Analysis: Waiting for a hot summer in Gaza

After Bush leaves and Independence Day celebrations are finished, Israel's hands will be untied.

IDF gaza wait 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF gaza wait 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In 2001, Israeli helicopters and missile boats destroyed close to 10 Palestinian armored personnel carriers in the Gaza Strip. The attacks on the vehicles - supplied to Yasser Arafat shortly after his return to Gaza in 1994 - came in response to mortar attacks on Gush Katif settlements. On Saturday morning, one of the APCs that Israel did not destroy in those early days of the second intifada resurfaced to play a part in Hamas's ambitious and unprecedented attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza. The vehicle rammed through the border fence, allowing the infiltration of the two explosive-laden jeeps. While the attack failed, the IDF believes that Hamas will keep up its efforts to strike at Israeli forces along the border with Gaza. The attacks have two purposes: first and foremost to kill Israelis, but no less important to kidnap soldiers who can be used as additional bargaining chips together with the kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Schalit. Kerem Shalom was not selected as the target for the attack by chance. A week and a half ago, Islamic Jihad terrorists infiltrated the Nahal Oz fuel depot and killed two Israelis. Last Thursday, the IDF foiled an attack against Kerem Shalom when three terrorists were spotted trying to infiltrate the crossing. On Saturday, they tried again. Besides serving as the main conduit for humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, Nahal Oz and Kerem Shalom are also the only points of contact today between Gaza and Israel. Besides a trickle of Palestinians who are allowed into Israel for medical treatment, the crossings are only open in one direction - for supplies coming from Israel into Gaza. Also, there are always soldiers stationed at Kerem Shalom, making it a prime target for car bombings. Hamas's repeated attempts to kidnap soldiers over the past two weeks are understood by the defense establishment as a sign of the pressure the terror group is under. Almost two years have passed since Schalit was kidnapped and a prisoner swap has yet to be finalized. Just last week, a top defense official revealed that Israel had lost access to Hamas in recent weeks and that negotiations over Schalit's release had come to a complete stop. Hamas believes that the kidnapping of another soldier would force Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to give in to their demands to release hundreds of terrorists being held in Israeli prisons. The assessment in the defense establishment is that attacks against the crossings as well as along the border fence - like the one last week in which three Givati soldiers were killed - will continue and possibly escalate in the coming weeks. Despite this assessment and calls within the IDF to move from a "defensive mode" of repelling Hamas from the border to an "offensive mode" - a widespread invasion into Gaza - defense officials admitted over the weekend that the chances of a large operation were slim to none for at least two months. This is mainly due to May's scheduled visit by US President George W. Bush. There are also the nationwide 60th anniversary celebrations. After Bush leaves and the last of the fireworks are lit, Israel's hands will be untied. It will also already be the middle of the summer, which is a prime time for a war.