Military situation on Gaza frontier is tense

Hamas wants to turn the Gaza strip into South Lebanon, digging tunnels, building fortifications, preparing anti-tank weapons, and stockpiling rockets. Recently, they’ve been putting pressure on Israeli troops guarding the border, an example of which was the shooting of an electrical worker last week (see: Black out Gaza!). Israeli military planners are expecting an escalation of rocket and infiltration attacks from Gaza; they are also concerned about a coordinated attack from Hezbollah and perhaps Syria in the north with Hamas forces. So they are certain that at some point they will be fighting there:

Military Intelligence chief Major-General Amos Yadlin said in a government meeting Sunday that certain Hamas leaders are not pleased with the Arab peace initiative, and that the group’s armed wing has returned to operation.

Yadlin referred to the shooting injury suffered two weeks ago by an electrical worker near Nahal Oz, and the renewed laying of explosive devices, as evidence of that activity.

Yadlin also cited remarks made by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh that if the international aid embargo on the Palestinian Authority is not lifted within three months, a third Intifada will erupt. — Ha’aretz

In a few important ways, however, Gaza is not Lebanon. For one thing, the terrain is flat and bare, not hilly and forested as is much of South Lebanon. For another, it will be much harder to supply Hamas over the Egyptian border, which Israel can cut off, finding and destroying the tunnels. On the other hand, Hamas fighters will be thoroughly intermingled with civilians, who have no place to go. So the Hamas strategy will be to try to cause as many Israeli casualties as they can, while using the local population as human shields.

Ha’aretz also reports that Defense Minister Peretz has ordered the IDF to target Hamas rocket-firing squads, something which Israel held back from doing during the ‘cease-fire’ with Hamas that has supposedly been in place for the last few months (Palestinian definition of ‘cease-fire’: “it’s not us, it’s those other factions”), and also to destroy some tunnels which Hamas has dug under the border and is using to plant explosives underneath positions on the Israeli side.

And the IDF is preparing for an eventual showdown:

The IDF last week completed its preparations for a possible major incursion in the Gaza Strip, including special training for most of the units that might be involved and an exercise at the command headquarters level. But military sources say the government prefers to avoid an escalation with the Palestinians.

At the end of last year, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz ordered that preparations be advanced for a possible action in the Gaza Strip that would use large numbers of ground forces. Infantry, armored units, artillery and intelligence units underwent training, mainly at the Tzeelim base in the South, and the Southern Command headquarters held an exercise last week.

The government is ambivalent about launching such an operation because of the certainty of casualties, both Israeli and Palestinian that will result. On the other hand, waiting until there is a major provocation, such as another kidnapping or a major terror attack means that the fighting will take place according to Hamas’ timetable, when they have completed their buildup and are prepared. So there are voices calling for an incursion now.

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