The Southern Command, the Gaza Division and the Shin Bet southern region just scored their most important immediate achievement - they identified Hamas preparations for an attack and were ready to thwart it. A senior officer in the south said yesterday that despite the Winograd Report, if 10 soldiers had been killed and two abducted in the attack on Kerem Shalom on Saturday, Israel would have been sucked into Gaza just like it was into Lebanon.
Those with reason for satisfaction include GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant, Division Commander Brigadier General Moshe Tamir, Shin Bet region chief G., and Southern Command intelligence chief Colonel A. The latter was the intelligence officer of Division 91 during Hezbollah's surprise attack on the northern border and the abduction of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Galant and G. were burned by the Shalit kidnapping in June 2006; the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet traded recriminations. This time, there were none to trade.
Israel's efforts to protect communities near the Gaza Strip and Ashkelon from rocket, RPG and sniper attacks are meeting with insufficient success, and the sensitivity of the civilian front puts the cabinet a decision away from a major or medium-size operation in Gaza. On the military front, not every IDF encounter or raid against operatives of Hamas and smaller organizations ends well, as is shown by the large number of IDF casualties over the past month. But its indirect effect is that Hamas is having to redirect its efforts from firing rockets to fighting the IDF.
In the south this time, signals accumulated of an approaching attack on Passover, although even as the attack was underway, it was not clear whether what was happening at Kerem Shalom, Nirim and Kissufim was a diversion to cover a larger action.
The attack seems to have been an initiative by the commanders of the military wing of Hamas in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari and Mohammed Def. But such an attack could not take place without the knowledge and consent of Gaza's political leadership, Mahmoud al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, as well as the Damascus leadership.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's mission to see Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshal is placed in a particularly ludicrous light when, farther down in the organization, Hamas operatives set out to take more Israeli soldiers hostage.
Carter's mission harmed his preferred presidential candidate, Democrat Barack Obama. A few hours after the attack, Republican candidate John McCain lashed out at Obama for refusing to criticize Carter's meeting with Hamas, while Hamas operative Ahmed Yusuf made headlines with the statement, "We like Mr. Obama and hope he wins the elections."
Meanwhile, even President George W. Bush seems no longer to believe his own declarations about an Israeli-Palestinian agreement this year. General William Fraser, who was appointed to oversee the implementation of the road map after Annapolis, toured the region for a while, was insulted by Defense Minister Ehud Barak's cold shoulder, and left to seek results elsewhere.
It was announced on Friday that Fraser is getting his fourth star and command of the U.S. Transportation Command. Replacing him as deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is Major General Paul Selva, former head of the Air Force Strategic Planning. It was not reported whether Selva will be taking on Fraser's Middle Eastern brief, but both will certainly now be busy with the Senate confirmation of their appointments, and not worrying that without them, the Israelis and the Palestinians will forget how to quarrel.
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