Saturday, December 27, 2008

Disproportionate Response

Jerusalem Post - The Israeli air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza on Saturday, hugely dramatic in their scope, nonetheless mark only the beginning of an ongoing, potentially lengthy operation aimed at restoring calm to the South, rather than a one-off response to the escalated Kassam rocket fire. The policy of restraint, officials say, is over.

For months, Israel has been refining its intelligence information on the key physical locations that are crucial to the rule of Hamas in the terror state that the Gaza Strip has become since the Islamist group seized power there in June 2007.

And rather than seeking to target the fast-moving offshoots of that terrorist rule - the Kassam crews that set themselves up in residential Gaza neighborhoods, fire into Israeli residential areas and then quickly melt away - Israel has elected to fire into the heart of the terror beast.

Defense Ministry officials, from Ehud Barak on down, were Saturday preparing the Israeli public for what they said was likely to be a difficult period ahead.

Hamas is threatening a further escalation in rocket fire - with missiles reaching to Beersheba - and the mobilization of a new wave of suicide bombers.

The international fallout, even amid the relative inattention of the Christmas-New Year period, began remarkably quickly, with a chorus of calls for Israeli restraint, including predictable fury in the Arab world and a vehement protest from France at Israel's ostensibly disproportionate response.

Amid the military preparations, it will quickly become clear whether Israel has made parallel diplomatic preparations, with articulate officials prepped and ready to highlight to the watching world how untenable has been the situation of Hamastan firing into Israel for eight years, with interim lulls to rearm, and no cessation even after Israel pulled all its civilians and all military infrastructure out of Gaza in 2005.

The word from the defense establishment on Saturday afternoon was that some 60 planes had participated in the strikes at dozens of Hamas military and logistical targets. Preparations were in place for an intensification of military action, with the potential use of ground forces, officials said. No call up of reserves was under way but, again, the preparations were in place should it be deemed necessary.

Naturally, the effort launched Saturday to defang a rocket-firing, Iranian-backed terror army across a hostile border invites immediate comparison with the bid to destroy Hizbullah's terrorist infrastructure in southern Lebanon two and a half years ago.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert relentlessly insisted that he was the man best placed to learn the lessons of that indecisive and ultimately unsuccessful resort to force - a war mis-stewarded by an inexperienced prime minister, a defense minister, Amir Peretz, who was entirely unqualified for the job, and a chief of staff, Dan Halutz, who placed exaggerated confidence in the air force's capacity for destroying carefully protected underground infrastructure and a highly mobile Hizbullah fighting force.

We are now going to find out whether those lessons from 2006 - on military preparation, on the need for effective military-political coordination, on operating in an immensely complex regional and global context, and on setting realistic goals for the use of military force - were indeed well learned.

Hamas Troop Carrier