On 19 June, a “state of calm” began between Israel and Hamas. The goal of this arrangement was to end Hamas’s rocket fire on Sderot and to gradually open up the border crossings into Gaza for civilian goods. You can see details of the arrangement in our previous post. This arrangement was due to last for 6 months, with possible renewal thereafter.
As you can see from the following graphs, while rocket and mortar fire from Gaza slowed during the “lull,” it never fully stopped. (The graphs are taken from a report published last month.)
In addition, rather than use the “state of calm” to promote peace and to build a civilian infrastructure in Gaza, Hamas took advantage of the situation to expand its terrorist capabilities. In addition to continuing to fire rockets and mortars, Hamas also smuggled weapons and other materiel from Egypt, and expanded its tunnel network, going so far as to dig a tunnel under Israeli territory to kidnap Israeli soldiers.
When Israeli forces acted on intelligence reports and went to investigate the tunnel on 04 November, they came under fire from “Palestinian gunmen” (see news item). The firefight resulted in the death of 1 gunman and the wounding of several others, and the wounding of 4 Israeli soldiers. During the following two days, Hamas launched 47 rockets and 10 mortar shells against civilian areas in Israel. Hamas declared that it had responded to Israel’s actions, and leaders of Israel and Hamas maintained their desire to prevent further escalation of the situation. However, Hamas continued to attack Israel–mostly by rocket and mortar fire–throughout the next few weeks. In order to protect its civilian population, Israel took occasional action against these Hamas terrorists (see the list of Palestinian casualties in November 2008 from B’Tselem–all were killed while carrying out hostilities).
In fact, as the “lull” was due to expire on 19 December, Israel still held out hope that Hamas would renew the agreement. Instead, Hamas declared its unwillingness to renew any agreement and commenced firing rockets and mortars at a higher rate than previously.
According to Thomas Friedman’s analysis in today’s New York Times, Hamas doesn’t think so–and that’s one of the principle elements in the current conflict. As it happens, Friedman notes, Gaza is at the center of the three existential questions that plague the region today–only one of which involves Israel.
You’ll just have to read the article for the rest of the questions, though.
Bibi Netanyahu’s opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required) discusses the situation in Gaza and the nature of Israel’s repsonse to Hamas terrorism.
Imagine a siren that gives you 30 seconds to find shelter before a Kassam rocket falls from the sky and explodes, spraying its lethal shrapnel in all directions. Now imagine this happens day after day, month after month, year after year.
For the rest of the article, see the Wall Street Journal.
Israel’s Humanitarian Aid to Gaza
|396||truckloads of humanitarian aid that have been delivered through Israeli crossings into Gaza since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, including basic food commodities, medication, medical supplies, blood units and donations by various governments and blood units. |
|80||truckloads of humanitarian aid expected to arrive in Gaza on Jan. 5 |
|20||Palestinians evacuated to Israel for medical treatment (including two children) |
|800,000+||leaflets disseminated by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to Gaza civilians instructing them to stay away from terrorist and weapons storage sites |
|70+||times the IDF warned populated areas before conducting airstrikes |
|10,000||tons of aid transported into Gaza at the request of international organizations, the Palestinian Authority and various governments since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead. The World Food Program informed Israel last week that that it would cease shipment of food to Gaza because warehouses are at full capacity, with enough food to last two weeks. |
|0||wounded Palestinians allowed by Hamas to cross from Gaza into Egypt for treatment. |
The following statement was issued by David Saranga, Consul for Media and Public Affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York:
Earlier today, upwards of 35 Palestinian civilians were reportedly killed in two unfortunate accidents in Gaza, one at a school run by UNRWA and the second at an apartment in Gaza City. These deaths are indeed a tragedy, and investigations are underway to ensure that further operations continue to avoid civilian casualties.
These initial investigations indicate that Hamas used the UNRWA school to fire at IDF forces, indicating once again that Hamas is more than willing to sacrifice Gaza citizens to promote terrorism. International law recognizes that the presence of civilians in an area of conflict does not delegitimize a military target. Israel and the IDF will continue to abide by these laws and to make every effort to avoid harming civilians in conducting further operations. We urge the international community to strongly condemn Hamas’s cynical exploitation of its citizens and firing of rockets, which remain the most effective way to ensure peace for Gazans and Israelis alike.
This is not the first time Hamas has used a school as a launching pad for weapons. See this YouTube video for further information.
The answer to this question is becoming somewhat clearer with the IDF’s operations in Gaza. The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, keeping tabs on the goings-on on the ground, has put out the following updates on the situation. Since the IDF has found explosives in mosques and private homes, it’s no wonder soldiers have had to operate in these areas.
Bret Stephens writes in today’s Wall Street Journal on ways that Israel can achieve its military aims without imposing unnecessary hardship on the residents of Gaza. The goal, he notes, should be to make it as hard as possible for Hamas to continue firing rockets at Israel–and to make them pay when rockets are launched. In other words, establishing a credible threat of deterrence (diminished in 2006). Achieving this aim would not require Israel to take over large swaths of Gaza, but it would require an extended policy of smaller-scale counterterrorism operations, along the lines of the successful West Bank operations. In the long run, it might even make peace feasible in Gaza (and it is becoming easier in the West Bank) and bring some measure of quiet to the region.