on its fragile southern border.
This week, Arab terrorists escalated their military use of the land of expelled Jewish communities from Northern Katif, which they have transformed into convenient forward attack bases.
This week, Jewish communities of southern Israel paid the ultimate price for Israel’s expulsion of Jewish communities. This was carried out with the prodding of the US government. In violation of clause seven of the disengagement legislation, Israel handed over privately owned Jewish property to groups defined by the state of Israel and the US government as illegal terrorist organizations.
This week, despite the lethal threat to the lives of every Israeli citizen by a sovereign Palestinian entity, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the JCPA, passed a resolution in support of a sovereign Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria - which would mean the deployment of Palestinian missiles on the hills overlooking Kfar Saba, Netanya, and the entire coastal plain of Israel.
This week, lawmakers of the Knesset again refrained from enacting any legislation that would cede any more land for Palestinians to use as sovereign territory, since Palestinians threaten to use any land under their control to attack and “liberate” the rest of “Palestine”.
This week, however, the JCPA preempted the Knesset of Israel.
The questions to Mr. Martin Raffel, the executive director of the JCPA, remain as follows:
By what right does the JCPA support an idea that would pose a threat to the life of every Israeli citizen?
Since successive American and Israeli administrations have lied about the peaceful intentions of the Fatah, why does JCPA believe them now?
Why does the JCPA preempt the Knesset of Israel? Does the JCPA not know of the 5% approval rating of PM Olmert?
Why does the JCPA not learn from the Gaza precedent of what happens when Israel withdraws its troops and civilians, only to witness that any area under PA control will be transformed into a missile terror base?.
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Abbas and the 'Armed Struggle'
Published in the Philadelphia Bulletin, March 5th 2008
By: David Bedein , The Philadelphia ulletin
Jerusalem - On February 28, the Jordanian daily al-Dustur released an interview with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. It included the following:
"At this present juncture, I am opposed to the armed struggle because we can't succeed in it, but maybe in the future things will be different.
"I had the honor of firing the first shot in 1965 and of being the one who taught resistance to many in the region and around the world, what it's like, when it is effective and when it isn't effective, its uses and what serious, authentic and influential resistance is.
"It is common knowledge when and how resistance is detrimental and when it is well timed. We [Fatah] had the honor of leading the resistance and we taught resistance to everyone, including Hezbollah, who trained in our military camps."
Additionally, Mr. Abbas declared:
"We rejected this proposal [that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state] at the Annapolis conference last November in the U.S., and the conference was almost aborted because of it. . . .
"I don't demand that the Hamas movement recognize Israel. I only demanded of the [Palestinian] national unity government that would work opposite Israel in recognition of it. And this I told to Syrian President Bashir Assad, and he supported this idea."
On Saturday, Mr. Abbas referred to Israel operations in Gaza in response to launching of rockets on Israeli civilians as "worse than the Holocaust."
Just five days earlier, he had admonished Israel to "stop escalating the situation in the Palestinian territories and stop all attacks in the Gaza Strip, including firing missiles there." This was without mention of Hamas' escalation of attacks.
At the same time, the official Palestinian news agency described Palestinians killed by Israeli forces as "civilians," when even other Palestinian sources admit they were gunmen.
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