Haaretz’s lead article this evening, written by Amos Harel and Barak Ravid, with news agency material incorporated, reports that “The first wave of air strikes was launched by 60 warplanes which hit a total of 50 targets in one fell swoop. The IAF deployed approximately 100 bombs, with an estimated 95 percent of the ordnance reaching its intended target … Immediately following the first wave, some 20 IAF aircraft struck 50 Palestinian rocket launchers in an effort to minimize Hamas’ retaliatory strikes … Senior military officials characterize the strikes as part of a ‘rolling operation’ and have thus begun a sporadic enlistment of the reserves, particularly in smaller units. Top IDF brass anticipate difficult days ahead, warning that the operation will extend beyond the next couple of days”. This full story can be viewed here.
This might be a possible error — or maybe Haaretz was wrong in the report above to say that only 100 bombs were used rather than 100 tons of bombs — but the Associated Press is adding that “Israeli military officials said more than 100 tons of bombs were dropped on Gaza by mid-afternoon. They spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines”. This full story is posted here.
In another Haaretz article published this evening, Amos Harel wrote that “This was a massive attack much along the lines of what the Americans termed “shock and awe” during their invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Simultaneous, heavy bombardment of a number of targets on which Israel spent months gathering intelligence. The military ‘target bank’ includes dozens of additional targets linked to Hamas, some of which will certainly come under attack in the coming days. Like the U.S. assault on Iraq and the Israeli response to the abduction of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser at the outset of the Second Lebanon War (the ‘night of the Fajr missiles’, a reference to the IAF destruction of Hezbollah’s arsenal of medium-range Fajr missiles), little to no weight was apparently devoted to the question of harming innocent civilians. From Israel’s standpoint, Hamas, which persistently fires rockets while using the civilian population as cover, had plenty of opportunities to save face and lower their demands. In stubbornly continuing to launch rockets during the course of recent weeks, it brought this assault on itself … A final decision on the precise timing of the operation was made on Saturday morning during consultations between the prime minister, the defense minister, the IDF chief of staff, and army generals. [n.b., strangely, Harel omits any mention of Tzipi Livni’s participation in these consultations, though as Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister she was reportedly involved. Is this just an oversight?] The cabinet approved the assault in its last meeting on Wednesday. Since that day, the government has waited for the opportunity to strike. Apparently, an intelligence tip indicating that members of the Hamas military wing were convening for a meeting expedited the decision-making process on giving the go-ahead to act. A ccording to initial reports from Gaza, a number of senior Hamas officials were hit, yet the scope of the harm done to the group’s leadership has yet to be precisely determined. The Israeli objective is clear: deal as serious a blow as possible to the Hamas chain of command in order to throw its operating capabilities off kilter”. This article can be viewed in full here .
The Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz, who is well-connected with the Israeli Defense Ministry, reported Saturday evening that “The IDF was beefing up forces around the Gaza Strip on Saturday evening in preparation of a possible ground operation following a massive air assault earlier in the day”. His report is posted here.
The three top Israeli officials reportedly involved in the decision to launch the attacks today all gave press conferences on Saturday.
YNet reported that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak convened a press conference on Saturday afternoon to formally announce the beginning of the IDF’s operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The offensive was launched at around 11:30 am, with the IDF carrying out two separate waves of attacks. Some 80 warplanes and helicopters took part in the assault, and over 100 bombs were dropped on dozens of targets … The officials said the operation would involve mostly the IAF, which is using precision weaponry to obliterate Hamas’ underground facilities, but added that other forces may be sent in if necessary. The IAF is currently preparing for dozens of daily sorties into Gaza. Unmanned aircrafts will also assist with gathering intelligence. Barak laid out the three objectives of the offensive – dealing Hamas a forceful blow, fundamentally changing the situation in Gaza, and bringing to the cessation of rocket attacks against Israeli citizens. … The defense minister detailed the launch of the operation: ‘In the afternoon IAF aircraft attacked Hamas and terror targets in the Gaza Strip. In this strike the IAF hit more than 190 Hamas operatives, including senior police officials, and destroyed infrastructure used by the terror groups’. Barak noted in his statement to the press that the IDF and defense establishment have been preparing for the operation several weeks now”. This report can be found here.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who reportedly called all staff back from Hanukkah holiday vacations to lanuch a public relations blitz to justify the attacks today, told the press at a quickly-convened meeting in Tel Aviv this evening that “This is the translation of our basic right to self defense”, and added that “Israel expects the support and understanding of the international community, as it confronts terror, and advances the interest of all those who wish the forces of peace and co-existence to determine the agenda of this region”.
Livni also said that “Israeli citizens have been under the threat of daily attack from Gaza for years. Only this week – hundreds of missiles and mortars shells were fired at Israeli civilian communities including the firing of 80 missiles on a single day. Until now we have shown restraint. But today there is no other option than a military operation. We need to protect our citizens from attack through a military response against the terror infrastructure in Gaza … Israel left Gaza in order to create an opportunity for peace. In return, the Hamas terror organization took control of Gaza and is using its citizens as cover while it deliberately targets Israeli communities and denies any chance for peace. We have tried everything to reach calm without using force. We agreed to a truce through Egypt that was violated by Hamas, which continued to target Israel, hold Gilad Shalit and build up its arms. Israel continues to act to prevent humanitarian crisis and to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians. Unfortunately, Hamas cynically abuses its own civilian population and their suffering for propaganda purposes. The responsibility for harm to civilians lies with Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization, supported by Iran, that does not represent the legitimate national interests of the Palestinian people but a radical Islamist agenda that seeks to deny peace for the peoples of this region”. Livni’s remarks can be found in full here.
Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called a press conference for 8 pm, but nothing has appeared on the wires as yet. There is now a photo on the Jerusalem Post website showing that he had both Livni and Barak beside him — presumably to keep a unified message … And Haaretz was the first to report from the Olmert press conference that: “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday said no country in the world would put up with the rocket and missile strikes Israel suffers from and that the time had come to react … ‘Israel has done all it could to preserve the ceasefire with Hamas, but our desire for quiet was met with terror’ … Olmert added that Israel ‘is not itching for a fight, but will not back down from one either’.”
UPDATE: Extensive excerpts from a transcript of Olmert’s remarks at the start of the press conference provided by his office — “For approximately seven years, hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens in the south have been suffering from missiles being fired at them. Life in the south under missile barrages had become unbearable. Israel did everything in its power to fulfill the conditions of the calm in the south and enable normal life for its citizens in the communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip. The quiet that we offered was met with shelling. No country can countenance such a reality! The lives of our citizens are not forfeit. In recent days, it became clear that Hamas is bent on conflict. Whoever heard Hamas’s statements understood that they decided to increase attacks on the residents of Israel by firing rockets and mortars indiscriminately. In such a situation we had no alternative but to respond. We do not rejoice in battle but neither will we be deterred from it. Preparations for the operation were extensive and thorough. The Security Cabinet unanimously approved it on Wednesday, 24.12.08, and when conditions were ripe, we decided to set the action in motion. Yesterday (Friday), 26.12.08, I held a series of discussions with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, ISA Director Yuval Diskin and other security establishment personnel, and it was decided that the operation would begin. The operation in the Gaza Strip is designed, first and foremost, to bring about an improvement in the security reality for the residents of the south of the country. This is liable to take time and each one of us must be patient so that we can complete the mission. We want to restore the quiet and the tranquility and give the residents of the south the ability to live the normal lives that every country provides its citizens … On Thursday, 25.12.08, I made it clear to the residents of Gaza that we are not acting against them and that we have no intention of punishing them for the actions of Hamas. We will see to the needs of the population in Gaza and will do our utmost to prevent a humanitarian crisis that will impinge upon residents’ lives. Residents of Gaza, we are not your enemies and we are not fighting against you. This terrorist organization has brought disaster to two peoples. Israel is not fighting the Palestinian people but the Hamas terrorist organization that has taken it upon itself to act against the residents of Israel. Therefore, the targets that were attacked today were selected accordingly, with stress being placed on avoiding harm to innocents. Our precise intelligence, from the IDF Intelligence Branch and the Israel Security Agency, enabled maximum strikes at those involved in terrorism and minimized harm to innocents. This is how we will act in the future, as may be necessary. Israel is currently focusing on striking at the terrorist organizations that are operating to undermine stability in the entire region. I hope that no other element in the region will think that while Israel is fighting in the south, that it will it is inattentive to what is happening in other areas. We will not hesitate to respond to any aggression against us. During the day, we spoke with the leaders of the main countries of the world and made it very clear that the situation cannot continue and that we were compelled to take action in order to halt the aggression against our citizens. We also made it clear that Israel will, at the same time, make every effort to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip”.
The Prime Minister also expressed sympathy with the family of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is being held, presumably somewhere in Gaza (unless he was smuggled out in one of the tunnels), since late June 2006.
And, finally, the JPost mentions in one of its reports that the code name for the IDF attacks on Gaza that started today, Operation Cast Lead, is taken from a “Hanukkah poem by H.N. Bialik referring to a ‘dreidel cast from solid lead’.”
A popular Hanukkah song for children, found through an internet search, is about a child who makes a dreidel (a kind of small square-sided top that spins, used in games played during Hanukkah) out of clay: “I have a little dreidel, I made it out of clay, And when it’s dry and ready, Then dreidel I shall play”. The one given to my son when he was in nursery school in NYC is made of plastic.
Further web seaching shows that dreidels have been made out of ivory, bone, wood, lead, glass, silver, and various other materials.
But, while there is already, on Saturday evening, a new Wikipedia entry about Operation Cast Lead here, there is nothing that explains to me the significance of the phrase in the Bialik poem about a “dreidel cast from solid lead”.
But, information on the Dreidel Fun website (from which the image above is borrowed for purposes of illlustration), explains that “Of any single object, the Dreidel most exemplifies the history of the endurance of the Jewish people from destruction. The Dreidel, like the Jewish people, falls only to rise anew in strength, standing upright against all forces again and again”. This reference can be found here
UPDATE: Reuters is now translating the code-name of this IDF operation as “Solid Lead”, and is reporting here that the IDF airstrikes on Gaza on Saturday have killed 227 people “in one of the bloodiest days for the Palestinians in 60 years of conflict with the Jewish state”. The same report said that “Saturday’s death toll was the highest for a single day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1948, when the Jewish state was established”.