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Olmert's Non-Response to Hamas Missile Attacks Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
September 11, 2007


JERUSALEM -- A teen-age trumpet player who had just finished basic training and qualified for the Israel Defense Force's superb military band became a symbol of thiscountry's current travails overnight due to the tragic effect of an incoming Palestinian missile.

Ofri lost a leg when an incoming Qassam projectile launched from the Gaza Strip smashed into an army tent camp just south of Ashkelon.  He may never be able to march because of his new disability, may lose his chance to be a bandsmen and may have to give up his three-month old career in uniform.

In short, his life was transformed in an ugly instant from that of an optimistic and carefree young soldier to that of a handicapped casualty of wanton and irresponsible terrorism.  Israel as a nation also has lost its sense of self-confidence and invincibility by dint of its government's inability of unwillingness to stop the incessant ballistic warfare being conducted by the likes of Islamic Jihad, Popular Resistance Committees and other dissident outfits that operate under the tolerant if not impotent umbrella of the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers.
  
It is about time that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his security cabinet stopped playing Russian roulette with the lives of its citizens, civilian as well as military.  For the past seven years, missile crews openly or secretly linked to Hamas have been firing their home-made Qassam projectiles at the southern city of Sderot, the kibbutzim and other settlements that line the Gaza Strip's eastern flank and the southern outskirts of Ashkelon.
  
There have been countless near-misses and strokes of pure luck.  The casualty toll in dead and wounded has been relatively small, too small evidently to justify the kind of response that could put a stop once and for all for this violation of Israel's sovereignty that has kept thousands of its citizens in jeopardy.
  
The most effective and logical response should be a massive ground assault in which crack infantry units would be supported by armor and artillery whose objective would be to seize the northern third of the Gaza Strip, destroy its Qassam launch pads, round up the terrorists who activate them and smash the dissident groups based there.
  
This solution was proposed months ago by ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his current capacity as leader of the right-wing Likud party and head of the parliamentary opposition.  Immediately after the Qassams hit the army tent camp for new recruits where Ofri and 66 other soldiers were wounded, ex-military chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon called for an immediate overland incursion and two follow-up onslaughts to stop the missile launchers.
  
There are several reasons for Olmert's reluctance to take this advice.  None of them make sense from the standpoint of national security and international relations.  He and his colleagues in the dominant Kadima party are reluctant to take the initiative militarily during the run-up to November's Middle East peace conference in Washington, DC, sponsored by President Bush.  This is because an Israeli blitz into and takeover of the northern Gaza Strip might deter the Saudi Arabians, Egyptians and Jordanians
 from attending the parley.  
 
One of the prevailing assumptions here is that Islamic Jihad(if not Hamas as well) is escalating the missile campaign in an effort to prevent the peace conference from being convened.  Even if that were the case, however, Olmert et al cannot refrain from using the armed force at his disposal at the risk of the Sderot residents' personal safety.  Just because most of the schools, kindergartens and private homes that sustained direct hits were empty at the time does not mean it always will be that way.
 
Similarly, just because the incoming projectile that landed in the Zikkim boot camp landed in an area in which the tents were empty and the mess hall it destroyed was unoccupied is no guarantee for the future.  The Olmert government also is determined to keep regional tension as low as possible in the aftermath of the mysterious and unexplained Israeli over flight of Syrian territory.
 
There has been constant talk, discussion and debate here for the past six months or more about whether the Syrians intend to go to war against Israel, their purpose being to retrieve the strategic Golan Heights which they lost 40 years ago in the Six-Day War.  According to this line of reasoning, an escalation in the Gaza Strip could make tempers rise in Damascus, where Hamas has its political headquarters, and prompt the Syrian military to act as the Gazans ally and protector.
 
Another factor is the imminent release of the Winograd Commission's report on the (mis)conduct of last year's war with the (Syrian-backed) Hizbollah guerrillas of southern Lebanon.  Olmert had his hands burned in that conflict and apparently is fearful of yet another military adventure that could backfire on him politically if not tactically.
  
But these concerns are not valid insofar as the government's responsibility to assure the safety of its citizenry is concerned.  Newly-installed Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said in a reportedly closed forum from which his words were quoted in full in the Israeli mass media that a ground operation in the Gaza Strip is "inevitable."  His words may have been prophetic.  They certainly should be.
 

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