Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

Monitoraggio attraverso i media internazionali delle elezioni in Israele del Febbraio 2009

Who is really winning the war in the Gaza Strip?

Posted by giacomofinzi su 17 gennaio, 2009

da:Haaretz http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1055930.html

At the end of the third week of the Gaza war, the mighty military steamroller unleashed on Gaza appears to have secured its first significant achievement. On Wednesday evening, Hamas signaled that it was about to fold, declaring its willingness in principle to accept the Egyptian cease-fire initiative. But the war could still prove to be long, ugly and exhausting. Israel, however, now stands a good chance of concluding the present round of fighting in Gaza (no one doubts that there will be another round in the future) in a position that allows for a relative improvement in the security situation in the south, at least for the coming months. With the wisdom of hindsight, one could of course argue that, right from the start, this was a mismatch. A modern army, armed to the teeth with the most advanced weaponry, which had trained for two years for its mission, versus a few thousand terrorists and guerillas who chose to retreat from any place where a serious clash occurred. Even within Gaza, it sometimes seemed as though luck was working overtime in favor or the Israel Defense Forces: Although many dozens of soldiers were wounded in various incidents, most incurred only light injuries (this time, unlike in the last war, all were equipped with proper ceramic vests). As of Thursday afternoon, the number of IDF soldiers killed in battle stood at 10. 
The purpose of Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad’s trip to Cairo Thursday was to explore, together with the Egyptians, whether a deal could be struck soon that would bring about renewed, full quiet in the Gaza Strip. If Hamas is truly ready to make the concessions required of it by the Egyptian initiative, Israel will apparently consent to a quick cease-fire. This week, the discussion among the political echelon and the defense establishment focused on the question of whether the operation’s achievements were likely to multiply with further IDF advances, or whether the army’s remaining in the field was gradually eroding the achievements gained so far. Then came Hamas’ partial declaration of surrender two days ago in Cairo, potentially solving Israel’s dilemma. 

Get out yesterday 

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is very fond of marathon consultation sessions. This week he invited to his office a group of reserve generals who all retired from active duty in recent years. All but one advised Barak to end the operation quickly and withdraw from Gaza before things started to get more complicated. The most effective Israeli deterrence, they said, had already been achieved by the end of last week. When Barak asked just when, in their opinion, Israel ought to pull out of Gaza, most of the participants answered: Yesterday. This week, the defense minister was convinced that the operation had exhausted its usefulness. 

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, too, who at the operation’s outset had waged fierce battles with Barak over questions of substance, public credit and political dividends, now holds the same view. But the lousy relations among the Livni-Barak-Olmert triumvirate have created a balance of fear: None of them wants to be painted as the soft “dove” throwing a wrench in the military campaign and dictating a swift end to it. 

People who have spoken with Olmert since last Saturday have noticed that same air of euphoria he so notoriously displayed during the Second Lebanon War. For several days, suspicion grew that Olmert was eager to prolong the operation in an attempt to crush Hamas. As the weekend neared, though, perhaps due to the public drubbing he received from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Olmert seemed to be restraining himself. 

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi also plays an important role in the decision-making process. In the months preceding the fighting, he opposed a ground operation in Gaza. When asked, privately, what he would tell the political echelon, he replied: “I would describe the implications of each of the options. If they tell me what to do, I’ll do it.” 

Later on, during the course of the operation, Ashkenazi agreed to initiate discussions in the cabinet and the “kitchen cabinet,” so it would be possible to decide among the options. But when a few of his confidants tried to persuade him to recommend a preferred course of action, he declined to do so. The chief of staff’s main explanation: As the commander of soldiers in combat, he should not be the one to call for a quick end to the operation. If he expressed such a position and it was leaked, it could harm the campaign’s success. In recent days, in private conversations, Ashkenazi expressed opposition to launching “Stage 3” – an expansion of the ground operation. Some of the people around him believe he should have taken a firmer stand earlier. If he had pounded the table and clearly presented his position as the IDF’s recommendation (to get out now), Olmert, Barak and Livni would have been quick to side with him. 

Some of the battalion commanders operating in Gaza have found a simple way to keep their troops away from the (admittedly feeble) debate raging back on the home front regarding the operation’s objectives. They don’t give them a chance to see the newspapers, even though this time, the logistical supply routes were paved very quickly. Lt. Col. Yehuda Cohen, commander of the Givati Brigade’s Rotem battalion, whose men are posted along the Karni-Netzarim axis, explains that the soldiers will have plenty of time for such matters once they leave Gaza. While they are still inside, he wants them to focus on the task before them. 

