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Israel


Israel's Gaza Operation: Holding Hamas Accountable

Jerusalem Journal*

Posted: June 30, 2006

It appears that the kidnapping of Israel Army Cpl. Gilad Shalit was a timely catalyst that could lead to dramatic and far-reaching sequences of events that strategists here are hoping could change the current reality. It is a reality of a failure by Israel to create an effective deterrence when it uprooted the settlements and quit the Gaza Strip just 10 months ago in a highly praised, bloodless disengagement. It is a reality of an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organization bent on Israel's destruction elected to lead the Palestinian people.

What began as a military operation against the Palestinian kidnappers and Kassam rocket apparatus inside the Gaza Strip has already taken on on another dimension. On June 28, the Israel Air Force dispatched F-16 fighter jets to Syria, where they buzzed President Bashar Assad's palace as a symbolic punch behind the diplomatic warnings for him to quit the "patronage and support for terror organizations," an Israeli Defense Forces statement said.  Israel has no desire to topple Assad or see his weakened regime replaced with an unknown, possibly Islamist one.  The message was obviously for Syria to expel Hamas leader Khaled Meshal from Damascus.  Meshal has long been in Israel's sights for his radical, uncompromising positions and deadly directives. Meshal, backed by Iran and Hezbollah, has financed and directed terrorist operations against Israel.

Continuing on this theme of taking matters into its own hands and holding Hamas responsible for recent developments, on June 29 Israeli security forces swept through east Jerusalem and the West Bank and rounded up some 70 key Hamas officials, including five ministers and some 15 lawmakers.

The Hamas leadership in Gaza has gone underground. Still free is Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who is considered more pragmatic than Meshal and has maintained good ties with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The failure of Abbas and Haniyeh to win the release of the kidnapped soldier is proving just how weak they are and how lawless and uncontrollable the situation is inside the volatile Gaza Strip, where Hamas gunmen have clashed openly with those from Abbas's Fatah party.

So far, no one in the world, not even the Arab nations, has severely condemned Israel's actions. Israel is, let's face it, doing their dirty work since Hamas and its ilk are no friend of the Arab leaders. Strategists here posit that Abbas might use the crisis to dissolve the parliament, which could create a new government without Hamas, or a coalition government with a weakened Hamas.

In the meantime, the IDF continues to strike inside the Gaza Strip. While the release of Cpl. Shalit is the main aim of the operation, the IDF is clearly also using an iron fist to strike against the Kassam rocket apparatus there. 
 
Egypt has massed nearly all of its restricted forces along the Rafah border. Ostensibly this is to prevent the Palestinians from smuggling the kidnapped soldier into the Sinai, but obviously it is also to prevent the flow of Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt - the last thing they want.

It remains to be seen whether the life of Cpl. Shalit can be saved. But so long as attacks continue from Gaza, what will likely occur will be a policy of continuous military actions by Israel against Palestinian terrorist targets, including an increase in targeted interceptions and possibly lightning assaults by ground forces.

I live in the hills on the way up to Jerusalem. From my back porch I can hear the rumble of the Israeli cannons firing into the Gaza Strip. This demonstrates just how small our country is and how intimate the ramifications of the latest escalation of violence between us and the Palestinians can be.

* By Arieh O'Sullivan, Director of Communications at ADL's Israel Office in Jerusalem.

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