Saying that as terror attacks originating in Gaza continue
"Israel will be forced to act," a senior defense official
said that a large scale invasion of Gaza is only a matter of
Assessing an incursion on Monday in Khan Yunis that resulted
in 14 Palestinians killed and more than 100 wounded, senior
IDF officers said that it was a success since it demonstrated
to Hamas that they have no safe havens from the IDF.
Many observers, especially from the Left, set up a simplistic
dilemma saying that there is no military solution for terror
since its source is not a military target but rather the
hearts of the people. Therefore, they argue, a diplomatic
alternative is necessary.
At the time, the Israeli government seems to reject this
dilemma as simplistic, pursuing military advantages as a
background and supplement to what will eventually be a
political and diplomatic settlement. In hints dropped over
the past months, senior officers have implied that the
military challenge initiated by Arafat and the Palestinian
establishment in September 2000 must be answered militarily
before diplomatic progress is possible. In the West Bank,
Yehudah and Shomron, this has been forthcoming, but military
action in Gaza has been very limited, leaving the
infrastructure of both Hamas and the other rejectionist
groups, as well as the infrastructure of the PA, largely
It is would have been reasonable to hope that, seeing Israeli
success in the West Bank, the Palestinians in Gaza might have
moved towards some sort of settlement, however this has not
happened. Thus it seems that most Israeli strategists believe
that the military answer to the Palestinian terror
infrastructure in Gaza must be more detailed.
The PA forces in Gaza have not been attacked, and they are
capable of suppressing Hamas activities if they choose to do
so. Despite Palestinian pronouncements in English that they
are against terror, the PA forces have taken no action in
Some defense establishment sources said the IDF was opposed
to invading Gaza for fear of casualties on the Israeli side,
and government diplomatic sources also indicated concern
about the international ramifications.
Some noted that the IDF has kept up a steady pressure in Gaza
for more than a month, but mostly in low-level operations
that do not make headlines. Some Israeli officials said the
actions in Gaza are designed to prevent a major wave of
terrorist attacks in advance of a US attack on Iraq, to
provoke Israel into a major military action and complicate
the US plans.
In commenting on the IDF operation in Khan Unis, Defense
Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said that only one of those
killed was not a wanted terrorist. Ben-Eliezer said he would
release details of the terrorist activity of the 13. "They
were all terrorists with long resumes," he said, "except for
one innocent elderly woman."
The elderly woman was the mother of one of the terrorists the
IDF had come to arrest.
Prime Minister Sharon said the purpose of the operation was
to arrest two wanted Hamas terrorists.
"We do not want to harm civilians," said Sharon, "but the
terrorists are encamped in the civilian population, and fire
Qassam rockets that I can hear from my farm. They lay mines,
hurt Israelis in settlements, and send suicide bombers. We
have no choice but to act against these hotbeds of terrorism.
The operation was meant to arrest wanted men from the Hamas.
The forces encountered snipers from the Popular Front and
Tanzim, and they had to be withdrawn."
Sharon said Israel regrets the loss of innocent life, but
that the responsibility lies with the terrorists who use
civilians as human shields. According in international law
combatants who hide among noncombatants are responsible for
casualties to the innocent, and not those who fight them.
A senior official in the Prime Minister's office said Israel
is constantly faced with the difficult choice between taking
action and creating deterrence now, or doing nothing and
waiting for a "successful" terrorist operation that will
require a much heavier response.
On Monday, soldiers, combat engineers and armored units,
backed by IAF attack helicopters, went into Khan Yunis,
searching for fugitives and terrorist infrastructure. They
went to the strongly pro-Hamas Amal neighborhood to nab two
terrorists who had evaded arrest. Troops also arrested
another Palestinian wearing a belt of explosives and holding
a bag of mortar shells.
As the soldiers made their way out of Khan Yunis, armed men
outside the Katiba Mosque fired anti-tank rockets and RPGs
and threw grenades at them. An attack helicopter fired at
least one missile in support of the ground troops, causing
the vast majority of the casualties.
Palestinians claimed that the group was on its way to
prayers, but an IDF spokesman said that the combat conditions
in the area were such that even the most religious people
would not have insisted on going to the mosque to pray.
The spokesman said the soldiers responded according to
regulations and with restraint, adding that film from a
remote-operated drone will support his statements.
The US sharply criticized the operation, saying the IDF "must
exercise the utmost discipline and avoid harm to civilians."
A White House spokesman said Israel should take "every
measure" to prevent civilian casualties, but stressed that it
has the right of self-defense.
Palestinian Authority officials pointed out that the raid
came hours after Solana met with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's
security adviser Muhammad Dahlan and other senior Fatah
leaders in the Gaza Strip.
"Every time we witness efforts to revive the peace process
and put it back on track, like those being exerted now by EU
envoy Javier Solana," said PA minister Saeb Erekat, "the
Israeli government moves to conduct such war crimes and
murder innocent civilians, because the end game of the
Israeli government is to resume full occupation of the
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said after talks with his
French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, in Paris that news
of the attack "greatly disturbed" him. The Russian Foreign
Ministry described the operation and actions taken as
"disproportionate." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
criticized the operation as "reckless disregard" of
international humanitarian law.
Deputy Defense Minister Weizmann Shiri deemed it a success,
part of a war. He added that the soldiers, who encountered
stiff resistance from all sides, "had to do the job."
Shortly after the operation, Palestinians fired three mortar
shells at a settlement in Gush Katif.