The IDF is proceeding in Gaza in a slow, orderly, efficient and very destructive manner. During 2002’s Operation Defensive Shield, in the Jenin refugee camp, disagreements developed among the different units as to how much force should be applied. A battalion of the 5th Reserve Infantry Brigade, which employed relatively humane operating methods, suffered 13 casualties in one single day from an ambush and roadside explosives. After those incidents, everyone took up the “Buchris method,” named after the commander of the 51st Golani battalion, Lt. Col. Ofek Buchris (today a brigade commander in the reserves): Forceful entry with “Akhzarit” (“cruel”) armored personnel carriers, which demolished houses’ walls before the soldiers entered them, leaving them a relatively protected corridor. 

In Gaza 2009, there are no such debates. Yedioth Ahronoth reporter Yossi Yehoshua, who was embedded with the 51st Battalion in Gaza’s Sajaiyeh neighborhood, heard battalion commander Lt. Col. Shuki Ribak say, “We’ve used artillery shells, tanks and helicopters for close-range assistance. I don’t remember when we ever fired mortars in Gaza before.” 

His soldiers explained that, if it boils down to choosing between their own lives and Palestinian houses, the choice is clear. Lt. Col. Cohen of Givati told Haaretz that, in his view, Hamas is at fault, for having booby-trapping populated buildings. 

The IDF’s progress this week was evident mainly in the sector where the regular Paratroops brigade is operating, in northern Gaza City – the place where the forces encountered the toughest resistance. Paratroop officers described the house-to-house searches: Everywhere they turned, they found an opening to a tunnel, a Qassam launcher, an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) launcher or a booby-trapped door. 

The brigade commander is Col. Hertzi Halevy, a former Sayeret Matkal commander. When Halevy, who transferred from the Paratroops to the unit in the early 1990s, returned to the Paratroops as their commander, he was maligned by some for his rigidity and aloofness. This war has highlighted the usefulness of his cool temper and thoughtful leadership. Other brigade commanders have also cemented their leadership in Gaza. 

The officers in the field see eye to eye with Military Intelligence officials: Deterrence has been achieved. This is the “Dahiya Doctrine,” which GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot spoke of a few months before the war. The destruction in Gaza is reminiscent of what the air force did to Beirut’s Shi’ite Dahiya quarter two and a half years ago. Israel has made it clear that it is capable of inflicting enormous damage if provoked in such a way that it feels compelled to respond. 

The Israeli operation in Gaza was completely disproportional. But though it might not meet the criteria of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, in the tough neighborhood we live in, the message appears to have gotten across. The deterrence that has worked in Lebanon for the past two and a half years, after a failed war, may also work in Gaza, where the results have been completely different, and much better from Israel’s standpoint. 

Egypt’s victory 

Hamas officials began the present war with a series of public attacks on Egypt. The organization’s spokesmen accused Cairo of plotting with Israel against Hamas. Such talk in the open was almost unprecedented in the Arab world. Internal Arab dirty laundry isn’t usually aired in front of the Zionists. This time, however, Hamas’ leaders minced no words in describing the Egyptian “betrayal.” Their remarks spawned a wave of criticism of the Cairo government across the Arab and Muslim world, and also prompted Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations in Egypt. 

The hostility between Hamas and Egypt is nothing new. In November, at Iran’s behest, the organization refused to come to Egypt for talks with Fatah, which Egypt had spent weeks preparing. Just before the fighting in Gaza began, Cairo warned Hamas that it was playing with fire and that Israel was about to attack. Yet, Hamas’ leaders dismissed these warnings. The tension only added to the unsettled score Egypt has had with Hamas since the organization took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Back then, armed Hamas militia broke into the home of Burhan Hamad, the head of Egypt’s security delegation in Gaza, and abducted at gunpoint two Fatah men who had sought shelter there. 

Egypt did not capitulate in the face of Hamas’ accusations. On the contrary: After a few days of fighting, Cairo apparently understood that Israel was helping Egypt restore its deterrent capability vis-a-vis Hamas. Egypt presented the organization with a cease-fire proposal that, at first glance, seemed to stand no chance of being accepted: an immediate, unconditional cease-fire, entry into negotiations over a new hudna (“truce” – during which the cease-fire would be maintained, in the absence of a determination as to when the border crossings would be opened) and, in the third stage, a renewal of the talks between Fatah and Hamas that would lead to the formation of a unity government and require a Palestinian Authority presence at the border crossings. Then, and only then, would the Rafah crossing be opened – one of Hamas’ prime objectives in this war. The Egyptians were essentially telling the organization that the crossing would remain closed for many more months. 

