Monday, January 5, 2009

As Israel continues its military campaign against Hamas terror targets in Gaza, France has been urging a cease-fire to permit humanitarian aid to enter. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week sounded like she was moving in the direction of European Union diplomats who want a cease-fire right away. Even as Israel was preparing to launch the ground operation in Gaza that began Saturday, Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak hinted that he too would support a brief cease-fire. For now, that idea appears to be off the table, and it should be. Israel has only begun its campaign to destroy the arms caches, smuggling tunnels and arms factories that Hamas has embedded in Gaza with assistance from Iran and Syria. Halting military operations would only give Gaza-based terrorists a chance to replenish their weapons stockpiles and training facilities in preparation for the inevitable next round of warfare against the Jewish state.

That’s exactly what occurred in Lebanon following the August 2006 cease-fire with Hezbollah, and it has certainly been the case with Hamas in Gaza during the recent cease-fire which expired Dec. 19. In late July, Israel’s internal security service reported that since the last cease-fire (one punctuated by numerous violations by Gaza terrorists firing rockets into Israel) took effect June 19, Hamas had smuggled four tons of explosives into Gaza, along with light arms and material used to manufacture gunpowder and rockets.

From August 2005 (when Israel completely withdrew from Gaza) through the end of last year, Hamas and other terrorist groups smuggled at least 113 tons of military-grade explosives into Gaza, including anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers. Until and unless Israeli security forces can verify that these massive quantities of weaponry have been either captured or destroyed, the Gaza operation cannot possibly be termed a success. On Dec. 30, Hamas provided a vivid demonstration of how it has expanded its ability to target Israeli civilians, firing a rocket from Gaza that destroyed a vacant elementary school in Beersheba, about 25 miles away; before then, no terrorist rocket fired from Gaza had reached more than 15 miles into Israel, putting 270,000 people within range of fire from Gaza. With that strike in Beersheba, Israel’s seventh-largest city, Hamas demonstrated that 700,000 people (nearly one in 10 Israelis) are now within range from Gaza.

The premise that Israel’s actions have created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is false. Last week Israel opened the Keren Shalom border crossing into Gaza to allow more than 100 trucks filled with humanitarian aid to enter. The biggest danger to the continued provision of humanitarian supplies comes from Hamas and its terrorist partners who have attempted to carry out at least 17 attacks on border crossings in the past year. The most constructive thing the United States and the international community can do right now is to put pressure on Hamas to halt rocket fire into Israel; to stop using mosques, hospitals and densely populated neighborhoods as hiding places for its “soldiers”; and to refrain from launching further attacks on border crossings. In an effort to minimize civilian casualties, the Israeli military has put its own soldiers at greater risk: It has made telephone calls and dropped leaflets urging civilians to evacuate private homes that served as Hamas military command centers (a point the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is not terribly friendly to Israel, has acknowledged).

The biggest danger right now is that Israel will succumb to pressure to stop its military campaign before it permanently cripples Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure. U.S. diplomacy should focus on giving Israel the time it needs to finish the job.

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