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January 14, 2009

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Three Rockets Fired at Israel from Lebanon - Eli Ashkenazi and Anshel Pfeffer (Ha'aretz)
    At least three Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel near Kiryat Shmona on Wednesday morning.
    The Israel Defense Forces responded soon after, firing a number of artillery shells at "the source of fire." A similar incident occurred last Thursday.

American Public Backs Israel Firmly in War with Hamas - William Douglas (McClatchy)
    The American people are squarely behind Israel and overwhelmingly think that using force against Hamas is appropriate, according to a new McClatchy/Ipsos poll.
    44% of Americans support Israel's use of force, while only 18% considered Hamas' use of force appropriate. 57% think that Hamas is using excessive force, while only 36% said Israel was.
    When it comes to who's to blame for the latest Middle East crisis, 44% said Hamas, 14% said Israel. When asked whether the U.S. should favor a Palestinian state, 45% said it shouldn't, 31% said it should.
    Americans aren't sure that President-elect Obama will be able to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. 51% said they weren't confident that he could, 32% said they were somewhat confident and 10% very confident.

Hamas Suicide Bombers Posing as Israeli Troops in Gaza - Shahar Ilan (Ha'aretz)
    Hamas terrorists have been dressing up as Israel Defense Forces soldiers in uniform in an attempt to carry out suicide bombings against Israeli troops in Gaza, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday.

Heavy Losses Haven't Broken Hamas - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    There were no signs on Tuesday that the Hamas regime was even close to collapsing.
    Palestinian sources in Gaza said Hamas had lost several hundred fighters and at least 2,500 Hamas gunmen had been wounded. But this was only a tiny percentage of Hamas' armed units, believed to number more than 25,000.
    In addition, dozens of Fatah gunmen belonging to the Aksa Martyrs Brigades are reportedly participating in the fighting, as well as members of Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Resistance Committees.
    Palestinian reporters in Gaza estimated that at least 150 gunmen belonging to these groups had been killed by the IDF.

Norwegian Doctor in Gaza Is Partisan Propagandist - Ricki Hollander (CAMERA)
    Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor in Gaza, has become a media star, decrying what he claims is Israel's "all-out war against civilians."
    Gilbert is a radical Marxist and a member of the political Red (Rodt) party, a revolutionary socialist party in Norway.
    He has been a pro-Palestinian activist since the 1970s, traveled to Lebanon in support of the Palestinians during the first Lebanon war in 1982, and supported the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the U.S.

Muslims in Holland Boycott Shops over Israel Support Rumor (Radio Netherlands)
    This weekend, a large number of Muslims in the Dutch immigrant communities received a mobile-phone text message calling for a boycott of Aldi and Lidl, two German-owned cut-price supermarket chains.
    The messages claimed that the supermarkets were planning to donate a percentage of their profits to Israel. Both companies denied the rumor.

