ANALYSIS / Price of stubbornness over Gaza exit is dead soldiers
IDF troops are advancing through booby-trapped Gaza - exactly as Hamas is expecting them to.
Those who want to treat the delay in creating a diplomatic exit strategy for the war in Gaza as if it were a divine decree must take into account that at the end of this determination are casualties. The repeated delays in moving ahead with Operation Cast Lead, first before the ground operation and now the slow way Israel is seeking 'exit points' have a price. We are now beginning to pay it.
Since the beginning of Cast Lead, most of the cabinet and the army have praised themselves for their thorough application of the Winograd recommendations from the Second Lebanon War. But the Winograd Committee's criticism of the poor coordination between military action and diplomatic achievements seems relevant in this round as well. Most of the military at the operational level is pushing for continuing the operation deep within Hamas territory. That is exactly what is expected of them.
In contrast, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was very cautious in presenting the risks and opportunities in Friday afternoon's cabinet meeting. Ashkenazi is likely to be satisfied with a quick end to the ground operation, in the coming days. However with the defense minister and the foreign minister both beginning their days trying to figure out how to thwart the success of the other, and the (outgoing) prime minister toying with the idea of smashing Hamas, it's little wonder that a diplomatic solution is still far off.
The IDF has inserted a crushing war machine into the Gaza Strip to confront thousands of terrorists and guerilla fighters who have been preparing for months for a possible invasion. The forces are advancing through built-up, fortified and booby-trapped territory, and in so doing are incurring great risk to themselves.
Ashkenazi had said in earlier discussions that use of major fire power would be inevitable even in the most densly populated areas. The Israeli solution was thus to be very aggressive to protect the lives of the soldiers as much as possible.
These are 'Georgia rules,' which are not so far from the methods Russia used in its conflict last summer. The result is the killing of dozens of non-combatant Palestinians. The Gaza medical teams might not have reached all of them yet.
When an Israeli force gets into an entanglement, as in Sajaiyeh last night, massive fire into built-up areas is initiated to cover the extraction. In other cases, a chain of explosions is initiated from a distance to set off Hamas booby-traps. It is a method that leaves a swath of destruction taking in entire streets, and does not distinguish military targets from the homes of civilians.
From Hamas' perspective, the Sajaiyeh incident that left 3 IDF troops dead Monday is a significant first achievement. For the first time, Israeli TV broadcasts raised the question of whether it was worthwhile for the operation to continue.
When the IDF first entered the Strip on the ground on Saturday night, Hamas avoided engaging it directly. Only when the troops began to make preparations to stay, including the takeover of Palestinian homes, did the Palestinian group begin to take on the invaders at closer range.
With the Palestinians already having suffered 550 dead and 2,700 injured, the Sajaiyeh incident is the first revenge by the people of Gaza. Until that incident last night, it seemed as if Hamas' distress was pushing it toward a diplomatic solution. Hamas turned to Egypt as an intermediary, despite the hostility between Cairo and Hamas.
However, the Egyptian cease-fire proposal does not allow Hamas to present any significant achievements at the end of the fighting. Egypt wants Hamas to stop fighting with no preconditions for an unlimited period, and to enter negotiations with no timetable.
Egypt also apparently intends to act more seriously to stop the smuggling into Gaza from its territory. Cairo sees the Israeli operation as the chance to settle accounts with Hamas for not renewing the dialogue with Fatah.
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