Hamas gunmen 298.8.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Gaza Strip is a boiling pot, a high-ranking officer said Thursday, and the IDF is the cover keeping it from spilling over. Fueled by radical Islamic ideology and Iranian money, Hamas is building a strong military five minutes south of Ashkelon. The only thing holding back an explosion of violence is the IDF.
It is no secret that for the past year, since the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Schalit, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant has been pushing the chief of the General Staff and the government to give the green light for a large-scale operation inside Gaza with the goal of destroying Hamas and its terror infrastructure. Basically, Galant wants to do right in Gaza what went wrong last summer in southern Lebanon.
So far, due to the paralysis that the Winograd Committee has instilled within the political and military echelons, the green light has yet to come. A senior IDF officer's remarks on Thursday, however, about a "limited window of opportunity" to deal with Hamas "once and for all," is meant to stir Prime Minister Ehud Olmert into action.
With the Philadelphi Corridor wide open - due to Egypt's failure to stop the weapons smuggling - Hamas has transferred hundreds of tons of explosives and advanced weaponry into the Strip. In the past two months alone, 20 tons were smuggled in and the IDF is now forecasting that any weapon small enough to fit into a tunnel can make its way to Hamas hands, including advanced antitank, antiaircraft and Katyusha missiles and rockets.
Diplomatically, now is a good time for a large-scale operation inside Gaza since the international community, which has thrown its support behind the newly-formed West Bank government of Salaam Fayad, has yet to formulate a policy concerning the Hamas entity in Gaza.
The violent takeover of Gaza finally saw Hamas portrayed in precisely the light in which Israel has been trying to show it for years. Even US President Bush said in his landmark speech this week that "by its actions, Hamas has demonstrated beyond all doubt that it is [more] devoted to extremism and murder than to serving the Palestinian people."
From a military perspective, now is also a good time. While Hamas has already smuggled in advanced weaponry, it is imperative to curb the flow as soon as possible and before the deterrence balance is swayed too hard in the wrong direction.
Hamas has also built up a 13,000-strong military force in Gaza, organized into brigades, battalions and special forces. While, for now, Hamas has toned down its terror activity and its involvement in Kassam attacks, its goal, the Southern Command believes, is to renew attacks on Israel soon.
In the meantime, the IDF will continue to conduct near-border operations inside Gaza. Fifty such operations, some of them covert, have been conducted in recent months, most of them two to three kilometers into Gaza. In private, Galant compares these operations to a soccer team's defensive strategy: Instead of protecting a goal just with a goalkeeper, the team also sends a few players to maintain a defensive line up ahead.
A large-scale operation inside Gaza would likely come at a heavy price. Hundreds, if not thousands of Kassam rockets would rain down on Sderot and the Negev, not to mention the predictions about the relatively high number of IDF casualties.
Hence the dilemma: If Hamas is not taken care of militarily now, will it be possible to do so in the future?