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  • Israeli Troops Deep Inside Gaza - Dan Williams
    The teeming city of Gaza is encircled by Israeli forces and pounded by the air force as part of a campaign to counter Palestinian rocket fire. Having bisected the strip by straddling its main roads, Israeli troops are probing ever deeper into Gaza's population centers, trying to draw out Palestinian gunmen, while waiting for the government to decide whether to order a full-on assault. "We are tightening the encirclement of the city," the offensive's commander, Brigadier Eyal Eisenberg, told reporters. "We are not static. We are careful to be constantly on the move."
        After nightfall, a tank receives a report of a five-man Palestinian squad 300 meters away, launching mortars at an Israeli position. An exchange over the radio ensues, to ensure the squad is indeed hostile. Approval comes in, and the tank fires three shells. Three of the five were killed, the gunner says. (Reuters)
  • Clinton Talks of Engagement with Iran - Glenn Kessler
    During her confirmation hearing Tuesday, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Obama administration will seek to engage directly with Iran in an effort to persuade it to abandon its nuclear program and become "a constructive regional actor," underscoring a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy from the Bush administration. Clinton said that Obama's team is "very open to looking to a positive, effective way of engaging with Iran." She acknowledged that the effort represents a gamble and insisted that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable to Obama. (Washington Post)
        See also Clinton Says "No" to Hamas Talks
    Hillary Clinton told the hearing, "The president-elect and I understand and are deeply sympathetic to Israel's desire to defend itself under the current conditions, and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets." "However, we have also been reminded of the tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East and pained by the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians." She repeated the Bush administration's opposition to negotiations with Hamas unless it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and abides by past peace deals. "That is just for me an absolute," Clinton said. (AFP)
  • Israeli Pilot Tries to Avoid Hitting Civilians
    Apache helicopter pilot Capt. Orr, who has flown dozens of combat missions over Gaza the past few weeks, on Tuesday said he felt sorry for civilian casualties and had aborted missions to avoid them. Orr, 25, felt that aborting some of his targets for fear of harming civilians were among his proudest achievements. "The ones I remember are when I have locked in on a target and I fire and then at the last second I see a child in my cross hairs and I divert the missile," he said. Orr said he does his utmost to avoid noncombatants. "We work very hard to keep civilian casualties as low as possible," he said. "Each missile we shoot is pinpointed to the very meter we want it to go."
        He personally has called off many airstrikes, even at the risk of letting a rocket-launcher get away, for fear of harming an innocent woman or a child. He said by doing so, he was following both his military orders and his own conscience. (AP/MSNBC)
  • International Red Cross: Israel's Use of White Phosphorus Not Illegal - Bradley S. Klapper
    The International Red Cross said Tuesday that Israel has fired white phosphorus shells in its offensive in Gaza, but has no evidence to suggest the incendiary agent is being used improperly or illegally. In response to accusations by human rights organizations, Peter Herby, head of the ICRC mines-arms unit, said: "It's not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to suggest it's being used in any other way." Herby said that using phosphorus to illuminate a target or create smoke is legitimate under international law. (AP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Fighting in Gaza Continues Tuesday - Hanan Greenberg
    According to the IDF, more than 40 Palestinian gunmen were killed in Gaza on Tuesday in several clashes. Israeli forces discovered an underground tunnel that was dug on the Palestinian side of the Nahal Oz fuel terminal, which was meant to be used to carry out a terror attack in Israel. Soldiers said RPG launchers were found in many homes and that terrorists were carrying large amounts of explosives on their bodies. (Ynet News)
        See also Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues - Ilana Curiel
    Six rockets fired by Palestinians in Gaza exploded Wednesday morning in southern Israel. The number of rockets has dropped significantly in the past few days, with 18 rockets fired into Israel on Tuesday. One of them exploded in an educational institution in Ashkelon where students were studying in fortified rooms. (Ynet News)
  • Israel Feels No Pressure to End Gaza Operation - Roni Sofer
    Prime Minister Olmert has made it clear that Israel does not face any pressure to end the campaign in Gaza, a senior official in Jerusalem told Ynet Tuesday. "We don't want to see another Resolution 1701 like we did in Lebanon," he said. "We don't want to find ourselves tomorrow, in two days, or in five or 10 years facing a terror organization armed with missiles that cover the whole of Israel." "The prime minister defined two objectives - an end to Hamas fire and terror, and an end to the organization's military build-up. As long as these objectives are not secured, we will not be under any pressure (to end the operation)." "We are not seeking an exit, but rather, success," he said. (Ynet News)
  • Israel Files UN Complaint Over Hamas Use of Human Shields - Yitzhak Benhorin
    Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev filed a complaint Tuesday with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council over the cynical use of Palestinian civilians by Hamas. Hamas has operated out of mosques, schools and private homes while using civilians as human shields, she said. Terrorists frequently open fire from inside private residences while holding the tenants hostage. (Ynet News)
  • 48 Hours after Wedding, IDF Soldier Critically Wounded in Gaza - Nadav Shragai, Dana Weiler-Polak, and Nir Hasson
    Two weeks ago, 2nd Lt. Aharon Karov got leave from his paratroop unit so he could attend his own wedding. Less than 48 hours after marrying Tzviya Mordechai, he was called back to his unit, and on Monday night he was critically wounded in an explosion in a booby-trapped house in northern Gaza. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • When the Gaza Dust Settles - Robert Satloff
    Once the immediate crisis comes to an end, the Obama-Clinton team will face a choice in how to fulfill the new president's commitment to invest heavily and early in the Arab-Israeli peace process. On the Israeli-Palestinian track, there are two principal schools of thought, reflected in two sets of studies produced by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a joint effort by the Council on Foreign Relations/Brookings Institution. The Washington Institute studies call for a combined top-down/bottom-up approach toward strengthening the Palestinian Authority and enhancing prospects for Israeli-PA negotiations; the relevant chapter in the CFR/Brookings study calls for findings ways the U.S. can engage Hamas.
        It is important to recognize that these are "either/or" options. It is not possible to engage Hamas and build up the PA at the same time. Engaging Hamas would undermine whatever popular support remains for the Mahmoud Abbas-Salam Fayad government, bring an abrupt end to the Dayton (U.S. security coordinator, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton) effort to "train and equip" PA security forces, compel Egypt and Jordan to change course in terms of their own approach toward the PA, and buoy radical actors from Gaza to Beirut to Tehran. Given both personnel choices and strategic imperatives, it is unlikely that the Obama-Clinton team will choose to engage Hamas. The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • To Deter or to Defeat Hamas - Moshe Arens
    It does not seem likely that a terrorist organization could be deterred from pursuing its aims. Terrorist organizations do not generally own substantial assets that are vulnerable to attack, and striking them seems to increase their support from their fanatical fans. Their leaders, if killed, are quickly replaced by others. Al-Qaeda cannot be deterred; it has to be defeated.
        Hamas, a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel, cannot be deterred. It attaches no value to life, whether Muslim or Jewish. Israel is concerned over the loss of life in Gaza during the current round of fighting, but Hamas is not. If a cease-fire is established before Hamas' rocket capability has been eliminated, the group will be seen as the victor. If rockets cease falling, it will be clear who won this conflict. The writer served as Israel's Minister of Defense three times. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel's Goals in Gaza? - Thomas L. Friedman
    Israel de facto recognizes Hamas' right to rule Gaza and to provide for the well-being and security of the people of Gazal. And, in return, Hamas has to signal a willingness to assume responsibility for a lasting cease-fire and to abandon efforts to change the strategic equation with Israel by deploying longer and longer range rockets. That's the only deal. Let's give it a try. (New York Times)
  • Why Israel Can't Make Peace with Hamas - Jeffrey Goldberg
    In the summer of 2006, Nizar Rayyan, a member of the Hamas ruling elite and an unblushing executioner, who was killed two weeks ago, told this journalist, "First we must deal with the Muslims who speak of a peace process and then we will deal with you." As the Gaza war moves to a cease-fire, a crucial question will inevitably arise: Should Israel (and by extension, the U.S.) try to engage Hamas? But the question is unmoored from certain political and theological realities.
        Advocates of negotiation suggest that the hostility toward Jews expressed by Hamas is somehow mutable. But in years of listening, I haven't heard much to suggest that its anti-Semitism is insincere. Like Hizbullah, Hamas believes that God is opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine. I asked Rayyan: Could you agree to anything more than a tactical cease-fire with Israel? I felt slightly ridiculous asking: A man who believes that God every now and again transforms Jews into pigs and apes might not be the most obvious candidate for peace talks at Camp David. Rayyan answered that a long-term cease-fire would be unnecessary, because it will not take long for the forces of Islam to eradicate Israel. (New York Times)
  • Observations:

