Friday, March 27, 2009

Cast Lead Expose: What Did the IDF Think Would Happen in Gaza? - Haaretz

Haaretz, March 28, 2009 - GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant's meticulous planning for Operation Cast Lead was mapped out to the last detail. The information gathered by the Shin Bet security service over the preceding two years provided excellent intelligence. But the General Staff also knew that hovering above was a conflicted political triumvirate, one member of which (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert) was eager to amend the dubious legacy he left behind in Lebanon, while the other two (Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni) were preoccupied with the impending election. In the backdrop was a fickle public and an impatient and demanding media. The General Staff expected that Israelis would have trouble accepting heavy Israel Defense Forces losses.

The army chose to overcome this problem with an aggressive plan that included overwhelming firepower. The forces, it was decided, would advance into the urban areas behind a "rolling curtain" of aerial and artillery fire, backed up by intelligence from unmanned aircraft and the Shin Bet. The lives of our soldiers take precedence, the commanders were told in briefings. Before the operation, Galant and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi painted a bleak picture for the cabinet ministers. "Unlike in Lebanon, the civilians in Gaza won't have many places to escape to," Ashkenazi warned. "When an armored force enters the city, shells will fly, because we'll have to protect our people."

The politicians promised backing. Two weeks before the incursion, a member of the General Staff, talking to a journalist, predicted that 600-800 Palestinians civilians would be killed in an Israeli operation....

A large part of the operation was conducted by remote control. "The Palestinians are completely transparent to us," says A., a reservist whose brigade was posted in the Gaza Strip. "The Shin Bet has people everywhere. We observe the whole area from the air and usually the Shin Bet coordinator can also tell you who lives in what house." The Shin Bet defines the enemy and, for the most part, someone who belongs to Hamas' civilian welfare organizations (the da'awa) is treated the same way as a member of its military wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam.

Essentially, a person only needs to be in a "problematic" location, in circumstances that can broadly be seen as suspicious, for him to be "incriminated" and in effect sentenced to death. Often, there is no need for him to be identified as carrying a weapon. Three people in the home of a known Hamas operative, someone out on a roof at 2 A.M. about a kilometer away from an Israeli post, a person walking down the wrong street before dawn - all are legitimate targets for attack.

"It feels like hunting season has begun," says A. "Sometimes it reminds me of a Play Station [computer] game. You hear cheers in the war room after you see on the screens that the missile hit a target, as if it were a soccer game."

The one who makes the final decision of whether to fire is usually not the brigade commander (who is with the forward forces in the field), but the "director" of combat, stationed at a command center in the rear: the deputy brigade commander, the headquarters' chiefs or majors who are studying and return to the brigade in times of combat. Another change in operational methods involved reducing reliance on the independent judgment of Israel Air Force personnel, who are located relatively far from the field.

'Little racists'

After the intense firepower employed at the outset, the forces were surprised to discover that they were not fighting in a "sterile," civilian-free environment as they had in Lebanon, 2006. Soldiers' testimonies, from graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon, and also from the watered-down descriptions supplied by the army's Bamahaneh weekly magazine, make this crystal clear. There were civilians who were too frightened to flee or who didn't read the leaflets dropped by the IAF, and remained in their homes. As in every war, prolonged time in the field led to brutish behavior in some of the units.

"The impact of the long confrontation with the Palestinians cannot be ignored," says a senior reserve officer, "and one should also bear in mind what sort of values inductees have when they come to us these days. Every year, the education system produces a significant number of little racists."

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