Fundamentally Freund: Israel's window of opportunity

Gaza has been exploiting the transition period to bombard us - we should use it to strike a piercing blow back.

michael freund 88 (photo credit: )
michael freund 88
(photo credit: )
While much of the world is busy marveling over the results of the US presidential elections, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have been exploiting the opportunity to fire a barrage of rockets at Israel's southern towns and cities. Over the weekend, 20 Qassam and Iranian-produced Grad rockets were launched towards Ashkelon and the western Negev, and another 12 slammed into Israel on Monday. This latest bombardment comes just days after the government reportedly passed a message along to Hamas via Egyptian intermediaries pleading for a continuation of the shaky cease-fire that has been in place for the past few months. Hamas' response was clear and unambiguous, and it came in the form of dozens of potentially lethal explosive projectiles raining down on innocent Israelis. Indeed, the situation has gotten so bad that officials in Ashdod, the country's primary cargo port, announced on Sunday that they have begun making preparations to defend the city from the possibility of attack. Since Ashdod handles some 60% of Israel's marine cargo, Palestinian rocket fire on the area could have a devastating affect on the economy, and it would mark a further escalation in the terrorists' war against the Jewish state THIS CANNOT be allowed to happen. For far too long, Israel has allowed Palestinian terrorists in Gaza to turn the south of the country into a shooting gallery, making life increasingly intolerable for tens of thousands of Israelis. From January 1 through November 11, according to the Foreign Ministry, a total of 1,151 rockets and 1,239 mortar rounds fired from Gaza struck southern Israel. That is an average of seven per day, every day, since the start of the year. It also exceeds by far the combined total of rockets that have crashed into Israel in the past two years. In all of 2007, a total of 896 Palestinian rockets hit Israeli territory, after 946 did so in 2006. And with Hamas terrorists eagerly working on expanding the range and improving the accuracy of their arsenal, the danger posed by the rocket fire will only continue to grow. So instead of continuing to appease the assailants, now is precisely the time for Israel to storm into Gaza and put them out of commission, before the Obama administration comes to power. In these, the waning days of the Bush presidency, Israel is far less likely to come under heavy diplomatic pressure should it launch an extensive counter-terror operation to undermine Hamas. The next 60 days until Barack Obama's inauguration are therefore a golden window of opportunity for Israel to strike a piercing blow against Palestinian irredentism. THIS CHANCE cannot be frittered away, particularly since the odds are that an Obama White House will be far less inclined to support bold Israeli moves in the war on terror and far more likely to press for appeasing Hamas. Just last week, a senior Hamas official confirmed that the terror group has been holding talks for some time with Obama's advisers. Ahmed Yousuf, political adviser to Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, told the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat on November 11 that "We were in contact with a number of Obama's aides through the Internet, and later met with some of them in Gaza, but they advised us not to come out with any statements, as they may have a negative effect on his election campaign." Yousuf described the contacts with Obama's aides as "ongoing," said he is still in touch with them, and went on to suggest that Obama's Middle East policy "will differ from that of his predecessor George W. Bush." Of course it remains to be seen whether that will prove to be the case. But Israel can hardly afford to take such a chance. On Monday, during a visit to Sderot with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the army is prepared to carry out an operation in Gaza, but will do so only once "the conditions are ripe." But how much riper do they need to be? Aren't dozens of rockets raining down on Israeli cities each day enough of a reason to warrant taking action? Israel should be seizing the initiative now, and making the most of Washington's current preoccupation with the presidential transition process, to impose some order on the chaos of Gaza. This is an important chance to finally bring about an end to the rocket fire, and bring the Hamas regime to its knees. It would be cataclysmic, and simply unforgivable, if the government were to forego this opportunity. But don't get your hopes up. Thus far, Israel's leadership has done virtually nothing to stop the rocket fire, so there is little reason to suspect there will be any sudden change of course. So it appears that we are fated to be stuck with the current pin-headed policy of pinpoint retaliation and pinprick attacks. And thousands of Israelis will continue to live on pins and needles, watching helplessly as our government allows yet another fortuitous moment for action to needlessly slip away.