    The Gaza-Egypt Smuggling Tunnels Must Be Closed - Dore Gold (Wall Street Journal)

    • When Israelis look back on what caused the current conflict in Gaza, they point to their government's decision in September 2005 to leave the narrow "Philadelphi Route" that runs along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. More than Israel's disengagement from the Strip as a whole, the abandonment of this strategic area made full-scale war inevitable.
    • The 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization placed this 100-meter-wide corridor under Israeli military control. By 2000, local Palestinians, many of whom worked with Hamas, dug underground tunnels that allowed for a lucrative smuggling trade that included weapons.
    • During 2008, rockets with a 40-kilometer range came through the Gaza tunnels and into Hamas' weapons cache. At the same time, the tunnels allowed hundreds of Hamas operatives to leave Gaza for Egypt and on to Iran for military training with the Revolutionary Guards at a base outside of Tehran.
    • Today, Israelis are concerned that even if Hamas is defeated militarily, its stocks of rockets will be fully replenished by Iran in a matter of months unless the tunnels under the Philadelphi Route are addressed. That is precisely what happened with Hizbullah after the 2006 Lebanon War. There is an added concern that Iran will supply rockets that reach well beyond the 40-kilometer range. In the next war, Hamas could strike Tel Aviv from inside the Gaza Strip.
    • In 2005, Secretary of State Rice proposed border controls for the area that completely failed because the European Union monitors ran away the moment there was an escalation of violence. Today the idea of a new EU monitoring force - a proposal Western diplomats are discussing - does not engender much confidence on the Israeli side.
    • Anticipating the end of the Gaza war, there is already talk that the peace process can simply be picked up where it was left off and pursued with new determination. But the crisis over the Philadelphi Route has taught Israel a bitter lesson about relinquishing critical territory: It was a cardinal error to leave this strategic zone at the perimeter of Gaza, even if Israel wanted to get out of the Strip in its entirety. Israeli leaders including Yitzhak Rabin have warned that Israel must never leave the Jordan Valley, the equivalent perimeter zone in the West Bank.

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