The Second Front / Meanwhile in Gaza

On the first Saturday of the war in the north, the head of Israel Defense Forces' Southern Command, Major General Yoav Galant, visited the air force command and control center in Tel Aviv, where he observed the utilization of aerial power. After emerging from the bunker, Galant pondered ways that he could make similar use of lesser resources in the campaign he was busy managing in the Gaza Strip.

The idea he came up with is called "tele-wonder," and this is how it works: The phone rings in a Gaza Strip apartment and the landlord picks up the receiver; an Israeli with an accent garnered from the Shin Bet security service's language lab says, "Hello," and informs him that since there are weapons stored in his apartment, he and anyone else is in the home must evacuate it immediately because an air strike is on the way.

The warning can be relayed by means of cellular telephones, text messaging, cutting in on radio programs, or with leaflets.

The threat is carried out; the home is destroyed; and the message hits home.

It turns out that the precedent of Lebanon, that "whoever goes to sleep with a Hezbollah missile in their home will wake (or not) with an Israeli bomb," also applies to Gaza, according to an IDF officer.

Galant had planned to hit Hamas in the south with a one-two punch combination, using the Givati and Golani Brigades. Now, he only has Givati, with Golani having been called to the northern front. The air force and the Artillery Corps offered an alternative, the latter firing the almost unfathomable figure of 12,000 shells at the Strip in less than five weeks. If the numbers, released yesterday, are correct, this adds up to more than 300 shells a day.

The videos of the air attacks show how Hamas makes use of the Gaza youth; they are sent to collect Qassam rocket launchers, after they have been used, and the IDF holds back from targetting them.

This is the input in the equation; and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who visited one of the command headquarters on the border with the Gaza Strip yesterday, asked Galant and the officers there to speak in terms of output.

And the output is not encouraging - even though Hamas is losing men and infrastructure on a daily basis, and at a rate that is raising concerns among its leadership.

Since the raid on Kerem Shalom and the abduction of Gilad Shalit, the IDF has killed 170 militants and lost one its own, in a friendly-fire incident. Much smaller units are used in the fighting in Gaza compared to those deployed in Lebanon, and the losses they have inflicted amount to some 50 percent of those sustained by Hezbollah in the north - and this Halutz considers substantial, especially if the terrorist groups find it difficult to replenish their ranks with trained and experienced men.

Dozens of civilians have also been killed in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian population is fighting and suffering, and is unable to influence its leadership toward a solution. There is no famine, but there is no sanitation and there is a threat of an epidemic.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is willing to compromise in order to govern. The militants carrying out operations ignore him and only take orders from the group's external leadership - namely, Khaled Meshal in Damascus. He, in turn, is under pressure from Mahmoud Abbas, Haniyeh, Europe and the United States, and is not the most extreme of the bunch: This title goes to Iran and Hezbollah, which are pressing him not to opt for moderation.

With intelligence that Hamas is planning to dig tunnels and carry out at least two major attacks, similar to the one at Kerem Shalem, IDF officers are curious about the failure to include known tunnelers on the hit lists. This is going to change in the near future.

The officers are also keen to ensure that their troops are on constant alert, in spite of the difficulties involved in this regard for continuous periods of time. As far as they are concerned, warnings are not specific if they refer to an area that is 15 kilometers wide, and the timing talks of "tomorrow." In Jerusalem, Kerem Shalom is a specific location; but out in the field, every groove in the ground is different. As Galant puts it, "If they take 100 shots at my goal, I will let one in eventually. When I can go on the offensive, I have a chance to win."