Remain unpredictable

What Hamas has copied from Hezbollah and why the Israeli military operation in Gaza will miss its target

A UN Security Council resolution calls for an immediate ceasefire, but the Israeli invasion of Gaza continues unabated. The Israeli government wants to put an end to the Islamist Hamas. An endeavor as doomed to failure as the 2006 Lebanon War, in which Israel sought to eliminate the Shiite Hezbollah (see The Situation in the Middle East Continues to Escalate).

The actual war is taking place in secrecy. The news channels show mushrooms of smoke from explosions or twinkling lights, which are moving across the night sky. Nothing close to the fighting on the front lines between Israeli ground forces and Hamas guerrillas is known. We know where the fighting is, but little is known about the extent of the clashes through the media.

Last Saturday the Israelis had started their ground offensive (see United under the flag) and had met little resistance at first. Hamas fighters retreated in large numbers from open areas to cities and refugee camps:

They strike here and there with anti-tank missiles and Morse fire, but do not directly confront Israeli troops.

Ammon Lipkin-Shahak, ex-general of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)

Israeli army casualties have so far been lower than expected. According to official figures, 10 soldiers have been killed, half of them by friendly fire.

The unstoppable rocket fire

Hamas’ retreat is tactical in nature, because in direct confrontation with the IDF, one of the four most powerful and best-equipped armies in the world, they had no chance. Hamas relies on superiority in guerrilla warfare in familiar streets and neighborhoods. Like Hezbollah in 2006, it was surprised by the vehemence of the Israeli attack, but nevertheless it speaks confidently of a victory in the Gaza war (see Gaza: Old Signals from the Warring Parties). "A victory would mean that Israel would not be able to achieve its goals," said Musa Abu Marzouq in an interview with al-Jazeera, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau.

If they can’t stop the rockets coming into Israel, that means they’ve failed.

The government in Jerusalem had cited rocket fire from the Islamist Palestinian organization as the number one reason for the war. But despite a two-week bombardment and thousands of Israeli ground troops in Gaza, Hamas rockets continue to fly into Israel every day. Between 20 and 25 a day. Three Israeli civilians were killed.

Hamas has copied the rocket strategy from Hezbollah. In the 2006 Lebanon war, the Lebanese Party of God fired about 4000 rockets into Israeli territory, despite a massive Israeli military operation. In addition, an invasion by Israeli troops was repelled several times. At the end of the war, Hezbollah declared a "divine victory" over its arch-enemy Israel.

Then as now, civilians are the main victims of the war. In Lebanon, 1123 people died; in Gaza, nearly 800 have so far been killed by the Israeli army’s reckless use of force. In Gaza, the rigor of Israel’s military machine appears to be even more severe. UN aid convoys, as well as UN schools, full of refugees have been hit by Israeli bombs and shells.

The Israeli troops had to conquer the whole Gaza Strip

The UN has now suspended all aid activities to prevent further deaths. Even doctors and sanitarians of the Red Crescent (Arabic version of the Red Cross) are being targeted by Israeli snipers. Israel is also accused of denying medical aid to wounded Palestinian civilians. Even the few international media representatives who are in Gaza come under Israeli fire. A Chinese journalist was injured when a building used as a media center in Gaza City was attacked.

No word yet on how long and to what extent Israel will continue the war in Gaza. To really stop Hamas rocket fire, Israeli troops had to conquer the entire Gaza Strip and search it from house to house. But even then, Israel cannot be sure that there will be no more rockets fired at Israel. Hamas has prepared for an invasion, has an extensive system of bunkers and tunnels.

Their fighters received military training in Iran, Syria or with Hezbollah in Lebanon. No one knows exactly what weapons Hamas has stashed away.

In addition to the homemade Qassam rockets with a range of 15 kilometers, there are new types that fly at least 40 kilometers away. Some of them have already descended on Israeli cities. The Hamas leadership has already announced several surprises for the Israeli invasion force.

Also a strategy of the Lebanese Hezbollah, which uses new weapons and new military tactics in every confrontation with Israel. According to the principle of remaining unpredictable, patiently waiting for the decisive moment and using a surprise effect to overtake the superior enemy. With Hezbollah, that still worked out.

Whether Hamas will succeed is yet to be seen. In Gaza, Hamas brigades are obviously waiting for Israeli soldiers to actually advance into the densely populated cities in order to lure them into ambushes and bomb traps. It can be amed that Hamas fighters, like Hezbollah soldiers in the summer of 2006, are sitting in hidden bunkers, watching Israeli troop movements in order to strike suddenly.

Long-range missiles with a range of 70 kilometers are also expected to be smuggled into Gaza through tunnels along the Egyptian border. These rockets could hit Tel Aviv or even the Dimona nuclear reactor (see Hamas Rockets Could Threaten Israeli Dimona Nuclear Reactor).

Hamas will do anything to prove its military capabilities, and certainly before a possible cease-fire. To prove to Israel and the world that Hamas cannot be defeated and that no one can stop it from launching rockets at Israel after a good fight.

Militant groups in Sud Lebanon

After the experience of the 2006 Lebanon war against Hezbollah, it is hard to understand why Israel decided to invade Gaza. Of course, the Israeli military was able to completely wipe out Hamas and its infrastructure. It would only be a question of time, but this does not exist in view of the protests of the UN and the world public against the bloodbath in Gaza. Not to mention the avalanche of violence that would engulf the Middle East, Israel should actually try to completely cleanse Gaza of Hamas.

Katyusha missiles have already been launched from Sud Lebanon into northern Israel . About 400.000 Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon. All known militant groups of Palestine are present there, heavily armed and ready for action at any time. One of these groups is responsible for the Katjusha attack. It is hard to imagine that they will remain calm if Israel really does reduce Gaza to rubble.

Hezbollah’s patience is also limited, as its secretary-general recently confirmed at an Ashoura tribute event. As a precaution, Hezbollah has already moved all its facilities and offices from Sudbeirut to the Bekaa Valley. In addition, all technical experts who are abroad were immediately recalled to Lebanon.

Is the invasion only a campaign for the parliamentary elections in February?? Does the government hope to be re-elected by the war with Hamas? "Everything depends on the outcome of this operation," says Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Should the war in Gaza end as unsatisfactorily as in Lebanon in 2006, a victory of the opposition (Likud party) under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu is likely.

Due to the new resolution of the UN Security Council, the Israeli government still in office does not have much time left. Hamas will make it as difficult as possible militarily. Hamas will survive either way, because it is not only a terrorist organization that launches rockets at Israeli civilians and commits suicide bombings, but also a social movement that maintains hospitals, schools, and social service organizations.

Moreover, it is a political party in parliament that was elected by over 50 percent of Palestinians in the last elections. A commentary in the Israeli daily Haaretz even ames that the Islamist Hamas will emerge strengthened from the conflict. "You can’t achieve anything with violence in two weeks," one could read there, "for which you actually need generations".

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