Vita Bekker
The National
December 29, 2009 - 1:00am

Few Israelis today have qualms about the high death toll inflicted by their country’s assault on the Gaza Strip last year.

But even though many Israelis still believe the 22-day onslaught, which ended on January 18, was justified in a bid to curb Hamas rocket fire on their country’s southern communities, some have begun to question whether the attack achieved its goals. They say the military campaign ended too early and warn that another offensive may be necessary to complete the job.

Zvika Fogel, who was a top military official in the army’s southern command during the Gaza operation, said the attacks had not been sufficient to halt the more than 200 rockets and mortar shells that had been fired from Gaza on Israel in the past year, as well as the thousands of tons of explosives and weapons smuggled through tunnels into the enclave.

Furthermore, he added, Hamas appears more powerful today because it is still holding in captivity the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was taken hostage more than three years ago. Indeed, indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on a prisoner exchange have so far produced few tangible results, and this week Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said there is no deal and “it is not at all clear to me if there will be one”.

Mr Fogel wrote in a commentary published this week by Walla, a news website: “The next confrontation in the Gaza Strip is imminent. If not this year, then next year the soldiers and commanders of the Israeli army will be forced to fight a stronger, more aggressive and better-equipped Hamas.”

Iki Elner, the director of a leadership education institute in Sderot, the southern Israeli town that had been one of the main targets for Gaza rocket fire, said that since the operation ended, most Israelis have been living under the “illusion of victory that had been sold to them” by political leaders who had failed to press ahead hard enough to destroy Hamas. He added: “This threat can be eliminated only by the absolute destruction of the leaders of the terrorists and their military power.”

Such views have been echoed in recent days by several prominent senior military figures, who have blasted Israel for having given in too early to international pressure to stop the killings of hundreds of Palestinians and pull out of the impoverished seaside territory.

Those opinions are also backed by Israeli media, which had been swept into the overwhelming wave of public support for the operation a year ago and had refrained from condemning the Palestinian death toll in its aftermath. There has also been little questioning by the media of the government’s ban on allowing Israeli journalists to enter the enclave.

However, Israel has started to respond to the international backlash against its Gaza onslaught. On Monday, Yediot Ahronot, the country’s biggest newspaper, reported that within two weeks, the government is expected to establish a committee led by a prominent jurist to investigate possible violations of the law that may have taken place during the attacks. The report follows a UN human rights investigation by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge, that recommended that both Israel and Hamas face possible prosecution for war crimes if they fail to conduct credible probes into the hostilities.

Few Israelis have condemned the general disregard in the country for the effects of the assault on the Palestinians.

Michael Sfard, a lawyer with Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, lambasted Israelis’ acceptance of the bombing of one of the world’s most crowded residential areas, of the use of white phosphorus shells and of what he described as the deliberate targeting of thousands of homes and public buildings.

He wrote in a commentary in Ynet, the website of Yediot Ahronot: “We failed to create a temporary refugee camp for civilians or establish a corridor for a humanitarian rescue, and we did not spare hospitals, food storages or even the United Nations aid organisations. The residents of Gaza, who had previously already become prisoners in the jail that we had created for them, discovered that we had set the jail on fire and had thrown the key away.”

Mr Sfard, who is also a specialist in the international laws of war, warned that Israel is bound to pay a price for its attacks. “They increased support for outside pressure [on Israel], as well as for international investigations, lawsuits [against Israeli officials] abroad, boycotts and sanctions. All of these now have a legal and moral basis to blossom.”


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