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(photo credit: AP)
"Shock and Awe," also known as "rapid dominance" is a doctrine formulated by the US military in the 1990s that calls for use of overwhelming power, dominating maneuvers and spectacular displays of force to paralyze an adversary.
On Saturday, that was the IDF's goal: to shock and awe Hamas with a blow the likes of which has not been seen in Gaza since the territory was conquered by Israel in 1967.
The air strikes that began at 11:30 a.m., with more than 110 IAF aircraft dropping over 100 tons of explosives on more than 100 targets, killing over 230 Palestinians. The bank of targets had been prepared months in advance by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Military Intelligence and included all of the main Hamas military headquarters, outposts, training camps and weapons stockpiles.
The operation - called Cast Lead - started off similar to the way the IDF entered the Second Lebanon War when on the night of July 12, 2006 - after Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were abducted by Hizbullah - the IAF struck at more than 90 targets - all of the guerrilla group's long-range missiles - in just 36 minutes.
The decision to launch such a blow against Hamas on Saturday was made during last Wednesday's security cabinet meeting. A secret meeting was held again on Friday between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, where the timing was finalized.
After several of the decisions from Wednesday's cabinet meeting were leaked to the press, Barak decided on a strategy of deception - to deceive Hamas into believing that Israel was not planning to strike back.
Barak took two actions to achieve this - the decision to open the Gaza crossings on Friday (which was announced on Thursday) and leaking to the press that there would be another cabinet meeting on Sunday to decide whether to attack. This created the perception that Israel was holding off on an operation when in reality it was fueling and arming its aircraft.
A demonstration of Hamas's surprise was that one of the targets hit in the air campaign was its police academy, bombed as it was holding a graduation ceremony. Between 70 and 80 Hamas gunmen are believed to have been killed in the strike.
The Israeli operation has three goals: to stop Hamas rocket attacks; to stop the smuggling of weapons from Egypt into Gaza; and to thwart Hamas military activity in the Strip. These are modest goals that do not include toppling the Hamas regime as Livni has called for in recent weeks.
The big question for Israel, though, regards the second stage of the operation and when and if to launch a ground operation inside Gaza.
The Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 also opened with a massive aerial assault, based on the prevalent misconception at the time that the IAF alone could stop Hizbullah's rocket fire. When that proved wrong and the rockets continued to rain, the IDF had no choice but to send ground forces inside Lebanon; the results were unfortunately unsatisfactory.
Today, there is concern that the same thing will happen. There is no question about the IAF's operational capabilities, but what will happen if ground forces are sent into Gaza? At the moment, Barak is not yet talking about a large-scale invasion.
Barak and Olmert made a point Saturday to stress that the operation would be lengthy, possibly taking weeks. The end-strategy is still not completely formulated but officials said that if Hamas gets down on its knees and begs Israel to stop, the request will be considered.
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