Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Gaza Hostage Crisis

Kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gil'ad Shalit
Kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gil'ad Shalit

By now, most of our readers will have heard about the very well-coordinated attack carried out two days ago by members of at least three different Palestinian factions against Israeli army positions just east of the Gaza Strip. The attackers killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped a third. Here are some facts that I consider significant enough to highlight:

  • The tunnel used by the attackers to get into Israeli territory and surprise the soldiers from the rear was 1 km in length and took about 2 months to dig
  • Hamas is not "one organization with a single leadership, making decisions collectively" as Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, claimed in an interview with the New York Times on June 17, 2006
  • The allegedly disciplined military wing of Hamas, "Kata'ib 'Izz al-Din al-Qassam", has splinter factions that oppose certain steps being taken by the political leadership of Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza
  • The attack was probably launched without the knowledge of the political leadership of Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza, but with the full-hearted support of Khalid Mesh'al, the leader of the military wing of Hamas stationed in Damascus, Syria

For more detail on Hamas Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyye's complete lack of control vis-a-vis the Mesh'al-controlled military wing of his own movement, see:

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, "Clock is ticking down," 27/06/2006

the original Hebrew version of the above article

For those who haven't read it yet and are wondering how this assault was executed, here's an excerpt from another article by Ha'aretz military commentator (and Hip Hop critic) Amos Har'el:
The tunnel was apparently very deep and almost a kilometer long, emerging into Israel about 300 meters east of border fence, just north of Kerem Shalom. Despite the army's numerous lookout posts in this area, no soldiers noticed the Palestinians emerging from the tunnel.

After they emerged, the Palestinians split into three groups that attacked the outpost almost simultaneously. The southern strike force, consisting of two Palestinians, attacked the outpost's "pillbox" and even tried to scale it with a ladder, sparking a fire fight in which both assailants were killed. Three soldiers were wounded during this fight, one moderately and two lightly.

The second strike force wasted most of its ammunition, which included a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and hand grenades, on an empty armored personnel carrier that had been stationed near the outpost as a decoy.

However, the northern strike force scored a major success: Under cover of a line of trees, it was able to approach a tank located about 600 meters north of the pillbox undetected and attack it with an RPG and hand grenades. The attack killed two of the four-member crew [...]

After the attack, the six assailants left alive returned to Gaza overland, rather than via the tunnel, using either a small bomb or an antitank missile to blow a hole in the border fence. According to army sources, the entire incident lasted about 10 minutes.

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