Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gaza erupting

From The Washington Post, EDITORIAL May 14, 2007 ....

A battleground in Gaza

Don't be surprised if you wake up one morning and learn that the Gaza Strip has become a lot like Lebanon was last summer. Gaza looms as a major battleground in the larger global struggle with jihadism, with the Israeli military squaring off against terrorist proxies of Iran and Syria in addition to al Qaeda factions burrowing into the region. Hamas has built in essence a 12,000-man militia -- two to three times the size of the Hezbollah force in last summer's Lebanon war. Gaza is crawling with hundreds of terrorists affiliated with the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, part of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah organization; Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Resistance Committees, an amalgamation of terror groups in Gaza.

The buildup of Gaza's jihadist network has proven to be a largely cost-free exercise for Tehran and Damascus, which provide funding and weaponry but remain largely immune from substantial Israeli military retaliation. Many of the terrorists in Gaza have trained with Hezbollah, Iran's proxy, and much of their funding and weaponry is smuggled from Egypt into Gaza through tunnels under civilian homes. Israeli intelligence agents estimate that more than 50 tons of TNT have been smuggled into Gaza during the past year or two -- enough to build and produce tens of thousands of rockets in the small arms shops in Gaza.

Palestinian and Israeli security officials said last week that there are 15 active tunnels in the Rafah area of Gaza being used to move arms, drugs and agents between Gaza and Egypt. The tunnels are controlled by powerful family clans who operate independently of the PA. Almost every day there are rocket firings into Israel, and/or gun battles involving the clans, terrorist factions and Palestinian security services. Over the past few months Islamists, some apparently affiliated with al Qaeda, have attacked video stores, Internet cafes and an elementary school in Gaza to protest "un-Islamic" behavior.

As Gaza descends into chaos reminiscent of Afghanistan under the Taliban, Israel, which withdrew all of its soldiers and civilians from there two years ago in the hope that the Palestinians would respond by building a viable independent state), has difficult decisions ahead. The government must decide whether to conduct major military operations against Gaza-based terrorists who are expanding their capability to attack neighboring Israeli towns. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's center-left government wants desperately to avoid a large anti-terror ground operation that could include reoccupying parts of Gaza, but the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, says bluntly that the only solution to the continuing problem of Palestinian rocket fire into Israel is an army ground operation....

.... When the Jewish state withdrew from Gaza almost two years ago, tens of thousands of Israeli civilians were within range of Palestinian rockets in Gaza; today, that figure is 200,000 and growing.

The situation is likely to become more dire. The rockets smuggled into Gaza, like those produced inside Gaza, are of much higher quality than the rockets of a year ago, enabling terrorists to create a stockpile. This poses a dilemma for Israeli officials who understand that delay creates ever more peril on their southern border.


Security cabinet authorizes 'harsh' response to Kassams

Israel will respond in a "harsh and severe" manner to the barrage of Kassam attacks on Sderot, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided Wednesday, essentially putting an end to Israel's policy of restraint that has been in effect for more than six months.

The decision to significantly ratchet up Israel's response was made at a high level meeting Olmert convened with Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Foreign Minster Tzipi Livni, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin and senior IDF and security officials.

Defense officials said after the meeting that targeted assassinations would be renewed, though at this point they would not be directed against Hamas political leaders, but rather against those actively involved in terrorism. ....

...During the meeting Olmert said that Israel could no longer show restraint in the face of the recurrent attacks. "The Hamas government is behind the terrorist action, and it is inconceivable that at the same time it is trying to get international recognition and financial assistance," he said.

Israel's response to the Kassam attacks was already felt Wednesday when the Air Force bombed a Hamas military installation in Rafah, the first such air strike since Israel accepted the Palestinian ceasefire in November. At least four Hamas members were killed and 30 others were wounded, some buried under the sandy rubble. Later in the day, IAF missiles struck a car carrying a Kassam squad moments after it had launched rockets at Sderot. At least one Hamas operative was killed.

A 70-year-old Sderot woman was seriously wounded Wednesday evening after three Kassam rockets were fired into Sderot with one scoring a direct hit on her home. Magen David Adom medics also treated several residents who were suffering from shock. The elderly woman was evacuated to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon......

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