Several times during the past 10 days, Hamas announced that the Egyptian formula was unacceptable because it hurt Palestinian interests. Two days ago, the tone changed. Salah al-Bardawil, the Hamas-Gaza representative to the Cairo talks, held a press conference during which he praised the Egyptian efforts to obtain a cease-fire. The Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, made similar statements. Bardawil even went so far as to emphasize that the Egyptian initiative is the only one the organization was considering, thereby dismissing all other mediation efforts, including those of Qatar and Turkey. 

In many ways, Cairo has used the IDF as a long arm with which to impose on Hamas an internal Palestinian agreement and to tame the unruly organization. Egypt has reclaimed its place as the region’s central power, at the expense of its rival, Iran. The Qatar initiative to convene an emergency Arab summit to discuss the situation in Gaza met with outright refusal on the parts of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who announced that they would not participate in it. 

On Tuesday, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of Hamas’ political office in Damascus, was interviewed on Al Jazeera. Palestinians walking through Manara Square, in the heart of Ramallah, saw Abu Marzouk staring out at them from every corner, from the dozens of television screens that broadcast Al Jazeera nonstop in all the shops. Abu Marzouk promised that victory was near and scorned the IDF operation. Sounding like Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah before him, Abu Marzouk wondered aloud why, after two weeks of fighting, the IDF was still operating in the same areas and not advancing. 

For West Bank residents, Hamas’ declarations of victory are a little more credible. Al-Jazeera also faithfully broadcasts all the announcements issued by various unknown Palestinian factions about their alleged successes in the Gaza fighting. The running captions at the bottom of the screen report non-stop on wholly fictitious events. The Popular Resistance Committees announce that they have destroyed a Merkava tank; a Hamas official says his organization blew up the chemical factory that’s on fire in Ashdod; there are numerous false reports about IDF soldiers being killed. Hamas propaganda films immortalizing a strike on Israeli soldiers are broadcast over and over again. The viewer can’t help but conclude that, at any moment, following in the footsteps of the Egyptian military in 1948, Hamas’ forces are about to reach the Ad Halom Junction, at Gaza’s northernmost point, and that the IDF is readying for a desperate battle to push them back. 

An East Jerusalem journalist who was asked about this was more skeptical about the Israeli version of events. “Why do you refuse to publicize the number of your casualties?” he asked. When told that this statistic is available for all to see, he claimed that the IDF hadn’t managed to get to any Hamas fighters at all, and had killed only civilians. For more than a few people in the West Bank, the IDF operation in Gaza still constitutes proof of Hamas’ success and the Israeli fear of having its army enter an urban area. When Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh eventually emerges from his bunker, he will stand alongside Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar and proclaim his organization the victor – and plenty of people in the West Bank will be ready to believe it. 

Haniyeh will have a harder time convincing Gazans. One Gazan journalist told Haaretz this week: “Hamas’ only surprise were the more than 1,000 dead we suffered.” Some Hamas officials in Gaza worry that after the war, the public will seek to settle accounts with them. This may be why the organization’s Gaza leadership opted to send Bardawil and spokesman Ayman Taha, two of its more pragmatic figures, to the talks in Cairo. Messages relayed between the Hamas leadership in Gaza and that in Damascus, which the PA has become privy to, indicate that the Gaza leadership is increasingly fed up with the heads of the Damascus branch blithely volunteering them to press on with the war and risk losing control in Gaza. In Gaza, after nearly three weeks of massive pummeling at the hands of the IDF, the balance of forces is a little clearer. 

A hug for everyone 

The cashier at the supermarket, an Israeli Arab woman, asks if we would like to add a small contribution to our purchases – grocery items to be sent as a gift to IDF soldiers in Gaza. Maybe she is not aware that the soldiers in Gaza, even those in the forward tanks on the coastal road in the south of Gaza City, are already being fed quite well and provided with all the supplies they need. 

The current war can already boast a number of accomplishments: The country is well prepared, albeit when facing a relatively small threat, to take care of the southern home front. The Negev communities have withstood the rocket barrages with impressive resolve, and without hysteria. 

Still, excessive or vested displays of patriotism have not been totally absent. More than a few have sought to hitch a ride on this war, including some companies claiming that their “heart is with the residents of the south,” when in fact they are seeking to exploit the situation for profit, as well as various artists vying to record an “anthem for the war.” 

It is a little difficult to understand how a war, albeit necessary and justified, that includes the dropping of one-ton bombs from a height of 30,000 feet on a densely populated city can stir such national pride. The most nauseating of these new anthems explains that the IDF is the “army of the heroes of glory” and promises to give a hug to each and every one of these heroes, from the lowliest private all the way up to the chief of staff. Just one more reason to hope it all ends quickly: Then these cloying efforts will pass, too.

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