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A story that appeared on YNet on Saturday night - and that was repeated by Israel Radio on its newscasts - may have some Israelis believing that the end of Hamas is at hand.
A senior IDF officer estimated Saturday that roughly 300 Hamas men have been killed since the army launched its ground incursion in the Gaza Strip. The military official said IDF troops were able to wipe out whole battalions belonging to the Gaza terror group.On the flip side, consider this story from the Times of London (Uzi Mahnaimi alert).
"Hundreds of people were killed in the various combat sectors," the officer said. "Some Hamas companies and battalions were simply wiped out. We also see cases of desertions and unauthorized leaves, while some terror activists are scared to undertake moves that would jeopardize them vis-à-vis IDF troops."
Earlier Saturday, the IDF killed Hamas' rocket chief in the Gaza City area, Amir Mansi. The senior officer said that shortly before his death Mansi clashed with his subordinates, who refused to come out of their hideouts. The rocket chief was left with no choice but to launch mortar shells himself, and was killed after being identified by the army.
About 800 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, and more than 3,000 injured, but the main fighting force of Hamas was unhurt and lay in wait for the Israelis in Gaza City and the refugee camps in the north and south of the Gaza Strip.I'm skeptical of an IDF assessment that says that 'whole battalions' were wiped out and that 'hundreds' of people were killed if in fact we have only killed 300 Hamas men this week (and probably another 200 the previous week - although most of those were at the Hamas police academy graduation). And while the claim that Hamas has a 15,000-man fighting force may be exaggerated, it's not unreasonable. I don't doubt that Hamas has many more terrorists hiding underground, and that this war is not over yet by a longshot.
The Israelis have found an enemy well dug in. In recent years, especially in the last six months of the unofficial ceasefire, Hamas has constructed hundreds of miles of tunnels in urban areas.
“Almost every mosque has a secret entrance that leads to a tunnel that stretches hundreds of metres, sometimes whole kilometres away,” said an Israeli officer.
This network has allowed Hamas fighters to remain almost completely out of sight of the Israelis, and led to house-to-house searches that are harrowing for the local population and nerve-racking for the invaders.
There is a third phase to the war that the politicians are now debating whether to move into. To date, the IDF has refrained from entering Gaza City or the 'refugee camps.' From what I have seen, the third phase involves going into Gaza City and into the 'refugee camps' at the northern and southern ends of the Gaza Strip to root out the terrorists and their underground tunnel networks. On the one hand, there really seems to be little choice but to carry out the third phase if the IDF is to deal Hamas the resounding defeat it so richly deserves. On the other hand, the war is going to become unpopular very quickly if we suddenly have a lot of body bags coming home, God forbid. A Maariv poll yesterday showed 91% in favor of the war. That's a huge number. But it won't continue if the war continues for too long or if we, God forbid, start taking a lot of casualties. Mahnaimi says that might not make it past the military censors in Israel and that have not appeared in the Israeli media:
Seconds later Still, a german shepherd dog, moved into action. His handler, a young soldier from the Israeli Oketz (“Sting”) unit, released Still into the tunnel.Am I the only one surprised that the soldier had to ask for permission to fire under those circumstances?
There was no sign of him for several minutes, and then to the surprise of his handler, Still’s bark could be heard from the entrance of a large house several hundred yards away.
The soldiers tensed. Still was supposed to bark only when he spotted an enemy.
Then everything happened quickly. The soldiers ran to the house. A short burst of fire from an AK-47 was heard and then a horrible howl from Still.
The soldiers burst in to finish off two Hamas fighters. Still was dead, his blood mixed with that of the militants. Later the soldiers discovered 450lb of booby-trap explosives in the house they thought was empty. Still had saved their lives and his body was sent for burial at the graveyard at the Oketz base.
“We ‘jump’ from house to house till we reach the designated house,” said one soldier, who sent his diary home last week. “I was wondering how I would react if a group of soldiers stormed into my house with camouflage colours on their faces at three o’clock in the morning.
“Someone in old pyjamas and frightened eyes opens his front door. I order him to put his hands up and check under his pyjamas to make sure he’s ‘clean’. I tell him to put all his family in one room. If we find an unaccounted person we’ll shoot him, I warn the owner.”
Minutes later the incoming Hamas fire began. “I hear the whistle of the RPG [rocket-propelled grenade]. I trace the launcher and ask my officer for permission to open fire,” wrote the soldier. “The officer asks if I’m certain. I answer positively. Here it comes, I say to myself, the most important thing is to keep my hands steady. A hundred yards in front of me I see a militant with the RPG. I’m onto him. Ask for fire permission. Got it. I squeeze the trigger. A single shot. He collapsed. My first.”
Israel could use bunker busters on the underground tunnels (assuming the IDF knows where they are), but unfortunately, we would suffer even more international opprobrium than we have already if we did that.
In summary, I'm skeptical of claims that Hamas is falling apart. I'm also doubtful this government will order the IDF to undertake the third phase. Were it not for the fact that elections are a month away, I am sure they would have ordered the IDF to stop already. This war may end up being a draw.